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

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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.

1. Understand the Exam Content Outline domain and tasks.

The PMP Exam is based primarily on PMI’s Exam Content Outline. The Exam Content Outline has changed significantly for the new exam. Knowledge areas and process groups are no longer the primary divisions. Instead, PMI has divided the exam by domains and tasks. You need to understand these domains and tasks to study effectively for the exam.

2. Prepare for scenario-based questions and new 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. In addition, PMI has added several new question types to the new exam. Multiple response questions require clicking and dragging information to get the right answer. “Hotspot” questions require interacting with a graphic on-screen to select the answer. The new exam also has matching and fill-in-the-blank questions. Make sure you fully understand the scenario behind each question so you can effectively answer each type of question.

3. Seek support from books, groups, and classes.

If you don’t have 35 contact hours to qualify for the exam, you need to start with a class. Classes offer an immersive environment to prepare you fully for the exam, making them well worth the cost. Following the class, you can continue your study with a variety of resources, including well-known PMP Exam Prep books, support groups, and practice simulators. If you know other people who are studying to take the exam, you can form a study group for extra accountability. Teaching others the material may help reinforce it for you also.

4. Practice taking the exam.

Full mock exams with a practice simulator will help you understand what taking the exam is like, show you how ready you are to take the exam, and help you pinpoint 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. Track your confidence.

When taking practice exams, track how confident you feel about different types of questions and different domains or tasks. This information can be very helpful in guiding your study and gauging exam success. If your simulator has a feature to track time spent on each question, it’s worth doing this also, or keep a notepad and jot down the time spent.

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. Eliminate weak answers.

If you can reduce a multiple choice question to 50/50 by eliminating two answers, then you have a stronger 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. For multiple answer or hotspot questions, try to eliminate any outliers on the graphic and focus on what’s most likely to be correct.

8. 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.

9. 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. 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.

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. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t 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? Talk to us today about how to get ready for the PMP exam.

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

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