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TOPIC: Question Lessons learned in passing the PMP exam

Lessons learned in passing the PMP exam 6 years 4 months ago #2628

  • Mark Salamone
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I earned my PMP certification in my initial attempt on 11/2/2011.

As background, I first started looking into the PMP certification in February, 2011. I acquired Rita Mulcahy’s “PMP Exam Prep” book based on the recommendation of another PMP. I also got Andy Crowe’s “The PMP Exam” and started browsing them both. I must admit that my early attempts were a bit haphazard and my efforts were somewhat arbitrary in their focus. I had a vague plan that had me reading the prep material, joining the PMI, then sitting for the exam.

In September, my role on the program I had worked on for 3 ½ years was eliminated due to budget cuts and I knew I needed to get serious. At this point, I had read through most of Mr. Crowe’s book. So, I joined the PMI and looked into the requirements to take the exam. It was then that I learned of the “35 Contact Hours” requirement. After getting a couple of recommendations, I purchased the PMPrepCast. Not only did it give me the 35 hours of instruction I needed, it also had many tips to offer including creating a schedule and approaches to reading and answering the questions on the exam.

I followed much of the advice offered by Mr. Fichtner, part of which was to recommend Ms. Mulcahy’s book. I went back and read that book and found that it had more ‘meat’ and I thought it would better serve my goal of passing the exam on the first attempt.

So here are my lessons learned:

1) Prepare an attainable schedule. Gaining this certification should be treated like a project. As project managers, it is our responsibility to produce a schedule that can be achieved. Without this tool, weeks or even months can go by with little or no advancement toward the goal. This is not the order in which I proceeded, but if I had it to do again, my schedule would adhere to the following points.
2) Get an exam prep book and read it through cover-to-cover highlighting only very important passages. Don’t go crazy with the highlighting this first time – see point 5 below. It was recommended that I read the PMBOK guide a couple of times. I frankly could not bring myself to do that as I found it very dry indeed. It is, after all only set of guidelines intended to define a body of knowledge.
3) Then listen to a section of the PMPrepCast and read that section of the PMBOK guide paying attention to definitions and descriptions. The PMPrepCast lends a lot of context to the information in the PMBOK. Someone else’s lessons learned suggested that while memorizing all the inputs, tools & techniques and outputs is neither necessary nor practical, he found that memorizing them for the Risk and Procurement knowledge areas to be helpful. I agree with that assessment and found this memorization quite useful in taking the exam.
4) Take the PMPrepCast 25-question exam to receive your 35 Contact Hour certificate.
5) Take practice exams. I can’t stress the essential nature of this one enough. Start with practice exams that focus on each of the knowledge areas. Then take several full length (4-hour) exams – don’t under-estimate the physical stress of sitting still for 4 hours. There are a number of web sites offering free exam questions, but I found purchasing additional questions to be very useful as well. After taking each exam, go back through each question – both the ones you get right and the ones you get wrong to read the rationale behind the answers. With each one, find the pertinent sections in your exam prep book and highlight those sections.
6) Continue taking exams until you are consistently getting 80% of the answers correct. To further help you understand your readiness, follow an approach I read about and found helpful. Rate your understanding of each question by giving yourself 1 point for each question you ‘absolutely’ know the answer to without needing to look; ½ point for correct answers where you had to pick between what you thought were multiple ‘correct’ answers; ¼ point for correct answers you simply guessed at; and of course, 0 points for incorrect answers. When you are consistently getting 75-80% using this scale, you should definitely be ready.
7) In the days immediately preceding your exam date, go back over your highlighted sections of the exam prep book. Having highlighted it as described in items 2 and 5 above should make this studying method very efficient.
8) Finally, follow advice extended by people like Mr. Fichtner and Ms. Mulcahy. They have “been there, done that” and offer important insights that are very helpful.

Best wishes for success in your quest to become a PMP!

Mark Salamone
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