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Eleven Tips for Passing the Project Management Professional (PMP) Exam

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RefineM Blog

Eleven Tips for Passing the Project Management Professional (PMP) Exam

August 3, 2017
Photo of students studying for the PMP exam.

Earning the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification demonstrates experience in project management and the ability to add value to organizations through use of project management skills. One barrier to earning the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is the difficulty of the exam. Learn more about preparing for the exam through these tips, which range from building your study plan to managing exam day itself.

If you’d like to talk to us about your exam prep after reading these tips, get in touch today.

Before you start preparing, you should make sure you meet PMI’s requirements to take the PMP exam. Remember that the PMP exam requires both contact hours in education and experience hours leading projects. If you are short on experience, you may consider the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® Exam instead.

1.Create and memorize your “brain dump.”

A “brain dump” should include all of the formulas, lists of items, and other concepts that you struggle with. Create this brain dump before the exam and update it as you study so you can become familiar with these before the exam. When the exam day arrives, put this information on your scrap paper and then you will not have to worry about forgetting it. You will have to take some of your allotted exam time to record the brain dump on your scrap paper, but the time investment still pays off.

2. Prepare for the scenario-based questions.

The PMP exam has many scenario-based questions that will ask you to select the best action out of a list of possibilities. Drawing on your project management experience will be vital in answering these questions, but do not forget what the PMBOK® Guide recommends. The PMBOK® Guide approach may differ from how you do project management at your organization, so it is crucial to reconcile PMI’s approach with your experience. Developing this understanding will help you far more on scenario-based questions than trying to memorize every input, tool/technique, and output.

3. Seek support from books, support groups, or boot camps.

The PMP certification exam is a difficult test and many candidates do not pass on their first try. Books, support groups, and boot camps are some of the ways you can help yourself pass.

Some well-known PMP exam prep books include:

  • PMP Exam Prep, Ninth Edition by Rita Mulcahy
  • The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try, Sixth Edition by Andy Crowe

The PMBOK® Guide is also available in digital format at no cost to PMI members.

For support groups, LinkedIn has several groups available that either specialize in PMP exam prep or feature both PMP and CAPM exam prep. If you know others in your company or network who are taking the exam, forming a study group is a great way to establish accountability.

Boot camps are typically very expensive, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, but offer immersion in project management techniques that will be valuable in your career in addition to being valuable to getting PMP certification. Your local PMI chapter is a good place to look for the nearest boot camp. You can also check PMI’s CCRS catalog. RefineM is offering boot camps throughout the year in multiple cities and over the Web. If you can’t reach one of our public boot camps, we can still help you. Get in touch with us today.

4. Practice taking the exam.

Taking a practice exam after doing a full read-through of the PMBOK® Guide is a good way to test your absorption of the concepts. Many books include practice exams, and some others are available online or through the boot camps. Full mock exams should give you an idea of what the real exam is like and help you identify your areas of improvement.

Throughout your study, take several different mock exams to gauge your readiness. If you can consistently score 85 percent or above across several different mock exams, then you should feel confident about the real exam. RefineM’s PMP Exam Prep simulator keeps track of your score history and allows you to see which knowledge areas are your strongest and weakest so you can focus your study.

5. Keep track of your confidence level when answering practice questions.

Another important metric, in addition to overall exam score and proficiency in each area, is how confident you feel about each question you answer. While taking mock exams, keep some time to record how confident you felt about each question after answering it but before moving to the next. This information can be very helpful in guiding your study and gauging exam success. If you are not confident about a lot of the questions, this signals that you may need more study; also, if there is a pattern to questions you are not confident about (either the type of question or the area covered) this is a signal to further guide study.

6. Take plenty of breaks during study.

As with any exam, there is a lot of material to cover, so cramming will not work very well. In the early going, it is a good idea to hit only one chapter per study session. This will allow you to cover the entire PMBOK® Guide in under two weeks and start taking mock exams to see where your areas for improvement are located. You can then focus on these areas in the next sessions.

7. Relax on the night before the exam.

Because the exam is a high-stress event, you should try to get plenty of good rest on the night before the exam. Going into the exam refreshed may help you retain more of what you studied and give you more confidence going into the exam.

8. Answer the exam questions in rounds.

When you are taking the real exam, we recommend answering the questions in rounds. On your first pass, spend no more than ten seconds on a question, marking it for review if you can’t answer it. If you wrote any formulas on your brain dump, answer any questions involving those formulas as well. On your second pass, give yourself a minute; on the third, five minutes. If you still cannot answer a question on the final pass, select a random answer. Giving yourself this time allows you to employ other test-taking strategies, such as the ones below. It also allows you to avoid spending too much time on a hard question, which may not even be scored (remember, 25 of the 200 questions are pre-test, but you don’t know which ones they are)

9. Eliminate weak answers.

When trying to answer a particular question, aim to eliminate as many answers as you can. If you can reduce the question to a 50/50 by eliminating two answers, then you have a strong chance of getting the question right. For example, if a question asks you to identify an input that goes with a certain process, you can eliminate any answers that are tools and techniques.

10. Do not leave any question unanswered.

There is no penalty for guessing on a question that has absolutely stumped you, but leaving a question blank guarantees that you got it wrong. If you cannot eliminate any weak answers, then your chance of getting the question right is 25 percent. Once you’ve exhausted all your options on a question, take your best guess.

11. Be confident about passing but understand that you may not pass.

Many candidates cannot pass on their first try, and there is nothing to be ashamed of; the PMP exam is a difficult test. You will be able to attempt the exam two additional times under your application eligibility period; if you fail three times, you will have to reapply. Using these attempts wisely is important.

Before you take the test again, you should see how well you did the first time. If your score was very low and/or you need improvement in multiple knowledge areas, then you should wait anywhere from two weeks to a month to schedule a retake. If you fell just short, then you need to shore up your weak areas. Once you’ve done that, then you should be able to take the exam within two weeks of your first attempt.

Need more support to feel confident about taking the PMP exam? RefineM’s PMP Exam Prep Test Simulator will help you get ready.

PMP, CAPM, and PMBOK are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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