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TOPIC: The Lessons Learned from my PMP Odyssey

The Lessons Learned from my PMP Odyssey 3 years 1 week ago #11775

  • Colin Melvin
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After four hours of some of the most abstract questions that I have seen on standardized tests, I took a deep breath of relief and quietly pumped my fists in excitement when the word Congratulations appeared on the screen. I was now a PMP. Moments later, I had the exam results in my hand as I traced my finger over the raised seal from the Prometric test center. A couple of weeks later, the framed certificate sits in my home study. The five month odyssey of the right to use the letters PMP was successful.

So how did I do it?

The journey began with me dreaming about the very goal above and why I wanted to get my PMP certification. As a project manager in data processing and field seismic geophysics, I saw the certification as a path to additional knowledge to optimize the contractor work I oversaw and planned. The end result of the certification would also be recognition as having the skill sets in project management in addition to the technical skills. Begin your journey envisioning that goal. Write it down and review it from time to time why you are doing this.

If you do nothing else, just do that one step.

"You become what you think about." - Earl Nightingale.

Now to realize that goal, I split my pathway through a structured learning plan, testing simulations, and managing the real exam. Here's the method that I used and recommend.

Learning Plan:
Pick up a copy of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). You can get one online if you are a member of PMI, but libraries will also have this book too if you want to read a hard copy and don't want to pay the money for one (a hard copy can be expensive). Read the book from cover to cover as a quick first pass just to get a general idea. Think about how the constraints become the knowledge areas. Then watch all of the PM PrepCast lessons and take a lot of notes. I tend to find that the more that I write things down, the more that I grasp a concept. After listening to all of the lessons, select a textbook to further review and study. Choose one that resonates with you. The key approach though is to read it by process group. In other words, read all of the activities related to initiating first (Develop Project Charter & Identify Stakeholders). Then read the planning, then executing, then monitor & control, and finally closing. This method gives another look in a chronological way. Another reason is that I saw the interaction of the knowledge areas with each other, which I would be thankful for. Finally, reread the PMBOK by process group.

Test Simulators:
Like the study plan above, I was also systematic with test simulators. These simulators are like weight lifting. It is a lot of repetitive work to condition yourself to the examination. I used PM PrepCast's exam simulators. After each exam, take the time to look at all of the incorrect answers and review why the answer chosen was incorrect and the reasoning behind the correct answer. Do the same for any question marked. Why? I wanted to see if my thoughts were in line with the correct answer or if I lucked out that time with false reasoning. I knew I was ready for the real exam when I scored 80% or better consistently and when I had answered enough questions to the point where looking at more questions became mind numbingly boring. Translation: Do A LOT of questions.

The exam (AKA It's Showtime!):

Now to the part you have been waiting for. What is the actual exam like?

First, the "cheat sheet" that you will produce during the tutorial. While I didn't feel like I needed the cheat sheet as I knew the process groups and formulas well, I did it anyways because it is a good primer before the first question appears. Think of it like the pre-game huddle that football players do before kickoff. It gets you psyched up and gives you confidence that you are remembering concepts.

But what happens if you get what I got at the start of my exam - a parade of 10-20 hard questions? And I mean hard. What I did was mark these and review them later on. While it doesn't set a good tone in the first few minutes, you do realize that the questions will be easier later on. Or you could have that one set of hard questions that the psychometric score will adjust for. In short, press on and focus on answering all questions.

I took all four hours and paced myself to do so. Why? I paid for all four of them. I might as well use them. In my practice exams as well as the real one, there was one button I never clicked on. It was the one that said "end exam."

I almost always use process of elimination. I find it easier to read the question and look for the wrong answers instead. That seems weird, but I find it easier to give counter examples and disprove answers versus justifying what seems to be a correct one. I also find that it usually defeats the "distraction answer" - that one answer that comes close but isn't correct. On the exam, you will have an option to strikeout choices, which makes keeping track of this process easier.

Every once in a while, you may encounter a question where one answer is an odd duck and the other three are similar. Look for it (but don't rely on) as it may be the correct answer.

For this next part, remember that I'm not allowed to discuss specific questions, but what I will give you are some things to look for. Besides, each exam is different, so you may and probably will get different questions.

Questions that I had tested me for interactions among knowledge areas. For example, if a scenario question asks about what a risk register does, you might be expecting something in the risk management knowledge area. But the four answers you get are from other knowledge areas. You will need to make the connection that the risk register influences drafting a contract in procurement management (This is not a specific question I got, but one that I made up to illustrate the point). The idea is to think outside the knowledge management boxes. This is the reason why you read the PMBOK or another book by process group.

You do remember that around 31% of questions are from executing and another 25% are from monitor and controlling, right? Also, what is one major theme in both of those groups and are in nearly every knowledge area? If you said change controls, you are right! I hope you studied this voraciously! If you did, you will pick up some easy correct answers.

These are my major lessons that I can remember off hand and the journey that I went through. Team, I want you to keep dreaming about your turn to see the congratulations screen appear on your test and start using the PMP block letters on your business cards. It's been a pleasure to share my experiences and that I have given you inspiration and a few waypoints to your certification. If there is anything that I can help you with, just respond to the post. I'll try to come back here every once in a while. Until then, I'll leave you with this thought.

"You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win." - Zig Ziglar

The Lessons Learned from my PMP Odyssey 3 years 1 week ago #11783

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The Lessons Learned from my PMP Odyssey 3 years 1 week ago #11786

  • Stan Po, MBA, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM
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Dear Colin,

Congratulations on passing your exam!

Thank you for sharing your success and detailed lessons learned. We are glad to hear that our products helped you prepare and pass your exam.

Good luck in all your future endeavors.

The Lessons Learned from my PMP Odyssey 3 years 1 week ago #11804

  • Aung Sint
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Dear Colin,

Congratulations! Thanks for sharing your lessons learned.
Best regards,
Aung K. Sint, PMP
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