If you are preparing for the PMP certification and you have taken some practice exams already you know what situational questions are. Everyone will agree that situational questions in the PMP exam are by far the most confusing ones. These describe a situation and expect you to pick the right course of action described in the answers. These questions are normally lengthy and may contain a lot of information including irrelevant stuff. In addition, you may find multiple correct answers where you are challenged to pick one answer. The answers could be lengthy and confusing also.
Unless you are prepared to analyze the question and answers in a systematic manner, there is a good chance of getting these questions wrong. A “correct” answer may not be the “right” answer!
The purpose of this article is to provide a step by step guide to approach these questions and arrive at the right answer. In a later section I take a real situational question from a PMP sample question collection and walk through the process of arriving at the answer.
When you find a situational question in the PMP exam, follow these steps in this order to arrive at the right answer. Not all the steps may be relevant for all questions. But you can apply the relevant steps by reading the questions.
Step 1: Filter irrelevant information and capture the gist of the question: Lot of times only certain parts in the question are relevant and rest is just noise. It is important to eliminate them and understand exactly what the question is asking for.
Step 2: Read all the answers: You must read ALL the answers provided. Some people have a tendency to just stop and pick the fist answer they found correct. For situational questions there could be more than one correct answer and you have to pick the best answer.
Step 3: Rule out obviously wrong answers: This is where the filtering process begins. While reading the answers you will find that some of the answers are obviously wrong. You first eliminate them.
Step 4: Shortlist potential correct answers : By eliminating the obviously wrong answers you will end up with potential correct answers.
Step 5: Apply each answer to the context : Try to apply each potential correct answer to the context. Meaning, an answer may be correct. But, does it satisfy ALL the conditions mentioned in the question? Based on that, eliminate any answer that is out of context.
Step 6: Compare the actions against the processes and knowledge areas: The PMBOK guide explains in detail, different ITTOs attached to the knowledge areas and their sequence. Compare the question and the answers against them and see if an answer is in line with those ITTOs. If not, eliminate that answer.
Step 7: Look at specific terms such as BEST, NEXT,NOT,EXCEPT,LAST used in the question: This is really important! In most cases this becomes the deciding factor while picking the final right answer. Pay extra attention to these keywords. For a specific problem, question may be asking for the NEXT action and there could be multiple actions listed in the answer section. Then you have to pick the NEXT action applicable to the situation described in the question.
Let us take an example situational question and follow through these steps to arrive at the final answer. That will make these steps much clearer.
Question No. 58 from Oliver F. Lehmann’s PMP Sample Questions.
Now, let us analyze one of the questions from Oliver Lehman’s 75 Sample questions. I am taking this question No. 58. Let us start applying our analysis step by step and arrive at the right answer.
Read the Question carefully and filter irrelevant information. Try to summarize the question in your mind in your own terms. In this case it could be some thing like ” You are the PMO manager. There are multiple projects sharing the resources from a common pool. You learned that, in the coming months this pool will not be able to handle the work load. What is your NEXT action?” If you got here you are already half way through. In the PMP exam, especially for situational questions, understanding the question is the key.
Read all the answers. Read and understand all the answers completely. Many times it so happens that the actual meaning of the answer is in last few words. Let us summarize the answers provided above so that we can filter them.
In short this is what the answers are saying:
A. Collect necessary information and consolidate them to get an understanding of the problem.
B. Implement a solution for optimal resource management.
C. Do nothing, as it is not your business.
D. Consider a project management software for enterprise wide planning. Don’t bother managing shared enterprise resources as it is not a PMO job.
Step 3 & 4:
Answer A talks about understanding the details for the problem at hand and get an idea of the situation. So, it could be a correct answer. Let us shortlist A.
Answer B is talking about implementing a solution to the problem. So, it could be a correct answer. Let us shortlist B.
Answer C is saying don’t do anything. Being in a responsible position( PMO manager), that is not an option, Hence eliminate C.
Answer D is talking about some solution to achieve enterprise wide planning. Let us shortlist it.
Answer A & B are talking about the problem described in the question. Hence keep them. Answer D is proposing a solution on one hand and suggesting to avoid resource management on the other hand. This is out of context. Hence eliminate the answer D.
This step is not really applicable to this question.
Both A& B sound to be the right answers. But note that question is asking for NEXT action. Answer A is talking about understanding the problem and B is talking about implementing a solution. So, your NEXT action would be to understand the problem and not implementing the solution. You need to understand the problem before implementing the solution.
Hence we eliminate answer B.
This concludes that the right answer is A.
In order to master the art of analyzing PMP exam situational questions and use this process of elimination to arrive at the answer, you need to practice a lot. You can practice with Sample PMP Exam questions that will help you get used to this step by step process.