PMP Tips and Lessons Learned


Last week I passed my PMP exam. I couldn’t be happier. I thought I would share my study plan and share some tips, so that it might benefit those who are planning or preparing to take their PMP examination.

What I did..

  1. I started preparing about 2 months before the exam, I tried to study at least 1-2 hours a day. Not always succeeded though.
  2. First, I read the official PMI guide – PMBOK® Guide – 5th Edition and took notes of it. I only read it once.
  3. Secondly, I read Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep – 8th Edition, took notes and did the tests that are available at the end of chapters. I only read it once. But I did the tests twice and some chapters 3 times.
  4. Thirdly, I read Head First PMP – 3rd Edition. I wish I had found this book sooner, it’s very good, especially in explaining complex topics like Earned Value Management and formulas associated with it. I didn’t read the whole book, only selected chapters that I hadn’t yet fully grasped.
  5. I memorized table 3.1 in PMBOK, these are 47 Processes that are mapped together based on 5 Process Groups and 10 Knowledge Areas. I didn’t memorize it in one day, instead I tried to understand it and I tried to write the whole 47 Processes as per the table from my memory everyday – reviewing the processes that I missed or couldn’t get – until I got them all right. I would try to write them from different angles rather than following the sequential method. Eg; I would try to write only the Planning processes that spans through 10 Knowledge Areas then go to next Process Group processes.., other time I would focus on only on a particular Knowledge Area and wrote its processes that spans through 5 Process Groups etc. This helped me to understand and internalize the processes better, rather than just memorizing them.
  6. I didn’t memorize all the ITTOs though (Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs), instead I focused on key Outputs and memorized them (eg; highlighted).
  7. I memorized all the main formulas and did sample test questions on them from Rita’s and Head First books mentioned above e.g;
    1. Earned Value Formulas
    2. Expected Monetary Value (EMV)
    3. Number of Communication Channels Formula
    4. PERT Estimation
    5. Standard Deviation
    6. Float/Slack
    7. Sigma Values (eg; 6 Sigma = 99.999666%)
    8. Just In Time (JIT = zero or near zero)
  8. Other topics I mastered were;
    1. 7 Basic Quality Tools
    2. 5 Types of Powers of a Project Manager
    3. Risk response strategies for Threats and Opportunities
    4. Tuckman’s 5 Stages of Team Development Theory and other theories
    5. Communication Models and Methods
    6. Schedule Compression (Fast Tracking and Crashing)
    7. etc etc
  9. I did quite a few sample test questions on drawing diagrams and determining Critical Paths and Floats.
  10. When 5 days was left until the exam day, I took a leave from my work and focused fully on PMP. I think I spent at least 6-8 hours a day during these 5 days.
  11. One day before the exam, I went to bed at my usual time and gotten about 8 hours of sleep. I wanted to get enough sleep and be fresh and alert during the exam (which lasts for four grueling hours!).
  12. On the exam day, I woke up and had my breakfast and went through my notes lightly.

What I didn’t do..

  • Memorizing without understanding
  • Memorizing all the ITTOs (focused on key Outputs!)
  • Studying or referring to too many different books or study materials (used 3 main books)
  • Doing sample exam questions for the sake of doing them only (I used sample exam questions as another source of study material that I learned new things from)
  • Staying up late on the last day prior to the exam
  • Not getting enough sleep prior to the exam
  • Doing last minute study or deep dive few hours before the exam (I went through my notes lightly in the morning prior to the exam and that was it)
  • Taking too long a period to study and prepare for the exam. (For me 2 months was just enough. Otherwise I think I might have gotten bored from continuous studying if I had to study for 3-4 months).
  • Spend too much time on the questions that I wasn’t sure of the answer (I finished the exam 20 min early and used it to review the marked questions)

Tips for you..

  • You will be given 15 minutes of tutorial on how to use the examination system. During this 15 minutes, without ending the tutorial, while your memory is still fresh and not confused, jot down all the formulas that you have memorized on the papers provided. You will be referring to them throughout the exam.
  • How to memorize 10 Knowledge Areas easily: “I Saw Two Crows Quietly Having Coffee and Reading Poetic Songs” 🙂 (Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, HR, Communication, Risk, Procurement, Stakeholder)
  • During the exam, if you are not sure about the answer to the question, use your best guess, mark the question and move on. You can come back and review all the marked questions later, otherwise you might lose considerable time over them.
  • Chose your study materials (books) and stick to them. Try not to refer to too many study materials, especially when the exam is near. Because it might just confuse you more.
  • Do sample test questions in order to understand the overall topics better, don’t hope to get same questions in the exam (I read somewhere that PMI has 12,000 questions in their database).

Good luck!

I hope you found my study plan and lessons learned useful. If you did, please share it with others too. Please remember that every person has his/her way of studying, and you should know your own style better than anybody by now. What works for me might not work for you, so please do not take this as a study guide.

Lastly, good luck to your PMP exam! I hope you will pass.

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