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4MPs, 1P. Put it up on the Cadillac board.
And my first full-time position after passing? An Agile firm.
One Year Before Exam
I knew this would be a long-term process that would take place hand-in-hand with my professional development, and I planned for it as such. 18 months before the PMP exam, I paid for an online PMP course from CareerAcademy. It was rather good as a foundational education piece, and I earned my required PDUs through this course. What it wasn't, though, was a PMP prep class.
From there, I tried like hell to read the PMBOK. It went in fits and spurts for months, like trying to read how to build a car, and it went that way because I hadn't the project management miles underneath me as context. Let me say that again -- without real-world experience on major projects you have a VERY hard road ahead of you. You know this because you're reading this post. But I can't stress it enough. Get the XP that will help you pass the test.
I also read Rita and the Cybex book, which were both good companions. I only recommend the Head Start book if you require visual drawings.
I spent a little bit of time trying to memorize ITTOs. As you'll see below I'm glad I didn't spend too long on rote memorization.
Three Months Before Exam
As I prepared my final descent, I picked up the PM PrepCast and Practice Exam combo. I'm SO glad I did. The beauty of the PrepCast is how it makes the PMBOK understandable. Mixed with my real-world experience, everything made sense now. The extended podcasts were helpful but not particularly useful for the exam -- still great info that helped me transition into Agile.
The practice tests are... close to what the PMP looks like without actually being the test. I drilled for the two weeks leading up to the test, until I scored 80% on more than one test. Then I stopped and trusted myself.
The Day of the Exam
I've done the computerized test dance before. But never with this much security. Seriously, I needed to sign out for bathroom breaks. Build your bathroom break/food break strategy before the test. In fact, build your entire test strategy before you walk in the door.
My strategy was simple: Make a quick first pass, marking the ones I didn't know off-the-top-of-my-head for further review. Let me tell you what breaks your morale: marking the first NINE questions for further review. I completed my first pass of the test in 2hrs, with a little less than half the questions marked for review. Break. Start at the beginning and eliminate choices.
Without telling you anything about any one question, if there's one thing you need to know it's this: Knowing the ITTOs isn't enough. You need to be able to understand exactly where you are in the project based on a handful of information given to you, because in most circumstances every answer on the test is something you're going to do at some point on your project. You can't fake your way through this test. Step back, breathe for a minute, and figure out exactly where the project stands. Then answer.
I unmarked my last answer with 5 minutes remaining on my 4 hours, three breaks, and a bit of bargaining. I was fully prepared to retake the test in a few months with a bit more exposure and practice. And then the screen popped. And I walked down to the corner bar and raised a glass.
Give yourself time to learn this stuff. This is a lot of information and workflow to understand. And you need to be able to understand it. Forget rote memorization of ITTOs and understand why they're important.
Test strategy: Have one, and be prepared to throw it away once it hits the field of battle.
Yep, I heartily recommend the PM PrepCast and Practice Exams. The exams were the closest to the actual test I took, and the PrepCast made short order of the PMBOK. It's worth every penny.
Have a support network. I couldn't have done this without the backing and help from my friends and loved ones. When you pass, celebrate with them.
There's a point of saturation when one can use the excuse of "one more resource" as a way of procrastinating. When you're ready, do it.
Don't stop learning. First of all, it helps you grow as a PM. Second... you really don't want to take this test twice. Keep your PDUs current.
This interview with Simona Fallavollita (LinkedIn Profile) was recorded at the magnificient Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Conference 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. We discuss the how, what, why and when of the changes that are coming to the PMP exam.