(In case you are wondering what is PMP, you can read more about it here.)
For me, earning the PMP certification has been one long journey but also a great learning experience.
STUDYING FOR THE EXAM
It started with me participating in a PMP exam preparation course, supported by my office, back in March 2014. It was a 5-day training program, with one 7-hours long class taking place every weekend, for 5 weeks.
However, in my experience, a 35-hour training program is not enough to prepare you for the PMP exam. Similarly, I did not feel that reading only the PMBOK will be enough for me to pass to exam. Hence, I actually studied Rita Mulcahy’s “PMP Exam Prep 8th Edition” thrice and the PMBOK once, eventually taking the exam in January 2015. And it does seem that the time and intense effort spent on the preparation has paid off as I was able to pass the exam on my first attempt, earning “Proficient” level in 3 categories (Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling) and “Moderately Proficient” level in 2 categories (Initiating & Closing).
There are many people, including myself, who have been planning to take the PMP exam for a long time but haven’t been able to do so (in my case until recently). Hence, this time I actually applied for the exam (with PMI) and scheduled a date for the exam (with Prometric) as soon as I had finished studying Rita’s book for the second time. I scheduled the exam 3 months in advance, which allowed me to finish my third and final revision as well as kept me focused on my target until the very end.
One thing to remember when studying for the exam is to prevent/avoid burnout. When you are burnt-out, you will feel that your brain does not retain anything you are studying or you cannot concentrate on any material, eventually giving up. To prevent burnout, what worked for me is that I took at least one day off studies every week. Off means completely off – I did not even go near the books/notes and did what ever helped me relax (spending time with friends/family, watch a movie, gardening etc.). When you are just starting (to prepare for the exam), you might feel like, “Nah, this is not going to happen to me”, but trust me, it will take hold of you if not addressed from the very beginning.
APPLYING FOR THE EXAM
Some people are also put off by the long, arduous form that needs to be completed in order to apply for the exam. Unfortunately, this is an unavoidable step in the certification process and you simply need to bite the bullet and get it over with.
This form is used to record your educational qualifications, the 35-hours training as well as your work experience.
For each work experience, you need to provide a project description which is limited to 550 characters. This may sound simple but it can take considerable amount of time. This is because you may have a lot to say about what you have done in the projects but you have space to mention only the most important and relevant facts, and identifying those can be challenging.
Also, you may have to apply little tricks such as using “&” instead of the full word “and”.
After you submit the application, PMI will send you an email with the following message: “Thank you for your PMP Credential application. Once your application has been reviewed, you will be notified to make payment for the examination.”
Hence, you do not have to pay at the time of submitting the application.
Instead, PMI requires “up to 5 working days” to review the application.
After that you will receive another notification from PMI with the following message: “Your PMP® application has been accepted. You have one year from ‘date application was made’ to sit for and pass the exam. This time is known as your exam eligibility period and is discussed in detail in your respective handbook .
THE NEXT STEP in the process is to submit payment . Before you can schedule your examination, you need to first pay the fee. Leave enough time to schedule because seating capacity at Prometric Testing Centers is limited and availability is on a first-come-first-serve basis.”
As you might be aware, PMI randomly selects applications for audit. Whether your application will be audited is decided after payment has been made.
Once the exam has been paid for, which can be done online, scheduling the exam with Prometric is a pretty straight forward process.
MOCK TESTS AND SIMULATORS
At this point, I might as well add a big, red warning sign: reading only your preferred book(s) is simply not enough to prepare you for the exam! You certainly need to take mock tests, and as many as possible!
Mock tests allow you to revise what you have learned, test your recollection and can also act as a confidence booster (when they go well). Hence, below is the list of mock tests that I took:
- PMP Exam Prep: Questions, Answers & Explanations, 2013 Edition by Christopher Scordo – contains about 1000 questions and you get access to this (and other books) when you become a PMI member.
- Chapter end exercises in Rita’s book.
Simulators/simulations are also mock tests but these try to present an environment which is similar to the actual test. The simulations are limited to 4hrs, with 200 questions. They provide you question to question navigation similar to the actual exam which is also an useful experience.
Below is the list of free, online simulators that I have used:
Other resources that I have come across after passing the PMP exam:
One caution about simulators (or any mock tests) is that they do not exactly reflect the difficulty level of the PMI questions, at least in my opinion. Also, some of them still present material that are based on PMBOK4 and not the latest PMBOK version/edition; hence you should consume such material with a pinch of salt.
Last but not least, it would also be a good idea to join this LinkedIn group. Here people post their questions, confusions and other information. It is a great place to brush up your PMBOK knowledge when you have some spare time, for example while commuting.
TAKING THE EXAM
A very important aspect of the exam is time management. You should try to complete 25 questions in 30 minutes. If you find yourself falling too much below this rate, you should immediately try get back ‘on track’. But then, usually it is not very difficult to make up for ‘lost’ time because if one question takes more than a minute or two, there are several others that can be completed in less than a minute.
I finished all questions only 3 to 5 minutes before the end of the designated 4hrs; hence I had no time for a review though I had marked a lot of questions for review. This implies that I tried to answer all questions as best as I can in the first go – some may try to quickly go through all questions in the first round and then answer questions marked for review; but that wasn’t my style.
At the end of 2hrs, you will want to go out for a drink or go to the restroom but this also includes the following “overheads” (at least in our local Prometric center):
• Sign out
• On return sign-in
• Prometric staff will ‘scan’ you with metal detector.
• They will ask you to pull your shirt sleeves as well as your trouser legs.
• They will even ask you to show your hands with the fingers spread.
• And then ask you to pull out all your pockets to prove that they are empty.
I will add that the staff are very professional and they go through the list above very quickly; nevertheless, if you are trying to maintain a pace of 25 questions per 30 minutes such stringent rules can seem quite annoying.
You won’t be allowed to take any food or drink in the exam room or take it to your desk/computer – I brought a mug of green tea with me but had to leave it outside the exam room.
But you are allowed to take a break at any time to consume any food item you have brought with you or go to the restroom, provided that you accommodate the above overheads.
I was under the impression that I would be given 30mins for the brain-dump (which officially is the time allocated to know about the Prometric testing application) – however, it seems that the actual time is 15mins only. Hence, you will want to decide before hand what will constitute your brain dump and practice it several times before the exam.
Also, at the end of the exam, you will have to answer a short survey – but neither of the above is part of the 4hrs allocated for answering the 200 questions.
The exam can be taken in two forms – Paper Based Test (PBT) and Computer Based Test (CBT). The main advantage of CBT (and the reason I took it) is that you get the results instantly. As soon as you finish the exam, your are offered a 2-3 minutes survey and after that you are able to see your results on screen. Prometric also gave me a printed copy of that result and all results including an electronic copy of the PMP certificate are also available in my PMI account.
With PBT, apparently you get the results 6-8 weeks after taking the exam.
PMI is also supposed to mail me a hard copy of the PMP certificate (which is different from the result sheet, image above) in about 6 weeks.
WHY GET CERTIFIED
I have a BSc degree in computer science but most of my career has been on IT project management. Hence, I have always tried to gain “formal” training and knowledge on project management. The road to PMP certification has been a great journey towards that objective – I have learned many new concepts, confirmed my assumptions and corrected my misconceptions. I firmly believe that the knowledge gained will make me a better project manager as well as help in other aspects of my life.
Finally, work on the next version of the PMBOK, 6th edition, apparently has already started. So, anyone intending to take the exam based on PMBOK5 should try to get it done as soon as possible.
Good Luck to all aspirants!