Lessons Learned – Passed the PMP on first attempt with limited PM experience
I just passed the PMP exam on my first attempt. As part of my preparation, I used Rita Mulcahy’s book, which (I felt) discouraged those without significant experience managing large projects from going for the PMP. I work in an industry that is lacking in good project management processes (which is why I wanted the PMP to influence positive change in my field), so I have almost no professional experience in certain elements of project management (e.g. procurement, quality assurance, integrated change control). Throughout Rita’s book there are comments implying that without this professional experience, you will not pass the PMP exam. I found this very discouraging, but luckily, Rita’s comments did not influence the outcome of my exam and I was very happy with my PMP results:
Monitoring & Controlling: Proficient
Closing: Moderately Proficient
Despite the fact that there are thousands of “Lessons Learned” statements out there already, I am writing this Lessons Learned to help those in a similar situation (limited professional experience in good project management and limited study time) to pass the PMP.
Here is what I did in preparation for taking the PMP exam:
1. Completed a Diploma in Project Management at a local Business School = 40 hours of class over 3.5 months. I completed the course 3 months prior to taking the PMP exam. While the course did not teach specifically for the PMP exam, the final exam was similar to PMP. I scored 76% on the final exam in my Diploma so I felt I had a sufficient knowledge base to take the PMP exam 3 months later.
2. Started studying for the PMP exam 4 weeks prior to taking the test, logging approximately 60 hours of study in that time. The tools I used were:
• Head First PMP: I loved this book and read it 3 times in 4 months. This book is the opposite of Rita’s – It makes you feel like anyone could pass the PMP if they read this book. I don’t memorize or test well (particularly in multiple choice exams), so I really credit my success to Head First because it uses lots of strategies to help you learn things without rote memorization. That being said, it is a BIG book and not ideal for review. Once I had read the book a few times, I needed other tools for review. I scored 84% on the PMP sample exam at the back of the Head First book and felt they were a good preparation for the real exam.
• Rita Mulcahy’s Book: Since I found the text quite discouraging (as others also mention), I gave up reading it word-for-word and just looked at the test tips in each chapter (which are good). I also did all the questions at the end of each section. Despite success with the Head First PMP questions, I found Rita questions very confusing and long and scored poorly (65-85%) on the end-of-chapter questions. Luckily, I found the PMP exam questions were much clearer/more straight-forward that Rita’s.
• PMBOK (minimally) – Unlike most people, I did not read PMBOK cover to cover. I tried, but I just couldn’t stay focused because I found it too dry. I only used PMBOK to review the ITTOs (the diagrams are nice); to review the PMBOK Glossary to make sure I was familiar with the PMBOK definition of all terms; and to learn the project documents list on p350. I highly recommend looking through the PMBOK glossary at least to make sure all the terms are familiar to you.
• ITTO Flash cards: I made my own as I went through the Head First book. This helped me to summarize the book content. I have since discovered many app-based flash cards covering ITTOs / PMP prep. I wish I had discovered them earlier as they would have been very handy to study on buses/trains. As much as I hate memorizing, I would recommend learning ITTOs as much as possible as it gives you confidence going into the exam. I didn’t “memorize” per se, but I did go over and over the ITTOs (particularly inputs and outputs) as much as possible for the last 2 weeks of my preparation. I did not worry too much about which tools were used in which process – I just focused on knowing what the tools actually did so then it was easy to know which processes they would work for.
• Web-based games: PMPTrend has a good game for sorting processes and activities into the 5 process groups (see Rita’s Process game). I also found an ITTO game on the web which was helpful.
• Online Sample Exams: I once read that you know you’re ready for the exam when you start realizing that there are lots of “bad” sample exams (poorly worded questions and/or incorrect answers from authors). Most of the free web-based sample exams I found were “bad”. Only Head First’s online exam was good, but the questions were repetitive from the textbook exam I had already done. The night before my exam, I read good things about the Q&A’s book available on PMI.org. I wish I’d known about that and purchased it earlier because it looked the most relevant but it was too late for me to order.
• Online support: Once I identified the topics I found particularly challenging (e.g. Risk, Quality, Procurement), I found loads of good sources online that provided a variety of great explanations to these tricky concepts. Deep Fried Brain (http://www.deepfried...s-pmp-capm.html
) and PMPTrend.com forums were especially helpful.
3. Talked to “My Husband, PMP”: I am lucky that my husband got his PMP ten years ago. This meant I had someone to talk to over the tricky questions. I found that when I TALKED about something, I remembered it much better than when I just read something. For this reason, I wish I’d joined a study group and would recommend that if you don’t have a PMP-Partner, you do find a study group or actively use an online forum to help put PM processes into long-term memory.
Here is what I did on exam-day:
1. Reviewed my ITTO flash cards on the way to the exam
2. Had a good lunch before the exam – The PMP exam is an endurance test (not unlike a marathon) so you need to stay nourished.
3. Wrote down equations (based on Rita’s equation list), and order of processes (using pneumatics) before I started the test. The tutorial only took 5minutes to walk through, so I used the remaining 10min of tutorial time to write this information down on the scratch paper provided. I did not use any of this information during the exam, but it was good for my confidence and it did not take any time away from the exam, so it was not time wasted.
4. Took a quick “first pass” through the test and generously “marked” all questions I was not 100% sure of – I answered all 200 questions as fast as possible (2hr 20min) so that I could feel a little more relaxed knowing at least all the questions had an answer if I ran out of time. I felt 75 of the questions were “easy”/straight-forward, but I “marked” 115 of the questions where I felt the answer was not 100% obvious. Once I’d finished the first pass, I went back and checked all the marked questions carefully. I ended up changing 8 answers (realising I had not read the question carefully enough or mad a math error). Of the 200 questions, there were 26 that I felt were very challenging and really “stumped” me – 6 of those were due to confusing wording, but the other 20 were due to the fact that I was unfamiliar with the concept/answers. Even though I had an hour and 40 minutes remaining to review 115 questions, by the time I was done reviewing, I only had 5 minutes left on the clock! I felt confident when I pressed “end exam” that with only 25 really difficult questions, I would pass the exam.
5. Took forced breaks and had snacks – I did this based on other lessons learned that I’d read. It was hard to tear myself away from the computer while the clock kept running, but I’m glad I did because 4 hours is a LONG time. I took a 5 min water and bathroom break after I’d answered 100 questions and again after I’d finished my first pass (when I also had a snack outside the exam room). I feel the break and snack gave me the energy I needed to review all the marked questions (which is much more taxing on the brain than the first pass).
That concludes my own PMP exam experience. I am so relieved I’ll never have to take the exam again! It is long and hard, but it is possible to pass if you give yourself time to prepare and are strategic in the tools you use. Read Head First, know your ITTOs, and use all the online support available and you’ll be a long way toward passing the PMP! Good luck!! And remember, if I can do it, so can you!!!