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TOPIC: PMP Exam Experiences

PMP Exam Experiences 5 years 6 months ago #2048

  • Royce Coffee
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I began the pursuit of a PMP credential last year for two reasons: improve client support (providing more realistic and effective recommendations to project managers as I am a program consultant) and personal development. The journey was interesting, to say the least. Like many other life experiences, I am glad I did it, but I am not sure I would do it again.

I discovered Cornelius and the PrepCast about a year ago. This turned out to be fortunate for me. With so many products on the market, however, I wasn't sure what the best investment of my time and money would be for exam prep materials, so I sent an email to Harwinder at DeepFriedBrain and asked for his opinion and recommendation. DeepFriedBrain is a website I had come across during internet searching and one you may want to add as one of your favorites. Harwinder gave me an enthusiastic and positive endorsement of Cornelius and his products. I also used the BrainBok site that Harwinder produces and found it to be helpful in my studies, particularly in the area of glossary review questions.

I took action on the endorsement and purchased the Prep Cast, Study Coach, Formula Study Guide and the e-Flashcards. On the day of release of the PM Exam Simulator, I purchased that as well.

Due to the challenges of work and life in general, I took a break from the preparation process for about 6 months. With my one year of PMI eligibility expiring in June 2011, I dedicated myself in March of this year to following the 10 week plan as outlined in the Study Coach.

For me, the process worked out just fine. It was good to have a study plan that had been thought through and had proven to be successful to guide me. With the limited time I had, I did not want to waste hours of needless study or get off- track. Good decision on my part.

On advice received from Cornelius and a few other sources, I purchased both the Rita Mulchay's "PMP Exam Prep, 6th Edition", Rita’s FasTrack exam simulator, and Andy Crowe's "Passing the PMP Exam on Your First Try". To brush up on my math skills, I purchased and used the "PMP Certification Mathematics" book, which, strangely enough, I enjoyed. I read the PMBOK once, read the prep books twice, listened to the PrepCasts, memorized the Formula Guide and took multiple practice tests from the prep books and a few free online tests. The best exam simulator quality for me was (in order): the PM Exam Simulator, FasTrack, and the 75 question free test from Oliver Lehman.

After finishing each practice test, I referred to the applicable section of the PMBOK to learn why I missed certain questions, as well as the ones I answered correctly (I guessed on many example questions, so better to understand why the right answer was right instead of depending on chance on the real exam). I ended up reading the PMBOK at least twice, and in certain areas where I needed additional review, several more times. I also found the PMI published "Q & As for the PMBOK, 4th Edition" to be useful in getting used to the formal writing style and unique sentence structures (some would say boring or overly academic) of the PMBOK itself. A last minute review of the 200 questions from the Q & A book proved to be review time well spent as I was able to answer a few more questions correctly.

I only took one full length test, the 200 questions in Andy Crowe’s book. I found that taking 20 questions at a time, stopping to review the right and wrong answers and then taking 20 or 30 more questions was an effective strategy for me to learn and retain the information.

Three weeks before my scheduled exam, I found out about a local review class for the exam. I had been searching for one for some time but could not find a course in the country where I live. A member of the local PMI Chapter gave me information on this review course and I decided to attend. It turned out to be a good decision, as the interaction and discussion with others combined with a very good instructor enabled me to fill in the gaps that were left by studying alone and also deepened my understanding of project management in different industries.

This may seem to be over doing it to some, but my goal was to learn as much formal project management knowledge as I could, in additon, of course, to learning enough to pass the exam. I believe I accomplished both objectives. Actually leaning the project management concepts was my main objective, not just trying to quickly learn the information for the exam. In my case, information crammed in without really understanding the underlying principles involved has a short shelf life and evaporates soon after testing.

On May 24, 2011 I took and passed the exam on my first attempt. The PM Exam Simulator was the closest to the actual test from my point of view, and I am certainly glad I purchased it.

As reported by many others, there was a spread of questions across the difficulty spectrum from easy, to medium to hard to the kind that make you stare at the computer screen and try to imagine what in the world the question is really asking or what on earth are they talking about. Taking the questions in stride and reminding yourself that the desired end state is passing will help to keep you focused. Don't let the stray, off-beat questions get you down, and don't worry about getting a 100%.

My advice on enduring the experience of the testing process at the Prometric Center is to stay flexible and don't get frustrated or upset by some differences in the process that some internet sites and prep books have described compared to the actual process that the site may be using. It was somewhat of a challenge to wade through the "unwritten" procedures or the unknown or unexplained process nuances and go with the flow.

Letting small differences bother you simply distracts from the task at hand. Some of the unexpected issues I encountered included a defective mouse which caused me to do all of the math problems without benefit of a calculator, freezing cold in the test room but no jacket allowed to be taken inside, bizarre signature rituals that made me feel like I was forging my own signature, a long discussion as to whether or not I could take my reading glasses into the test area (I solved their problem by simply putting on my reading glasses rather than have them in my pocket and that immediately satisfied the test proctor).

The most serious issue turned out to be my ID. I had gone to the testing site 10 days in advance to eliminate any potential test day problems. On the PMI test permission letter, my name had my middle initial instead of my full middle name, so I wanted to make sure the two forms of government-issued picture ID that used my middle initial were acceptable.

The test proctor decided that I had to use my passport, even though my passport uses my full middle name. Great, here we go. Who am I at Prometric and who am I at PMI? I had brought 5 official picture IDs and they were all reviewed by the test protor. Her final decision was that I had to bring all of them with me on test day. On test day, the passport was the only ID that was acceptable (to the same test proctor, my how memories fade in the space of a few days). As it turned out, the testing official did not want to even look at my test letter, did not care of the discrepancy of middle initials versus full names and insisted on the passport only.

It turned out fine, but I had to count to 10 and mutter incantations such as "This too shall pass" during the five plus hours I was in the test center. A side benefit was the multiple practice opportunities I received in the art of patting myself down. Interesting new skill to acquire, I guess. Most of the time I spent on breaks was consumed by the security checks and exit/reentry process. Be sure to factor that into your schedule.

My advice is twofold: visit the test center you will be testing at to get the feel of the place and eliminate any problems you can, and just as importantly, remember that when in Rome..............

My initial time management plan of taking a break after 75 questions changed as I was felt I was doing too well to break the rhythm I had established. So, I did the first 150 questions in a little over an hour and a half, took a 5 minute break, finished the next 50 in about 30 minutes and took another 5 minute break. I automatically “marked for review” every math or network question and ended up marking about 30 total questions on my initial pass through the exam.

I spent the remaining time puzzling over the marked questions and reviewing every question a second time. The lack of a calculator caused me to take more time than I actually needed, but that really didn’t bother me – just one more character-building experience in a very long day. On the second pass of the 200 questions, I changed 3 answers. When I got home, I looked up the 3 I had changed and I got them all right. But, I agree with the advice that there can be a tendency to second-guess which may cause more harm than good.

Of note, the downloading of a brain dump to the scratch paper advice in my specific case, proved to be problematic. The scratch paper I was issued was insufficient in quantity to put down all of the formulas, pg 43 of the PMBOK, etc. and to also have room to calculate the required solutions to the math questions. The test proctor told me I could have more scratch paper but I had to exchange the old for the new. I had to choose either to use up two of the 3 and 2/3 pages for the brain dump and then turn it in which eliminated the benefit of the brain dump in the first place, or use the scratch paper for calculations. Due to the mouse failure I encountered later during the test, keeping the blank scratch turned out to be a very good decision.

The scratch paper came in the form of a booklet of two pages (front and back for a total of four writing surfaces) with over 1/3 of the front sheet taken up by the Prometric address, phone number, location, etc. So, I did not do the brain dump and had to recall each formula as I needed it. I had spent enough time on memorizing the Pocket Formula Guide that this was only a minor inconvenience. The formula was there in my head when I needed it.

Combining the run-away mouse, dim lighting, test protors with squeeky shoes staring over your shoulder, and numb hands, the testing experience proved to be more fun than is probably legal. By the way, number 2 pencils still become dull almost instantly, and the procedure for getting a new pencil was so complex and time consuming (yes, another security & passport check to get a new pencil), that it was an easy choice for me to use the stubby pencil and just ignore the odd and somewhat surrealistic situation I found myself in.

I appreciate the support of my team leader and our company who were both gracious and supportive of my effort to be earn the PMP certification.

Thank you, Cornelius and your team. The products are great, and I will continue to recommend them to others. Each time I needed some help from you or your staff the results were always the same: outstanding customer service and support!

Best of luck and good wishes to those still on the PMP certification trail.
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