New approach for passing the PMP exam the first time (lessons learned)

 I desperately needed to get this message out to you folks since my take on the PMP test and studying is drastically different than many of the folks that share their experiences.  This is what I have seen in the forums or heard from people:


1.     “This is an exam not to be taken lightly”

2.     “This is the hardest exam that I’ve taken”

3.     “You must read PMBOK 3 times, read Rita 3 times, and do Rita’s question test until you do at least 80% percent consistently”

4.     “I saw things in the exam that I did not see in the PMBOK”

5.     “All the questions are situational”


My experience was totally the opposite:


1.     I found the test easy, although time and formula questions were a concern to me. I’ll explain more below.

2.     I read PMBOK only once (and only focused on concepts that were new to me and skimmed through the things that I was familiar with) and went through 1200 practice questions.

3.     I studied about 50 hours only, which was 5 weekends studying 5 hours on Saturday and 5 on Sunday.

4.     Everything I studied from PMBOK and study questions I saw on the exam. The exam questions were not a surprise.

5.     Not all questions were situational. A lot of questions were straight from PMBOK and were easy to anyone who studied the PMBOK.


Here’s my opinion on why a lot of people think this exam is difficult:


1.     The information in the PMBOK is difficult to absorb since it is written in such a way that is difficult to digest the information and retain it. The outline style of the PMBOK makes it difficult to remember what the heck you are reading about. Many, many, many times I would have to stop reading and ask my self “what process am I reading?” I guarantee you that this is the top reason why it is so hard to retain PMBOK information.

2.     The information in the PMBOK is difficult to understand since it is broken into many knowledge areas and process groups. Sometimes it is hard to relate that to real life experience or to absorb all the process naming conventions that are PMI specific.


Here’s my strategy:


1.     Go to PMBOK and start readying the acronyms and definitions before reading anything else. If you don’t get it in your head, read it again.

2.     Go to PMBOK and print the following:

a.     Table that maps the process groups and knowledge areas (1 page)

b.     Overview chart for each knowledge area, which shows all the processes for that knowledge area, the inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs. You can find this easily by doing a search for the term “Overview”. (9 pages)

c.      Appendix that compares the project management plan to the project documents (1 page)

d.     Appendix that compares the project charter to the scope statement (1 page)

e.     Search for PMP formulas on the internet and print a sheet with all of them. But be super careful, some formula cheat sheets that I downloaded had some formulas wrong (like a plus sign instead of a minus sign). So validate the formulas yourself.

3.     Get the book PMP (Practice Makes Perfect) that has over 1000 practice questions with answers. This book is simply awesome and a lot of the questions are worded similar to the PMP exam.

4.     In all studying, play classical Baroque music. It is proven that this music can help you focus and retain information.

5.     Read PMBOK until you feel bored, then switch to practice questions, then when you get bored, switch to reading the summary sheets that you printed in step #2 above. This worked for me since my attention span and focus is limited for things that I don’t care for.

6.     If you have problems focusing because PMO exam is not the most motivational, think and visualize why you need the certification. Imagine how it is going to boost your credibility, your resume, your income, or get you the job you want to provide for your family. This will give you the juice to focus on the exam. Don’t take this lightly, this really works.

7.     Read PMBOK completely. You can skim through concepts that you already know and focus on the concepts that you did not know (you might want to re-read those if they don’t stick in your mind).

8.     This is the most important concept that no one has mentioned: those summary sheets that you printed with the knowledge management overviews are the PMBOK in its shortest form. Once you understand the concepts in the PMBOK by reading it once, just read the overview summary sheets (the 9 pages) over and over. Try reading them at least 5 times. If you read something from them that you don’t remember much, simply go to the PMBOK and re-read that information that you don’t remember.

9.     You have to study in a compressed timeframe. If you wait too long between studying, the brain forgets the information. I remembered a college professor saying that this phenomenon is like the half-life in radioactive decay. As time passes, you loose half of the information. I recommend that you study for 1 month and a half. No more than that. Your family will love you for it as well.  I studied for 50 hours, but most people can study more than me. I had issues with my back and I had trouble concentrating. With my back issues, I found that studying in a Hammock was the best, followed by laying down facing up.

10. On the day before the exam, do the following:

a.     Review the summary sheets that you printed in step #2 above (if time permits).

b.     Review formulas by writing them on a piece of paper. If you forget some, keep doing this over and over until you can write them all in a piece of paper.

c.      Get a professional massage to relax yourself.

d.     Tell people to pray for you so you pass the exam. Prayer is not something to be underestimated J

11. On the day of the exam, do the following:

a.     Eat as you normally would. Do not try new foods that could mess up your stomach.

b.     Before taking the exam, take the 15 minutes of tutorial to write all the formulas down in the piece of paper that the testing center is going to give you. This is essential since you risk of forgetting the formulas in stress. It happened to me and I thankfully had these formulas written down.

c.      When taking the exam, remember that you have 50 questions per hour. You have to answer questions as quickly as possible. I was not prepared for the timing issue and I did not have time to review my questions at the end of the exam. I tool too much time for some questions and the formula questions were more complex than I thought. In many cases, I had to use one formula to plug the result into another formula. You want to ensure that you have enough time to review your questions at the end. I did not have this time. So this is a lessons learned.


Tips for the exam:


1.     Know project initiating well.

2.     Know risk management well.

3.     Know project closing well.

4.     Know how to calculate CPM from network diagrams.

5.     Know how to do formula questions well. These should be easy ways to score points for your exam. The PMP (Practice Makes Perfect) book is a little weak on formula questions. You might want to search for other formula questions in addition to this book.

6.     Skip questions that are time consuming and do them at the end.

7.     Be careful on taking breaks during the exam. Time was critical for me and if I had taken a break, I would not have had time to finish all the questions. But I am a slow reader anyway. You decide for yourself.

8.     Since you have 50 questions for every 1 hour, that means that you should not take more than a minute per question. This is not practical for the difficult questions, but you can make that up in the easy questions.

9.     If you study well, you will see that the exam is not that bad. In fact, I saw many multiple choice answers that were just made up or I knew immediately that they were wrong.


As a good friend used to say to me, I say to you: “I do not wish you good luck, but success”. I wish you success with your PMP exam.


Regards, Eli Pagan

 Congratulations! and  Thank You for the LL


 Congratulations on your successful PMP Exam

admin's picture

Very well written and detailed. Thanks

 Dear Friend,

          Congrats and thanks for sharing your LL.



 Dear Friend,

          Congrats and thanks for sharing your LL.



Very well written with some radically new approach. I would suggest that we shouldn't blindly folllow the methods of successful candidates, as each candidate has different experience and skills background.. not to mention ability to memorize facts, figures and definitions.



faisaliiuc's picture

very well described. but the true picture might not same as you describe... few pmzilla buddies faced really difficult question during  their exam... it was your luck that u have found exam as easy! but not all....

So recommendation should be... prepare well... write question as manay as possible..oviousely from good source. Read PMBOK with one of the other book for concept clarification.....finally look into recent lesson learn.

however, I wish your very sucess... 

The Practice Makes Perfect book, is this relevant to PMBOK5 as well? I would consider it if I knew PMBOK5 was covered to some extent.