I had my PMP exam on the 27th and I am glad to announce I passed. Cutting to the chase, the exam is a lot of work meaning its a test of your nerves, English comprehension and of course the PMBOK. Here is how I prepared for the exam.
1. Read PMBOK once. It was a dry run and while it made absolutely no sense, I stuck with it and understood perhaps 20% of the contents.
2. Took a boot camp. Scored 62% in the boot camp final test. But what it did was point out my weak areas and sections in a far more comprehensive manner. I used the analysis from this test to plan further. My overall understanding of PMBOK process was slightly improved too as compared to my PMBOK dry run.
3. Signed up for PMPrepcast and PMSimulator through Cornelius. In between my dry reads, I would listen to Cornelius to explain unknown concepts to me. As noted earlier, my weak sections were risk, communications, costing and quality. I must admit that by now, I had bought a copy of Rita Mulcahy off craigslist too to supplement my understanding.
4. Round 2 begins: Completed another run of PMBOK process, boot camp notes, and Rita Mulcahy. By now I was scoring in the upper 70's for most parts. Rita Mulcahy helped me in understanding concepts very well as opposed to PMBOK. Also, certain nuances for e.g. validate scope vs control scope, control quality vs quality assurance, procurements etc were better explained in Rita's as compared to anyone else. I would suggest to maximize benefits from Rita or any other study material a dry read of PMBOK is a must because, without this overall arching idea, most concepts in the book would still appear new or confusing.
5. Round 3: Chapter wise revision. Followed the following ... PMBOK Guide + Cornelius study notes exam, Rita Mulcahy + Chapter end questions, Chapter wise questions from the internet finally topping it off with listening of Cornelius chapter recording, especially if the chapter score was under 80%.
6. Round 4: Full-length exams. I had the following 9 exams from Cornelius + 5 from simplilearn + 1 from Rita + 2 from Shiv Shenoy (PMESN blog). I was scoring within the 80's on most exam and finishing off the exam within 3 hrs 15 mins for most. My lowest scores higher end of 70's and lower end of 80's were on simplilearn tests. I scored the maximum of 87% on PMPrepcast Simulator from Cornelius and about 95% on the ITTO exam on the PMPrepcast Simulator.
7. Exam day: Had a quick check in at the Prometric center, was handled in pencils and sheet to mark on and lead in. Did the tutorial and started the exam. Paid the most attention to the first 15-20 questions as I wanted to get them right. Hit the halfway mark in about 2 hours. Completed the exam in about 3 hrs 30 mins. Took the next 30 mins for the questions I had marked (about 10-15 of them). Finally finished the exam in about 3 hrs 45 mins.
8. For some of the questions, I had no answers meaning, I didn't know what the answer should be or I was being tested in an area I knew little about. Some of them took a simple concept for e.g. float but by the time I calculated them my answers would not match with the options being shown. For some questions, I knew I don't know the answer and I had to guess.
9. The test ran out of time and automatically graded till I saw "Congratulations! You have passed ..... " displayed on the screen. Happily walked out .. mission accomplished.
What I could have done better:
1. Followed a process of review and remember. If you noticed while I gave plenty of practice tests despite noting that there were marginal increases in my test scores from test A to test B, I was not consistent in reviewing why I got an answer wrong or right. This was because I was too involved at work and I focused on getting through my 4-hour test than solidifying my strong areas and improving my weak areas. I should have got more P's but was fortunate enough to get 3 P's and 2 MP's.
2. Not knowing my break point. In the exam, almost 90% questions were needlessly wordy. I had to sift through meaningless sentences, mark and reread them to get to the right answer. While I had practiced as much as I could, you realize how the time crunch and you being past the tipping point forces your mind to select the answer you think is right than the best answer as it should be? Luckily I noticed the change in my focus and quickly took a few deep breaths and 3-5 sec break to regroup my efforts and attempt.
what I believe most people should do:
1. Baseline yourself. By this I mean to say at the onset of a full-fledged prep, you should know what your weakest areas are and focus attention on them. I could do this as soon as I finished a dry run of the PMBOK and took 1 full-length practice test. My weakest areas were Risk (66%), Stakeholder Mgmt (69%), Scope Control (62%), Human resources mgmt. (72%) , Quality Assurance (79%) and Closing (68%). I took extra efforts to up the score in these areas.
2. Measure your progress. If for e.g. despite 1 dry read, a comprehensive read (Prepcast + Mulcahy + Boot Camp) + sample tests ( 20 questions or less), you are not scoring in high 80's to closer to 100%, identify the areas where you have the most issues and ask your questions in online forums. I am guilty of not doing that consistently.
3. Review the explanations for each question on your sample test and ensure you understand the explanation well. This is critical because it tells you how truly you understood the knowledge areas/process group.
4. Visualize the question, your response and in particular the high-level understanding of the topic. I had mind maps for each knowledge area all done in 1 page and I would revisit them each chance I got and run through the process.
5. Understand ITTO's, the formula's and reproduce them each day. I utilized the concept of writing a short story around each input and how I utilized the tools and technique to get to an output.
For e.g. To successfully plan quality management my inputs were mostly documentation on how I will manage quality. I spoke to a few stakeholders with great interest in quality to understand their quality concerns. Having proof read the documented risk register and requirements documentation coupled with my understanding of eef's and opa's I utilized tools and techniques like cost-benefit analysis, cost of quality, seven basic quality tools, benchmarking, statistical sampling, meetings and additional quality planning tools to derive the quality management plan, the process improvement plan, the quality checklist, quality metrics and project document updates.
Thus I was able to deduce I am working on Plan quality management and my inputs are to be PMP, SR, RR, Req Docs, EFF's and OPA's and my tools and techniques were cost of quality, ss, benchmarking meetings .... and my o/p's were QMP, QC, QM, PIP and PDU
While the above process might not work for everyone, I realized that some amount of storytelling worked well for me and I could retain most concepts. I supplemented this story telling with 1-page mind maps I had drawn earlier to greatly shorten by revision time.
6. Lastly, the PMP is a great test of 1. PMBOK Concepts 2. English comprehension 3. Time management 4. Test taking ability ... all in that order. A Plan-Do-Check-Act is the only way you can guarantee success. If you plan well, do well as well as check well but forget to act (e.g. not understanding why you got an answer wrong) you will end up with gaps in your knowledge area which PMP exploits via its choice of words to get you to select the wrong answer.
7. Preparation time of 3-6 months with monthly review on where you stand. Don't just focus on passing the exam rather understand how an effective project manager will take you a long way forward than just being certified project manager.
1. Rita Mulcahy: Absolute must especially for the beginning practitioner for its simple and clear language.
2. PmPrepCast: Please take the full bundle but at the bare minimum the simulator. The explanations are top notch and there is a dedicated support team to respond to questions. (Thank you, Yazmine Darcy and Stan Po)
3. Shiv Shenoy's PMESN. The high-level chapter wise notes give's you a very good overview and he has free practice questions to boot.
4. Assuming you are scoring consistently amongst 85% during practice, it's now time to move on to full-length tests (at least 1 month before your actual exam date).
5. High-quality practice questions: I recommend Simplilearn and Christopher Scordo (50$) in addition to resources mentioned above. You must start giving full-length tests at least 2 weeks prior to your exam date and stop 1-2 days before your actual exam. On the prepcast simulator, there is a full length 200 question ITTO exam. If you score less than 95% on this exam ( you should not if you have been reproducing the mindmap and itto's each day), please ensure you repeat this and pay attention to ITTO's to up your score. You can expect a fair number of questions on ITTO's in the actual exam.
Thanks for reading. Good luck guys and if you need anything please reach out to me....