tips for passing the PMP exam

m. werneburg, 2012.09.06

It seems that everyone and their dog is thinking about doing the PMP designation or already holds the "distinction". Here's how I did it.

I joined PMI, took PMI's exam prep course that is required for the education requirement, and passed the PMP exam on my first go. I earned a "moderately proficient" grade in all of the exam areas, which means I passed but did not distinguish myself.

Total time: right around four months. Large project management lead experience: none (taking the PMBOK definition of 'large project'; I haven't built any data centers).

In a nutshell, I came away from the experience with the following impressions:

I benefited from the experience, but would do things differently if I had to do it again. On day one of the 10-week course, the instructor said, "This course won't make you a better project manager." Well, that's not what I wanted. I really did want to learn. Doing this again, I would do as some of my classmates had done and take a college-level certificate in project management instead of the PMI exam-prep course.

The PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) needs a rewrite. At 450 pages of densely written, highly repetitive text, the PMBOK itself has become something of a holy text: revered but not read. The PMI volunteers who ran the training course effectively sate: "Forget PMBOK, read "Rita"." PMI actually hands out the "Rita" book along with the electronic copy of PMBOK--what does that tell you! I read PMBOK from front to back but it's not compelling reading: it's possibly the dullest thing I've ever read, and I say that a) having once made a living as an Oracle DBA and b) now working in compliance.

Take every test exam that you can. I did all of the tests in "Rita", and some others that I was given along the way.

You don't have to read the entirety of "Rita". It is a much more readable, better-structured, and useful book than PMBOK, and I've turned to it as a reference on several occasions since passing the exam. But I read only the chapters where I scored less than a 75% on my first pass at the test exam for that chapter. I wanted to dig into more but I'll do so as I need to out of interest. See my comments below for the really crucial bit of "Rita".

The exam focuses on vocabulary. It doesn't really test your knowledge of PMBOK (I'm not sure that such an exam could exist), nor does it test your knowledge of general project management. I don't think that anything as subjective, nuanced, and domain-specific as project management can be adequately tested in a multiple choice format, but that's what PMI has attempted. What I found the exam testing (over, and over again) was the vocabulary section of "Rita". After writing the exam, I went back to "Rita" to look up one or two things and to my surprise I found myself looking at what had to be the source of the questions: the listing of terms that starts in "Rita" at about page 530. While I had several questions on critical path, "what do you do next", and other technique-based things, the vast majority of my questions focused on terms and definitions.

And that's it. I hope this helps. Good luck!

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