Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Secrets of the PMP Exam

This was my submission for the The PMCAMPUS 60 PDU Online Giveway contest. The tips here apply to the CBAP examination as well. I hope you will find some valuable tips that work for you as your pursue your chosen credential.

Congratulations on your decision to pursue your PMP. What an exhilarating adventure. Stressful, yet exhilarating. I will offer you some practical tips to help you pass this strenuous exam. Following the advice here will reduce your stress for the exam itself. I’m not going to focus in PMBOK’isms, models, or formulas, but rather stress the importance of the questions themselves.

You are likely to hear about the difficulty in understanding and answering the questions. I cannot stress enough how true this is. Using the strategies I describe here you will be in a better position to understand the questions and possible answers, and select the “right” answer.

Practice Tests

Take many, many practice tests. The goal here is not to memorize potential questions and answers. Questions you find on a practice exam are not going to appear on the real test. Actual test questions are carefully guarded. Instead, you are going to focus in getting familiar with the question format and gain practice in analyzing the question and possible answers.

There is also benefit in getting a baseline on where you stand using the practice exams. Don’t put too much stake in the results you get. Many practice tests are actually harder than the real exam, and some are easier. What they will point out is in what areas you are weak. Use this information to prioritize your study.

Analyze the Question

Read each question multiple times. I recommend not looking at the possible answers yet. They may sway your understanding. Read the question as if they are trying to trick you (maybe they are) – don’t let them get away with it. Can the question be rearranged for a different interpretation? What information is extraneous to the core question? Consider these questions and use your best judgment to reframe the question in a way that makes sense to you. Review the question after you have reframed it to check that you haven’t read too much into it, or let wishful thinking lead you somewhere else.

Scrutinize the Possible Answers

You will find that three of the questions seem correct 50% of the time and two of the answers appear correct 75% of the time (my guess). You need a strategy to help weed out the wrong answers and find the right answer.

Questions will commonly be stated as “what is the next best step?” Here is the trick. Put the possible answers in activity sequence. Go back to read the question, and then check the sequence. What is the next best step? Now you are ready to answer the question. Use a similar strategy to organize possible answers by Knowledge Area and Process Group where needed.

Use Your Tools

There will be time when a scenario that ties into the next several questions. You won’t know this is the case until you move on. Often times in these cases the questions relate to a PMBOK tool. For example, one scenario may call for the need to draw a network diagram. The first question related to the scenario might be straightforward. You might be tempted to shortcut and just answer it. I recommend you do the full exercise and draw the network diagram. It may help point to a less obvious answer that is correct. It may also help you answer the next few questions. It will help you confirm the answer, much like checking an algebra equation.

Take many, many practice tests. It is worth stating again.

Additional Quick Tips

  • Understand and believe in PMBOK processes and how they will improve your projects
  • Do not go hungry
  • Review all your notes and formulas in the car prior to going into the exam
  • Use the scratch paper provided in the test cubicle to brain dump all those notes and formulas in your head
  • Flag and skip questions you are not sure about to go back after your first run through

Please save this article to review the day of the exam. I hope you will email to let me know how the exam goes and more tips you would like to pass on to future test takers once the ordeal is over.


Related Articles

PMP “Marathon” Completed by David J. Kearney, PMP – describes time and costs pursuing certification.

Check out these Professional Project Services recommended PMP Prep books

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6 responses to “Secrets of the PMP Exam

  1. Pingback: Secrets of the PMP Exam « PMChat

  2. Jeff January 19, 2012 at 4:56 am

    Hi Vicki, lots of good points. When teaching my PMP class, I advise my students that when doing practice questions, it’s best NOT to over-react to getting a wrong answer, or to try to argue too much about the creator of the question being possibly wrong. Instead, I suggest that it’s best to try to profit as much as possible from the question toward the test. I tell them that if they picked “A” but the suggested answer was “B”, to try to analyze why it’s “B,” and to really think about what lesson the question writer had in mind when they came up with that question. I also tell them that it’s not that they’re necessarily “wrong,” but that the point is what they can learn from the suggested answer toward both the test and the real world.

    • vickipps January 19, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Thank you for the comment. This reminds me of the practice exam I took online that was clearly written by someone who did not have a good grasp of the English language. That may have been the best practice for me to analyze questions to see if I could glean what they were really asking. Consequently, I did horribly on that exam. It was an anomaly.

  3. Pingback: Number One Benefit of Achieving the PMP « Professional Project Services

  4. Ed August 7, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Hi Vicki,

    I see that you are both PMP and CBAP certified. In your assessment, was one exam harder than the other or were they equally challenging.

    Thanks so much.

    • vickipps August 7, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      Hi Ed,

      The short answer is that the PMP exam is harder. This is in part due to needing to know process groups and knowledge areas and how the tasks map to these. With BABOK/CBAP you only have the dynamic of knowledge areas.

      The CBAP application is much more difficult to prepare based on the number of experience hours needed and the level of detail required to document experience.

      I hope this answers your question.


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