First off, I need to clarify that the PMP exam is not easy, but not impossible either. With a proper strategy, you should get your certification just like I did. I have to be honest, though, the first time I took the exam I failed miserably and did not even get 1 out of 5 sections with a passing grade. I could not even finish the exam within the 4 hour limit; I was exhausted, and I have to admit that my brain bailed on me that day half way through the 200 questions.
So, I went home to reevaluate why this happened and I realized that there were 3 reasons I could think of: Lack of useful study guides, lack of proper study methodology and lack of practice exams.
To tackle these problems as a project manager, I took an entire week to review materials, read feedback from people who passed the exam, joined discussion forums and began to build my plan. Below is my plan and resources that helped me pass the PMP exam the second time.
Problem 1 - Lack of useful study guides.
After much evaluation, I ended up using Rita PMP Examp Prep, 8th edition. I know it’s a bit pricey, but worth it 100%. I also used PM Fast Track exam simulation version 8 from RMC Learning Solutions. The price was $280 when you buy the bundle when in discount or a bit more if not discounted.
I used Aileen Ellis 50+ Exam prep questions and solutions on Earned Value Management. The Kindle version costs $4, so this is the one I got to use on my Windows machine using the free Kindle app. Get it here: http://goo.gl/QlQkus
Last, but not least, I used the PMP Question Bank with 400 exam simulation questions (2 exams) from M Fahad Usmani @ http://goo.gl/z5t7G8 This ebook costs $5
So, my total project cost was $289. I did buy other stuff, but truly I only used these 3 guides; everything else is just repetition and will make you waste valuable time.
Problem 2 - Lack of study methodology
If you are lucky enough to be a parent, then you know how complicated it gets to do things in a quiet environment; especially if you live in NY in a limited space of real estate. Fortunately there are a number of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Irish bars around my home, so that saved me many times because I could go there to catch up with my reading and practice tests.
I dedicated about 1 hour every morning and between 2 to 3 hours at night Mon / Fri. On Weekends I put about 5-7 hours each day when possible. The entire preparation took me about 6 months. I don’t believe in those people who study 6 weeks, memorize and regurgitate stuff in the exam. This exam is prepared to avoid that type of scenarios, so don’t even try to follow that advice. Take your time in execution, evaluate your risks and keep monitoring your progress. In no time you’ll be closing this project successfully. Remember to think like a PM all the time and you will be able to retain the information a lot longer.
One technique that I found EXTREMELY beneficial was to use an MP3 recorder and connecting a noise cancelling headphones to it. I then began recording my voice so when I read out loud, I would only hear myself while recording. I did not care much about the recording, but rather that I was reading out loud and the only thing that entered my ears was the sound of my voice reading the PMP information. This helped me greatly to focus on my content. I shut down my computer and phone when reading to avoid any distraction.
Here is the one I used, but feel free to get any other one that has an earphone jack for your headset. http://goo.gl/EvdTgD The goal is to monitor your voice while you record.
Problem 3 - Lack of practice exams
Yes, this was a major problem for me because the first time I took the PMP I was not ready physically or mentally to take the exam. Believe me, a major problem that I found the first time I took the exam is that I was extremely tired by question 100. My eyes hurt, my back was in pain from sitting, so at that point I became a mess and started to shut down.
Taking the 4 hour practice exams at home or preferred place is a MUST to pass the exam. Like any sport training or anything that needs rigorous activity, you must train beforehand and feel comfortable after a few attempts. If you are running a 26 mile marathon you can practice running a few miles, but eventually you should do a full 26 mile practice. Do not venture into taking the exam without having previously experienced it at home. Take your time to answer 200 questions and avoid taking any breaks during the 4 hour limit; in this way you will be prepared for what it takes.
Study methodology -- Putting all of this together.
I planned my beginning and end date, just like any project. I started by registering for the exam which happened to be on a Friday; the following day was the anniversary of my application which meant that If I wanted to take it later I had to pay again for the exam and submit the application all over again.
My first day became the day I registered, which was about 6 months prior to the end date. I setup my milestones by reading 1 chapter per week from Rita’s study guide. Within 1 week I had to have read the chapter once or twice, if possible. I also needed to have completed the exam at the end of each chapter for each corresponding week. I ended up reading the book cover to cover twice and went over each question at the end of the chapter many times. Once I accomplished this main milestone, I took a couple of days off to relax and think about my next move.
I then engaged in PM Fast Track exam simulation. I took every exam based on each knowledge area. I took 2 days to evaluate each knowledge area until all of them were covered; this gave me a chance to go over each question about 4 to 5 times. After this time I took random exams using the simulator and every Friday and Saturday I took a 4 hour simulation exam. Of course, after a while you know a lot of the answers, so the more you do it the less time it takes. However, the point is to become used to reading fast, reading a lot and thinking clearly when answering questions. The PM Fast Track exam simulation simulation exam gives you great explanations on why an answer is right as opposed to the others simulators.
Three weeks before the exam I started reading the PMP Question Bank by M Fahad Usmani and I took both exams. I read the entire guide back to back about 3 times. I found it very useful to complement the simulation exams I took earlier.
Last, but not least, I spent 4 days doing all the exercises from Aileen Ellis on Earned Value Management. This helped me solidify this topic which I knew was coming on the exam. I personally don't think that Rita's study guide does a good job on this area, but luckily there are other resources. I dedicated a lot of time to this topic and this made me feel very confident about EVM.
During my last week I skimmed through the PMBOK guide and looked at every graphic to help me get an overall picture of each process group, inputs and outputs. At this point I wasn't really studying, but just skimming through the guide. I did not go online for drill questions, or guides or tips. It was too overwhelming to read so many stories (like this one), so I decided not to do that. I did take one more 4 hour exam 3 days before my scheduled exam and then I took a break.
This document is now my “Lessons Learned” from this very complex project. I hope you are able to benefit from this as I did and that you find these tips and lessons valuable to achieve your future career goals.