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TOPIC: Exam Thoughts and Lessons Learned + Pearson ONVUE Nightmare Issue!

Exam Thoughts and Lessons Learned + Pearson ONVUE Nightmare Issue! 2 months 4 days ago #25426

  • Brittany S.
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Hello friends and PMP hopefuls,

Happy to report I passed my exam Saturday with 5 AT's! Let me preface this discussion by saying that I recently took and passed my CAPM in October (online), so this was not my first go-round with a PMI exam and the Pearson ONVUE online experience.

My Situation and How I Studied
I have technically been studying since July. I have a lot of advice that pertains to study courses, materials, and what not that were for CAPM, but 100% still applies to this discussion if you're just going straight for your PMP without first doing CAPM. Here's the link to my past post, which hopefully you have access to see:

Reading that, you'll see that I had said my plan was to take my PMP exam at a test center. Well, that didn't work out, as the rush of people + Covid capacity restrictions means that there were no available openings at test centers anywhere near me for this critical end-of-December, pre-test-switchover madness! So I had no choice but to do it online, and boy, is that something I regret. Stick with me, and I'll get to that part after I discuss the exam itself.

In October, when I had just passed my CAPM, I had a decision in front of me to either wait until 2021 to take the new format test, or to just push hard and do it by year-end. I chose to push, because I was still so fresh from just having studied for months for CAPM. I took a few weeks' break, then jumped right back in. I had already completed the PM PrepCast course for my CAPM, so I did not purchase any further courses or partake in any bootcamps or anything.

I did get my hands on Rita Mulcahy's 9th Edition PMP Exam Prep to add to my arsenal. I used that as the basis for my studies for the PMP exam, having already built such a great foundation. Rita's book is WAY easier to understand than PMBOK, and helped me make some additional connections that I hadn't yet made, even having passed CAPM. I also really enjoyed that Rita's book gives you tons of practice exercises and examples for concepts like PDM and calculating EVM. You still of course need to read PMBOK, but be sure to add Rita's book too. I understood everything on a new level after going through the book.

Between October and now, I made it through her whole book and did all the quizzes and exercises, and kept reviewing my notes from when I'd read PMBOK, plus drilled hard on certain areas of Rita's book that I had flagged along my first pass through as critical. I also purchased the PM PrepCast 2020 Exam Simulator, and spent the week before doing tons and tons of practice exams and many short sessions of 20 questions each in learning/test mode. I averaged around 80% for everything compiled together. The very last 100-question excursion I did was at 87% so I felt great about that.

I also practiced writing my whole list of formulas every single day, to make sure I'd be ready to do the brain dump using the whiteboard.

My Thoughts About the Exam Itself
I was very surprised at how much harder it was than I personally expected it to be. I was expecting a nice mix of questions, but they were all so highly situational, and seemed to center around the PMI-isms that Rita will call out in her book (like many situations are large, multinational projects). Another situation that came up very frequently was regarding change - things going wrong and what do you do. I would recommend being as familiar as you can with the change control process/Integrated Change Control.

As expected, there were many questions that appeared to have two correct answers. I tend to get in my head badly and overthink, so I had to reel myself back in to try to remember that the questions are asked from the frame of reference of all of the PMI-isms. I'm sure you know already that there are I believe 25 questions that are not scored, so it will make sense that you'll hit some questions that are just poorly-worded and confusing, and don't even make sense what they're asking. Just do your best and let it go.

Regarding time management, I struggled very badly with feeling like I was taking too long. Some of that has to do with my specific Pearson experience, which I will get to in a moment. But overall, it felt like I was working in mud and felt like I couldn't keep up with the clock. It drives me insane that the time remaining is displayed as just a total number of minutes (i.e. two hours left is 120) but so many times I had to sit there and calculate the number of minutes total divided by 60 to remind myself what I had. I don't see why they can't just write it as ____ hours ____minutes. We're stressed people - help us out here!

My 10-minute break was after 89 questions, as someone else mentioned. I finished 89 + made my brain dump at 2 hours exactly, so I felt rushed on the second half. As you continue to read what I went through, you'll see that I was definitely slower at the first portion of the test due to these circumstances, so I think you'll have a smoother go of it. I would've given anything to have even 15 more minutes. For how wordy they purposely make this test, they should be a little more forgiving. English is my first language and I actually hold a Bachelor's degree in English, and even I feel like the test is not very easily readable. Time management is key!

I was also surprised and even a little disappointed that I had practiced so hard to remember every formula, and I needed not one of them on the exam. The whiteboard was essentially useless except for doing PDM-related questions (there were several). I recommend that you go to practice at the whiteboard here:
To me, this didn't feel like I was really being tested on the full breadth of the knowledge. I would've liked the satisfaction of acing even one EVM-related question. I was so ready to go with my knowledge of which EAC formula goes for what situation, etc. In hindsight, I feel like I completely over-prepared, but I had a totally different expectation. The ITTOs played in very little to the exam, other than in a sense of general knowledge. Know it comfortably, but don't go insane trying to memorize everything. You don't need it. An overall understanding is way more useful here than memorization.

I did not have time to do a practice exam of four hours in length, but I do think that would've been helpful. It truly is a very long time to test, but goes very very fast. Your 10-minute break goes even faster, so be prepared and have anything ready and waiting for you set out in advance (glass of water, snack, etc.)

My Nightmare with Pearson ONVUE
Last but so very NOT least: my experience with Pearson. Oh boy. If you click the link to read what I shared above from my CAPM test, you'll see that last time around I had some issues and learned a few things (have your phone with you, take photos of your work station and your ID on your phone and not your webcam, etc.). I came ready armed with that knowledge, hoping that this would be smooth. It was not. The description of events that follows is not for the purpose of me just wanting to hear myself complain. There is a very important lesson learned for any of you who may be unlucky enough to land in a mess like this: DO NOT EXIT THE EXAM CHECK-IN SCREEN NO MATTER HOW LONG YOU ARE WAITING!

For the record, I detailed all of this in the post-exam survey to Pearson, but I plan to escalate this to their customer service team as well. I have already contacted PMI's customer service team too, sending screen shots.

I came prepared and everything went smoothly as I began my check in. I had my ID photos and work station photos (just snapped) on my phone ready to go, did that part of check-in, and everything was all ready for a proctor. I was on the screen where it says they aim to start your exam in 15 minutes and you are seeing yourself on camera being recorded.
Not long after my exam start time (booked for 10:45 a.m.), a proctor (let's call him Dave) came on and said that there was an issue, that no work station photos were submitted. I said that was very strange, considering I had uploaded them and had gotten a success message on my phone - I would not have been able to proceed had I not uploaded them, so this made little sense.

Regardless, I said that's fine, let's try again. So I went back to my phone to do it again (noting that my previously-submitted photos were in fact there) and re-uploaded them again successfully. After this point, Dave said he was checking on it. This was nearing 11 a.m. at this time. Dave stopped responding. From that point I made continuous attempts to message Dave, with no response.

The chat box kept disappearing and reappearing. The problem is, as the test taker, you cannot open the chat box yourself. The proctor must. So for a long period of time, I was sitting staring at myself and not even able to message anyone.

Around 11:30 a.m., proctor #2, Sue, showed up and asked if I was in the exam, and I replied that I was stuck in check-in and Dave had stopped responding. Sue stopped responding, and the chat box again disappeared.

The clock ticked by and I had absolutely no idea what to do at this point. My anxiety was through the roof and I was almost sick. At one point I was waving my arms trying to attract attention, and even took a post-it and wrote "HELP" and held it in front of the camera for several minutes to see if anyone could see it and come help me.

I was slowly, agonizingly approaching the one-hour mark, and was sure that I was not going to be able to take my exam. I was crushed. I knew that if I closed out the window, I would lose my place and would forfeit everything, so thankfully I kept my head and stayed in the window! I can't even explain to you the thoughts running through my head: "There goes months of studying and $400", "If I have to reschedule, there's zero chance I'm getting an opening before the test changes on Jan 2", "How do I prove what happened to me if I have to close this?", "What am I going to say to everyone I told about taking my exam this weekend?" etc.

Around noon is when I knew I was really in trouble. I was one hour and 15 minutes past my start time, and no chat box to be seen to use for help.

This is the point I lost it. I thought it was all over, and I began sobbing in utter frustration. My husband ended up in the room to see what in the world was going on in here, and couldn't believe that it was past noon and that I hadn't even BEGUN my exam yet. He knows how hard I worked, and was just as confused as I was that there's no way to get help, no one to call, no one to message etc.

I'm guessing that all this racket of me trying to explain to him in between crying came through the microphone and set off alerts on Pearson's end, because shortly into my explanation to my husband, a third proctor suddenly showed up - this was probably around 12:10 p.m. I assume. She thankfully was responsive and told me to go get some water to calm down and that she would release my exam as soon as my husband left the room and we did a final scan with the webcam of my desk and the room. I was so relieved to have someone help me that I of course thanked her as my savior, but looking back on it I'm shocked that there was NO explanation attempted for what happened and NO apology even.

To explain to you how hard it was to stop crying, collect myself, and push past the utter stress and frustration of the last hour and a half isn't even possible. I was in complete mental panic mode and couldn't calm down. I could barely even get myself to focus and read the words on the screen. As I said before, it's a very wordy test, that requires a lot of concentration even in a perfect mental state. Just even writing this is making me feel the same rising panic I experienced staring down 200 questions and a ticking clock with a very stressed mind. My confidence in myself was so low, and I kept feeling like I was already failing.

Worse yet, the extra 1.5 hours I wasted waiting to begin my exam basically meant that I was beginning my exam at about the time that I should have hit my 10-minute break, had I begun on time. I realized pretty quickly into my first half of the test that I was extremely hungry and needed to use the restroom. So needless to say, it was not a great set of circumstances to take the test. I had been careful just to eat something light right as I began my check in around 10:20 so that I'd be fine to make it comfortably to my break. This plan obviously backfired horribly!

Again, thankfully, I passed and the end result is a happy one. I believe I could have scored higher had this all not happened, but a pass is a pass. But what Pearson did is unforgivable, and they jaded the entire experience. Those four test hours would have been long and challenging in even the best circumstances, but it made it absolutely grueling and miserable. Pearson took away my opportunity to take the test with a ready, clear mind, and by making the whole test experience so awful, they jaded what should have been a very happy and victorious day for me. I have worked extremely hard for this, and I have wanted my PMP certification for years. That moment of seeing that I passed should not have followed nearly six hours of mental anguish.

SO. All of that said, whatever happens to you, don't close that window. I would've been screwed had I done that. Since noise seems to have attracted them, if you truly get stuck, start making tons of noise. Clap your hands, talk, sing, whatever. I have a feeling that had I done that sooner, I wouldn't have sat there so long.

I'm not saying that to scare you. I have only seen one other person say he had a long wait to check in, so I truly think I was an absolute anomaly. Something went very, very wrong here. Just keep your head about you and know that you will start eventually as long as you keep that window open.

Closing Thought
There's no denying that this test is a challenge, but the moral of the story here is that you can do it! If I and so many others have passed, you can too! Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions.

Last edit: by Brittany S..

PMP Exam Final Thoughts and Lessons Learned + Pearson Issue 2 months 3 days ago #25459

  • Yolanda Mabutas
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Congratulations, Brittany!

Thank you for sharing your journey and Lessons Learned.
Yolanda Mabutas
OSP International LLC
Moderators: Yolanda MabutasMary Kathrine PaduaJohn Paul BugarinKyle Kilbride, PMP

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