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I passed the PMP on my first try a week ago. I have attached my lessons learned below. Warning -- it's long! I tried to edit but decided to leave it alone as it might help someone else.
I just passed the PMP exam on my first attempt on Monday (November 26th). I started my preparations in mid-July, but didn’t really get serious until October. So I had two months of intensive preparations. I studied about 15 hours per week during that time, and added a 10-hour “boot camp” class on four Saturdays before the exam, with a week off after the last class. I took that last week off work too so that I could concentrate on the exam with few distractions. The timing was such that it made the Thanksgiving holiday more work than fun, but the result was well worth it!
I started reading the PMBOK in July. By chapter 3 I was getting busy at work (and finding the PMBOK a dry read); meanwhile I heard from others that it was better to read one of the exam prep books first. I bought the RMC/Rita Mulcahey book and read it once. I didn’t do all of the exercises but took all of the end-of-chapter exams.
I then took a break for a couple of weeks, and then re-read the Rita book, paying more attention to details and doing the exercises. I took notes on 3 x 5 cards so I’d have my own set of flash cards to study from – I focused on terms that were new to me, formulas, etc. I re-took the end-of-chapter exams and did better the second time around.
I found that Rita’s process chart was helpful, but needs to be coordinated with the chart in the PMBOK in order to be truly useful. I first memorized the PMBOK chart and was able to reproduce that, and then added in the steps in Rita’s process chart where they made sense. I didn’t focus on memorizing any ITTOs but was able to use this system to figure out the ITTO questions on the exam. Another trick for ITTO questions is to look at the potential answers and rule out any that are not appropriate – if the question is asking about an input and you see things that are tools and techniques, you can rule them out. So it’s important to know which things are inputs and outputs vs. tools and techniques, but not so important to memorize which ITTOs go with which processes – that becomes obvious and can be figured out using logic just as Rita says.
I took my first RMC full simulation exam after reading Rita’s book twice. I didn’t do very well (70%) and later realized I had taken the “Super PMP” exam vs. a regular PMP simulation exam. The “Super PMP” exam contains 200 of the hardest questions in the database. Doh! I took a second regular PMP simulation on the RMC system later and scored 85% which gave me more confidence!
By this time I felt it was time to read the PMBOK. I took a while to do this to make sure I digested the information and compared it to what was in the Rita book. It was a much easier read after the context supplied by RMC, which has more examples and real life situations to aid in understanding the concepts. I read the PMBOK glossary as well and made sure I knew what all the terms meant and where they occurred in the process map. It’s important to know if a term actually exists in the PMBOK or if it’s a made-up term when taking the exam. I then read the Code of Ethics. I did some additional Internet research on some of the concepts such as conflict of interest and whistle blowing just to get a real-world perspective outside of my own real-life experience. It’s important to really understand the concepts so doing research on your own is very helpful in this process and I feel it made me a better project manager, in addition to passing the exam.
I discovered the Deep Fried Brain blog about 2 weeks before my exam and found it very helpful to get perspective around different concepts so that I could truly understand them and therefore remember them. I read most of the blog posts. Even things that you know and use as a Project Manager in real life can look different on the exam, so it’s good to know PMI’s perspective on things from people who have passed the exam. Two blog posts that I found particularly valuable: the difference between total and free float and when to use the various EAC formulas. These were things that I researched on my own to be sure I understood them; Deep Fried Brain really helped me solidify these things in my head. Thank you!
I took other practice exams in addition to the RMC exams. There are a lot of free exam prep questions on the Internet. Some were very frustrating since they were poorly written and because of that you really have to guess what the exam writer is getting at. The correct answer may be obvious, but based on how the question is worded the “correct” answer does not really answer the question. This becomes a guessing game and is not really productive. Sometimes the “correct” answer on free practice exam questions included terminology that wasn’t quite right. Sometimes the differences were subtle, but realize that the real exam will always use correct terminology from the PMBOK for correct answers. If you do poorly on some of the free practice exams you might want to consider whether they are well written; the problem might not be you, but the exam writer. These exams were not a good indicator of how the actual exam was written but they did make me think about concepts and do research on my own, even if I disagreed with the answer. Note that some free online practice questions use outdated material and terminology from prior PMBOK versions so be careful. If you consider yourself well prepared and you come across terms you don’t know in a practice exam question, you may be dealing with this type of situation.
The actual exam had a few small grammatical inconsistencies but was much easier to read and understand than many of the free practice exams. I felt that the two best practice exam systems were RMC and PM Final. I was lucky that my employer paid for the entire RMC system (book, practice exams, and flashcards which I didn’t really use) and for me to attend a four-weekend boot camp (10 hours each Saturday for 4 weeks). The boot camp allowed me access to the PM Final exam system. The practice exams that cost money were more beneficial than those that were free. I think you do get what you pay for in this case and if you are investing the time in studying you should invest in good study materials if you can. (I think PM Final has a limited free trial period but I’m not sure how many questions you get.) I felt that RMC exam questions were more difficult than the actual exam and PM Final a bit easier than the actual exam.
The week before my exam I read Rita’s book for the third time (which is what the book said to do - I was skeptical but did it anyway and it really was helpful). I did the exercises again but didn’t do the end-of-chapter exams. I felt like the third reading really solidified my knowledge of the material. I did my last PM Final 200 question exam simulation about 5 days before the exam. I scored a 92% and at that point didn’t see the point in taking any more practice exams.
On the day before my exam I decided to do entirely “right brained” activities in order to relax. It was a weekend and I spent most of the day doing an art project and in the evening went ice skating. I was able to relax and take myself out of “exam prep” mode which I think is valuable. I don’t recommend reading your work e-mail the night before the exam -- I did and received some bad news which had nothing to do with the exam and had a sleepless night. The next day I put everything out of my mind, drove to the testing center and took the test.
I am sensitive to noise so took ear plugs with me to the exam. During the tutorial time I recreated my “cheat sheet” as I had practiced and I referred to it a couple of times, but didn’t really need it at this point. It was a good way to get the nerves out and put myself in testing mode, so therefore valuable. The person across from me was a smoker and the smell of smoke was a bit overpowering; otherwise the testing experience was comfortable.
I was surprised that some answers were really straightforward and obvious – so much so that I thought I must be missing something in the question. Other questions required more thought, but very few were truly difficult. There were hardly any wordy questions. I am a math person and found most of the calculations very easy (didn’t even need the calculator) and the network diagram questions were also easier than what I had studied. There were some questions that had new terminology and I figured those must be the “not scored” questions. I actually thought I did well on those questions since I knew what they were talking about from my past experience, but of course I’ll never know. I didn’t let myself worry about them but concentrated on doing well on the other questions.
I forced myself to take longer reading each question than I had in my practice exams since I had learned that some of my mistakes were due to not reading the question thoroughly or not reading all of the answers. It therefore took me longer to do a first pass of 200 questions (2.5 hours) than it had on practice exams. I took a break and then reviewed the 16 questions I had marked for review. I changed two answers. I knew from my practice exams that I tend to do better on the last half of the exam, so I then went back and reviewed starting at the beginning in case I ran out of time. I didn’t change very many answers, but did catch a couple of mistakes. I think I was tired from lack of sleep the night before. Sleep deprivation is not the best way to approach the exam and I don’t recommend it. I was able to review about half of the questions in the hour I had remaining. With about 5 minutes left I felt exhausted so decided to just submit the exam.
After receiving my “pass” I did what should be done after any successful project closure – went home and took a nap – and then went out to celebrate! Thanks to my husband and to this blog which really helped me solidify the concepts and instill confidence before my exam. Terri
Very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences.
I second the comments from @LVB. Extremely helpful and well drafted lessons learned post indeed.
I'm glad you found Deep Fried Brain blog useful. Thanks a lot for your wonderful comments and of course for sharing your experience.