Getting PMP Certified: Sharing from a Loser-turn-winner

PMP Exam Experience Sharing

Though it is often said that failing the PMP Exam the first or even the second try is NOT the end of the world considering the level of difficulty of the exam. However, it is really frustrating to received the “Sorry you did not pass” message at the end of the 4-hour struggle.

Below is the genuine sharing by Fei Jiang, PMP who had failed the PMP Exam the first try but managed to turn the failure into victory the second time! Her sharing is very useful for those who are still considering whether to give the PMP Exam one more chance:

Here’s a little bit about my PMP journey: I worked on Project Manager/Business Analyst role for 5 years. As soon as I am qualified for 4,500 hours, I started aiming for PMP certificate. Took my first attempt for PMP 10/18/2016, and failed miserably. Then second attempt on 05/06/2017, and passed. My overall lesson learned: PMP test is more or less like a driver’s license road test – you will pass eventually, but only if you spend time practicing.

How I fail the first time

I started reading PMBOK® Guide in July 2016. Man did I fall asleep reading. Words of the book: Input, Tools &Technologies, Output. If you have read it, you knew what I’m talking about. To make matters worse, much of these information occurs over and over again throughout the book (e.g. enterprise environment, meeting, expert judgement, etc.), and created an illusion that “oh it’s the same as last chapter, I’ll just skim through it”. I spent a painful lot of time in the first three to four chapters understanding the terminologies, but almost skimmed through the remaining. After finishing PMBOK® Guide, I almost thought I’m ready for the exam – it’s so easy, input – tools – output, a little math in cost calculation plus a bit critical path determination, I got it.

So I took a 2 months break in studying and enjoyed my summer (I know, shut up), made my appointment for December, and resumed studying. I researched a little bit and decided to refresh my knowledge (if I had much) by reading Headfirst PMP. It was a very fun to read book which I actually enjoyed studying. I will talk about the benefit of this book later. However, it shouldn’t be the last book I read before testing, because the book and the questions are slightly on the easier side, which built up on my relentless confidence that “oh, I’ve got this”. I went ahead and started my first mock-up test – Oliver Lehmann 175 – got 68% right. OK it doesn’t look good but everyone knew Oliver Lehmann 175 is on the harder side – I said to myself. With everything else that kept an adult life busy, I studied on and off, did one or two more mockup tests, kept lying to myself that they are all harder than the actual test, went for the actual test and came out shocked and confused – I can’t believe I failed! I had three knowledge processes moderately proficient, and two below proficient (initiative and monitoring/controlling).

The Mistakes I have made – and you definitely don’t want to make them again

Failure is hard to digest, and you may want to console yourself by exaggerating the effort you made – “I studied hard for it. I missed so many parties and happy hours. I scored 80% in mockup test (yeah that one time I did in a 20 review question after one chapter). Why did I fail? It must have been bad luck”! Being honest and facing your own failure is hard, but you will never succeed by lying to yourself to feel better. I will feel better when I pass, not by covering my mistakes, so let’s face them:

  1. I did take the exam too lightly – I thought if every project manager in my company has a PMP, then I will have one too. I’m no less than them! What I haven’t thought about is – every single person who have a PMP studied hard and earned it.
  2. Not enough study for sure. It is hard to admit, but simply being lazy and not studying enough is one of the main reason to fail any test. The biggest mistake I made is failure to study continuously and keep my memory fresh.
  3. I did not take enough mockup test. I roughly took 2-3 mockup tests and did not bother to go over my mistakes carefully. I just read through the question and look at the correct answer – lost the meaning in mockup test.
  4. During the test, I only used 2.5 hours out of the 4 hours. I was rushing it with no review, thinking I will get back to work in the afternoon with my PMP certificate, didn’t happen that way.

How I did it all over again (and PASSED!)

I put myself together after New Year, purchased Rita’s PMP book, and started putting one hour aside every day for studying. Most of the days I do more than an hour, but ensure to study for an hour at the minimum. Rita’s book is a challenging read, I did not finish the entire book and skipped all the questions. I used the book mainly as a refresher and noted down the key points that I need to read in detail. I went back to PMBOK® Guide in the points I wrote down again and again, until I get the definition by looking at the names (quick test: what is Monte Carlo technique?). Then I started mockup tests. I did Oliver Lehmann 175 questions again and scored 70% (like what did I learn!) and spent 3 days reviewing every single question – not just those I did wrong. I googled all the questions I did wrong and wrote down comprehensive explanations for them, went back to Rita’s book and completed the questions related to the particular knowledge area. The process of reviewing questions feels less accomplished than doing mockup tests, but it is, in my opinion, more important. By reviewing the questions and answers, you get the most out of the mockup test. It is the time you actually dive in to the knowledge behind the question and use it to solve other problems.

I purchased a test bank book on Amazon (and you don’t have to, there are plenty of free tests online). The reason I spent money on test book is that I don’t have enough time to go over all the questions online to find out which ones worth spending time on. By publishing the book, someone already filtered the information for you.

Now many of the online posts ask you to get 85% questions right in the mockup tests to secure the actual test, I have to say I have never scored more than 78%. I was nervous about the exam thinking I will have to do this all over again. I passed with four moderately proficient and one proficient. Here’s my take: if your goal (like mine) is to just pass the exam, not to excel in the result, don’t stress out on the correction rate. However you are definitely not ready if you continuously scoring under 70%, or if your percentage fluctuate significantly. Yes there are people studying harder and scoring 85% in mockup and passed with all five areas being proficient. However I just want my PMP certificate in hand and move on along my career. Moreover, who would really ask “how many proficient did you get when you pass the PMP test”? In my opinion, if you are continuously scoring between 75% – 80% (I want to say 72% to 80% but just to be a little on the safer side), and reviewing your mistakes in depth and do not make the same mistakes twice, you are in a good position to pass. It is just me though, if you are aiming at higher scores then it just simply mean that you are better than me.

I went to my second test in New Jersey center, and used 3 hours and 50 minutes. Man that last click of confirming the submission is one of those times my finger feels heavy and can’t push the mouse!

Suggestions from a Loser and a Winner for getting PMP

  1. I want to put this in the first because it is super important! Open your PMBOK® Guide and find the process chart below (it should be at the end of Process Integration Chapter). Highlight the hell out of it, scan and print it and carry it in every bag you have. Before you get into your mockup test you should memorize it by heart like your own birthday. During the test, there are a lot of “what to do next” questions. You will get most of them right by thinking what process group the situation is in currently, and which answer is related to the next process group. That is the answer you want to choose.

    Source:® Guide_KnowledgeAreas_ProcessGroups_001.jpg
  2. If you hate study, start with Headfirst PMP. It gives you a decent understanding of PMP exam and knowledge areas while keeping you entertained with the examples. If you enjoy reading and studying in depth, start with Rita’s book (don’t skip the first section of the book, it tells you how to use it sufficiently). This book gives you more solid understanding and covers more information. You don’t have to read both books (again, do it if you are aiming higher). I personally recommend to skip process integration chapter of both books and read it the last. That way you already have a good understanding of each process group to know what you really are integrating.
  3. After finishing one of the two books, find a good test bank that categorize by knowledge areas. Start your study by at least 20 questions of that knowledge area, write down the key words that you have difficulty with (e.g. best practice, corrective action, Delphi technique, etc.). Then open PMBOK® Guide and read the chapter for that knowledge area. This way you are reading with purpose, not browsing and falling asleep. Keep the key words you wrote on a note book for future reference.
  4. After you finish all chapters, go over your key words again. I recommend getting a PDF version of PMBOK® Guide so you can search for these words easily. You will get a free copy to download if you join PMI membership.
  5. Take your first full length mockup test. If you have done steps 1-4, you should be scoring more than 70% (don’t panic if you get lower though). Make sure you spend enough time in reviewing the questions. Google the question worked unexpectedly well for me, especially for Olive Lehman’s 175 and 75 questions. People almost asked every single one of them online! Patiently go through the answers, get back to PMBOK® Guide for clarification. Don’t rush to get more tests done. At the end, it’s the knowledge you comprehended that works, not the number of questions you have done.
  6. While #5 is true, don’t go to the real test without doing more than three mockup tests! With all the distractions today, it is simply hard to concentrate for 4 hours. You need to figure out what is the best strategy for you in the exam – how often you take rests, when you will need food, and how much time you need at the end to review the questions you marked. You need to build your stamina for a 4 hour exam.
  7. If you are super confident and know about time management well, ignore this one. However I highly recommend to make full use of the 4 hours. You will never get your time sitting in the exam back after you hit submit. I mean you prepared for it for over 2 months if not more, why rush to complete one hour earlier when you are taking the exam? Think about it as your show time, and make full use of it.

Okay. This is much chattier than I thought I am! However I still feel there are a lot I haven’t cover. I hope it is helpful for people who are preparing for the exam, but gets frustrated looking at the success stories. Trust me, PMP is not scary, and even if you fail, it’s not going to be the end of the world (that’s why PMI gives you three chances because people DO fail!).

Just roll up your sleeves and get some work done, you will taste the joy soon. I look forward to hearing your good news!

Thanks Fei for your insightful sharing. I would only add that: Give the PMP Exam an additional try that you will not regret!

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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