Category: Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam using A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)

How to Recover from a Failed PMP Exam - The Complete Guide


So, you have failed the PMP® exam …. What can you do now?

The first thing you should do is remember that you are not alone! It happens all the time. Although we do not necessarily know the exact failure rate, it is a very difficult exam, and you should not be too hard on yourself for failing. With this article, I want to not only help you work through the pain and frustration of having failed the exam, but I will also give you a list of actionable items to work on so that you can successfully prepare for your next attempt.

And we will start by answering the question 'How many people actually fail the exam?'

What is the PMP Exam Failure Rate?

We don't know the PMP exam failure rate.

We have seen articles about this topic where the author claims it’s as high as 50%. However, the fact is that the Project Management Institute (PMI)® does not communicate the failure rate for any of their exams which means we simply do not know and any number given as a “fact” is wrong. What we do know is that a substantial percentage of exam takers will fail the PMP exam. Here is what one author writes:

The passing rate of PMP® Exam is indeed quite low among most professional exams — that makes passing the exam extremely valuable.

Edward Chung, PMP, PMI-ACP

So, remember, when you pass the exam the next time around, you will be one of those few individuals who have the PMP behind their name, which is a huge accomplishment in the PMP community.

Recover After A Failed PMP

Let’s start at the beginning so that you can develop a strategy to pass this tough examination. But before we start to dig in the preparation stage, it is very important to allow yourself some time to mourn. Don’t force your feelings about failing to be suppressed. Mourning is a natural process of being human, and this process can help you release your stress and prepare you psychologically for the second time around. A good first step can be to say and accept "I failed my PMP exam" out loud to acknowledge it. Then take a few days or a couple of weeks just to do nothing and prepare yourself mentally and physically for the strenuous second round of test taking.

Let your emotions out whether they are in the form of anger, frustration, disappointment, etc. One great way to let emotions out is to talk about them. Talk to your friends, family, study groups, and chat with other people who might have failed the first time around as well. After you release all the negative emotions, you will be in better shape to start over again and prepare for the next PMP exam.

But don’t forget to set a time to stop mourning! Put on your calendar a definite time by which you will get your mourning out of your system and start fresh with the next test taking preparation step.

I Failed The PMP Exam Now What?

The next step would be to make sure you understand your shortfalls. Right after you take the exam, you will be handed a score report. It is extremely important that you understand the results of your fist test. The score report will show you your proficiency levels for each performance domain. The four possible levels which include: needs improvement, below target, target, and above target will help you determine what your strengths and weaknesses are regarding the material.

Once you have determined exactly where your shortfalls are, you can devise a strategy on how to improve in those areas. The next step would be to outline the corresponding PMBOK® Guide sections that are within the needs improvement and below target areas and find as many questions in those areas as you possibly can. Also, there are many software simulation reports that would report questions by project phase, which you can utilize to strengthen your weaker areas of knowledge.

Tip 1: Get A Simulator!

My number one recommendation - especially if you failed PMP twice -- is to sign up for an online PMP exam simulator.

While the online exam simulator might cost you a bit of money, now would be the time to invest the extra dollar in order to make sure you pass the test the next time around. Your current sport is to take the PMP exam and you have to practice, practice, practice. The best way to do this is through the online exam simulator which can give you many practice exams and provides a great review tools after you take the simulation exams.

Already Own a Simulator? Ask for a Free Extension!

If you already own a PMP exam simulator then get in touch with your simulator provider because training companies usually offer a free simulator extension for those who failed the PMP exam. If they do, then all you have to do is ask.

Tip 2: Read Lessons Learned from Others who Failed

My number two recommendation for you is to read lessons learned from other test takers who did not pass their exam. Start with these:

Further, reading Lessons Learned from other test takers can also give you ideas on how to prepare for the second time. A helpful lessons learned forum can be found at www.pm-precast.com/II. Kelly, who has passed the test on her second try, states to following in the lessons learned forum: “The first time around I paid three times more for live classes and used their exam simulator”. Kelly’s argument is that using the exam simulator is extremely important and sometimes more effective then live classes.

Tip 3: Six Reasons for a Failed PMP

The next step you should take is to take an honest look at what factors outside of the exam room might have caused you not to pass the PMP exam the first time around. Are you a nervous exam taker? Did you not study enough? Is English not your mother tongue? Was there another personal reason that might have contributed to this situation?

To help you identify these causes, go ahead and listen to this great free interview with myself and Kevin Reilly in which we discuss 6 reasons why people fail their exam multiple times:

The PM Podcast Episode 268

K. Reilly

Today’s topic is not an easy one. Kevin Reilly, PMP, PMI-ACP (http://krpm-training.com/ - http://www.linkedin.com/in/kevinwreilly) and I are going to talk about failure. Failure on the PMP exam to be precise. But of course, just talking about failure is not interesting.

So our approach is that we want to talk about the reasons why someone may have failed the PMP exam once, twice or maybe even three times, and then most importantly what actions one can take to recover, regroup and and begin moving forward to passing instead of failing the exam.

And of course, this is the moment, when I self-servingly have to say that If you are a PM who wants to become PMP or PMI-ACP certified then the easiest way to do so is with our sister Podcasts The PM PrepCast or The Agile PrepCast and study for the exam by watching the in-depth exam prep video training from www.pm-prepcast.com. We cannot guarantee that you don’t fail, but we know that our training is effective and gets you there.

Tip 4: Understand WHY Your Answers are Wrong

This tip is a follow-up to Tip 1 above: Once you have a good simulator start answering and analyzing sample questions. I want you to spend at least the same amount of time in doing your review as you spend in answering the questions. So if you spend 2 hours on answering questions in the simulator, you have to spend at least 2 hours in doing the review. Look at every question that you got wrong and learn from your mistake. Read the explanations, look at the references, review the PMBOK® Guide, watch The PM PrepCast lesson on the topic, and so on. Don't be satisfied with "oh, I got it wrong". But instead, ask why you got it wrong and do the research.

And of course, you want to do exactly the same type of review with all the questions you answered correctly but you know that you guessed, or where you were not sure. So if you were 'just lucky' and got it right by chance, you need to do an in-depth review as well.

Here's how one of our successful students describes this process:


One element of my studying that made a big difference for me was in analyzing the questions that I got wrong. Each time I took a full practice test, after I was done I examined all the questions I got wrong and categorized the type of error I made to see if there were patterns. When I saw a pattern, I worked to correct it. Part of this is to understand WHY you got the question wrong. That is to say, don't just read the correct answer and move on. You need to understand WHY you didn't get that answer. Was it just a fact you didn't know? No big deal, there, now you know it. Is is a concept you don't understand? Then you may need to really go over that concept in the PMBOK or training guide until you understand it. Sometimes you may well see that you simply weren't even answering the right question - PMI threw in lots of "fog" that wasn't central to the question and you got lost in evaluating the answer because the question wasn't clear in your mind. If that's happening, you need to work on separating the wheat from the chaff (i.e., figuring out what really was being asked).

For me, I discovered that many of my mistakes initially were what I categorized as "stupid mistakes" because I read the question too fast and missed the point. I had to really work to slow myself down and read calmly and thoroughly. My test scores to jumped considerably when I did this . It may seem counter-intuitive to say you need to complete all these questions by going more slowly, but due to my nature, it was critical (I'm terribly impatient).

Tracy Shagnea, PMP

Tip 5: Ask!

If, at this point, you are still unsure about what might have gone wrong in your exam, or how you should proceed, then don't be shy. Ask!

In Tip 2 above I recommended that you read some of the lessons learned that others have posted in our PMP discussion forum after they first failed and then passed their exam. Did you notice how helpful our community is and how many people helped out with suggestions and tips?

So go ahead and take advantage of this positive environment and ask for help.

One thing to remember when you ask for help is the fact that the more specific your questions are the better. Simply saying "I failed pmp exam 2019. Help. What can I do?" will probably not get you many responses. You have to be more specific and provide details. Tell us how you studied, what study materials you used, what your exam results were and tell us if you already have any plans for preparing your next steps.

Tip 6: Consider Getting Special Accommodations

PMI understand that taking a certification exam can be more stressful for some than for others. So if there is a medical reason why you may need additional time you may request this.

You may request the administration of any PMI examination to be modified due to disability, handicap and/or other conditions that may impair your ability to take the examination. There are no additional costs for test accommodations.

Project Management Professional Handbook

We know from several of our students who are 'nervous test takers' that they obtained a doctor's note and were able to extend the amount of time for the exam.

One student whose mother tongue is not English and for which PMI does not have a language aid was told the following: "PMP candidates for whom we don’t have a language aid in their native tongue can request additional time to complete their exam. This would need to be requested prior to scheduling their exam." She, too, requested additional time and received it.

Important: All special accommodations must be requested prior to scheduling an exam. Please consult the Handbook!

Tip 7: Think Positive

A very important part of your second round preparation is your mental state. Think positive! A great suggestion during the positive thinking phase is to use visualization in order to get in the mood of the actual feeling of passing the test. Sit quietly in a room and close your eyes. Visualize what it will feel like once you pass this extremely difficult exam. Feel that amazing feeling all over your body and visualize you leaving the exam room happy and proud of your accomplishment. And remember, you have tried this exam before so you really have a big chance to pass the second time around. Part of the passing process is attributable to your preparation and part is truly believing that you can pass.

Tip 8: Don't Rush

Once PMI approves your application you are granted a one-year eligibility period:

The exam eligibility period (the period of time during which you are able to test) is one year. You may take the examination three times within this one-year eligibility period should you not pass on the first attempt.

Project Management Professional Handbook

Therefore, unless you are getting close to the end of your one-year eligibility period, you should not rush into your next exam. Instead, take enough time to prepare and get ready.

Unfortunately, not all heed this advice. We have seen quite a few students book their second exam only one or two weeks after they failed. Often, they would fail their second try as well. That is why we recommend that you take your time to reassess, go through a couple more simulators (see next tip), and only then decide when the best time to retake your test will be.

Tip 9: Diversify Your Study Materials

A number of students that we talked to told us this: They said that they have spent ample time on exam preparation, and they also scored well above target in their sample exams. Yet, they still failed the actual exam.

They explained that one reason for this discrepancy - that is to say doing well on the sample tests but then failing the real exam - is that the question style on their real exam was very different from what they were accustomed to in their books and simulators. They were used to a particular style and format of question from the book/simulator and then were presented with very different questions on the actual exam. So they had a hard time adjusting to the new style given the additional pressure of the exam day.

If you noticed this as well and feel that the sample questions in your books and simulator did not match what you saw on the exam, then it may be time for you to switch. Pick up a new textbook. Try out a variety of exam simulators. You know what you saw on the exam and so you can now easily spot a book and simulator that matches your experience. This may help get you better accustomed, more comfortable, and help you pass the next time around.

Tip 10: Update Your PMP Study Plan

Once some time has passed after your failed exam, you are probably once again in a good place - or at least a better place - and you should think about the actions you will take in order to replan your studies

  • Take a hard look at your original PMP study plan
  • Adjust the plan based on what you have learned in this article and additional research you did
  • Now pick up your studies again following your updated plan
  • Let 1-2 weeks go by and then make any necessary adjustments to your plan and how you study

Tip 11: Reschedule

After updating your study plan in the previous tip, you now you have a target end-date for your studies and you can go ahead and schedule your next PMP exam.

And when it comes to rescheduling, we recommend that - if at all possible - you use the same testing center for your second attempt as you did in your first. After all, you have been there once and you already "know the ropes". You know how to get there, how to find parking, which door to take to get into the building, and you know the general layout of the center. This knowledge eliminates the tension of having to go to an unknown place.

If, however, you must go to another location, then plan on visiting that exam center beforehand. Our students who do this say that it helped keep them calm.

What if You Failed PMP Exam Twice

If you failed your PMP exam a second time, then you have a decision to make: In the next chapter of this article you will learn that if you fail your exam three times, there will be a mandatory one-year waiting period. Now that you have failed your exam twice you have two options to continue:

Option 1
Prepare for and take the exam a third time. This is the option that we recommend for most of our students. You have to find a way to pull yourself back up, intensify your studies, consider getting a paid PMP coach to guide you, and then go and crush the exam on your third attempt.
Option 2
Let your eligibility period expire and then reapply. This option should only be considred if you are really close to the end of your one-year eligibility period. So instead of rushing and taking the exam a third time, you simply decide to let your exam application expire. Once it has expired you then submit (and pay for) a new application. Now you are once again given one year and three attempts for your exam.

For more details about this, please read our separate article titled What to Do If you Fail The PMP® Exam Twice.

What if You Failed the PMP Exam 3 Times

Although failing the PMP exam three times is maddening it is not the end of the world. It does, however, mean that you must wait for one year:

If you fail the examination three times within your one-year eligibility period, you must wait one year from the date of the last examination you took to reapply for the certification. However, after failing a certification examination three times, candidates may opt to apply for any other PMI certification. For example, a candidate who failed the PMP examination three times in his or her one-year eligibility period must wait one year to reapply for the PMP. However, he or she can apply for [any other PMI exam] at any time.

Project Management Professional Handbook

In other words, PMI imposes a one-year waiting period on you if you do not pass the exam, but you have the option of applying for any of their other exams.

Also, please note that if your eligibility period expires without you passing the examination, you must reapply for the certification. This means that in addition to the one-year waiting period, PMI also requires you to submit (and pay for) a new PMP exam application if you want to try again after your one-year wait is over.

There is, however, one last avenue you can try: You can appeal the result. This means that you would send a written request to PMI in which you argue your case. We know of two instances where the students were able to convince PMI to allow them a fourth and final attempt. (Both our students passed on their fourth try). Please review the "Certification Appeals Procedure" in the Handbook for all the details.

Summary and Takeaway

Our experience shows that in most cases, students who have received PMP prep training and then studied but still failed, actually know the materials. However, they have a hard time identifying the correct answers never the less.

Therefore, the one and only takeaway that we have for you is this single action here that we have seen time and again to lead students to success:

Use a professionally developed PMP exam simulator to help you prepare for your next attempt.

We wish you all the best as you are completing your journey!


A big thank you goes to Tracy Shagnea, PMP and Joe H. Pang, PMP for suggesting improvements and providing several tips to this article.

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