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A.J. Thomas: The PMI policy – the story behind the current passing rate

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This letter was written in Dec 2005 by A. J. "Hoppy" Thomas, B.S., MBA, M.S., PMP, VisionOps Managing Partner in response to a discussion thread on the new PMP passing mark (from 82% to 61%)in PMHUB Forum and Yahoogroups.

This was during the transition period from PMBOK 2000 to PMBOK 3rd edition. In line with the change from PMBOK 3rd edition to PMBOK 4th edition, this article is good for background - in case we face the same situation.

At the time of switch to PMBOK 3rd edition, the PMP exam passing grade was upgraded from 68% to 82%. After 3 months of testing, we heard stories that the number of passing PMP is much lower and many REP are complaining to PMI. Then in December 2005, PMI announced that the passing grade was lowered drastically from 82% to 61%.

In PMHUB discussion group and Forums this was considered as a lowering the PMP standrd…

Sent: Friday, December 02, 2005
Subject: Re: [PM] BIG CHANGES TO PMP 2005 EXAM!!

"I think they should bring it back to 68% pass score
They can maintain standards by adding "tougher" questions - more depth in the topics instead of being mile wide and inch deep.

Prashant Shah

This is the  reply by A.J. "Hoppy" Thomas

Hello Prashant,

I have read your response (as well as several other participants) and being a R.E.P. and a developer/trainer of PMP's for many years, I too had my doubts, until I participated on a conference call with a number of other R.E.P's yesterday that PMI conducted regarding the changes in the scoring.

There were a number of questions asked and answered during that conference call. I suggest you and others call or write to PMI and have their representative explain the logic in what was done, if what I tell you is not clear enough. It was explained to all of us during the conference call why the change was made. I come from a time (early 90's) when the PMP exam was extremely difficult and the questions were poorly worded and so were the five to six possible answers, so I do understand how difficult of a test it can be. At that time it was discussed that the pass rate for "first time" test takers did reach 25% and I felt very proud that I passed it the first time. Of course, that was in the early stages of PMP Candidate testing.

Let me briefly explain what we were told in the conference call how the passing score number was reached. Prior to the start of the actual testing process (September 30, 2005), PMI had selected 82% as the initial passing score. This original pre-test release passing score was statistically arrived at using industry approved testing preparation techniques. The 82% passing score was determined by obtaining the testing results from a number of current PMPs that took this new exam prior to its official release. This is a standard procedure that PMI uses before releasing any exams. PMI took many precautions to ensure that the questions were meeting the quality objectives during the entire testing design process. Of course, one goal was to make this exam a bit more difficult than previous exams, and I think that goal was achieved by far. One quality inspection was to occur after a number (about 1,000) PMP Candidates took the exam, which ended I believe either last week or early this week. According to the PMI conference call leader, Dennis Smith, the Certification Committee had planned long ago, to re-evaluate the passing score once the test had been taken a number of times so that a statistical sample could be obtained. Based upon the actual test results, and using approved testing methods, PMI decided that the 82% passing score was too high based upon the difficulty of the exam. As a result of this statistical change, the passing score was reduced to 61% or 106 questions correct out of the 175. This new passing score will remain over a period of years or until the PMBOKR Guide is revised. The PMBOKR Guide's revision has recently occurred every three to five years.

Please don't let this change affect you negatively whether you are a PMP or not. The change is a reflection of the exam's level of difficulty and nothing more. It is based upon actual PMP Candidates, just like some of those that are members of this forum, that took the exam over the last few months. The actual test results were compared to what the entire testing and certification industry considers as fair and comprehensive for "first time" test takers. According to Dennis Smith, PMI's Certification Director, across all industries that certify their members, that is, doctors, lawyers, nurses, engineers, etc., and based upon the experience level of the qualified candidates, regardless of the industry, a "first time" test taker should pass the exam 65 - 75% of the time. PMI's adjustment of the new 61% passing score, reflects that change, which means that "first time" test takers pass the exam 65 - 75%. Dennis told the conference call participants that those that past the exam were in the upper levels of that percentage range when the new passing score of 61% was applied.

I admit that another option would have been to adjust the difficulty-level of the questions, although this is very hard to do considering the timeframe. PMI and the committee elected otherwise and decided to modify the passing score. Either way, it is done! Now that the change processes, reasons and overall logic have been explained, I hope all of us can now understand what occurred and why PMI lowered the score. It is reasonable and I think prudent to do so. Too high of a passing score would mean that well qualified PMP Candidates would not pass and that is not fair nor wise. If this were to have continued, few people would have participated in the PMP Certification process and diminish the PMI membership, growth, and forward looking enthusiasm. Having been a PMP almost 15 years next week, I think it was a wise choice for PMI to reduce the score. I did discuss these issues with PMI several weeks ago, for my concern was the passing score was too high, especially since the base or total questions was reduced from 200 to 175. This reduces the opportunity of passing by 12.5% and then on top of that, the passing score was raised from 69% to 82% or a 13% raise. So, I think it was a double whammy for the PMP Candidate and not fair.

I do hope that this has explained some of the reasoning that PMI used to determine the final passing score as well as my own input. I ask everyone to consider these facts and if you still would like to discuss, please do contact PMI and voice your opinions.

Thank you,

A. J. "Hoppy" Thomas, B.S., MBA, M.S., PMP
VisionOps Managing Partner


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