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Tips For Passing the PMP Certification Exam
By Jorge Dominguez

These tips are not for learning project management which is a different story out of the scope of this article. You want to pass the exam on the first try so that you don’t get discouraged. Most people who don’t pass it on their first try find it difficult taking it again.

The PMP® certification is the most recognized and respected credential in the field of project management regardless of what industry you work in. The exam tests your ability to apply the processes defined in the PMBOK® to different situations. It does not test your project management experience, so forget how you or other PMs do it and learn how PMI wants you to do it.

The following is a list of tips to help you pass the PMP® exam on your first try.

  1. Plan
    1. Find a reputable instructor led course, self study books, flashcards and/or an exam simulation software that prepare you for the exam
    2. Many vendors offer you courses that promise you will pass the exam on the first try or your money back. Don’t get discouraged but according to statistics most people do not pass the exam. I have yet to meet someone who has gotten their money back from any of these vendors
    3. Ensure the systems you will use to prepare for the exam are updated to reflect the latest version of the PMBOK® that PMI is using for the current exams
    4. If you become a member of PMI you save money when taking the exam
    5. Apply to take the exam. Remember that you have to meet all the PMI requirements to take the exam
    6. Three to four months studying up to 2 hours a day should be enough for the average learner. Plan for more time if you are a slow learner
    7. Schedule the exam for one afternoon three/four months out, or whatever time you have decided you need to study, but always for approximately two weeks after you are planning to finish your studies. Two hours after your usual lunch time in the early afternoon is better than morning, your mind should be clear and you can concentrate better during the exam
    8. Create two signs (two sheets of paper will suffice) with the date of the exam on it using a colored marker and hang one at work and the other one at home on walls that you always face to. This is a cheap reminder of your target date and will help you work toward it
    9. Ensure you have the latest version of the PMBOK® that PMI is using for the current exams
  2. Study

    1. Group vs individual studying. Choose what is most convenient for you but be aware that you will need to study individually too
    2. Prepare extensively. Most of it is discipline, following a plan (sounds familiar?), and getting used to how the questions are asked
    3. Start by reading the PMBOK®. This is a must
    4. Reading the PMBOK® is essential. Don’t believe other people when they say you don’t need it. Stay away from information telling you that you only need to read this page and that page. If you don’t know all the PMI concepts defined in the PMBOK® you will not pass the exam, I can almost guarantee it. And, I recommend reading it twice: the second time will help you understand and fill any gaps after you know all the concepts as a result of reading it the first time
    5. If you use flashcards take them everywhere with you and pull them out to practice every time you have an opportunity (i.e.: while on the bus or train, while at your parents’, during your lunch break at work, while stuck in traffic, etc.)
    6. If you use an exam simulation software make sure you take the final exam offered as many times as you need to so that you get familiar with the type of questions and are able to identify where your gaps are and improve your score every time you take it
    7. Practice on reading the answers first, then the question, you will be surprised at how much time you can save
    8. Practice on eliminating the obviously incorrect answer first
    9. Memorize all formulas with special emphasis in earned value and PERT. Create a spreadsheet with the name of each formula, the formula itself, what each element on the formula means and a description of what the formula tries to resolve; carry it with you at all times so you can practice anywhere
  3. Two weeks before the exam

    1. You should have finished your study and must be dedicating these 2 weeks to solving as many questions as possible and closing any gaps you may still have
  4. Day before the exam

    1. Work only the first half of the day so that you have time to clear your mind
    2. If possible, study only half a day, ensure you have everything ready for the exam the next day
    3. Go to bed early
  5. Day of the exam

    1. Don’t work the day of the exam, take the day off from work and any other activity
    2. Have a light lunch, it helps concentrating better
    3. Wear comfortable clothes
    4. Although the examination center will provide you with paper and pencil bring your own pencil in case the one they provide is not comfortable for you
    5. Arrive early so that you can register and have time to relax before the exam starts
    6. Do not chew gum or have anything in your mouth. Throw everything away before you enter the examination center
    7. Ensure you do not carry anything in your pockets or you may be disqualified
    8. As soon as you are seated write down all the formulas and their names on the paper that is provided to you. Write down any other pertinent information you have in your mind that you think you may loose during the exam
    9. The exam is computer based and you will know the results automatically only minutes after the exam time ends or you indicate you are finished, whichever comes first
    10. You have 4 hours to complete the exam. There are only approximately 80 seconds to answer each question
    11. The exam consists of multiple choice questions with 4 answers each. One answer is obviously incorrect and can be easily identified and eliminated first
    12. Almost all questions are situational, which means that the answer depends on the situation presented and, even if the problem was the same, if the situation changes the answer might change too and be different
    13. Answers are based on PMI’s perspectives not on one self’s or on own experience
    14. Read the answers first, then the question
    15. Answers may have incorrect grammar. Do not be fooled by this, it may still be the correct answer
    16. Answers with words such as “always”, “never”, “must”, “completely” are often the incorrect answers
    17. Some answers lead to the next question so when you read the next question you may be able to go back and fix the previous answer right away
    18. The PM always takes a proactive approach to every situation; this will assist you in identifying the correct answer
    19. Assume that lessons learned and historical information from past projects is always available
    20. Assume that roles and responsibilities in projects are always properly defined
    21. Do not leave any question blank, there is no penalty for guessing and you may get it right
    22. Don’t waste precious time, leave questions you cannot answer for last by marking them so you can easily go back to them at the end if time permits
    23. Do not cheat, if you do it is not only unethical and against the very PMI principles but if you get caught you cannot take the exam ever again

Jorge Dominguez, PMP®

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