Hi All –
I would like to take some time to share my experiences with how I prepared for taking the PMP exam. I found the postings of past test-takers on PMHUB to be extremely helpful in shaping my preparation which allowed me to pass the PMP exam on my first try, and I wanted to give back to the community in return.
Head First PMP, 2nd Edition – Jennifer Greene, Andrew Stellman
The PMP Exam: How To Pass On Your First Try, 4th Edition – Andy Crowe
PMP Exam Prep, 6th Edition – Rita Mulcahy
PMBOK Guide, 4th Edition
Practice PMP Exams in back of books listed above
PM Fastrack Software, Version 6
Oliver Lehmann 175 Prep Questions
PMP Colleagues study/test tips on PMHUB.net (thanks guys!)
I began my journey into taking the PMP exam well over a year ago, when I decided to take a 5-day PMP bootcamp without having any sort of gameplan. I retained little, if any, knowledge at the time because I wasn’t planning on taking the PMP anytime soon and didn’t commit to any real studying of the material, given work and other commitments.
By the time I finally got approved to schedule an exam (I was one of the unfortunate few to go thru the PMI audit process), 2 months had passed since the bootcamp, and I decided to put off any studying until I felt I was ready to commit to preparing for the exam.
Flash forward to 3 months prior to the eligibility period ending for taking the exam. I scheduled the exam, giving myself 2.5 months — 2 weeks to gather any test taking material and develop a studying gameplan, and the rest of the time (2 months) to study for the exam
2.5 Months Away:
I first ordered the Head First and Rita’s PMP Exam Prep books based on ratings I saw on Amazon’s site. Based on these two books, I developed a gameplan to utilize the books concurrently, first reading the Head First book, followed by the Rita book. I would read each section and take the practice exams after each section.
About 2 weeks into my study I discovered the PMHUB forum and read how successful test takers prepared and studied for the exam. It changed my whole gameplan. From the forum posts, I discovered other test-taking guides and materials, including Andy Crowe’s The PMP Exam, online exams such as Oliver Lehman, and Rita’s PM Fastrack simulation exam software. I incorporated these into my studies. I adjusted my studying gameplan, taking many of Ashley Larson’s approach (thanks Ashley!) into consideration, since her study timeframe and approach were similar to mine. (link to Ashley’s LL is HERE)
So my new gameplan was as follows:
- Study using Andy Crowe’s book and the Head First book concurrently. Take the practice exams from each book after each section. Make handwritten notes on the ITTO’s for each process along the way.
- After completion of the books, take the practice PMP exam (200 questions) found in Andy Crowe’s book. Review both correct & incorrect answers and determine why I missed certain questions. Brush up on the appropriate sections based on this analysis, using both Andy’s and Rita’s book. Update notes as necessary.
- Take more practice PMP exams leading up to the exam. More review and analysis of both right and wrong questions answered. More targeted studying on weaker areas. Goal is take a full exam every 3 days (1 day for exam & review, 2 days to brush up & rest my brain).
- Skim thru PMBOK Guide for possible clarification and to see if there were any material covered that wasn’t emphasized in any of the study books
2 Months Away:
Continued studying based on Step 1 of my gameplan. Given my work schedule and other commitments, I studied between 2 to 4 hrs on the weekdays and 4 to 5 hrs on the weekend. There were a few days where I did not study at all, particularly when I went on a 5-day vacation where I didn’t study for 3 of those 5 days. Those breaks actually helped give my brain a rest to digest the material I was learning. Whenever I was out-and-about, I brought my handwritten notes with me so I can refer to them if I happen to be thinking about a particular process. These notes somewhat became my security blanket.
4 Weeks Away:
Wrapped up studying using Andy Crowe’s and the Head First books. That left me 3 weeks to implement Steps 2 thru 4 of my gameplan.
3 Weeks Away:
Took Andy Crowe’s PMP exam found at the end of his book. I scored an 85%. This boosted my confidence up. After reviewing my results and brushing up on my weak areas, I felt confident enough to take the much-talked-about Oliver Lehman 175 questions exam. This leveled me when I scored 67% on that exam. I readjusted my gameplan slightly by spending an additional 3 to 4 days of study using Rita’s book, again targeting my weaker areas.
2 Weeks Away:
Purchased and downloaded the PM Fastrack Simulation Software, Version 6 from the RMC project site (www.rmcproject.com). You’ll first need to install the demo software (CD found in the back of the Rita book, or you can download it from the site), then purchase the activation license ($299), which will be sent to you via e-mail. I proceeded to implement Step 3 of my gameplan by taking the Fastrack PMP exam (randomly generated from a databank of over 1500 questions). I scored a 72% which I felt lukewarm about. I took another Fastrack exam 3 days later – this time, in Super PMP simulation mode – so that I can get used to answering scenario-based problems. Again, I scored over 70%.
1 Week Away:
I decided to take a break from the Fastrack software and took the full PMP exam found at the end of the Head First book, as a way of normalizing the exams. I scored an 83%. Given the scores I had accumulated so far from all the exams, I felt I had a mix & range of questions and still averaged above the 61% needed to pass the real PMP exam. With my remaining days prior to the exam, I used the Fastrack software to target questions on particular knowledge areas or process groups that I was weaker in. I also implemented Step 4 of my gameplan by skimming thru the PMBOK Guide and focusing on material that I don’t recall coming across in any of the study books. And I kept reviewing my notes whenever I felt the need. I also read the test preparation and test-taking tips provided in both Andy Crowe’s and Rita’s books (found near the end of the books prior to the full PMP exams).
The Day Before:
I decided not to do any studying or test-taking the day before the exam, just to give my brain a rest. I re-read the test taking tips/strategies found in the study books and from the posts on the PMHub site to reinforce my gameplan on test-taking day. After that, I did the best I could to take my mind off the exam J I drove to the test center so that I had an idea where the exam was located and to determine potential traffic/blocked-off roads. I went to bed early.
I scheduled a 12:30pm exam on purpose. This allowed me part of the morning to get into “test-taking” mode. I spent an hour going thru my handwritten ITTO notes for every knowledge area, moreso for getting my mind prepared for the exam than really studying.
I arrived at the exam location 1 hour early in anticipation of possible delays of checking in. Fortunately, there was no line at all. As a matter-of-fact, after going thru the check-in process, I was escorted to the area where I was to take the exam within 15 minutes of arriving.
Taking the Exam:
As others had suggested, I began performing my equation brain dump onto the scratch paper during the 15 minute tutorial. Once the test started, my strategy was to answer the first 75 questions within an hour, take a 2 minute break, answer the next 75 questions within an hour, take another 2 minute break, answer the remaining 50 questions within 45 minutes, take a 10 minute break to grab a quick snack and use the bathroom, then use the remaining time to review marked answers. This was the strategy I practiced and fine-tuned during my practice exams and I pretty much stuck with that strategy for the real exam. When I got to the point of reviewing the marked answers, I took my time given that I had enough cushion remaining. With 1 minute remaining, I submitted my exam. After answering some post-exam questions, the computer churned as it was calculating my results. Even though I felt good about the exam, I had nervous energy during that moment of calculation. Once the screen displayed that I passed the exam, I felt great and relieved at the same time!!
Given what I went thru in preparing for the exam, I compiled my list of Do’s and Dont’s if I had to do it all over again:
- Study Guides:
I actually found value in the 3 books I purchased, although going into it, I wouldn’t have initially invested in 3 books. But I could not pass up on the Andy Crowe book recommended by folks and I’m really glad I purchased it. Here’s how I assess the 3 books:
- Head First PMP, 2nd Edition:
I felt this book allows one to pick up a solid understanding of project management concepts quickly – I would read this book first. There’s a lot of visual representation of the concepts, which helps in understanding the material and, hence, helps in remembering them. If you felt nervous about learning and understanding the PMBOK material, this book will put you at ease.
- The PMP Exam: How To Pass On Your First Try, 4th Edition:
I really love this book because it is similarly formatted to the PMBOK Guide (in describing the ITTO’s for each of the 42 project management processes), but lays out the material in a really easy to follow format and highlights the key facts that Andy Crowe feels is important to know and understand for the PMP exam. I feel it’s a must-have study guide.
- PMP Exam Prep, 6th Edition:
I found the Rita Mulcahy book to be more in-depth than the other books and there’s coverage of material that isn’t necessarily in the PMBOK Guide but just as important since the PMP exam isn’t just about the PMBOK Guide. I felt Rita layed out the material to not only prepare for the PMP exam, but to also make a project manager a better project manager. Given the other study guides I had, I mainly used Rita’s book to cover specific knowledge areas I felt weak inSo with the 3 books, I basically learned the material using two of them, and used the third book more as a reference. Purchasing 3 books can be pretty expensive, so if I had to choose 2 books, I would make sure that Andy Crowe’s book is one of them.
- Head First PMP, 2nd Edition:
- Test Exams:
I took the full PMP practice exams from the Andy Crowe and Head First books, as well as PM Fastrack Simulation software, and one from the Oliver Lehman site. Here’s how I assess those exams:
- Head First exam:
I felt the exam tested and reinforced the fundamental concepts of project management. To me, doing well in this exam meant I had a solid grasp of understanding of the PMBOK material. I felt, though, that the exam didn’t have enough of the wordy, scenario-based questions expected in the real exam.
- Andy Crowe’s exam:
I felt the exam had a good balance of straight and scenario-based questions. Doing well in this exam gave me a confidence booster.
- Exams from the PM Fastrack Simulation software:
I felt these exams from Rita’s software were much more difficult than the exams I took from the books mentioned above. Not only were there a lot of scenario-based questions, but even the answer choices were wordy. Taking these exams definitely require you to manage your time. If you do well in these exams, you definitely have a very good in-depth understanding of the project management material and are efficient in reading and answering scenario-based questions. The software is pretty expensive ($299), but it’s worth it if you want to simulate something close to the real exam – the software even has the ability to mark questions for review later, similar to the real exam. Plus, you can target questions specific to a knowledge area or process group if you wanted to. If you don’t want to spend the $$ for the software but want an idea of the types of scenario-based questions in the software, then buy the Rita book and answer the questions found after each section.
- Oliver Lehman exam (175 questions):
I thought this exam was far-and-away the most difficult practice PMP exam because it covered material not found in the PMBOK guide. As a matter-of-fact, I don’t know if I would even run into some of the material referenced in the Answers section. Also, the Answers section didn’t offer an explanation of the correct answers, just references the source and page number of where the answers can be found. This exam definitely pushes your knowledge and experience as a project manager so just passing the exam makes you feel somewhat good. I personally don’t feel taking this exam added any extra level of knowledge needed for taking the real exam.
- Other free PMP exams offered online:
I really didn’t take anymore online exams outside of the Oliver Lehman exam, especially once I purchased the Fastrack software. If I never purchased the software I probably would take more online exams. The only caution I would have is making sure I carefully chose the right sites to take the exam from, just because I wasn’t sure I can trust the accuracy of the answers as it related to the PMBOK Guide. Here’s a link to some of the sites offering PMP exams (again, I haven’t looked into any outside of Oliver Lehman’s): http://pmp-exam-tips.blogspot.com/2009/06/project-management-professional-pmp.html#more
- Head First exam:
- Test-Taking Preparation (Study) Gameplan:
I feel this is one of the most important things to put together when preparing for the PMP exam. I felt that by mapping out my strategy and scheduling when I studied and when I took the practice exams put some comfort level with me on my preparation. If you feel like it, you can treat your test taking preparation like a project and, at minimum, develop a project schedule, applying the PMBOK concepts you learned along the way (haha). For me, given I only alloted 2.5 months to study and take practice exams, it was important for me to schedule out when I would complete studying the foundational concepts, process framework, each knowledge area, and the PMI Code of Conduct, and when I would take each full practice exams.
- Hand-written notes:
For me, particularly when learning the ITTO’s of each project management process, I felt it was important to actually write them down by hand. I felt it reinforced learning and understanding them, plus there was a comfort in reading things in my own handwriting and seeing the additional notes I would take for those processes. My notes were basically a summary of all the material I’ve read from the 3 study guides. As mentioned by others, I didn’t focus at all in memorizing the ITTO’s for each process, just understanding how and why they applied to each process. And understanding the interactivity and flow between the process groups.
- Test-Taking Strategy:
As mentioned by others, after studying the material, I would focus on taking a lot of tests to get comfortable with the testing format. I would practice taking the full-on 200 question exam more than once to get used to the amount of time and energy expended on the exam and to practice your strategy for timing your pace and taking breaks. I would also practice performing the equation brain dump on scratch paper prior to taking the full practice exams and making sure it is completed within 15 minutes (the amount of time you have going thru the online tutorial prior to exam start).
- PMBOK Guide:
I would not read the PMBOK Guide first as my introduction to the material unless that was the only study guide I planned on using. I personally didn’t find the format and lay-out of the guide sufficient for me to retain any of the material quick enough. If I have other study guides, I would only use the PMBOK Guide as a reference. From my gameplan, you’ll see I only skimmed the PMBOK Guide towards the end of my preparation. And by the time I got to that point, I already had a solid grasp of the material that it was a lot easier to understand the information presented in the guide.
- PMP Bootcamp:
My big mistake was taking a bootcamp without having yet getting qualified to take the PMP exam and scheduling the exam near the completion of the bootcamp. I retained very little, if any, of the material from the bootcamp by the time I took the exam (plus PMBOK Guide went from the 3rd edition to the 4th edition between the bootcamp and when I scheduled the exam). In hindsight, if I was to incorporate a PMP bootcamp to my gameplan, it would be after I had already prepared studying from the PMP books and probably a week before I took the PMP exam (meaning, I would schedule my exam a week after my scheduled bootcamp ended). Along with reinforcing the material I learned in advance, the bootcamp would offer additional test-taking tips & strategies, and some stress-release tips. For me, I wouldn’t go into the bootcamp cold, because there’s so much information covered within a short timespan (typically 5-days), that you can easily get lost. Especially if you don’t have a lot of time after the bootcamp to review what you learned that day.
- Test Preparation Duration and Scheduling of Exam:
I felt I procrastinated my time by not taking full advantage of the year I was given to prepare for the exam. I felt I was rushed towards the end. Also, I felt I didn’t give myself any cushion to re-take the exam in the event I failed the exam the first time – I basically scheduled my exam close to when my exam eligibility period ended. So I created additional pressure of not failing the exam the first time. If I had to do it all over again, I would’ve given myself more time for preparation (at least one additional month minimum), and I would’ve scheduled the exam so that in the event I failed it the first time, I would have at least a month to reschedule again (strictly because the exams get booked up rather quickly and you might not find any available slots if you cut it close to your eligibility end date).
- Test-taking Preparation & Strategy:
Knowing that one size doesn’t fit all, I believe it’s important to develop a strategy for preparation that’s tailored to you. I basically read a lot of the tips provided by others on PMHUB and other sites, and incorporated those that fit my way of studying and my timeframe for preparing to study. As I mentioned earlier, I learned a lot of do’s and don’t’s from Ashley’s post because it was similar to my style of studying and my timeframe of study. The important thing to remember is to come up with a strategy that suits you and not assume that one person’s strategy is the best way for you to prepare for the exam.
This is a rather lengthy post, but for those who have yet to take the PMP exam, hopefully you’ll find some value from my experiences to help you with your own exam preparation. Good luck!
Barton Miranda, PMP
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PMP Exam Prep, Eighth Edition: Rita’s Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam
Rita Mulcahy’s PM Fastrack Exam Simulation Software for the PMP Exam: Version
The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try, Fifth Edition, Andy Crowe PMP PgMP
Head First PMP, Jennifer Greene