My PMP journey and tips

My success was due to good luck, hard work, and support and advice from friends and mentors. But most importantly, it was dependent on me to keep trying after I had failed.”– Mark Warner

I started by attending a 5 day course on PMP exam prep that was hosted by Vidyesh. Through his energy, knowledge and passion I was inspired to start studying right away. I was also lucky to join the global WinningPMPlan whatssapp group managed by Vidyesh and his coauthor Vidhi Raj and the interesting discussions related to PMP questions kept me going. I started reading Rita’s in my spare time. After a month, I realised that I had not achieved much and set up a study plan and routine: 2 hours per day from Monday to Friday and 6 to 8 hours on Saturdays. It was very challenging at times. Initially I was reading very slowly but towards the end I was reading much faster and absorbing more. My journey took 6 months.

I came to understand that the exam was about two things: knowledge and application of the PMBOK and understanding PMI’s unique approach to project management. I had to forget my own methods and my company’s processes, and learn how PMI would manage projects. PMI emphasises that the PM must be proactive, address conflict directly, ethical and accept the responsibilities of the PM.

My study method was to read through Rita’s. Read through PMBOK. Re-read Rita’s referring to PMBOK and adding notes to PMBOK. Right from the start, I kept notes on the topics that I found confusing. I used this to clarify these items as I progressed and to ensure that I clearly understood the topics. Towards the end I would test myself.

After the first reading of Rita’s, I started mock exams. I did at least one exam every week. Each time a question was answered wrong, or I was not sure of the answer or did not understand the question, I reviewed the topic in the PMBOK and added notes. Eg. if lessons learnt was the topic, I reviewed entire PMBOK wherever lessons learnt was mentioned. This gave me an overall understanding.

I reviewed the ITTO in the PMBOK, making notes of the less obvious and unique components e.g. Assumptions Log is first mentioned as an output of the Develop Project Charter process, so this is where it is first created. Similarly, for lessons learnt (created in Manage Project Knowledge) and Issues log (in Direct and Manage Project Work). The idea here was not to memorise this but to understand how these aspects fit together in the larger process. Another point on the ITTO, the process of creating a PMP is iterative as the plan for each knowledge area impacts the others. It is only when all the plans are finalised that the baseline can be created. The ITTO tables however include all the Inputs, even if these are from the second iteration or if it is when a process is carried out during Execution. This makes the ITTO confusing. I marked off the inputs and outputs that would be applicable during PMP creation, as separate from those that would be used for the implementation of a later update. This created some clarity in terms of the process of creating the PMP.

I made frequent reference to the mapping table on page 25 of the PMBOK. I memorised this. Referred to this when reviewing mock exam answers, to provide context for the questions and to memorise the processes, knowledge area and process group.

I memorised all formulae and ensured I had a clear understanding of when to apply each one, particularly the four EAC formulae.

I mapped out certain aspects as a means for clarification and understanding, such as, when and how Work Performance Data is created, then converted to Information and then to Reports. I also, tracked where the reports are used as inputs in other processes. Again, this is for understanding and not memorising.

I detailed out components of outputs that are broadly defined, for example Procurement Documents and Requirements Documents.

There seem to be contradictions in the PMBOK. When are contracts closed, in procurement or in Close Phase / Project. It is important to clear these up.

I did as many mock exams as possible. I did these under exam conditions: no bio break, no water bottle at hand, 60 seconds / question, same time of day as I was to write the real exam (morning), no music, usual background noise etc. I found this helped during the exam as I was ‘exam fit’ and prepared for pushing through the mental and physical barriers that arose. I used 4 sources for exam questions, each of which had a different level of difficulty and a different interpretation of the PMBOK. In many cases the questions and answers seemed unrelated to each other, it often took extensive study of the PMBOK to understand the association that the author was implying. When this was understood, notes were added to the PMBOK.

Final days before the exam, I studied the PMBOK and the notes that I had added. I did several mock exams. The day before the exam I followed the advice of a previously successful PMP …..… no study, no digital devices, just rest. In my opinion: if you don’t know it by that stage, then it is too late. This day of rest settles the nerves and allows the brain to sort (or catalogue) the information for easy access on the big day.

On the day of the exam. The test centre follows a particular process. It is applied very rigidly. This confused me initially. I had to switch off my phone prior to entering the centre, even before arriving at the reception foyer. I provided my identity documentation, placed my belongings in the locker and then went to the toilet (as instructed). On return, I remembered that I needed to make a call. This upset the entire process. Start again. Be prepared, once you enter the centre to follow their instructions and sequence of tasks. Don’t let this put you off your game.

While doing the exam there were many other people doing exams in the same room. They had different starting times and durations, so there were many interruptions and lots of movement. My exam prep conditions paid off here.

The screen was much wider than my screen at home. The words were spread across the screen and there was no option to reduce to a smaller view. I had to move my head from side to side, rather than just moving my eyes as I did at home. I was not able to quickly scan through the question. This made me much slower than when doing mock exams.

After 89 questions I could not progress to the next screen / question. There was a message that I had some time to check through the questions and then a 10 minute break would follow. It seems, the point at which the break was called is not based on time but the number of questions answered. The time used for checking is deducted from the time allowed for the exam. The 10 minutes break is not. Note that the 10 minutes is from the time you activate the break to the time you start again. Allow sufficient time to go through the centre’s process prior to re-entering the room. Once back in the room, I had some time to spare. I gazed out the window to relax my eyes. The proctor quickly told me that I had to start immediately.

Many exam questions were much more difficult than the mock exams, with very vague questions and  / or answers. This made it difficult to select the answer. Sometimes, even the process of elimination did not work. I marked many question for review.

At the end of the exam there is a compulsory survey, this does not form part of the 4 hours but is still part of the exam situation. Only after finishing the survey is the exam complete.

When I returned to the reception of the test centre, I had to wait a few minutes before they printed out the results. The certificate and other info were received 2 days later.

I hope that my experience can help you in your endeavour.

Regards

Alain

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