Essential PMP Tips to Ease Your Exam Preparation

Take advantage of these tried and tested PMP Exam preparation tips to help you get PMP certified with confidence


Essential PMP Tips to Ease Your Exam Preparation

The PMP® Exam is generally considered a difficult professional examination. It tests not only your knowledge in project management but also, more importantly, how to apply the knowledge in real-life project scenarios. That is why the questions in the PMP® Exam paper consist largely of situational and scenario-based questions.

The pass rate for the exam is estimated to be just around 60% (i.e. 2 in 5 will fail the Exam the first trial). It is always a good idea to learn from the successful experience of those who can pass the Exam the first time to help accelerating your exam prep as well as avoiding pitfalls.

In order to successfully pass the exam to get the PMP® title, Aspirants must understand the application and examination processes as required by the Project Management Institute (PMI). After that, Aspirants must learn how to prepare well for cracking the exam by getting exposed to the full coverage of the exam syllabus.

The best way to know how to best prepare for the exam is through reading the exam preparation experience of successful exam takers (often known as “PMP® Exam lessons learned”). The problem is there are tonnes of lessons learned all over the internet which would take hundreds of hours to finish reading them…… As an Aspirant before, I totally understand the pains (I literally spent over a hundred hours reading the exam processes and lessons learned from PMP® holders during my exam preparation……).

During my Exam preparation (I passed the PMP® Exam with 4 Proficient and 1 Moderately Proficient in first try), I have came across many wonderful tips by reading the lessons learned of many aspirants. Below are the top tips I got from these wonderful guides. I document these here so that my fellow Aspirants can benefits from the hard work of our predecessors in our journey to certification.

Tried and Tested PMP® Exam Prep Tips from Exam Takers

  • Treat the PMP® Exam as a project in itself. You are advised to prepare a study plan with details of the materials to study and milestones by taking into accounts of your available time for exam preparation. Try to stick to it as close as possible — should changes be inevitable, you may want to go through the change control process to identify the causes as well as how to avoid further delays.
  • Before putting down your study plan, it is highly advisable to read the most updated PMP® Exam Content Outline which is available on the PMI website — contrary to common belief, the exam is NOT just about the PMOBK Guide (the PMBOK® Guide is an important reference material for the exam but it is NOT the exam syllabus).
  • Read the PMBOK® Guide published by PMI. Many consider the PMBOK® Guide as the bible for the exam. However, since it is more of a book of facts which is often considered a dry read. You may try reading the PMBOK® Guide for several pages before deciding whether you would go with the PMBOK® Guide first or you would like to read the Exam Prep Guide as described in the next point first.
  • Apply for the exam as early as possible in your preparation process as it really takes time (even more if you are selected for an audit). Take note to follow all the rules and guidelines of PMP® Certification set by PMI.
  • It is highly advisable to purchase / borrow one additional PMP® Exam Prep Guide to supplement your study (as said before, the PMBOK® Guide does not cover all the PMP® Exam syllabus) — those guides will provide you with the materials not covered by the PMBOK® Guide but is required for the exam. Popular Guides include:
    • Rita’s PMP® — best if you would like to learn in greater depth of project management knowledge
    • Andy Crowe: The PMP® Exam How to Pass on Your First Try — best if you would like to get only the essentials to help you pass the PMP® Exam
    • Head First PMP® — best for visual learners
  • There are many different formats of PMP® courses available on the market to help you with your preparation (which will also give you the required 35 contact hours of formal project management education in case you need it), you may select the one that most suited to your style of study:
    • Classroom lectures — instructor led face-to-face courses
    • Bootcamps — have classroom lectures for a consecutive period of 5 days with taking the real PMP® Exam on day 5
    • Online PMP® Exam Prep courses — allow you to view and re-view the courses without limits within a subscription period
    • Downloadable PMP® Exam Prep courses — allow you to download the course files to view and re-view the courses without limit
  • Try to write your own study notes. No other available study notes will do the trick as the notes will be tailored to your own needs. Your study notes can also be used as your last minute study notes just before your exam.
  • Try to develop your own brain dump — all the important facts and calculation formulas that you will need to memorize for the exam. Try practising writing your brain dump within 10 minutes. You can make use of the scrape paper provided in the exam centre to write the brain dump during your real exam.
  • If feasible, forming study groups is generally considered an effective study aid. Aspirants can work together on difficult topics as well as act as stakeholders in ensuring the study progress.
  • Learn the different PMP® Exam questions styles that would appear on the exam and the tricks to solve them.
  • Make use of mock practice exams to understand your progress and readiness to tackle the real exam. It is extremely important to read the answer key and explanation after finishing the practice questions. Try to write down easily confused topics in your personal study notes. Re-review the topics that you have failed to get the correct answer by reading the PMBOK® Guide and the exam prep book.
  • You can monitor your readiness for the real exam by consistently scoring over 80% in any mock exams you have taken.
  • Attempt taking at least one full mock exam (200 questions for 4 hours) to understand your stamina and need for breaks. More full-length mock exams preferred. Try to understand your needs for a break or two (to go to washroom and/or drink water) and schedule.
  • Try to schedule the real PMP® Exam date once you have finished reading the PMP® Exam reference books to ensure the preferred dates are available as the Prometric centres are often fully booked. You can postpone the exam date if needed (fees may apply).
  • Keep up with your exam study plan all the way to the exam date. Do not allow you to skip important milestones too often or you will lose your momentum. There are some candidates who takes several years to get PMP® Certified as they gave up mid-way during their exam preparation for once or twice.
  • While taking the exam, you should imagine you were the “project manager of a large project” (if not your everyday role). You should carry out your responsibility according to PMI’s preferences (as documented in the PMBOK® Guide as well as the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.
  • Relax before the date of exam.
  • Locate the PMP® Exam centre way before your exam date by visiting it in person to understand the traffic condition. Do get to the exam centre at least 30 minutes earlier.
  • Bring a jacket to the centre in case the air conditioning is too cold.
  • Bring some food and water to the centre — you will be asked to put these in a locked provided at the centre. Drink some water and take some food during your break.
  • Before the exam, try to locate the washroom in case you will need to go to during the exam.
  • Try to set a time limit for each question. Whenever you encounter some difficult questions, don’t panic, choose an answer and mark the question for review. Don’t take up too much time for each question. The real PMP® Exam may be arranged in such a way that difficult questions appear early in the exam and there are many easy ones near the end.
  • Always make use of the calculator provided for formula based questions as one can make careless mistakes in times of stress.

Top Questions for PMP® Preparation

1. What is the single most important content to remember for the Exam?

The most important thing to remember for the PMP® Exam is the Table 3-1 in the PMBOK® Guide. It is an overall summary of the all Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area and how they are related to each other. The table presents the complex relations of the project management processes, process groups and knowledge area (which are the core subjects of Project Management Body of Knowledge and Project Management framework of the PMBOK® Guide) in one simple and highly visual way. Remembering this table will help you tremendously to recall all the project management knowledge required to answer the exam questions.

Many PMP® aspirants have made this table a must have for their brain dumps that they try to re-construct the whole table from their memory every day before the exam and onto the scrap paper provided during the exam so that they can frequently refer to while answering questions.

2. What formulas do I need to understand and remember for the exam?

The PMBOK® Guide mentions a large number of project management formulas (in excess of 20 or 30). In practice only around 15 formulas would be needed for the real exam (I have uploaded a Formulas Guide here which you can download for free). The bad news is that Aspirants need to remember the formulas from their memory as the exam is a closed book exam. This is why  formulas are another top items to make the brain dump.

The good news is the exam is more of a test of your project management concepts rather than your calculation ability. The mathematical questions appearing in the exam paper are usually quite simple. All you have to do is to select the right PMP® formula to apply and fill in the variables in order to arrive at the answers. An on-screen calculator (for computer-based tests) is also provided for you to do the mathematics. Don’t worry if you are not coming from the science background. All you need to do is to remember the formulas and to do more practice questions in order to understand when to use which formula.

3. What are ITTOs (Inputs, Outputs, Tools and Techniques) and Do I need to memorize them all?

Many Aspirants are quite worried about the ITTOs. After all, there are 600+ ITTOs for all the project management processes as outlined in the PMBOK® Guide. How can one remember all the ITTOs for their exam?

Again, the good news is that the exam is not a test of your memory capacity or how well you can recite things. From random surveys of exam takers, there are usually around 5 or less questions directly about ITTOs. Remember, the exam is a test about your capability of begin a project manager and NOT a test about your memory. PMI will not require you to recite all the ITTOs.

PMP® aspirants will need to understand the most important ITTOs and how and why they are related to the each project management processes. Many outputs of a process will eventually become inputs of another process. Usually, after reading the PMBOK® Guide for 1 or 2 times, PMP® aspirants will be able to form a mental map for relationship between the ITTOs and project management framework. The knowledge gained in such a way should be sufficient for answering exam questions correctly.

4. How to answer the long scenario-based/situational exam questions?

The long situational questions are usually considered the more difficult and ‘tricky’ questions on the paper by many aspirants. The questions usually include a lot of facts and descriptions which are intended to act as distractors to test whether you can sort out the most important information from the scenario. There are several tips on helping you to tackle such long scenario-based questions:

  • Read the last sentence of the question FIRST in order to understand what actually you are asked about.
  • Read all the answers and make use of elimination techniques to cross out obviously unrelated or wrong answers.
  • Make use of your exam brain dump sheet to assist you in highlighting the important information in the question.
  • Practice more scenario-based sample questions.

5. How to manage the exam time for the exam?

The exam lasts for 4 hours which seem to be a long long time. However, PMP® aspirants are required to answer 200 questions during the 4-hour period as well as taking necessary breaks for toilet or rest. Some exam takers reflected that they could just barely finish all the questions before the time was up.

The most important tip for helping you to manage the exam time is to do several 4-hour full-length PMP® practice exams before your real exam. Try to understand your stamina, your need for toilet breaks, etc. during these practice exams and formulate your exam taking strategies.

Some candidates would try writing the first 100 questions continuously, taking a toilet break of 10 minutes, finishing the rest 100 question, taking another break and then checking all the questions. They would need around 4 hours for the whole process. And many of the exam takers (including me) found that the “performance” on the real exam is lower than the simulated tests – one would take more time answering the questions than planned. It is wise to make allowances for this when planning your exam time.

As this is an important topic, I have explained in more PMP® Exam time management here.

6. What is the best way to study for the Exam?

The answer to this question is in fact very personal. It depends on what is your learning style:

  • For those who learn best by reading on their own, reading the PMBOK® Guide as well as another exam pre book would be a good idea. You are also advised to purchase or create your own “Flashcards” so that you can refer to during any free time.
  • For those who learn best in the visual way, purchasing podcast exam prep courses would be most helpful. You can listen and watch the lessons on your smartphones anywhere you like and understand/remember the contents for the exam unconsciously. Plus, you can repeat indefinitely any lessons which you find difficult at first. You are also recommended to read the charts in the PMBOK® Guide in order to familiarize yourself with the project management process flows.
  • For those who learn best with others, taking classroom bootcamps or joining study groups would suit you most. When you encounter some difficult topics, you can always ask for clarification from others. Also, the “peer pressure” (in the good sense) will urge you to keep your study progress on track.

Or you can tailor the above approaches and create your own study plan based on your particular learning style.

7. How many practice exams should I take before the actual Exam?

Practice exams are must-haves for aspirants. The practice exams will give you many opportunities to sit for the exam in a realistic setting. This is NO penalty for failing the practice exams (note: if you fail the real exam, you will have to pay the re-examination fee). Most of the simulated practice exams will also give you detailed reports on your performance and give you suggestions on what to concentrate your efforts on.

There is NO a set limit on the number of practice exams you would need to do before your exam. However, there is a general recommendation that if you can get 80% or more in more than one practice exam question paper which you attempt for the first time, then you should be ready for the real exam.

However, don’t be discouraged if you get just 70%+, many aspirants getting around 70% in their practice exams can also pass the PMP® Exam in first try. The “80% passing score” just bets on the safe side. Again, the good news is that you can find a number of quality free exam practice questions here.

Further PMP® Exam Tips

Wish you PMP® success!

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Edward Chung

Edward Chung aspires to become a full-stack web developer and project manager. In the quest to become a more competent professional, Edward studied for and passed the PMP Certification, ITIL v3 Foundation Certification, PMI-ACP Certification and Zend PHP Certification. Edward shares his certification experience and resources here in the hope of helping others who are pursuing these certification exams to achieve exam success.

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4 Responses

  1. Frankie Lee says:

    HI, I guess you are also live in Hong Kong, m i right? I am going to take PMP exam on coming Nov. Your article are much helpful esp. talking about the differences of main concept. I am now struggle in the preparation and just looking at few books. The most hard part for me is clarify the input and output and their relationship, esp. in change request, deliverable and various plan components (although you mentioned we dont need to memorize all, PMP have its own vocabulary). BTW, thank you for building such beautiful thing and your design is also brilliant. God bless you.

    • Edward Chung says:

      Hi Frankie,

      Yes, I am currently living in Hong Kong. ITTO’s are not that important for the PMP Exam. In particular, you are not required to memorize all the ITTO’s. All you need to know is how they are related to the project management processes. Most questions now ask you (as a project manager) what you would do next.

      Wish you PMP success!

  2. Vi says:

    Dear Edward,

    As you advised in this article “Apply for the exam as early as possible in your preparation process”, I would want to start the online application as soon as my PMP course starts from this Sep, after then, I plan to submit the application and pay the bill once the 35 PDU is obtained (if luckily the Audit can be skipped). May I ask you if this is the best schedule to for the scenario that 2018’s PMP revolution is coming soon?
    Many thanks in advance.

    P.S. I tried to leave my question for several times, but found nothing left under this article. Not sure if the comment was pending verification. Please help remove it if there are some comments duplicated. Thanks.

    BR
    Vi

    • Edward Chung says:

      Hi Vi,

      Sure, you will still have plenty of time to prepare for the PMP Exam based on the current exam version. And just in case you are selected, it will only take as short as 2 weeks to have your audit accepted. It took me 2 months’ preparation (including PMP course) to pass the exam and I am sure you can achieve PMP success too!

      Wish you PMP success!

November 10, 2015