Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The PMP Exam

Let me start by saying this exam is tough, but it is not impossible and once you ensure you understand the concepts, it is fairly intense, but it is straight forward to gain a pass mark.

I would recommend that you have at least two or three years Project Management experience before attempting to take this exam.  You need to have completed a few projects before you attempt to even read the PMBoK guide, otherwise you may find it very confusing.  Some people advise that you start with other books before attempting to read and fully understand the PMBoK Guide, but I did it the hard way.  I had a few years of experience as a Project Manager and had obtained my Prince2 Practitioner Certification, so I already knew a considerable amount of Project Management Theory.

Exam Prerequisites

You need to have one of the two options below.
a) A degree + 3 years (4,500 hours) of Project Management experience + 35 hours of Project Management education
b) A secondary diploma (A Levels in the UK) + 5 years (7,500 hours) Project Management experience + 35 hours of Project Management education

As you can see, before you even start to apply for the exam, you have a considerable amount of work to complete.

Study Plan

The main advise on many forums and blogs is to study, study and then do some more studying.  I am going to follow the crowd and give you the same advise.  I actually realised that there was so much studying required and so much material I could gather from books, forums, blogs and web pages, that I actually created a project plan to ensure that I was on track.

The first step was to create a plan of how to read the PMBoK.  I would try to complete a chapter over one or two nights, depending on how much time I had available.  If I could not complete the task on time, the remaining time would be added to the next day.  At the weekend, I would put aside a few hours to complete all the tasks for the week (my contingency plan).

I knew that I was going on holiday to France, so my first milestone for my personal plan was to complete the reading of the PMBoK before I left for my holiday.  This would give me a 6 hour window of opportunity to read any remaining sections in the car, on the way to my destination (a 10 hour drive).

The idea was that I would get to my holiday destination and hopefully I would be sat at the pool side for 6 hours a day and would have time to read a chapter per day and answer the questions of my second book.

The second book was called "The PMP Exam - How to pass on your first try" by Andy Crowe.  I did not realize that this book was written with the Third Edition of the PMBoK Guide, and not the fourth.  I used the book as a very good study aid, but had to keep in mind where each process actually sits within the new edition, which was not difficult.

I printed out the Process Group / Knowledge Area table containing the location of all of the processes, so it was always to hand when reading.  This way, I could visualize the project and get a full understanding of the standards.

At the end of the book (The PMP Exam - HTPFT) there is a test exam.  I decided that I would not take this exam until just 10 days before the exam itself.  I knew that if I took many of the sample questions from the web (about 2000 questions), I would be good for the exam.  I made sure that I took at least 200 questions per day for the entire week, running up to the exam.  I would complete a maximum of 25 questions in a sitting, then slowly build up to 40, 60, 75 and finally 100.  The weekend prior to the exam, I took two full exams, reviewing each incorrect answer and making sure I understood the reason for the incorrect answer from me and the reason the correct answer.  This took the about 4 hours per exam.

I had also found many people suggesting a brain dump.  I have never created a brain dump, but I eventually took on-board the advice and created a crib sheet of all of the formula and common phases I would need to remember for the exam.  I started to write this out 3 to 4 times per day for the final week, leading to the exam - but I wish I has started earlier.  It was very useful, because as soon as I sat at the exam desk, I wrote the single sheet of paper from memory to act as a reference for the next 4 hours.

In a further post, I will add some useful exam site links.

The exam

The first thing that surprised me in the exam was that the security was very tight.  I was videoed for the entire time I was at my desk.  I could not take a single item into the exam, including a coffee, a bottle of water, loose change in my pocket etc... I even went through a metal detector and was patted down.  That was quite a shock to the system, considering how nervous I was already.

The exam duration is 4 hours and you must answer 200 multiple choice questions.  This equates to 1 minute and 06 seconds per question.  However, you have to consider you will require a break.  The concentration required for the exam is quite intense, so prepare your exam strategy to take a break.

My strategy was to take 50 questions and then have a minute of rest.  I would then take a further 25, rest for one minute, then finish question 100.  At this point, I would plan to leave the room for a complete refreshment break for 5 whole minutes.  The questions from 75 to 100 take a little longer as you start to get tired.

After my break, I knew that I had just under 2 hours to go.  I think my break was at 2 hours and 3 minutes to 2 hours and 9 minutes.  I seem to remember this as I had to sign in and sign out.

The second 100 questions are as difficult as the first.  Towards the end I was struggling to read the questions and answer them in a timely manner.  I remember that the last 30 questions were really tough, in terms of concentration rather than knowledge.  I kept saying to myself...  "Wake up!  Concentrate on these answers, as you don't want to sit through this exam all over again".

I eventually finished the exam with approximately 17 minutes to spare.  I decided that I would review all of my marked questions, of which there were only 3 and then try to find a single question that I realised throughout the duration of the exam, I had answered incorrectly, which I knew was within the first 30-40 questions.  I started reviewing each question, but with 10 minutes to go, I started reviewing every 5th.  I found the incorrect answer and changed the answer to the correct one.

I remember being stuck on one of the maths questions, where they give you part of the question and then the answer and you have to work out the missing figure.  To calculate this you might have to use 2, or even three formula.  This single question took a huge 7 minutes.  However, some of the questions are as easy as ABC and will take you longer to read the question that to find the correct answer.

You then press a button to mark your exam.  This process takes a good 30 seconds and feels a long wait, but the all important "PASS" came up on the screen.  I remember almost crying and punching the air (in silence) and huge feeling a tension relief come over my body.  I went to the office and picked up my exam results, as pleased as a child at Christmas, knowing that all of the months of preparation were not in vein.

As I said at the beginning, it is a tough exam, but if you study and prepare yourself it is possible to pass, but it will feel like one of the most difficult exams you will take.

I hope this help people preparing to take the exam.

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