Wednesday, May 21, 2008

200 quick and easy steps to passing the PMP Exam

Step 1: answer the first question correctly.
Step 2: answer the second question correctly.
Step 3: answer the third question correctly.

Today, I passed the PMP exam. Hurrah for me! I've worked as a project manager for 10+ years, and from time to time I've thought about getting my certification as a project manager. Since I work on IS projects, it seems that there's always a few folks certified in something or another in any project. Project management certification through the Project Management Institute is the generally recognized standard for Project Manager certification in the U.S. (in Europe, check out the Prince2 certification), so I set out to get my certification during a break I have between projects.

I've heard from a number of project managers who don't feel they need the PMP to be successful in their projects. I agree; I'd be a fool not to, as I worked for many years managing projects without it. However, it still seems worth getting. First off, it is always good to learn new tools and techniques and ways of doing things (aka 'processes') that can be used on a project, and the PMBOK is chock-full of those. Second, if a project manager does decide not to use the standard methodology, that PM can do so from an informed perspective rather than from ignorance. Of course not every project needs to use every single tool in the PM's toobox; as an example, it would have been a time-waster for me to have performed benefit-cost Analysis for a mandatory tariff change project when I worked at the phone company. The fact was that the tariff had to be implemented to keep the company on the right side of the law and assure that we could continue billing for that product and others. Third, there are some certified PMPs who are a bit snobby about their status; when dealing with them, having your own PMP certification takes the air right out of a windbag who is relying on their certification status overmuch, and brings the project discussion back to the nuts and bolts of getting it done.

I used O'Reilly's Head First PMP by Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene. I liked their approach as it included many interactive elements that got my brain working - I didn't want to use a traditional textbook style approach as I had the PMBOK for that. The exercises are informative and work at a deep enough level to engage my grey matter on the underlying concepts.

Reviewing the Project Management Body of Knowledge is also essential in preparing for the PMP Exam - but it would hardly be sufficient. The PMBOK is a reference guide, and using it alone for one's studies would be like trying to learn chemistry by memorizing Mendeleev's table. As an example, the PMBOK references the importance of understanding standard management theories, but declines to provide much detail on any of them. The exam will test your knowledge on one or more of the standard management theories, such as McClelland's Acheivement Motivation Theory or Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory.

As a supplement, I also completed Oliver Lehmann's 75 free PMP Exam practice questions and his 175 Question pdf download. I found these to be overall much harder than what I encountered on the exam. I listened to True Solution's PMP CDs in the car - the narrator's voice was really annoying, but the 2nd exposure to the material was probably helpful. I also worked through the exam in Achieve PMP Exam Success and I'd recommend to others looking to pass that they find and do as many practice exams as they can which will explain the answer choice and what subject area of the PMBOK is involved.

I did ask myself, "what can i bring to the pmp exam?" I didn't really see any good list of all the stuff you'll want to have with you for the 4-hour exam ordeal, so here's one for you to modify as a starting point. For exam day, I packed-
  • a light lunch that didn't need heating or fridge
  • caffinated beverage
  • gum
  • eye drops - I get dry eyes in front of a computer sometimes
  • 2 ids
  • the approval letter from PMI and my test schedule from prometric
  • a printout of the PMP formulas you must know (of course you can't bring that into the exam room, but I reviewed it immediately beforehand and I did accomplish the formula brain dump pretty easily)

The exam center provided a calculator, pencils, scratch paper and headphones. There's an online calculator available too, but I liked having the separate calculator to give me some task variety, moving between the keyboard and the calculator keypad as I worked. I was wondering, "do I bring a calculator to the PMP exam?" but you can't take anything in with you, not a calculator and not your own pencil. I asked about taking my eyedrops in - since I'd had lasik surgery, I've had dryer eyes than before and sometimes it bothers me - but the proctor was cordially adamant about me leaving everything in the locker. I was ok; I used the drops on breaks and my eyes were fine.

Don't underestimate the mental endurance required to sit for a long exam. It had been 15 years since I took the GRE, so I was pretty rusty at my exam taking skills. I made a point to take practice exams twice before the exam, of a similar duration of time and pacing as I expected to have on exam day. Even if you aren't using the O'reilly book, check out their free pmp practice exam online, I think that helped to build up my testing stamina. Also I started playing scramble on facebook, which helped me pace myself for the 3 minute drills for each question on the PMP. Or maybe that's just a clumsy justification for my word gaming habit.

Time management is key for the exam. What worked for me was to start with the 15 minute tutorial as recommended in a number of sources; although the instructions were in retrospect obvious, it was a good procedure to get used to the exam set-up which helped reduce test anxiety, got me used to the format and the unfamiliar mouse (I'm accustomed to a track pad) - and most importantly gave me a chance to do a brain dump of all the formulas I'd memorized on to the scratch paper that was provided.

After the tutorial, a 4 hour exam period begins. Because I'd done practice tests, I knew I could complete the test and a review in 3 hours. I decided based on that to take a 10 minute break every hour; the exam timer keeps counting down while you break but you can leave the room and relax. When it came time for my second break, I was ahead of pace for the questions and feeling very fatigued; so I took a longer 20 minute break, walked around the building, ate my light lunch, and did some stretching exercises/yoga poses to deal with some back pain. I really feel that pacing myself helped.

If you're preparing for taking the exam, let me know - I'd be interested to see if this info helps.

No comments: