Project Management Professional Series Part 1: How I Survived the PMP® Exam

This four-part series gives insight into the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification exam. First, get helpful study tips. Second, learn what I did 24-hours before my exam. Third, meet other PMP® certified professionals. Lastly, access resources to help you prepare for the exam.

What is a Project Management Professional?

The Project Management Professional is an internationally recognized certification that demonstrates you achieved the experience and knowledge to manage complex projects.  The certification is administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). According to the PMI 2016 Annual Report, a little more than 740,000 people have the PMP® certification. Moreover, more than half of those certified live outside the United States and one in six live in China.

Let me be honest. The process is absolutely stressful. There is so much information that you have to retain. Word to the wise: This is not an exercise in memorization. You genuinely have to understand the principles, mathematical equations and definitions to pass the exam. However, the good news is you can do this with the proper preparation and dedication.

PMP® Study Tips

  1. Create a study plan.
    • Be dedicated to the process. Carve out time to study and stick to it. For example, I studied in my car while my kids had swim class. Every minute counts and you can’t afford to waste any time.
  2. Get a study buddy.
    • The most important takeaway is this person serves as your emotional support. Trust me, you will need it. Additional benefits include: testing each other and sharing study tips and resources.
  3. Use multiple tools.
    • We are so fortunate to live in the age of technology. There are endless options to choose from. I used flash cards, online practice tests, YouTube videos (be sure to select quality videos), the Quizlet app (thanks Gabriella – daughter of my study buddy), a three-day boot camp class and information developed by other Project Management Professionals. Believe it or not, it helps to have the information presented in various formats.
  4. Read the PMBOK®
    • There is no getting around it. You must read A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Read the book from cover to cover at least once. It’s not the most exciting read, but it’s required if you want to pass the exam.
  5. Remember to have a life.
    • The everyday rigors of life – full time job, marriage, kids, etc. – will not allow you to study 24/7. Study in blocks of time. However, remember to make time for fun activities to relieve the stress of test prep.
  6. Set a realistic timeline.
    • If you stay committed, you can complete your studies in about six weeks. I also took a consecutive three-day boot camp within this time frame. I survived it, but I don’t necessarily recommend taking a consecutive day boot camp. There’s just too much information to cover. My brain experienced sensory overload. A boot camp over the course of a week or two weekends would probably be easier to handle.
  7. Develop a positive mantra.
    • It’s extremely important to have a positive mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase that’s repeated to aid your concentration. This was a tremendous help to me. When my stress levels peaked, my mantra helped to keep me focus. Say it daily. In fact, you may need to say it several times a day.
  8. Dump it all.
    • Practice writing all of the mathematical formulas, processes, process groups and knowledge areas on a sheet of paper. Set a goal to complete this task in about 10 minutes. Time yourself and practice this repeatedly. On the day of the test, you will be given scratch paper. Use the first 10 minutes or so of your exam to complete this data dump. This was an invaluable reference during my test.
  9. Practice full exams.
    • I admit it, sitting for a four-hour test is no fun. It’s even harder to sit through when it’s just for practice, but it’s necessary. Take as many four-hour exams as you can stand. However, I recommend at least two. This is indeed an exam prep technique. It helps with your pacing and lets you test-drive the data dump. Moreover, you can train yourself to sit through the entire exam without taking a break. This helps preserve your time.

Next week, I will share what I did the day before and the day of my exam. In the meantime, read this article: Should You Learn ITTOs by Heart for the PMP Exam?

Kandace Foreman is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Kandace Foreman

Thanks Francesca. I’m glad the information is helpful. I’m happy to share what I know about the exam and the process. I was afforded the same opportunity and I know it made a positive impact on my test day.

Mary Parker

Thanks so much for the tip on writing the “dump.” I knew I would have to do that, but having the recommendation to complete this in 10 minutes or less helps, especially with understanding time management.