PMP Exam Lessons Learned from Aung K. Sint [Aug 2017]
I recently heard the great new from Aung K. Sint that he passed the PMP® Exam and he would like to contribute back the PM community with his detailed PMP® Exam lessons learned as below:
My PMP® Certification Journey (project):
It all began on 16 April 2017 when I signed up PMI membership. For the next 2 weeks, I was trying to figure out what online preparation I should take as I’d require 35 contact hours + solid prep course (collect requirement). I figured that I wouldn’t have time to do bootcamp or online live course or classroom, due to the work commitment (constraints).
Then, I came across Edward Chung’s blog about PMP® (edward-designer.com/web) where he laid out all pros and cons of various online prep providers. Based on his recommendation, I went ahead to go with PM PrepCast™, which I never regret doing that.
I followed his footsteps in preparation. His web blog is a great resource (OPA) for PMP® aspirants, highly recommended to check out. Another web blog I found is pmexamsmartnotes by Shiv, where he shares tips, free notes, and exam guide (OPA). I like his “brain dump” especially, which I wish I knew earlier in my preparation journey.
My Preparation (my study “PM” plan):
Study Materials (Input and T&T):
- PMI Materials (PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition, Code of Ethics, Lexicon Terms)
- PM PrepCast™ Elite Exam Simulator package
- Rita Mulcahy, 8th Edition
- Andy Crowe, 5th Edition
- HeadFirst, 3rd Edition
- Various online free exams/tools/reference
I knew I needed a study plan, without it, I wouldn’t know how I was doing in terms of achieving my goal. Very important to have a plan (planning process group). I figured that I need around 2-3 months of preparation time (estimation). Once my application to PMI was approved and luckily mine didn’t get selected for audit (risk), I immediately scheduled my exam in early August. Once the exam date was fixed, I worked backward on my study plan:
- one full simulator test (200Q in 4 hours) per week (I chose weekend as my practice exam time, where I got longer and undisturbed block of time)
- review on the questions that I got wrong and those that I made guess on the following week,
- add to my study notes for review/reference,
- repeat that process until the last week before the exam day.
My simulator exam scores (work performance info) are:
- PM PrepCast™ 1: 76.5% (being the lowest)
- ITTO exam: 95.5% (being highest).
- Average is 84%.
I knew I was weak in HR, Stakeholder and Scope knowledge area, and Executing Process Group is my weakest.
In real exam, I got 4 P and 1 MP in Closing.
As for the study material, I broke down the topic (i.e. knowledge area) by per day (one day for short topic; 2-3 days for long topic, depending on the material and my comfort level of that material), gone through the entire book once (i.e. starting with Andy Crowe’s book, Rita, PMBOK® Guide, HeadFirst in that order). Then, I jotted down the important concepts in my study notes (executing).
Details (expert judgement):
- PMBOK® Guide, 5th Edition: A must-read, including the Annex A1 & Glossary. Give yourself enough time to understand Data Flow Diagrams of each process so that the concept will stick longer in your brain and can recall (mind map/affinity diagram/flow chart).
- Rita Book, 8th Edition: highly recommended, especially Rita Process Chart (p 50), which gives you a solid foundation on “PMI-isms”. Another good point about this book is regarding PICC, where she explained in details of the steps on how to handle “change request” (p 140).
- Andy Crowe Book, 5th Edition: I read this book first right after Cornelius podcasts lessons. He condensed the material in a very concise form (very good for review). I like his tips on exam time-management, which I adapted to my own test-taking strategy: 75Q in 1-hour mark, 150Q in 2-hour mark, take a short break, 200Q in 2.5-hour mark, skip all long questions & math (EV & Network Diagram) in the first run, once I completed 200Q, go back to unanswered questions first, then review those questions I marked, try not to change your answers more than 10% of the marked questions.
- HeadFirst, 3rd Edition: I used this book as my secondary source. The good thing about this book is that it got all the graphics, exercises, crossword puzzles, which is a great learning tool for understanding PMI concepts, if you are visual learner.
Prior to Exam Date: I followed Cornelius’ advice on things to do before exam date, by checking out the test center location, duration of travel time, asking any specific requirements, etc. (risk).
The Day before Exam Day: I review my notes, skim through Rita and Andy book for one last time, take some short quizzes. Tried to get a good night sleep, but due to my exam anxiety, I didn’t get a good sleep. Mental preparedness is another area I should have improved on.
On Exam Day: I got up around 7:30 a.m., and did my morning rituals. Did some short quizzes on simulator, took shower and had brunch (couldn’t eat much due to high pressure of exam :S). Reached the test center 11:45 a.m. since Prometric Test Center requires me to report 1 hour (12 p.m.) before my exam schedule time (1 p.m.)
During Exam: I went through the tutorial (allotted 15 minutes, but I only needed 5 minutes). A great tip about the CBT interface is that it got functionality of crossing-out the wrong answer choice, and highlighting the text from the question, which you feel is key or main point. Take full advantage of it. Then, my exam starts. I wrote down the Table 3-1 of PMBOK® Guide (p 61), which helps organizing my thought process and EV formulas. Center staff specifically mentioned not to write anything on scratch paper until the tutorial is done, i.e. no brain dump during tutorial time.
- My pace is going well according to my plan – 75Q for 1 hour, 150Q for 2 hour, 200Q for 2.5 hour. I skipped around 30Q and marked around 50Q + for review.
- Took a short restroom break (I think about 3 minutes) when I hit 150Q. Be careful of taking frequent breaks as you will require to go through sign-in/sign-out procedure of the test center, which will take longer than expected if there is someone in front of you. I recommend to take a break, if you absolutely need it, otherwise, go for 4-hour straight in one sitting.
- Personally, I felt the actual exam questions are a lot harder than simulator questions, in a sense that simulator questions are more focused on ONE knowledge area, which tests your understanding of the topic, whereas actual exam questions (I’d say around 98-99% are situational, the remaining 1-2% is on Network Diagram, which I got a couple of questions) are composed of at least TWO knowledge areas, describing a situation/scenario which you are likely to encounter in real world, testing your knowledge in identifying what the “real” problem is, and selecting the “best” answer from the choices. Understanding the basic knowledge of PMBOK® Guide processes is not enough, but deeper understanding of how each process from different knowledge areas interacts is required. There is no direct question on ITTO, like what you see on simulator exams, instead, it describes a situation and asks you which T&T that should be used.
- Another thing I learn from the actual exam is that the answer choices do not stand out prominently, rather it requires your understanding of each process inside-out (i.e., inputs – where they are coming from, T&T – why you need them and what you are trying to accomplish, outputs – what you will do with it) since you are being tested on the overall PM knowledge.
- Although I had practiced a lot of sample questions (maybe close to 3000+), my confidence level during the exam was going down because the first 50 or so questions, I found particularly hard and skipped a lot. Then, when I reached the last 50Q, I found comfortable myself and gained my confidence back. Try not to lose your “cool” and do breathing exercises whenever you feel you are “stuck”. I treated those hard questions are the “pretest” questions (probably not true) and felt a lot better by thinking that way.
- During my practice exams, I had a hard time figuring out ITTO of each process, always confused and got mixed up ALL the time. That is when I did a ITTO data flow chart based on Table 3-1, which helps me to see the overview of how inputs and outputs from different processes flow and inter-related. Really messy but your brain can handle it 😉 . I suggest you do the same, it will save you a lot in real exam when answering tough questions. Another tool I found on internet about ITTO is v2tutorials. Try that to test your ITTO knowledge. Also, practice Rita Process Chart (google it) to get familiarized yourself, especially Planning Process Group Order.
- My advice on tackling those situational questions with TWO or more knowledge areas is:
- Understand what the “real” problem or issue is – is it talking about the Stakeholder or Communication issue?
- Figure out where you are in the process group – is it in Executing or Monitoring/Controlling?
- Understand what the question is “really” asking – some questions throw in a lot of unnecessary info to make you confused, and some answer choices are there to make you more confused. It happened to me a lot.
- If long questions, go read the last sentence and read all 4 answer choices to give you a sense what the question is all about. Then, go back to read the questions.
- Process of Elimination is a good tactics too. Make use of the function by crossing-out those apparently wrong answer choices.
- Try not to spend too much time on a single question, make your best guess and move on. Time-management is very important. Exam Simulator gives you an excellent way of managing your exam time, and how-to stamina yourself to go through a 4 hours-long exam. Get a good feel of how you would do by taking simulator exams. Practice exam scores will give you a rough gauge of how ready you will be for real exam.
I thank my wife who has supported all the way from the very beginning to the very last minute of exam. Thanks all and wish you all the best to all future PMP® aspirants.
My one-sentence lesson learned is “develop a plan and execute it according to your plan, constantly monitor your progress, and close it by obtaining your PMP®!”
Thanks Aung for his insightful lessons learned about his PMP® project!