PMP Exam Prep - Lessons Learned


Last week, I successfully cleared the PMP exam on my first attempt with an overall ABOVE TARGET result, with 4 Process Groups AT's (Above Target) and 1 NI (Needs Improvement- Closing). I signed up for the exam on the Thanksgiving weekend which should have given me 6 weeks to prepare, but due to a prolonged flu and unavoidable work commitments, I had only about 3 weeks to prepare. At the end of my prep, I was wishing I had another 3 weeks, which is why I recommend a MINIMUM 6 week prep time. Anything less is at the risk of regular stress levels and sleep duration!

So here I am, like any good Project Manager at the end of Project PMP-Certification, offering my Lessons Learned for your use, just as I reviewed the lessons from prior test takers. I urge you to do the same when you pass successfully! Also, DO LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS to let me know if this was a useful effort on my part.

If you are a practicing PM and fairly busy, I would recommend at least 6 weeks to prep for the exam, with a daily time commitment of 2-3 hrs, and 5-6 hrs/day on the weekend. This is what I wish I had, unfortunately I had to prepare in 3 weeks, so I had to put in a bit more effort for that duration.
1. EXAM CHANGE - I tested under PMBOK 5, and I know the exam is going to be based on PMBOK 6 soon. Breaking news: IT DOESN'T MATTER. The exam is not a test of the PMBOK, it is a test of your project management skills. I NEVER READ THE PMBOK - only ANNEX A for an overview + the Process Chart.
2. UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPTS - Of the 200 questions on my exam, I would say NO MORE THAN 5 (2.5%) were based on MEMORIZATION. UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPTS.
3. COMMIT EARLY - CHOOSE your primary learning resource early (whether it is the PMBOK/HF/RMC - I used RMC. Love HF, but I found that I don't take it very seriously). And then commit to it.
4. FIRST PASS (2 weeks)- My error was to slowly and methodically read RMC chapter-by-chapter, cover-to-cover. I wasted a lot of time doing this, and fretting over the multitude of concepts that I couldn't recall even after I spent all that time. My prep was in a vacuum, and I didn't even really start using this site as a resource till very late.
So, my advice to you is this: First, read Ch 15 of RMC to SET EXPECTATIONS correctly. Then do a quick first pass of the rest of the material. Read it, highlight important stuff, but DON'T LINGER, just keep going. Don't stress, this pass is about getting familiar with the structure and tone set by PMI and getting familiar with PMI-isms (their vocabulary). Most importantly, try to really answer the questions at the end of every chapter in RMC, and understanding the though processes behind the answers. While you are doing this, there are 4 things you should start committing to memory -
i) The PMBOK process table (to know the lay of the land)
ii) The RMC Planning processes
iii) Formulas (esp. Earned Value)
iv) Reasons for Conflict on projects (easiest)
IMO, the above 4 is everything you need to memorize for this exam. And even this was overkill for me. EVERY DAY AFTER THE FIRST PASS TILL D-DAY, YOU SHOULD DO A "BRAIN DUMP" of the ABOVE 4, UNTIL IT ANNOYS YOU TO DO SO BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT YOU KNOW THIS. BUT SERIOUSLY, KEEP DOING THIS TILL THE DAY OF THE EXAM. IT WON't ONLY MAKE SURE YOU REMEMBER THESE FOR THE EXAM, but it is a RITUAL that will get ingrained in you subconsciously.
5. MEMORIZATION TECH's - What worked for me, may not work for you, but I swear by Mnemonics! Use these for items 4.i and 4.ii above, and before you know it, you will not be relying on the mnemonic at all. There are many YouTube videos floating around with goo mnemonics, so don't be surprised to find yourself talking about CHIPMUNKS, MANGOES OR PONIES for the next 6 weeks, haha! I had to create my own for the 25 Planning processes in order.
6. SECOND PASS (3 weeks) - So you have completed the first pass. You should have 4.5 weeks till the exam date.
i) Time to roll up your sleeves and really get into the chapters. Go back to all the areas you highlighted, all questions you found confusing. Get comfortable with the concepts.
ii) After you complete the I(ntegration), S(cope), T(ime), and C(ost) chapters, is when you stop and do a couple of practice tests. Do these seriously.
iii) Complete the Q/H/C/R/P/S chapters.
iv) Read Ch. 15 in RMC's book again - very useful.
7. TEST-TAKING (1 week)- Time to take those practice tests (a lot of links available within PMZilla. Don't bother with "Oliver Lehmann"? completely unrealistic) - MINIMUM 1/day (full 200 Q's) to the end. If you begin to doubt your preparation, take the tests OPEN BOOK. BUT KEEP TAKING TESTS! They work out the cobwebs/fuzzy spots in your head, let you find holes in your knowledge/understanding and get you in the test-taking mindset.
8. PMBOK Annex A and ITTO's - To be candid, I didn't know what that acronym stood until 10 days before my test. Let alone some of the fear-mongers on this portal who would have you memorize them by selling you something!!! Hilarious. You need to understand them. Pay Attention to section headings and text while you are studying, and you will be able to guess them. I didn't get a SINGLE QUESTION about ITTO's, but I am certain I would have been able to pick choices among Multiple Choices.
Annex A was useful for me because I got stuck trying to understand a couple of concepts/ responsibility areas - Like the specific difference between Quality Assurance and Control Quality. Annex A from PMBOK is very helpful in ironing out the concepts in PMI's vocabulary. I would recommend reviewing this during the OUR PROCESS #7 (TEST-TAKING).

At this point, I realize that I could go on and on, but you have some more important reading to do (of your learning resource, ex. RMC). So, I will leave you with the following SOFT SKILLS:
1. VISUALIZE / ADJUST YOUR THINKING - Most people who take this exam are already PM's, looking to get certified. Visualize being a PM for a large MM$ project, being ethical and upstanding (please practice this also in real life), guiding your team to complete a project.
2. VISUALIZE SUCCESS - I did this quite a lot. Do a Google search for a PMP certificate so you can get a visual. Every night, imagine receiving that certificate after passing your PMP. Do the same with your business cards, email signature, LinkedIn profile.
3. DURING THE EXAM - 3 things:
i. TRUST YOUR PREP - the last 5 questions that you are doubtful about don't determine your result, ALL of them together do. Keep a level-headed, PROFESSIONAL mindset throughout. THINK about what you have learned, don't try to RECALL everything.
ii. DRESS PROFESSIONALLY - comfortable (no need to wear a business suit), but professional clothing will keep you in character as a Project Manager during the exam.
iii. RELIEVE STRESS - DEEP-BREATHING, SMILE (to relieve stress).
a. My test was at noon, and I drank too much coffee in the morning, resulting in 5 BREAKS, and a lost 20 mins. I DID NOT LET IT GET TO ME, JUST STAYED EFFICIENT, and USED the breaks to relax myself.
b. I found out HOURS before the exam that BRAIN DUMP is no longer allowed during the 15-minute tutorial. I MADE THE MENTAL ADJUSTMENT to reduce 15 MINUTES from my test time, and effectively made it a 3:45 test (and 3:25 after all my BLADDER-related breaks!!)
All things considered, I ended up getting an ABOVE TARGET result in spite of the short prep and the reduced test-time.

ALL OF THE ABOVE IS BASED ON MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, COMPLETELY OPTIONAL, AND INCLUDES NO GUARANTEE OF SUCCESS. I AM NOT WRITING THIS FOR ANY PERSONAL/PROFESSIONAL GAIN, rather just to "GIVE BACK" to this community. I AM NOT DIRECTING YOU TO MY BLOG OR WEBSITE OR OFFERING YOU A COURSE or a MAGIC SPREADSHEET or an ELIXIR, which unfortunately a lot of people seem to be doing. IMO, none of these are required, and such advertisement is against the PMI Code of Conduct, but Admin's continue to do a great job of monitoring that. I am happy to have found this community, albeit late, and I am writing this as my meager contribution to the profession's success.
GOOD LUCK, AND ALL THE BEST IN YOUR test-taking endeavors and BEYOND!

aarakapur's picture

Thanks for the great information and I think most important thing is:-
Relieve Stress:- This is very important for every student because stress can destroy your career and mind.

I would love to share few important resources:-