Studying for the PMP® Certification Exam the Second Time Around
By Cynthia Campbell, PMP
September 21, 2010….I sat down to take the PMP® Certification exam. Initially, I had enrolled in and completed a 7 week prep course with Project Masters. After the course, 4 of my peers and I formed a study group and met twice weekly for about 2 months so I felt somewhat confident that I would pass the exam. Imagine my disappointment when I hit submit and the results returned “Sorry but you failed”. That was the longest walk ever in life back to my car! After saying I wouldn’t take the exam again, several months went by and I got the courage to try again because I wanted this certification.
Therefore, I had to do some soul searching and really figure out what I needed to do differently this time around as I set my study action plan in motion. Here are some of the things that worked for me:
- Notes: While I had read and highlighted the PMBOK®, Rita Mulcahy’s PMP® Exam Prep and Project Master’s exam prep guide at least 3 times, I realized that I hadn’t taken many written notes. This time, as I went through the books, I made an outline and took copious notes. By physically writing (for me it was typing) concepts, definitions, etc it helped to commit to memory.
- Rita Mulcahy’s PMP® Exam Prep book: I’ll admit it; I hated this book, or more specifically the author! I wasn’t a Project Manager but had been a part of project teams so I did have the minimal background required to sit for the exam. However, Ms. Mulcahy was often very condescending and I found it very difficult to get passed this and see the value in what she was trying to convey. The second time around, Rita became my friend!! Her “Tricks of the Trade”, “Rita’s Process Game”, the “Memory Finger”, exercises and practice tests all became beneficial. In addition, Ms. Mulcahy provides additional concepts/terms that are not in the PMBOK® but will appear on the exam.
- Rita’s Process Chart/Game: The author stresses that you must know the Process Groups (5), Processes (42) and Knowledge Areas (9). Because the exam presents many situational questions, it’s imperative to know exactly where you are in the project process. This chart helps tremendously. Additionally, Ms. Mulcahy stressed that the Planning Process must be memorized in the specific order that was on the chart. To help me do this, I purchased a large piece of felt and some Velcro. I used ribbon (glued to the felt) to section off each of the 5 Processes. This was hung on the wall of my “war room”. I then cut out the game and glued the “answers” to felt squares and Velcro. During my studying, I would pull the answers out of a bag and placed them in the Process Group that I thought they belonged to and in the specific order (Planning). The Planning Process Group has 24 Processes so it took some time to finally learn the exact order but repetition was the key in memorizing this.
- PMBOK® Project Management Process Groups and Knowledge Areas Mapping (pg 43 of the Fourth Edition): I used the “board” that I had created for Ms. Mulcahy’s game to add another mind map game. I created game “pieces” for the 9 Knowledge areas and “answers” (the Processes) then followed the same mode of repetition for this until memorized.
- Test, Test, TEST!: Not only did I take the practice exams at the end of each of Ms. Mulcahy’s chapters but I also took timed exams, of various lengths, repeatedly. Part of my concern, as I began to get the answers right, was that I didn’t know if this was because I knew the answer or had memorized the answer. However, it still helped because when I saw a question on the actual exam that was similar, it made it easier to answer. Additionally, the instructor for the prep class taught us to use the “process of elimination” when answering the multiple choice questions: Eliminate the obvious wrong answers then focus on the ones that seem right and rationalize them out to come up with the answer.
- Exam Prep Coach: I enlisted the assistance of a coach with whom I worked with twice a week for 4 weeks. While we went over all of the material, using both the PMBOK® and Ms. Mulcahy’s book, we also used some of her proprietary training tools. She helped me through some of my weaker areas (like math), through definitions of terms (Suggestion: go through the Glossary of Terms in the back of the PMBOK® to learn them) gave me tips, as well as challenged and encouraged me through the process.
On February 18, 2011, I sat for the exam for the second time. Mentally I was exhausted from all of the studying but felt better about taking the exam. I took my time, carefully read the questions thoroughly and worked through the exam. When I hit submit, I closed my eyes and prayed but peeped every now and then while the screen figured out what it was going to do next. After an annoying survey, that you have to take before the results come back, finally CONGRATULATIONS YOU’VE PASSED came up! I was so happy that I cried! This time, after the receptionist completed the checkout process, the walk to the car felt like I was walking on a cloud. I had passed!