Lessons Learned: Passed PMP(11-July) with 5Ps in the first attempt!
With God's grace, I was able to crack the PMP exam last Wednesday at Bangalore, India with Proficient in all five domains. Here's how the sequence of events unfolded:
Prior to May '12
It was five years back that I had heard of the PMP certification for the first time. My Manager at that time had nominated me for an internal PMP prep training and tried to convince me to acquire the credential. Though the idea of PMP had caught my imagination, I never attended that training. Instead, I gave up my job to join a full time MBA program. Two years of MBA and three more years thereafter passed by but the aspiration to attain those three letters remained unaddressed due to lack of time / priorities. In March - April this year, all of sudden, I realized that time has flown on its own wings and left me surrounded with a group of peer / supervisor Project Managers at the office most of who were (atleast) PMP certified. The pressure started to mount and I decided to take a serious shot at averting the possibility of being 'outcompeted' at the workplace. Gradually started reading up about the exam, eligibility, lessons learned etc. on the web(esp. PMZilla and Y! Groups). Also shortlisted some reading material(Rita and PMBOK) and prepared a very high level schedule with a target exam date of late June / early July.
May 1st week - May 3rd week
My greatest drawback, like most others, was the unavailability of study time. My supervisor(and a large chunk of my own team) predominantly works out of the US office so evenings were ultra hectic for me. At the max I was able to squeeze out an hour or two during early mornings. Read through Rita's book(6th ed.) and PMBOK(4th ed.) cover to cover during these three weeks. Also completed Rita's chapter end tests diligently reviewing both correct and incorrect answers. Scored 78% on an average on these tests. Also memorized the ITTOs by heart as I progressed through each process / knowledge area. Every morning, before starting off with the reading material, I practiced writing down the ITTOs from memory. Later, this knowledge of ITTOs helped me a lot in the mocks and in the real exam.
Simultaneously obtained a PMI membership and applied for the exam within the first few days. Unfortunately, got selected for the audit but cleared the process lightning fast. Find my post here on PMZilla regarding the audit: http://pmzilla.com/help-needed-pmp-audit-process.
Midway through this phase attended the PMstudy classroom bootcamp and completed an online course worth the requisite 35 contact hours.
It was at this point that I started building up the aspiration of passing with 5Ps.
Find my post on PMZilla at the end of this phase: http://pmzilla.com/need-advice-where-do-i-stand.
May 4th week - May 5th week
Quickly read through Rita, PMBOK and PMstudy material once more and attempted the online chapter tests of PMstudy. Scored 83.9% on an average. Took Headfirst's as the first full length mock and scored 85%. This boosted my confidence and I went ahead and scheduled the exam. But then this also exposed numerous knowledge gaps and made me realize the benefit of taking full length mocks. Kept on practicing ITTOs and dreaming of cracking the code with 5Ps.
Took some more full length tests to identify and fill up knowledge gaps:
Simplilearn - 80%(pathetic testing interface with very poorly worded questions, far removed from the actual test)
Exam Central - 85%(easy test, nice interface and comprehensive analysis of the result)
Rita FASTrack PMP(v6) - 76.5%(closest to the real exam, high quality questions)
Oliver Lehmann 175Q - 80%(brain teasing questions, thoroughly enjoyed the stimulation but insufficient answer explanations)
Andy Crowe - 91%(very easy questions, finished the exam in < 2 hrs)
Also took a few shorter mocks:
Oliver Lehmann's 75Q(83.1%) - tough questions, makes full use of your grey cells but answer explanations insufficient
Seven 'Lite Mocks' from Chris Scordo's book(91.1% average) - easy questions
For all the mocks, I tried clinically analyzing both correct and incorrect answers.
Did not touch Rita or PMBOK at all during this phase but kept on practicing ITTOs every morning. Started to believe that I can actually achieve 5Ps.
Find my PMZilla post at the end of this phase: http://pmzilla.com/need-advice-final-lap.
1st July - 10 July
Didn't attempt any more mocks during this phase. Read through Rita, PMBOK and PMstudy material in detail again. This time, I knew what's exactly to be taken away while going through these. Gradually you reach a stage where you can frame questions in your own mind for every line of PMBOK that you read through. Meanwhile kept on practicing ITTOs every morning.
Took the last three days off from work to concentrate completely on PMP. Stopped studying 24 hours prior to the exam. Watched a movie and went out for a long walk with my wife in the evening before the exam.
Day of the exam
Reached the test centre about an hour early and was asked to wait outside. There were lots of other people waiting alongwith me but most were there for their GRE I guess. At the scheduled start of the appointment, everyone formed a single serpentine queue to check in. The security staff checked my ID and scanned my body thoroughly before letting me into the testing room. I 'signed in' and was provided with four blank sheets(8 pages) and 2 pencils with erasers.
Got seated in front of a terminal but the overhead light wasn't working so I was almost in the dark. Started off with the 15 min tutorial which had topics such as "how to use the mouse" etc. so galloped through it in a minute. Over the next 13-14 min created a brain dump of PMBOK Page 43 and all relevant EVM and procurement formulae. Also noted down the tools and techniques of processes in Quality, Risk and HR. Though being almost in the dark writing down anything on the rough sheets was a challenge. At the end of 15 min, the exam automatically started and I kept on moving through the questions sequentially. Started marking questions(A) which I wasn't confident of with the option I had selected. For questions which were too long / confusing / time consuming(esp. PERT), I read through the answers only(and not the question) and selected an option based on common sense. Made a special note of these questions(B) on the rough sheet. It's important to ensure that no question remains unanswered since you never know how much time you'll be left with for review in the end. This way, finished through the first pass of 200 questions in 1 hour 50 min. At the end of this, had marked 32 questions of type A and 23 of type B. Took a 10 min break to relieve myself and munch on a snack.
Came back and started answering type B questions first. I felt these were the toughest ones on the exam and I took a full hour to answer these. Very coincidentally, I observed that for most of these questions, I had already marked the correct answers in the first pass by just looking at the options! At the end of this, I had an hour left and type A questions to review. Finished those off in the next 20 min and I think I changed 3-4 answers in all. So at the end of 3 hr and 20 min, I was through with all questions and was on the brink of exhaustion. Thought of reviewing all answers again but my fatigued eyes and hurting back made me decide otherwise. Pressed the "End of exam" button on the screen and it went blank for a good one minute or so. Then a survey appeared(which was again a multiple choice) which I raced through in a couple of min. Again pressed the "Submit" button and this time the screen went blank for almost 1-2 min. And then finally "Congratulations" appeared on the screen alongwith the proficiency levels in each domain! I walked out of the testing room and was provided a printout of the score sheet.
Overall my set of 200 questions had some 15-20 numericals(out of which 10 required actual calculations). I also faced some 10 odd direct ITTO type questions.
Key learning points
These are the most important things I realized while travelling through this exciting journey:
1) Dedication / Objectivity - Needless to say, PMP is a certification which deserves respect. You have to sacrifice parties, vacation trips and your social life during the preps. Only when you make it an obsession will it reward you back with success. Old saying - the harder you work, the luckier you'll get!
2) "PMI-isms" - To align your mental frequency with the way PMI thinks is the most difficult part of this certification. There are no incorrect answers to the questions but one needs to learn the way PMI wants all Project Managers to think when facing situations. Rita Mulcahy's book is full of these PMI-isms which can prove invaluable in conditioning one's mind this way.
3) PMBOK - An immaculate sleeping pill for sure but needs to gulped down along with a reference text(I used Rita). Good for learning the contents of different project docs(scope statement, business case etc.), terms(read the glossary / index) and ITTOs. Also good to understand how each process fits into the larger picture of project management.
4) Mock Tests - One should take as many high quality full length mocks as possible. The knowledge gaps identified while analyzing the results should be fed back into the system. Also helps to build up a test strategy(i.e. whether to answer all questions in the first pass or keep the difficult ones for the second pass, how much time to spend on each question before moving on etc.). One should also have a backup plan chalked out for use if the primary strategy fails(e.g. all questions are equally tough and there's no point in having a second pass).
5) Online forums / circles / groups - I spent a considerable amount of time on PMZilla and Y! Groups everyday reading through lessons learned posts / answering questions / talking about PMP. This keeps you motivated and your mind occupied with thoughts about the final goal. I should especially thank PMZilla for connecting me with KK, Saket Sir and the likes who kept on egging me till the finish line. And of course how can I forget Pawarji and his extra-terrestrially intelligent posts! Those were real stress busters.
So this was how I managed to scale peak PMP. Thank you again PMZilla!