The 7 Questions Every PMP® Student Asks Their Coach
By Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM and Dan Ryan, MBA, PMP
When students start their Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam prep (for the first time, or again after having failed the exam), there are a number of questions that come up time and time again. In this article we share the top 7 questions that every student asks us in our role as their PMP® exam coach. Whether you have a coach or not, knowing the answers will help you get started more quickly with your own exam preparations.
Let’s dive straight in with the first question:
- 1. Why did I fail the PMP exam when I studied so long and so hard?
- 2. I am terrible at mathematics and at formulas. How will I ever be able to do all these earned value questions?
- 3. I took a few practice tests and I did OK with them so why I did I fail the PMP exam?
- 4. Can you help me with Risk and Quality please?
- 5. What do I have to score in order to pass the exam? And can I get below proficient in more than one category and still pass?
- 6. How long should it take me to study effectively and pass the exam?
- 7. Do I really have to read the GUIDE twice like everyone says?
1. Why did I fail the PMP exam when I studied so long and so hard?
Everyone is different, but you probably became overwhelmed during the exam as you didn’t approach it with the proper preparation and mechanics for taking the test. It’s not enough to go online and gather tidbits from other people about how to study. A Google search for “How should I study for the exam?” may tell you what to memorize and you’ll find some tips that have worked for other people. Reading the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) really isn’t even mandatory for the exam, let alone reading it two or three times!
The scenario-based questions you faced in the exam are in depth and difficult, and you also need to be able to manage your time during the 4 hour exam. It’s hard and when you see the nature of the exam and the nerves kick in… all that leads to sub-optimal performance on the day.
Using a range of resources like videos, practice questions, flashcards, study guides and PMP tutoring can all help boost your chances of passing next time, if you combine them with practical preparations and test-taking strategies.
2. I am terrible at mathematics and at formulas. How will I ever be able to do all these earned value questions?
Have confidence! It’s not rocket science. If you’ve had an exposure to something like high school level math then you have the skills to do the math questions. It is just a matter of approaching these math questions in a formulaic kind of way.
First, memorize the formulas that are most likely to show up on the PMP exam – a PMP exam coach can help you identify which ones those are. When you have a theoretical understanding of these formulas and can see whether they are talking about planned vs. actual, variances or forecasts -- you will be able to understand the logic behind the math. At that point, practice, practice, practice! This is rote learning and with enough practical exercises and repetition you will achieve an “AHA” moment! Once you have done them often enough you’ll see the math is no longer a problem for you.
3. I took a few practice tests and I did OK with them so why I did I fail the PMP exam?
You probably weren’t using a very good set of practice questions. Make sure you are using the best quality question banks you can and take plenty of practice tests. Some practice tests aren’t the full length of the 4 hour exam, so be sure to attempt a few full length practice exams too. This will help you plan your time and develop test-taking strategies.
You really need to be dealing with practice PMP tests of 200 multiple choice questions and scoring 80 per cent or more. The reason for that is because there will most likely be a number of factors that could cause your score on the real test date to drop below what it was in your practice exams. Don’t forget that you might be nervous and you will be in an environment that is not comfortable to you because it is not where you did your studying. If you are only just above the passing threshold or achieving mediocre scores on your practice exams then you may drop below the success mark on the actual day.
PMP exam tutoring can help you identify the most realistic sets of PMP-style practice questions and with preparing for the rigors of the test environment.
4. Can you help me with Risk and Quality please?
Yes! These topics must be mastered for the PMP exam. Review all those little things like the 7 basic quality tools and the difference between quality assurance and quality control. Go through all of those risk processes and make sure you understand the whole sequence from planning risk all the way down to creating risk responses and the differences between qualitative and quantitative risk analysis.
Start there and drill down deeper, making sure that you understand all the concepts of risk and quality because they are going to make up a good percentage of the questions that you see on the exam.
5. What do I have to score in order to pass the exam? And can I get below proficient in more than one category and still pass?
The actual score to pass the exam isn’t made public and any passing percentages anyone mentions are just their best guess.
You should be aiming to score Moderately Proficient or Proficient in all process groups and an excellent PMP exam simulator will provide you with those scores. However, it is believed to be possible to pass the exam even if you are below proficient in more than one category.
6. How long should it take me to study effectively and pass the exam?
It depends! Everyone has different things going on in their lives from work, family and other commitments, so the time available to you to study is going to be personal depending on your circumstances. This will influence the length of your study schedule.
We see good results from students who can attack their studies aggressively and spend around 1-2 hours per day studying for the exam over a 1-2 month period. Students who put together long study plans of 4-6 months tend to see diminishing returns on their ability to pass. But remember that everyone is different. Working with a colleague who is already a PMP, a fellow student or a professional PMP coach can help you put together a personalized schedule that is realistic for you.
7. Do I really have to read the GUIDE twice like everyone says?
No, you do not, but it may help! The PMBOK® Guide is a useful reference guide and every good project manager should have one. You can also use a PMP prep book, a dedicated series of learning videos or the skills of a PMP tutor and have the PMBOK® Guide on hand to clarify further any concepts that you might not understand fully.
There you have it. These 7 questions are the most common questions that students ask their PMP coach when they start out with the PMP exam studies. Asking the right questions helps you prepare more effectively so if you are struggling with something related to your PMP exam prep, ask a colleague, a professional PMP tutor or another trusted individual for their advice. Knowing the answers will make you feel more confident and ready to face the exam and in turn, increase your chance of success on the day.
The PM StudyCoach is an online coaching course that serves as your personal coach and study guide as you prepare for the PMP exam. Watch this 30-minute sample from one of our live PMP Exam preparation coaching calls.