Lessons Learnt --PMP (first attempt on July 10, 2009, Passed)
I took my PMP exam on July 10, 2009. It was my first attempt and I passed it with very decent scores. I was a little anxious as I was taking the new format exam (the exam aligned to the PMBOK 4ed as on June 31, 2009) and there was not enough test prep materials in the market aligned to the new test. But in the end, it turned out okay. I have compiled this set of lessons learnt for the benefit of a future test taker.
Applying for the exam: I felt that that applying for the PMP examination was a very tough task in itself--esp documenting the work experience. There are several free templates available on the internet, and one should use it. I had also used SkillSoft Corporation (SkillPort) online courses for my 35 hours of contact education--as company partners with SkillSoft for online learning. However, I had completed the application at least 5 months prior to taking the course--so I did not really use SkillSoft for exam preparation.
Books used for the PMP exam. I had only about 20 days to prepare for the exam. I extensively used the following resources, and I feel they are more than enough if followed throughly. One does not need a lot of resources if one does not have time. Following are the books I used: (A) PMBOK 4th edition from PMI (B) PMI Candidate handbook for the PMP examination (will mention later why this is important) (C) PMP Exam Prep by Rita Mulcahy (RMC). I also used the t75 sample questions from Oliver Lehmann available for free on his website (www.oliverlehmann.com). I took that in a timed test format 3 days prior to my test date.
On Test Date: I had reached the Prometric Center 45 minutes prior to the test. The lady at the front desk checked me in , and gave me a locker to keep my stuff. You are not allowed to carry anything inside except your ID and that locker key. The test center gives you a scrap paper (a booklet 8 blank A4 sheets) and two pencils for the test. I was asked if I wanted to take the test early --I did not, I rather used that time to practice some deep breathing with shut eyes, so that I could calm my nerves. It is very important to keep your cool in the exam, be extremely attentive to the question (so as to not miss the trick), so such meditation and relaxing techniques help before and during the exam. I also made sure that I had slept a full 8 hours on the previous night. Also during the 4 hour test, I took a break after every 50 questions (3 breaks of 5 minutes each). I used those breaks to use the restroom or just to relax in the lobby.
In the test center: Prior to the actual test there’s a tutorial of 15 minutes. The test starts immediately once you end the test. It just shows you how to navigate through the screen with the Previous, Next, Mark and Review Buttons and how to use the calculator on the screen (similar to the calculator in MS Windows). I completed the tutorial in about 5 minutes, but did not end it. I used the remaining 10 minutes to do a brain dump of the following 2 pages on the scrap paper -- (a) Table 3-1 Project Management Process Groups and Knowledge Areas Mapping (Pg 43) of PMBOK and (b) Formulas to Know for the Exam (Pg 437, Appendix) from RMC. I found these extremely useful and would highly recommend memorizing these two pages.
PMP Candidate Handbook. It is important to remember Page 8 from the PMP Candidate Handbook i.e. the PMP Examination Information & BluePrint--esp. the Examination Blueprint section (Domain and % of Questions). “Know Thy Exam” is a very important strategy prior to taking the test. I found out that almost 15 questions from Professional and Social Responsibility section (18 questions in total) could be answered if one had studied throughly the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (Pg 29-33) of the handbook. The remaining 3 questions could have been answered if you studied the chapter on this topic and took the chapter test from RMC.
E PMBOK 4 edition: I made PMBOK my primary source for preparation. I would not remember how many times I read it (may be at least 5-8 times) but more importantly, I made handwritten notes from the PMBOK and it paid off, while revising. While studying and making notes from the PMBOK I made sure that I studied the stuff analytically--example, what is the difference b/w Critical Chain Method and Critical Path Method. In my notes I tried to note down a term, it’s reference on the PMBOK (Page #, Section #) and also tried to answer the why, how, when, where questions (which are not explicitly mentioned in the PMBOK). I would also highly recommend knowing all the figures and tables on the PMBOK--there are at least 15-20 direct questions on ITTOs (Input, Tools & techniques and Outputs), so memorizing them is very helpful. I would confess I did not, but studied them well, so that I could try the elimination strategy in the exam. It worked, but usually , 2 answer choices are pretty close, so memorizing ITTOs would be a better strategy, esp if one has time. There were 4-5 questions which were also direct from other figures on the PMBOK
Rita Mulcahy (RMC). I used RMC as my second book. I paid more attention on the section on PMIisms, Common Errors and Pitfalls, Tricks of the Trade and Exercises in each chapter. I ignored Rita’s Process chart completely and followed the chart on Pg 43 of PMBOK instead, as these two charts can confuse you and adhering to one is better. I also used RMC for the chapter end Practice Tests. I took the tests in a time bound way --say 25 minutes for 25 questions and then compared my answers. I made sure I studied the answers and explanations thoroughly--for all answers --whether I got it correct or wrong. This helped a lot in the exam. Also, I made a seperate note of answers I got wrong --so that I could revise them later.
The test from www.oliverlehmann.com : I was told by my friends to practice as many questions as possible. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to do that, so I practiced questions from Rita and 75 questions from Oliver Lehmann (which is free). I scored 55 out of 75 when I took this test 3 days prior to the exam. This test is much tougher than that actual PMP, so if you can do this--you would know that it can’t get any worse than that. I followed the same strategy for this tests, and although this gives you the answers but not the explanations--but points you to the PMI chapters and sections. Also it mentions some other books sometimes--I did not look them up, but for those explanations, I just “googled” it. This strategy was also very helpful. So in total I had done all the chapter tests from Rita (with 1 revision), and this one--and that was all about it. I did not do any more tests--and I confess, not a single full length (200 q) test. That’s the reason I took a break after every 50 question in the actual test--to keep my attention span going. I think it is better to do quality questions and follow the explanations throughly than to follow every Tom, Dick, Harry’s sample question on the internet--esp ones which are poorly written. RMC and Oliver shows how questions are intelligently written, and many questions in these tests have to answered using the elimination technique--which is the most important technique during the exam. For every trick question I encountered in the actual PMP, I immediately used elimination technique to narrow down to 2 answer choices, and then I made a note of the question #, the 2 choices, and my preferred choice in the scrap. Then I clicked my preferred choice and marked the question for review. So, I had made 2 passes-- the first pass I had answered all questions an marked around 50 of them, and in the second pass I just revisited the marked question and compared my answer chosen answer to the alternative I had noted in the scrap paper. Then I made took my best shot and unmarked the question.
Hope this Lessons Learnt helps you, ye prospective PMP. Prepare well and keep the faith--confidence is very important for this test. All the very best. If this Lessons Learnt helped you in your preparation, do drop in a line.