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How to pass PMP in first try

PMP is probably the most recognised and sought after certification in the project management knowledge domain. Several thousand professional has been certified as project management professional (PMP) and other thousands are striving for it. Let me share my experience as a trainer, as well as a certified PMP, on how to acquire PMP certification in first try.


Focus is one of the keys to achieve anything. Based on my experience as trainer I can tell you, the very low ratio of those who thought of obtaining PMP certification, to those who eventually succeed in obtaining PMP certification is mainly due to lack of focus.

Say for example, 20 people think of taking PMP certification. Out of these 20, only half of them go for boot camps or take any online course to take 35 PDUs. Out of 10 those have taken the lecture or classes only two take the exam and generally both of them make it to PMP in first try or in rare case, at most two tries. Those who focused on the certification eventually acquired it.

Test Format: 

PMP aspirants must familiarised themselves to the test format. The best way to achieve this is by practising full-length test sample questions. Let me explain here the format of the test.
- PMP exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions.
- Out of the 200 questions, 25 questions are pre-test questions. Pre-test questions do not affect candidate’s score. The purpose of this question is to validate questions for future exams. This means, only 175 questions are scored.
- Duration of exam is four hours. The exam is preceded by 15 min long computer tutorial. This 15 min is not part of the four hours long exam.
-The passing score for the exam is 61%.  This means, the candidate must answer 106 questions correct out of 175 scored questions. There is no penalty for wrong questions, i.e. no negative marking.
-The questions may be knowledge, application and analysis based. Majority of the questions are situational. In the other words question may ask you “What should you do in this situation?”
- Following table shows the distribution of scored question in each process group:

Make your plan:

As a project manager you are supposed to make plan and execute upon it. Same way for PMP you must have a plan to work upon. Your PMP plan must take into account two major things. These are time and cost.
Let’s discuss each of them in full detail. First let’s talk about time. 

 Time Plan:

At most important thing to succeed PMP is a schedule. I recommend following schedule a PMP aspirant should work upon.
Milestone #1 ‘Know PMP (Zero Date)’: The day you plan to think to take PMP certification you must immediately go to PMI website and make yourself aware about the certification requirements. Basically, experience requirements and PDU requirements. 
You may also look for further information like type of question asked, focus of exam and duration of the exam etc.. You may also look upon further secondary information like location of exam centre, connectivity to your place etc. The best thing would be to read the PMP Handbook which is available on PMI website on this link. For us milestone#1 be the zero date for our project, ‘Pass PMP in First Try’.
Milestone #2 ‘Target PMP (1st month)’: Give yourself ample time to understand the certification requirements. If the time permits, talk to your friends and colleagues those who have already opted in PMP certification. Spend some time on Google to know more about PMP. You may also look on Sample questions to understand the questions asked in the exam. There are tons of sample question of available on Internet for free.  Decide that you want to be a certified PMP and commit to yourself. You must achieve this milestone say within one month of the milestone #1.
Milestone #3 ‘Get your Bookshelf Right (within a month from milestone#2 )’: now the time has come to focus upon PMP preparation. The first thing I would recommend this to obtain for yourself a copy of project management body of knowledge (PMBOK). You can obtain your PMBOK soft copy by joining the project management institute membership. Second part of milestone #3 is to get yourself a copy of a PMP preparation book. I recommend Rita. 
Now for those who may think that why they need an additional PMP prep race and book along with the PMBOK, let me tell that sometime PMBOK can be very boring and monotonous. Therefore, to understand PMBOK processes and knowledge area a PMP preparation books can be very helpful. in my opinion you will not require any more book other than PMBOK and the supplementary PMP Prep book. Only thing you shall require in addition to them is additional sample questions. Therefore, you should avoid wasting your time searching more and more books on PMP preparation. You must achieve this milestone immediately after milestone# 2.
Milestone# 4 ‘Kickoff preparation ( 2nd and 3rd month)’: This is the milestone where you start the actual preparation for PMP. I would recommend reading both PMBOK and PMP prep book at least once. Understand the concepts and wherever you think it is required tried to memorise the project management body of knowledge set by PMI. 
Milestone# 5 ‘35 PDUs and additional support (4th month)’: at the time when you have it you have made yourself familiar with PMBOK concepts, read your preparation book at least one time and took some sample practice tests to check your understanding of the knowledge areas, this is the time to obtain 35 PDU requirements to fulfil the PMP certification requirement. This is also good time to recheck that you fulfil to the experience eligibility requirement of the PMP certification. You may obtain 35 PDUs by either taking a Boot Camp by a PMI’s Registered Education Provider(REP) near to your location. an alternative way to obtain these 35 PDU is by taking an online course. Online courses are highly economical and flexible.
Once you have decided between classroom or online course and decide to register for the course, at the same time you must decide when you will take the final PMP exam. Ideally, you should take the PMP exam as early as possible after you have taken the 35 PDU PMP prep course. Generally, people take PMP Prep course as a start for PMP preparation. Sometime they take up to an year to take PMP exam after the prep course. It is not beneficial, during such a long period therefore get whatever they have learned from the classroom or online training, and they have to do all their preparation for PMP exam from the beginning. So, I’d recommend you that before taking the 35 PDUs PMP Prep course understand all the requirements of PMP, do good amount of preparation yourself and then take the course. Upon taking the course you must take PMP exam as soon as possible within maximum of three months. This will help you to attain the full benefit of your 35 PDUs prep course. 2 to 3 months time shall be a reasonable time after milestone # 4 to take the 35 PDUs PMP prep course.
Milestone #6 ‘Register for exam (5th month)’: during the 35 PDUs PMP Prep course you will come across several sample knowledge areas and complete PMP tests. You may very well judge your preparation for PMP during the training. If you are consistently scoring more than 75% in the tests this is right time to register for the exam.
Please note that you may not get the exam date immediately as the test centre may be pre-booked. Therefore, taking care this in advance, say for a month or two would be a good idea. You must also select the exam dates based on your opinion on how much more time you think is required for preparation. 
PMI does random audits of the PMP certification applications. If your application is chosen for an audit it may take additional week or so. Therefore, at first you must keep all the documentation ready and allow for additional time for approval of your PMP exam application audit. you must achieve this milestone within one or two months from Milesone#5.
Milestone # 7 Take the exam (6th -7th month): Now with all set, this is time to fire. Go and get yourself a PMP certification. We shall talk more on what to do on the test day in the latter part of this blog.

 Cost Plan:

Obtaining PMP certification can be expensive at times. Below is the tentative estimate for a PMP certification. This is an indicative figure and may change as per your location and choices.
Cost of membership: USD $129 to join (plus USD $10 application fee)
Cost of Prep Book:  $99
Cost of 35 PDUs prep Course 
  - Classroom: $ 500 to $ 2000 depending on REP and your country
  - Online: Starts from $100 on
Cost of Exam: $405
Total costs: $733 to $2633

How to study:

I always recommend rule of three. If you want to pass PMP exam on first try, I would suggest that you read both PMBOK and the PMP Prep book at least three times. I know reading PMBOK can be boring at times, but reading at the time of preparing PMP shall help you in long term.
Following are some additional preparation tips:

- Think like a project manager. Try solving the question as if you’re the project manager having full authority and responsibility of the project. Use PMI Project management body of knowledge philosophies while making a decision as a project manager to answer the question.

- Never memorise questions. Memorising answer to a question may not be a good idea. As mentioned before, most of the questions asked on the exams are situational, this means that while a question may look similar but a small change in this situation can result in two different answers. Therefore, memorising may lead to wrong answer choices. However, you must memorise all the Input, tools & technique and output (ITTO) as in PMBOK, and especially the project management process group and knowledge area mapping (table 3.1 of PMBOK fourth edition).

Needless, to say that ‘memorizing’ ITTO does not mean that you have swallowed the flow chart word by word and you can replicate them. Memorizing any concept, be it PMBOK ITTO or other knowledge content, means that first you have made clear understanding of concept preferably by relating the concept with real life example, then revising them in your head several time so that if you are ask to relate them with new situation, or to replicate them on paper, you can do so. Let me explain that all the PMBOK processes are captured in these ITTOs, your command on these ITTOs decides your capability to implement PMBOK knowledge in real life. Especially post PMP and when you are expected to use PMBOK knowledge to benefit your project.
- There are several formula based questions, especially in topics of earn value management and critical path network analysis. You must memorise such formulas.

On the test day:

PMP exam can be long and often exhaustive. This requires that you must be fully energized at the time you take the test. While the test is hour four long, but generally student finish the test between 2 1/2 half hours, and 3 1/2 hours. 
The key in this scenario is how attentive you are at the time of the test. Some candidates do late-night study one day before the exam.  This makes them too tired at the time of taking test and unable to focus on the questions. One should avoid such last-minute mental exertions, and remain fresh and energized at test day.
At the test center you must bring relevant IDs and authorization as asked by PMI. 
Upon completion of the exam you shall know if you have failed or pass the exam immediately. If you pass the exam, the test center shall print out a certificate and the test result. 
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