Introduction to the PMP® Certification Exam

You receive a unique code via an encrypted electronic message with an address, and what to bring to that location on a specific day and time. You are prohibited from bringing any communication device or unauthorized documentation to the meeting location. You must provide a government-issued ID to enter the meeting location. Are you going through some type of international espionage initiation rite of passage? No. You are scheduled for a PMP certification exam, which has a unique format unto itself. Reduce the risk of a mishap on your PMP exam day by understanding the process and what to expect.

PMP certification exam components

To mitigate the risk of a failing score, and the associated costs of that failure, it is critical to know the PMP certification exam is not merely a test you sign up to take on a day convenient for you. The PMP certification exam is one part of a multi-step process that requires all of your project management skills, including resource allocation, budgeting, scheduling, quality checks, and testing.

When you decide to pursue earning the Project Management Institute (PMI)’s coveted Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification, you are at the start of a professional development journey. It begins with knowing the pre-requisites to even get PMI approval to take the PMP certification exam, then moves to the application itself. With an approved application, you must dedicate time to the study and preparation for the PMP certification exam including knowing about the format of the test. And then you get to the exam day itself, which includes specific requirements of the testing environment for the PMP certification exam to be administered. All of those steps happen before you ever see the actual exam.

Application and pre-requisites

On the PMI website, the educational and experience requirements for starting the PMP exam process are provided. Note that there are specific schooling levels, training hours, and work experience hour requirements for the PMP exam application; each requirement must be documented and verifiable.

Figure 1:

For the work experience component, note clear information and documentation of your claims are needed. Make sure you have information for: where you have worked, your role and responsibilities, and the duration of projects. Your PMP application will be denied if you do not meet the work experience requirement.

The education and training hours must also be supported by specific information and documentation including institutions attended, courses completed, and qualifying hours. Failure to have all of the PMP application requirements for education and training will lead to a denied PMP application.

PMP certification exam fees

After you have submitted the PMP exam application on the PMI website, they will review it. If not selected for an audit nor denied for missing requirements, your PMP application will be approved. With that PMP application approval, PMI will provide you with instructions for scheduling your PMP exam and charge you an exam fee.

  • PMI Member price in 2021:                $ 405 (US dollars)
  • PMI Non-member price in 2021:        $ 555 (US dollars)

The fee must be paid in full to schedule your PMP certification exam session. You cannot schedule your PMP exam without an approved application and fees paid in full. 

Find PMP certification exam testing location

Before finding the PMP certification exam schedule or dates, determine your testing location.

  • Search for PMP test center locations on Pearson VUE website
  • Schedule the PMP exam:
    • by phone via Person VUE customer service
      • Monday – Friday, 7:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m. CT (closed on local holidays)
      • Number: +1 866 241 5527 (toll-free) / +1 952 905 7397 (toll)

PMP certification exam dates 

There is not a certain time of year for PMP certification exam dates. The geographic location and format (proctored or onsite at a testing center) will determine your options for PMP certification exam dates. Have your unique PMI Eligibility ID from your PMI scheduling notification available, then go to the Pearson VUE site for the most current testing protocols and information. There are both online and in-person options available. However, not all PMI exams are available at all testing centers. Use Pearson VUE’s “seat availability” tool to confirm specific PMP exam availability.

You can schedule your PMP exam, whether a proctored online version or in person at a testing site, either online or by phone. Speak with a Person VUE representative if you have testing accommodation needs.

PMP certification exam day at a testing center

It is vital that on your PMP certification exam date you follow ALL of the check-in procedures, whether onsite at the testing center or online with a proctor. Failure to have approved identification documentation or attempts to bring in contraband will forfeit your PMP exam opportunity. So, before your scheduled PMP certification exam, be sure you know what you can and cannot bring, plus what information you must have ready for access to the testing center.

Studying for the PMP Exam?

PMP certification exam day for online proctored exams

You will have to coordinate with the Pearson VUE testing center for a proctored exam. As part of the prep, ensure you have: (a) Have strong and reliable internet access, (b) Met all technical requirements for testing, and (3) coordinated all details with the assigned proctor.

PMP certification exam length

How long the PMP takes to complete will based on how quickly you progress through the email. As shared by PMI, the PMP certification exam is 230 minutes long, with two 10-minute breaks arranged after every 60 questions . Its important to note that once you complete each set of 60 questions and review them, you will not be able to revisit those questions before the final submission of your exam.

To the question, “how long is the PMP certification exam,” plan for just under four hours (230 minutes). If you do not take any PMP exam prep training or do not use PMP certification exam practice exams, likely you will struggle to complete the questions in time. Part of completing PMP certification exam training and practice exams is the time management practice; it gives you experience in completing this number of questions in this time.            

PMP certification exam format

With the protections implemented in 2020 due to Covid-19 risks, some on-site testing centers were closed while online proctored exams became an option. Whether you take the exam onsite or online, the exam question format is the same. As shared by PMI, the PMP certification exam is comprised of:

  • 180 questions in a combination of multiple-choice, multiple responses, matching, hotspot, and limited fill-in-the-blank 

The PMI’s exam content outline for 2021 also provides this distribution of questions by domains:

PMP Certification Exam Format: Domains and their importance on the PMP Exam

Although the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is a key source, it is by no means the only information used to craft the PMP certification exam questions. Using a PMI approved training solution is the best way to gain insight into the exam structure, approach, and content because PMI provides approved trainers with the materials used.

PMP certification exam question format

In the 2021 PMI Examination Content Outline, the PMI shares:

“About half of the examination will represent predictive project management approaches and the other half will represent agile or hybrid approaches. Predictive, agile, and hybrid approaches will be found throughout the three domain areas listed above and are not isolated to any particular domain or task.”

The PMP certification exam format is designed to assess how well you know foundational project management concepts, terms, processes, and methodologies. It achieves this through different question content and format types. The PMI’s sample PMP certification exam reference sheet provides examples of what to expect. The computer format of the exam allows for the hot spot and drag and drop functionality in addition to single-answer multiple choice and multi-answer multiple choice.

Hot Spot Questions

From the PMI’s sample PMP certification exam reference sheet, candidates will be asked to interact with a digital graphic and use their calculations to estimate specific data points. For example:

PMP Certification Exam Format: Question Sample 1

Here is a second “Hot spot” question example:

Click the area where the cost will increase the most.

PMP Certification Exam Format: Question Sample 2

Drag and Drop Questions

From the PMI’s sample PMP certification exam reference sheet, the PMI shares there may be questions on definitions and process order. In this prototype, candidates will drag the process to match up to its respective process group.

PMP certification exam question types

Note the PMP certification exam will have both knowledge check items (like definitions and tools) but also knowledge application items (like what is the best choice for a specific situation).


Study the PMBOK® Guide and other PMI provided resources to understand predictive, agile, and hybrid approaches. Questions may require you to know the next steps in the process of a project using a waterfall (predictive) approach or to align terms to a methodology.

Formula Based

From your PMP certification exam prep, you know there are many formulas used in project management for data around time and cost. Know your formulas and be able to write them out quickly to have them available for reference. Questions may call upon you to know a formula to interpret provided data, to make a calculation, or to deduce a value.


Also called “situational,” the interpretational questions ask you to read a provided scenario and then use your best judgment to determine the best course of action, or in test terms, the “best” answer. Many test takers find these the most challenging as unlike a formula question, there is not a clear-cut answer as you get from a mathematical computation. Situational, or interpretational, require you to use your knowledge of formal project management and combine it with your project management experience to make the best judgment. It’s important to know the PMP exam contains an overwhelming majority of interpretational questions.  

PMP certification exam score

“Did I pass?” is the question that is ringing in your head, well, for the 230 minutes it takes to complete the PMP certification exam. The PMP certification exam does not use a point scale, meaning, you will not see a 100 as your final score. In fact, PMI stopped releasing even the passing percentages of the exam back in 2007.   

In 2018, 2019, 2020, and into 2021, when you submit your final question on the computer-based exam, you will be presented with a screen providing your proficiency level across domains with an overall result (pass/fail). Following receipt of a passing score, PMI will contact you with your certificate and status confirmation as a Project Management Professional (PMP).            

And after the exam…

As with many other professions, earning the certification does not mean you will retain that status forever. You must consistently demonstrate your efforts to remain current, relevant, and practicing in the field of project management. This is achieved with “Professional Development Units” (also known as “PDUs”). You have to submit your work experience, educational efforts, giving back to the profession, and training to PMI through their “Continuing Certification Renewal System” (CCRS) to have PMI review and approve (or deny) each PDU claim. As of 2021, PMI has a 60 PDU requirement on a 3-year cycle. From the website, you can download the CCR Handbook for information about PDUs and how to report them.


If you do not pass in your first exam experience, you can retake it. You will need to work with the testing center to arrange the retake.  To reduce the possibility of needing a retake, have a clear plan of action that covers the requirements, application, study, and exam prep.

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Megan Bell
Megan Bell
Project Manager & Writer at Project Management Academy
Megan Bell