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12 Test Taking Strategies for the PMP Exam
By Keith MathisPM Expert Live

Test taking strategies vary depending on the individual and how much experience and exposure he or she has to standardized tests. The PMP® certification is an international test, which can be intimidating due to its formality and its security.

The following strategies can be used to assist you in obtaining a higher percentage when taking the certification test.

Strategy #1 – Make sure you have sufficient time to study so that you are well prepared for the test.

Studying for the PMP® certification and being fully prepared prior to taking the test is of most importance. This certification test should not be taken lightly with the idea that you can pull answers off the top of your head. This test requires current information from the PMBOK® fourth edition. If you have studied other PMBOK® editions, understand that definitions and processes have been updated and changed. Studying previous editions might actually cause you to miss many questions on the test. The questions are phrased so the novice project managers and those with limited knowledge of PMBOK® will stand out.

If you are not going to attend a prep course, it is highly recommended that you spend several weeks preparing for the PMP® certification and get familiar with the processes, terms, and all knowledge areas. You must be able to recall PMBOK® information instantly or you are not ready for the test.

Strategy #2 – Eat lightly before the test. This will give you energy and help you focus.

Eat a light snack prior to entering the testing site. The PMP® test is estimated to take four hours, and many individuals will notice a drop in their blood sugar during that time. You are not able to bring food or drink into the testing area. Therefore, it is very important that you are not preoccupied with hunger and are able to think clearly. One word of caution about eating prior to the test—make sure it is a snack-sized portion and not a large, heavy meal. After eating a heavy meal, you have a tendency to become sleepy and sluggish which will reduce your chances of passing.

Strategy #3 – Prior to beginning the test, transfer all formulas and relevant information to the provided blank paper.

As part of the preparation for the certification test, you will memorize formulas for earned value, communication, PERT and other calculations which may appear on the test. One of the easiest things for you to do is transfer all formulas from your memory to one of the two pieces of paper that have been provided to you by the testing site. This will allow you to use the formulas as needed, as well as make sure you do not get confused during the test.

In addition, if you created a mind map of all the processes while studying, you can draw it out at this time. In fact, everything you think might be forgotten before you complete the test can be transferred to paper instantly. Transferring hard to remember information is one of the most helpful things you can do so you do not become confused.

Strategy #4 – Monitor the clock so that you can better pace yourself.

Monitoring the clock can be important for people who are slow in their test taking skills. You may spend a great deal of time on a question because of to the enormous amount of reading. If a question looks as if it is going to take longer than expected guess an answer, but mark it for review at the end of the test when you have more time. In this test, you must finish within the four hours, and you must answer every question. All questions that are not answered are automatically scored as incorrect. It would be better to guess an answer than to leave it blank.

Strategy # 5 – Keep a positive attitude throughout the test and stay relaxed; if you start to feel nervous take a few deep breaths.

Because standardized tests can be very intimidating, it is easy for people to get discouraged when coming across a series of hard questions. During the test, make sure you attempt to keep your mind and thoughts positive. Do not decide the fate of your test based on four or five hard questions in a row. The test score is based on the test as a whole. You do need to pass each process group in order to pass. If you notice you are struggling with negative thoughts, use a break to get some water and reshape your attitude. If you are in the middle of the test and you start hearing a voice inside saying you are going to fail, this must be stopped immediately!

Strategy # 6 – Always read the whole question; do not make assumptions about what the question might be asking.

Research indicates that one problem test takers have during multiple-choice tests is they do not read the entire question prior to answering it. In many cases, it is clear that the test taker made an assumption of what the question was askingand answered based upon that assumption. With multiple-choice tests, you should ask yourself what the question is really asking.

In addition to determining what the question wants to know, it is also important to understand the full content of each scenario question. There are times during the exam when you will read one-fourth to one-half a page of text and then answer a question based on that scenario. At times, the question asked is extremely easy compared to the depth of the scenario you have just read. Sometimes they purposely ask something opposite of what you anticipate.

Unless you are able to read the scenario in its completion and the question thoroughly, you will overlook something important.

Strategy # 7 – Look for keywords in each question.

One of the most common mistakes when taking the PMP® test is overlooking key words which are very important to understanding the question. Key words can be a variety of things such as definitions, process types, or even special emphasis on one part of the question over another. Unless you have the ability to spot them, you will give an answer which is not in line with PMBOK®.

One of the best ways to pick out keywords is to read the entire question and then go back over it to pick out those words which have the strongest meaning. Then read the question once again putting the emphasis on the areas which are the most important. This allows you to get the main emphasis of the question.

Multiple-choice tests examine your ability to read carefully and thoroughly as much as they test your ability to recall information. Watch for words which redirect the question such as “all”, “always”, “never”, “none”, “few”, “many”, “some”, and “sometimes”. These words can be thrown into any question and change its meaning.

Strategy # 8 – If you do not know an answer guess, but mark it for review. Go on with the rest of the test and come back to it later.

Gaining information as you take a multiple-choice test is very important for areas that might be unclear. As you read each question, you will discover an emphasis in all the areas of PMBOK®. Sometimes you will pick up definitions or processes that will help you with other questions. If you are unsure about an answer, make your best guess, but do not leave it blank. Mark it for review so you can return later to see if this is the best answer based on what you now know. Your certification test is computerized, and you do have the capability to return to those questions you marked. As you proceed through the test and learn new information, you can return to those questions and make a more calculated answer.

Strategy # 9 – Come up with the answer in your head before looking at the possible answers; this way the choices given on the test will not throw you off or trick you.

One of the best techniques for making sure you answer the question correctly is to think of an answer in your head prior to reading all the possible answers given. As you read the answers, you can gain confirmation on your thought and increase the probability that you are correct. It does occur that someone reads all four answers only to have each of them sound correct.

Strategy # 10 – Read all the choices before choosing your answer.

Reading all the choices increases the chance that one of the possibilities will jump out to you. In standardized tests, it is normal for you to notice one answer appearing to be somewhat different from the others. For example, you might be listing theories and notice that one of the answers is not a theory but a process.

Strategy #11 – Scenario questions require you to examine them differently.

Scenario questions are some of the most difficult to answer. Here are some guidelines which will assist you in gaining the best understanding of the situation:

  1. Read the last two sentences of the scenario question first. By reading these, you will find out the main content of the question and what it is actually asking.
  2. Make sure you understand what is being asked. The scenario may give you a lot of information which means nothing to the question to throw you off.

  3. Expect many details which must be disregarded. Eat the fish and spit out the bones. There are a great deal of bones placed in scenario questions.

Strategy #12 – When you are finished and have time left, look over your test. Only change an answer if you misread or misinterpreted the question.

When you are finished taking your test this is probably one of the most vulnerable times of the entire certification. Test takers make a big mistake by rereading every question. Many will second guess themselves and change a good answer to a bad. Do not change an answer unless you know it is 100% wrong. Your best answer is normally your first response.

A good way to handle this is to only return to those questions which you know were a 100% guess. To change your answer on those is okay. Holding back from changing an answer will be one of the hardest things for you.

In conclusion, it is very important for you to make sure that you understand and follow each of the testing strategies. As you follow them in detail, it is possible for you to increase your potential of passing by as much as 20%. Those who have failed their PMP® admitted they violated at least one of these strategies and changed as many as 40 to 50 answers. You should be different and fight the urge.

Dr. Keith Mathis, founder and CEO of The Mathis Group, specializes in Project Management, Management Leadership, and Marketing training for private businesses and government agencies of all kinds. He offers 33 Project Management courses, is a Project Management Professional, is certified by the Project Management Institute and will customize every training session to your individual company’s needs. The Mathis Group also sponsors www.pmexpertlive.com, which is a powerful project management resource with free reports, podcasts, videos, and a monthly newsletter. He also offers customized management training and coaching on any subject with prolific communication and professionalism.

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