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TOPIC: Lessons Learned after a long hard struggle.

Lessons Learned after a long hard struggle. 5 years 4 months ago #2059

  • Karl Stiller
  • Karl Stiller's Avatar
I achieved the PMP certification on the 24th of May 2011. I would like to thank my wife for all the support, my 2 year old daughter for having to put up with all the excuses, and the support from my in-laws and my family. Also thanks to my lecturers, Cornelius Fichtner, Rita Mulcahy, and Harwinder from www.deepfriedbrainpmp.com.

I used the following resources during my preparation for the exam:
* An MBA course in project management from a local university here in Brazil.
* PM StudyCoach from Cornelius.
* PMBOK 4th Edition (read cover to cover twice)
* PMP Exam Prep, Sixth Edition: Rita's Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam by Rita Mulcahy (read it 3 times)
* PM Exam Simulator from Cornelius.
* A free practice exam from PMStudy.
* The Deep Fried Brain Blog from Harwinder.

My journey for the PMP exam started at the end of my MBA course. A study group was formed with 3 other members of the course to prepare for the exam. Each week we revised a chapter of Rita Mulcahy’s book. We mixed the chapters, taking a “difficult” chapter (by Rita’s definition) one week, then an “easy” chapter the next week. We completed the questions at the end and met to run though all the questions in which somebody of the group had made a mistake. Also each person took a turn in summarising the chapter for future referral. Although I felt I learnt something during the process, I decided to stop meeting with the group after we summarised the book. I felt that the group was progressing too slowly. The time spent going through the questions wasn't worth the trouble and I wanted to speed up. So I quit and started out on my own.

My first step was to purchase the PM StudyCoach. I followed the instructions from Cornelius, most of the time to the letter. I learn better by writing, so I followed the previous strategy of summarising, however, instead of summarising Rita, this time I summarised the PMBOK, then I would read the corresponding chapter from Rita. And then completed a list of 75 questions on the topic from my MBA course. I studied approximately 1-2 hours during the week at work (I had a nice quiet environment after 6pm) and around 4 hours on either Saturday or Sunday, taking the other day off.

During this process I applied for and passed though the audit process for the CAPM exam after initially believing that I was not eligible, however after re-conferring the requirements for the PMP exam I realised I was in fact eligible for the PMP exam. I requested PMI to change to the PMP exam. This all took time, a lot longer than I thought and it was only at the end of my preparation for the PMP exam that my CAPM exam finally was closed. I informed my previous bosses of my plans and the hours calculated for each process, and finally applied. I had 2 weeks before I went on holiday for a month. I would be travelling to Australia (I live in Brazil) to visit my family for Christmas. No chance of postponing, no chance of locking myself away for a few hours each day to continue my studies. I had to finish it all off before then. During the process of making the application and finally clicking the submit button I thought that I couldn’t possibly go through the audit process again after previously going though it for the CAPM. Maybe it is because I am Australian, living in Brazil, and I had submitted hours from my work in India, and Brazil, which triggered the audit but in any case the impossible had happened. I had to go through the audit _again_. I made some quick calculations, there was no chance of completing this audit and exam in time. Getting the documents signed and sent to me (particularly from my ex-boss in India) was never going to arrive in time. Also, Prometric did not have a center in Brisbane, Australia, and there was not going to be a paper exam during my time there. The only center was in Sydney, almost 1000km away. It dawned on me that my preparation was useless. I had to defer everything until after my holidays.

I returned back to my studies rejuvenated, however as I had taken a month off I felt that I had not retained the information I needed to take the exam any time soon. I had to restart my preparation again for the third time. As you can imagine I was lacking a little motivation. After a conversation with my wife I returned to my studies. This time I planned to revise the chapters quicker 1.5 - 2 chapters a week depending on work and family commitments, and take the exam as soon as possible. This time I would read a chapter from Rita, complete the questions at the end of the chapter, read the corresponding chapter of the PMBOK then finally a list of 75 questions from my MBA course. I had also changed jobs. I could no longer study at work (it was not a good area to be at night). So I had to study at home. I could only manage around 1 hour on weekdays, but I studied around 4 hours on Saturday and Sunday and took a day off during the week.

After completing all the chapters I started taking simulation exams and quizzes. I felt that the questions from my MBA course I had used to death. I needed fresh questions, ones I had never seen before. Using a spreadsheet from PM StudyCoach as a starting point I searched the internet for a good base. I really wanted to purchase PM Fastrack from Rita, however the price I was not willing to pay. The best value was PM Exam Simulator from Cornelius. Around this time I also scheduled my exam, probably the best move I made. This really motivated me to focus. Overall, I found Cornelius’ questions quite difficult and overly wordy, however, this really tested my knowledge and the questions seem to target areas that are not very well understood. During the week I would take a quiz one day (around 50 questions), and go through all the questions the next day. On the weekends I would do a full Simulation. When looking at the results of the quizzes and simulations I would go though all the results, not just the questions I had got wrong, but also the ones I had got right. If it was a specific point, I would read the referred page of the PMBOK or internet site. Questions I had got right by guessing were also done this way. During this time I found Harwinder’s blog Deep Fried Brain. I read and made sure that I understood the list of 80+ commonly confused concepts. Trips to and from work while on the busy Sao Paulo metro were used to study the ITTOs and basic process definitions from all the processes using flash cards that I had made. I did not try to memorize, but took educated guesses from what I understood as the basic points of the particular process, I was able to get most of the ITTOs with a good percentage of success. I also read the glossary at the end of the PMBOK.

After doing various quizzes and simulations, I noticed that my percentages were not improving. I would obtain around 60-70% on the simulations on PM Exam simulator. Nowhere near the suggested 80%. Also, there was only one weekend left. I did two complete simulations one from the PM Exam Simulator on Saturday (I achieved a strangely low 61%) I was tempted to postpone the exam. On Sunday I took the free simulation from PMStudy (I had reserved this one for last) I obtained 75%. Better, but still low. Time was up. Monday was reserved for relaxation and sleep. I didn’t touch notes or anything the night before the exam or the day of the exam.

Exam day arrived. Mornings are best for me, and I had scheduled it for 9am. I took my time, taking a break at 100 questions, and another after completing the 200 (around 3:15) before analysing the marked questions and going through the last 100 questions. I found the questions quite easy, and much shorter and easier to read than the wordy questions from Cornelius and nowhere near as tricky. There were only about 4 questions that I needed to make an easy calculation. The questions were quite similar to the questions from PMStudy. I stayed until the end of the exam, double checking the last 100 questions in particular before moving on to the first 50 or so until time was up.

I was quite relieved to see the words congratulations on the screen as I couldn't stand studying for much longer.

My suggestions for anyone planning to take the exam would be:
* First read and understand all the requirements for the certifications and find which ones you are eligible and which you wish to take. If you are not totally sure if you are eligible check with somebody.
* Apply for your exam as soon as you have decided and start studying for the exam. You have a whole year and 3 chances to pass before the application expires. Use it as a motivator. You don’t have to schedule the exam until you are ready. If you fall into the audit process you will then have time to complete it and not during the time when you should be studying the most.
* Schedule the exam as soon as you can. Avoid the temptation to defer. No-one is 100% ready for this exam. You have 3 chances to do the exam without reapplying (although there is a fee).
* The exam was not as hard as I had imagined. I found it quite fair really. You just need to concentrate on the questions and answers.
* Don’t memorise the ITTOs, just understand the processes.
* Know all the formulas. Know how they work and how to recreate them if you are maths able.
* I found Rita and the PMBOK a good combination.
* The PM Exam Simulator from Cornelius is great at finding the gaps and testing your knowledge, however I would ignore some questions that are particularly picky or asked for information that was not in the PMBOK or Rita. (I would have liked an option of saving the exam. It was not always possible to find a 4 hour block in my day)
* The Deep Fried Brain blog from Harwinder is also a good read (in particular the list of 80+ commonly confused concepts).
* The PM StudyCoach contained all that I required. The recommendations were on the ball. Though I disagree for when to apply for the exam after my audit experience! The sequence was good, the lessons learned in the emails were motivating and I took some of these onboard.
* The process of reading Rita and the PMBOK (the third way I had studied) was the best way I found. Rita narrowed down the information into the information you really need to know for the exam.
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