The PMP Exam is to Be Respected, but Not Feared

I passed my PMP  exam on Tuesday December 27th and wanted to share my experience.

Results:

Initiating - Moderately Proficient

Planning - Proficient

Executing - Proficient

Monitoring & Controlling - Proficient

Closing - Moderately Proficient

Materials:

PMBOK - very heavily used

PMBOK User's Manual - very lightly used

ExamCentral.net - heavily used

Timeframe:

I joined PMI in may of 2011 and completed the exam on my first attempt in December 2011

Study Process:

  1. Read the PMBOK aloud.  I started off reading to myself, but found that the dry material was hard for me to retain.  I read aloud from Chapter 1-12, completely ignoring the appendices and supplemental information.  This took a while for me to complete because I have a family and career and I also lost motivation here and there.  I didn't take any notes or highlight, just read.
  2. Took 1st practice exam on ExamCentral.net.  I scored a 63%.  Not great, but I wasn't worried considering I had only read the material once and did not truly study it.  Also, I had read that before PMI changed the scoring methodology, the acceptable score was a 61% so I was confident I would improve later.
  3. Recorded myself reading the PMBOK aloud.  Someone suggested this to me and I think it was a good idea.  Again, I just read the chapters and used my mp3 player to record myself.  I took no notes as I read.
  4. Took 2nd practice exam on ExamCentral.net.  I actually took this before I completed recording reading the chapters; I think I had 2-3 to go.  I scored a 60% this time.  I'm not sure why it went down, but I didn't let myself worry still.  I took a 3rd exam after I finished recording all of the chapters and scored a 64%.
  5. Outlined each chapter as I listed to my recordings.  I did this by hand and it took a long time.  After I got through it the first time, I completely re-wrote all of my notes - partially because they were a little sloppy and partially because I knew it would help me retain what I had been learning.
  6. Took 4th practice exam on ExamCentral.net.  This time I got a 69%.  I got a little worried simply because my time was starting to run down and I wasn't performing as well as I thought I should.  This time I went back and reviewed the questions I got wrong.  ExamCentral does a good job of explaining why one answer was better than the others.  Occassionally you will get a weaker explanation, such as "A is correct because B, C and D are wrong" - not much help.  I think this is what turned things around for me - understanding what I got wrong and why.  Monitoring and Controlling was my weakest area.  Another good point about ExamCentral is they give a score breakdown by process group.
  7. Studied my outlines.  I read through them the notes carefully, paying attention to concepts and process groups that I did the worst in.  This was the only point I used the PMBOK user's manual.  If there were concepts that I needed to learn more about, I used the index in the manual, then flipped to that page and read a bit more.  I found that this explained things slight different than the PMBOK and used examples to illustrate points.  In total, I probably used this book for 30 minutes at most.  I also spent a lot of time learning and understanding the EVM formulas.
  8. Took 5th practice exam on ExamCentral.net.  I went into this exam with a goal of scoring an 80%.  I got a 77%, but I was still pretty happy with that; it was a good increase from my last exam.  I took this the morning before I took the PMP exam with the expectation that I would study more that afternoon and take a 6th and final practice exam that evening.  I did study a small amount more, but I did not get to take a 6th practice exam.

I did not get nearly as much sleep the night before the exam as I should have.  I took a nap that afternoon, so that didn't help, and I was nervous so I kept going over material in my head.  My plan the next morning was to get my son to daycare early and get to the exam site early enough to spend time looking at my notes.  I had a Nature Valley Oats'n Honey granola bar and a bottle of water on my way there.  The exam was scheduled for 9am, but I got there around 8:15am and had to potty :-) so I went right in.  I did not even crack open my notebook that morning.

Exam Site Experience:

  1. Sign in
  2. Hang up coat
  3. Use Restroom
  4. Empty all contents of your pockets into a locker.  I was able to keep my ID and my wedding ring on, but the proctor warned me that I could not take my ring on and off during the exam.  I got to keep the key to the locker with me as well.
  5. Sign in at the testing room.  
  6. Get scanned with a metal detector wand.  The PMP has no scheduled breaks, but you can take breaks as you with (the time will keep running).  If you do take a break, you must sign out of the testing room and sign back in when you return.  You will be scanned with the metal detector wand each time you return.
  7. Get scratch paper and 2 pencils.  If you need additional paper, raise your hand and they will bring you more paper, but take away the paper they gave you the first time.  This is important because you may have important notes on there so be sure to use it wisely.  It was more than enough for my test.
  8. Take your seat at your assigned computer.  The test room was pretty crowded, I would estimate there were 15-16 separate computer stations in there - long, skinny room.  Each station is monitored with a camera and has a pair of noise cancelling headphones.  They are awful in my opinion - they are loose and don't tighten up to your head properly.  Anytime I truly wanted to block out the noise I had to press them hard to my ears.  There is a white noise in the room, so that helps, but I still felt extremely distracted as the room filled up quickly.  Each time a person came in, there was the loud noise of the door, shuffling papers and getting settled at their stations.  What was the biggest distraction for me was that some test takers had tests that required a lot of typing, so the clicking of the keyboard bothered me a lot.  

The Exam:

As you know, the exam is 200 questions long.  175 of those questions count toward your exam score; the other 25 are being considered for future exams and neither hurt not help your score.  You have 4 hours to complete the exam.  I used just under 3 hours to complete the exam and go back and review marked items.  Friends had advised me to take breaks, but I didn't.  Not sure how I would handle it if I had to do it all over again.  When I was "in the zone", I didn't want throw myself off.  At the same time, when I got to the halfway point I was exhausted.

You have a 15 minute period before the exam begins to do some preparation.  The computer will step you through a guide on how to use some basic functions of a PC and how to mark questions for review and how to get to those questions later.  I did not spend much time on this at all because the practice exams on ExamCentral.net also allowed for a mark for review functionality and let you go back to those questions at the end.  You also have the option of not answering a question at all and you can review those at the end as well.  I used only a few minutes to jot down the EVM formulas.  Aside from that I was ready/anxious to begin.

I would say that the good majority of the PMP Exam questions are presented as scenarios, meaning they setup a situation for you and then present you with a question. (e.g.  You are a project manager on a project to design a model of city hall.  Your customer has just come to you with a new requirement that had not been previously discussed.  What should you do?)  Definitely don't ignore the information, but don't get thrown off by a large blurb of text presented on the screen either.

Conversely, there are many questions that have information overload.  They might completely inundate you with information and data, but then you find that the information is not relevant to answer the question.  Again, always read the full question, but know how to weed out the fluff.  A few of the EVM questions gave more information than needed; they might throw in a few extra numbers here and there and you don't even need them to solve the problem.

Some questions use wording that is not 100% in line with how the PMBOK presents the information.  It is your responsibility to know how to correlate this to PMBOK terminology. (e.g.  The question might say ...project is expected to cost $250,000, but the PMBOK calls this Budget At Completion (BAC)).  You have to know that in this question, BAC=$250,000.  This is why it is important to understand and not simply try to memorize.

Very few questions are definition.  I did see a few (e.g. To analyze root-cause, you should use?).  This again speaks to why memoization alone is not sufficient.

Conclusion:

I read a lot of post on how difficult the PMP exam is.  It is definitely not to be taken lightly, but it is absolutely manageable.  My study approach may not work for all and may be considered overkill, but I think such intesnse study helped me in the end.  I am happy with my results and I encourage others to not be frightened by what you read but focus on truly understanding the material.

Best of luck to you all.

 

Awesome details dude..including that you had to go to potty :-) lol

On serious note, I did not understand this "As you know, the exam is 200 questions long.  175 of those questions count toward your exam score; the other 25 are being considered for future exams and neither hurt not help your score.  You have 4 hours to complete the exam.  "

I thought 60% is passing mark after of 200. So you mean to say, to pass the exam I need to score 60% out of 175 as you said other 25 don't count.

Can you please explain this ?

 Hi FB01,

Thanks, and sorry if that was TMI ;-)

Regarding the passing percentage - this is not the case any longer.  I am no expert in the methodology that PMI now uses for scoring the exams, but they no longer promote a specific % as passing or failing.  What they do instead is rate you in each of the 5 process groups (Initiating, Planning, Executing Monitoring & Controlling and Closing).  

You can rate as either:

  • Proficient, meaning your knowledge level in that area is above that of the average person
  • Moderately Proficient, meaning your knowledge level in that area is the same as the average person
  • Below Proficient, meaning your knowledge level in that area is below that of the average person.  
  • For an overall exam score, you simply receive a Pass or Fail (not sure what exact terminology they use for Fail).

I have come across a few sites out there that have put a considerable amount of time into analyzing different combinations of Prof, Mod Prof and Below Prof results to try and "crack the code" on PMI scoring, but I can't speak to the validity of the information.  Very interesting though.

In my original post, I mentioned that ExamCentral will give you a breakdown by process group area.  The difference here is that ExamCentral provides you with a % score for each process group.  There is not an easy correlation between % and which proficiency level you meet.

To summarize, practice exams tell you a % score, the PMP exam will not.

Regarding the number of questions on the exam - yes, only 175 of the questions that you answer will be counted in your process group rating and your overall Pass/Fail mark.  The remaining 25 questions are being evaluated for possible use on the exam in the future.  Of course, you do not know which questions are graded and which ones are not, so it is important that you treat them equally and do your best on all.

I hope this helps.

 Congrats on passing the exam. I took it on December 12 and failed with 3 below proficient. I will take your suggestion and read extensively.  I have already started studying to re-take the exam in March -(PBT)

 Thanks Wizmatic,

It's important to understand your own learning style when you are studying.  For me, the repetition and reiteration worked well.  But I found that I could not simply read the material to myself because it wasn't sinking in.  Similarly, after I recorded myself reading the chapters, I originally set out to just play them back and listen.  Really did not work for me at all because I tuned myself out almost immediately.

I'm sure you will breeze through on the next attempt.  You know what to expect now and will be ready.  I believe in you!!