Untold Secrets of PMP Exam Preparation

Santanu Deb recently cleared the PMP exam ( PMP number : 1861389)  with flying colors! Here he shares his experience and highlights some aspects that are not discussed very often.

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Project Management Professional (PMP) is test of your understanding of project management concepts and application of project management knowledge. It is NOT a test of how well one can memorize or how fast one can read or write.
There are a lot of blogs, videos and online material that describe different aspects of PMP exam preparation and application process. Here I am describing a few which are not found easily.


PMP Application Audit Process:

Yes, My profile got selected for an Audit. It’s a random process. The moment I paid my fees, the next page showed a message that my application has been selected for Audit. It took 5-6 business days to get the extra work done (and yes 5-6 business days). My application got selected for an audit on Friday evening, prepared all the paperwork during the weekend, got the signatures on Monday and dispatched the courier on Tuesday. The Courier reached US on Thursday evening (US time) and it was opened on Friday midday and cleared within an hour’s time. So in total 5-6 business days!

Audit is random and does not take much time. Be careful with the courier company as that is where the maximum time is spent.


Test of Understanding:

Understanding requires you to get deeper knowledge and put things in perspective. Developing an understanding will require you to read and gather knowledge from multiple sources. For one topic, one source may be good while for another topic, another source may be awesome. I have seen and felt that youtube is the best place to go when things seem to annoy much. Whenever you do not understand a topic (Project lifecycle or Tuckerman Ladder model or Salience model or whatever), just try to get more information from youtube. Videos are easier and quicker to understand. This is one of the things which may take most of your PMP prep time. But the positive side of developing an understanding is that once it is developed, it is not easily forgotten. So concentrate on understanding the basics of the topic rather than trying to cram.

Understanding the concepts is the key to answering the situational questions.


Memorizing and Speed:

Both of these aspects are not as important as the previous one but a fair amount of thought and time also needs to be spent here. Though the things to memorize may not be huge but still there are things which one has to memorize. Formulas, Names, Theories etc fall in this category. Just keep a separate list of things which need to be memorized and visit them frequently. This will keep them live in your mind. Speed in reading is also necessary because you have to answer 200 questions in 240 minutes and the exam has questions which are lengthy (8-10 lines average). Keep track of time when you attend mocks and decide if you need to exclusively focus energy on your reading skills.

Regularly rehearse the memorizing topics; Speed of reading and understanding questions is significant.


Mock Tests:

Mock tests are an absolute necessity for passing the PMP exam. They will give you an understanding of what “kind” of questions is asked in the exam. The exam would not ask you direct questions or expect direct answers from you. PMI expects you to apprehend a situation and then choose the best solution out of the options provided. There are numerous mocks available which you can take for free. Take care to validate and analyze the mistakes after every mock. A mock without post exam analysis is not worth the time and effort spent on it.

Do as many mocks as you can and doing a post exam analysis is a must.


Impact of a Good Training Course:

A good training course is also important for preparing for the exam. One would need 35 contact hours to become eligible for appearing in the exam and the easiest way to get those contact hours is through a training course. I would highly recommend NOT taking the training course as the first step towards PMP exam preparation. PMP syllabus is huge and since all of those would be covered in 4-5 full day sessions. If one does not have any idea of PMP course material, he/she may get demotivated easily. I would recommend doing some self-study first and enroll for the course. While doing the self-study, try to get familiar with PMP course content, try to study and read about various topics, terms and theories to create the basic foundation. Once you have the foundation ready, you can enroll for the course and be able to get maximum benefits out of it.

Enroll for training only after doing some self-study and use the training to understand the critical topics and secure 35 Contact hours.


Scheduling of Exam:

The Prometric website is a very user friendly and good website. Scheduling the exam should take not more than 5 mins. Be ready with the Zip code of the city where you want to appear for the exam. One should be able to get the slot for an exam within the next two business days but this is not guaranteed. I would recommend scheduling the exam when you are ready to appear for the real exam. Work towards a tentative date and schedule it just few days before it. Rescheduling is expensive and should be avoided.

Scheduling of exam should be done just few days before the target date. Rescheduling exam is expensive and should be avoided.


Pre-Exam Day:

I believe this is the most important day. Staying calm and keeping anxiety under control is the key. I did not appear for any test nor did I study rigorously on this day. I went for an early morning walk with my mother, dropped my daughter to school, spent a quiet day at office (which is when I went through my flash cards and notes), picked my daughter back from school, had an awesome afternoon nap, went to a local mall with the family, ate an early dinner and retired early for the day. Before sleeping, I gathered all the documents (appointment confirmation, passport, driving direction to the venue etc) and kept them in the bag.

Don’t get worried about the exam. Make sure that you have a good sleep so that you are fresh the next day.


Exam Day:

This is the D-Day. Remain calm and keep anxiety at bay. Do something that keep your mind cool. I engaged myself in listening to Buddhist chants while driving to the venue. Once there, I had coffee at Barista and immediately after that showed up at the Prometric center. I started my exam earlier than the scheduled time which is such an awesome thing. Yes, in Prometric, if you reach early and wish to start early you can do so provided they have vacant cubicles available.

Be relaxed and generous towards time. Do NOT hurry while going to the venue. The extra time can be utilized to either study or start the exam early.


What’s inside the Prometric center?

Prometric centers are highly professional environments. Multilevel checks at different steps by different people are done to avoid any malpractice. Lockers are available to store any valuables. The locker can ONLY fit a laptop bag so be careful on what you might want to store. You will only carry an Original ID and locker key inside; nothing else. You will be given 2 pencils, 1 workbook and 1 calculator (if you want). You can ask for more stationary but you shall have to submit one to receive the other. The seats are not lavish but comfortable enough. Cameras are all over the seat. You have an option to use an ear muff headphone that will reduce any noise that might distract you. I recommend using it. Prometric staff takes rounds in the bay area and keep eye on your activities physically and via camera. Should you need any help, you are expected to raise your hand. Seeing it, one prometric personnel will come to you for assistance. You are not expected to leave you seat without company. Breaks are very expensive as they may take up to 10-15 mins of your time. Through frisking is done every time you go out and come in. Avoid wearing a lot of layers or pocketed clothes as all pockets are checked every time which take a lot of time.

Read the whole story; it might be of great help.

Passing Marks:

This is one of most confusion prone areas of PMP preparation. Different sources of information hint at different passing marks or grades. Passing score or grade for PMP examination is not disclosed by PMI. No one knows how many questions one needs to answer correctly to pass the exam. Even the passing grades are not clear. Many have an impression that getting 3 Moderately Proficient is sufficient for passing the exam but this is not true. I have seen results where 4 Moderately Proficient or 5 Moderately Proficient have failed the exam. Securing 75-80 percent on mock exams is a good indication that one may be prepared for taking the actual exam.

No one knows the minimum passing score for PMI PMP; securing 75-80% in mock exam is a good indication of exam readiness.

Post Exam:

Relax !! You have worked hard for the past few weeks and you deserve some bit of rest and relaxation. Prometric gives you a printed result sheet. The PMI certificate takes a few days to arrive at your mailing address.
Do not forget to thank those who have helped you in your PMP journey. Later you may also want to write your experience and strategy and publish it somewhere so that other PMP aspirants may benefit from them.

Say thanks to anyone you should and do share your lessons learnt with others.


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