I Failed my Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam. Now What?


I Failed my Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam. Now What?

April 17, 2016
Frustrated person at a desk

The Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam is a notoriously difficult test on which even experienced project managers commonly struggle. The exact first-time pass rate is not known, but a range of estimates from different sources place it between 20 and 70 percent. Bottom line, if you were not able to pass the PMP exam on your first attempt, you are not alone. You are probably frustrated and are not sure what to do next. Follow these tips to overcome your frustration and pass the exam for which you have studied so hard.

  1. Take some time to reflect. You probably want to retake the exam right away, but it’s important to adjust your strategy. First, perform lessons learned on your exam attempt and determine what went well and what didn’t go so well. You may feel that your first attempt was a waste of time, but actually, you can take away two valuable insights to help yourself pass next time. The first valuable takeaway is your score report, which will indicate any knowledge areas where you have low proficiency. Improving on the low-proficiency areas is critical not only for exam success, but for career success as a project manager.Second, you have your memory of taking the exam. Try to recall specific times where you experienced the most stress:
    • Did you spend too much time on your first pass and struggle to submit the exam on time?
    • Did a particular question stump you?
    • Was it difficult overall to control your stress level?
    • Did something else bother you, like the temperature or noise level in the room?

    Your purpose is not to dwell on falling short, but to gain insight into how you can pass.

  2. Take some time to relax. Now that you’ve performed lessons learned and extracted valuable insights, you need to take some time and distance yourself mentally from the exam and your study. How much time to take is a fine balance. You want to be able to approach your study with fresh confidence, but you don’t want to wait too long and lose your grasp of the material. We recommend anywhere from two days to a week to unplug from exam study. During that time, you can start thinking of adjustments to your plan, but don’t implement the adjustments yet. You can also order new study materials during this time so they’ll be ready for you when you begin again.
  3. Take some time to adjust your plan. After taking some time to regroup and relax, you’re now ready to adjust your study plan. It’s time to ask some questions. In addition to these questions, look at our blog post on Eleven Tips for Passing the PMP® Exam, which may generate more insights.
    • Are there any concepts you don’t understand? If so, you should seek a mentor. You can find experienced project managers in your company, at your local PMI chapter, or any study groups that may have formed in the area. You can also take advantage of online resources such as LinkedIn groups and the forums at ProjectManagement.com.
    • Is your study material working for you? There are lots of books, study aids, practice tests, and other resources available. If one particular study aid isn’t helping, try something else. If you’ve found an experienced project manager to help you understand concepts, you can also find out what material he or she recommends.
    • Are you giving yourself enough study time? You should make at least one hour of your time available, and no more than four hours available per day. With less than one hour, you cannot go deep enough to get a solid grasp of the material. With more than four hours, you may get burnt out quickly.
    • Are you using your study time effectively? If you’re spending lots of time material you already know well, scoring consistently high on practice exams you’ve already taken, or feel burnt out during study, then it may be time for something different. If you’re not part of a study group, consider joining one so that your study gets a little mixed up. Trying different methods can help you keep your study fresh.
    • Are you cramming for the exam? It’s important to take a reasonable amount of time to prepare to pass the exam. Cramming too much information in too little time could result in multiple failures. Your brain needs time to process all of the information covered in the PMP exam.
    • Did your brain dump work well for you? If your scratch paper was underutilized, or not utilized at all, then practice your brain dump so you can make it a valuable ally during your exam.
    • Did you struggle with time management or stress management during the exam? If so, you may want to consider taking more practice exams and simulating the conditions of the exam as much as possible. Practice spending no more than one minute on each question and marking it for review if you don’t know the answer. Developing a disciplined approach to answering questions will pay off during your next attempt.
  4. Execute your adjusted plan and retake the exam. Once your plan is underway, revisit the testing site and schedule another exam attempt. You will have to pay a recertification fee. Once you’ve taken care of this step, you will know how much time you have to prepare. According to PMI’s PMP® Exam Handbook, you can attempt the exam up to three times during your one-year eligibility period. You will have two more attempts to pass the exam before you will have to wait and reapply.

With the adjustments to your plan and the renewed focus on study and exam strategy, you should feel confident enough to pass the exam on one of these two additional attempts. Best of luck on your exam!

Did you have to retake your PMP exam? What helped you the most in getting ready for the second round? Leave us a comment-we’d like to hear from you.

Need more support to feel confident about taking the PMP exam? Check out our PMP Exam Prep test simulator at Examprep.RefineM.com.

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