I wanted to take a few moments to share my experience with everyone since I found the Blog boards on this site to be extremely helpful to me in trying to acquire the PMP Certification.
First off I want to tell everyone that how you study and how well you do is all up to YOU. I am very different from some people I know who take a book and read it from cover to cover and then take a few tests and they are set. Me, well I need more interactive learning. I need to be online, reading, and taking a lot of tests.
Study Materials:I used various sources for the PMP study materials. I specifically liked, pmstudy.com, velociteach.com and oliverlehmann.com (both the free 75 questions and the new 175 questions). I agree with many who have taken the Oliver Lehmann assessment that his test is significantly harder than the actual PMP exam. I also used SkillSoft which offers an impressive online offering which runs about 6 weeks and is very in-depth. When I finished that and took the 200 question simulated exam at the end I scored really well. Then after I had everything from the various sources I could hold in my head I created my own flash cards (because they focused on what I needed, not the full PMBOK — some things you get so you don’t need to waste time on things you already have locked down in your head). I also relied heavily upon the 42 processes and knowledge diagram from the PMBOK. I can actually reproduce it in less than 8 minutes (hand written), less than 5 minutes (typed). Knowing how it all comes together is an essential foundation element for establishing necessary knowledge for the exam.
How I Studied: I studied all in all for a period of about 90 days but in the beginning I studied here and there, even allowed my pmstudy to expire on me and don’t feel I used it as thoroughly as I could have. I think that’s because I was using SkillPort (through my job) and it was more interesting and intriguing and I felt more like I was in more of a virtual classroom setting and I liked that. Towards the end of my study window, about 3 weeks before the exam, I locked it down. I studied almost every day for at least 2 hours a day during the week and on the weekends I just focused on testing. I took a lot of simulated tests, some 10 questions, some 25 questions, 50 questions, 100 questions and yes 200 questions as well. ALWAYS REVIEW YOUR ANSWERS AFTER A SIMULATED TEST – the right and wrong answers because it’s imperative to understand why and answer is correct or wrong. DO NOT USE study materials that do not explain why an answer is and answer. It is a waste of time. For this I would say don’t use the Oliver Lehmann questions until you are confident in your knowledge because it is not an automated test and the answers have to be looked up and analyzed; this is time consuming and I literally didn’t take his tests until Wednesday and Thursday of this week (less than a week from taking the actual exam). And did I say I took a lot of tests, yes, take as many as you can because it truly helps to lock in the knowledge.
Another study element I added during the last few weeks of my studies was to reproduce the Process Map and write down as many formulas as I could every other day. I put in a day between to see if I was really retaining the information. At the end I was able to successfully reproduce the Process Map in the appropriate order and sequence of activities and could produce 25 formulas and what they were used for; this is important for the EAC formulas. OH, ITTO’s, you do not need to remember them verbatim. You need to UNDERSTAND the processes and how they relate to one another. Know the difference between an input, an output and a tool. One trick is that Tools and Techniques tend to be verbs or methodologies and can easily be differentiated from a tool and an output. Know which process creates what and the rest just makes sense. Yes I read the ITTO’s (actually had my daughter go through them and see if I could identify if they were an input, output or a tool and she would tell me which knowledge area we were in but would randomize the actual process which I had to tell her along with which process group it belonged to (e.g., Initiation, Planning, Executing, etc.)). This turned out to be a really good way for me being able to differentiate between the three and on simulated tests I rarely got these questions wrong.
Test Day: On the day of the exam, I woke up early enough to lay in bed and contemplate how the test was going to go and get out of the house early enough to go grab something to eat, which my nerves didn’t allow me to consume much of my meal, then I sat in the parking lot of the testing center and read MY flashcards one more time (skimming them for the most part, not reading them in depth). Just making sure one more time that I had it down. I looked at my formulas one more time to make sure I could write them all down when I got in the room and then I headed in for the exam.
Yes, the testing center is like a government facility with all the checking and confirmations but you get the sense that if you planned on cheating it’s not going to happen right away. It was interesting to see people scrambling around to get organized and get in “testing mode”. People were turning their pockets inside out, running back and forth to the lockers to put stuff inside (like the watch they forgot to take off and the dollar bill they had in their pocket). SUGGESTION: wear a sweat suit with no pockets and take off your watch or any other electronic apparatus because they aren’t allowed and turn off your cell phone(s) so they aren’t ringing in the locker.
Now it’s test time, I’m in the room and there are a lot of people. I was supposed to start at 12:30 but they had so many people I didn’t actually start until 12:45 (you still get your 4 hours because it’s based on when you start the test, not when you arrive). All I can say is I took every minute of the 4 hours and I read every question word for word. I only marked about 35 questions of which I went back and reviewed thoroughly when I was done with the other questions. I did not take a break. I only stretched when I got a little tense and adjusted my position every now and again. I was in test mode and didn’t want to break my mojo (:-). I did use the headphones. They help a great deal because people are moving around you and some people are taking tests in the same room that requires typing; and no they don’t use quiet keyboards in the testing center. The headphones helped keep me in my zone.
I read a lot about understanding risk management and a lot about knowing formulas and a lot about knowing HR and Quality theory however you need to be well-versed in your studies because questions are pulled randomly which means you will get any number of questions from any one of the knowledge areas so BE PREPARED. My test focused a lot on procurement (specifically contracts), quality and integration. I scored better in Initiation and Monitoring and Controlling and average in all other domains, including Professional Responsibility, with the exception of Closing. I didn’t have that many questions in that domain so I must not have done well on the few that I had which caused that to be lower than the rest. Nonetheless I know I can focus on those processes to ensure I improve my proficiency.
At the end, review as much as you can and use all of your time. I used every minute with the exception of the last 10 minutes because I had done enough review and I didn’t want to make changes (start second guessing myself). I did change around 3-5 answers during my review but don’t start screwing with your answers..instincts are usually correct so leave it alone. Don’t let your mind play tricks on you.
At the end of the review I pressed the button to End Exam, said yes I was sure I wanted to end and then waited for my results. However there is an assessment about the testing center (if you use Prometric) before your results are displayed. I wasn’t aware of that and thought I had failed since it didn’t say anything except “Thank you for using a Prometric Testing Center”. Then I flew through the 10 questions regarding the testing experience a little annoyed, then I submitted the assessment, then there it was, “CONGRATULATIONS”. What a rewarding feeling and a sigh of relief. Then you see your levels of proficiency then you END and your results are sent to the main computer and you are free and a certified PMP.
I walked out of there on cloud nine; maybe cloud 10. It was all-in-all a very good experience and people should believe that this is not an easy exam. It truly is a test of your knowledge so don’t think it’s a memory game because it’s not. I remembered all of the HR theories and Quality theories and how wrote which, I remembered how to calculate TCPI and RTY and PTA and what happens when PTA is reached in a contract and none of that was on the test. So learn as much as you can and learn why and everything else will flow nicely.
Best of luck to all of those aspiring to obtain certification, PMP, CaPM, PgMP, etc. YOU CAN DO IT! (but it takes some dedication and hard work but you’ll get good results).
P. S.: I did not read the PMBOK 4th Ed. cover to cover because I had thread the 3rd Ed. 2 times. I only ready what the differences were between 3rd and 4th Ed. and used the 4th Ed. as a reference guide through www.books24x7.com (again through my job). Anyone trying this for the first time should read the PMBOK at least once, if not twice because it does help you to understand the PMI language (it’s very different than your day to day project management life).
Kim L Westbrook, PMP