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  • wisejuliana

How I Passed the PMP® on the First Try

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

Congratulations on making it this far! I truly believe in bettering yourself, learning as much as possible and achieving more with each passing year. If you are reading this, it is because you are considering sitting for the PMP® exam and let me tell you that if you want to pass it, you CAN pass it. When I sought out to take the exam I did what you’re doing now… researching and looking for the tricks or the simplest way to get it done. The trick is....there is no trick. Like most difficult things… the only way to get “out” of the exam and earn your PMP® is through.

In terms of the exam, getting through it will mean becoming an expert on all of the terms, processes, tasks and order of planning in which PMI advises managing projects. You must intimately understand all of the material to be able to navigate your way through the nuanced questions on the exam. But you CAN do it!

Understanding that the exam is changing soon (July 2020), there will be new material to review; however, it is my best guess that my method will still be valid with revised study tools as passing the exam is about understanding and getting to the material and below is my process for doing that.

A quick background on me: I have 10 years of experience leading diverse projects, teams and events in the retail/ecommerce space. Through the various Operations Coordinator, Executive Assistant and Director of Administration roles I have held, have found enjoyment in being the strategy behind implementing solutions and strategies for a variety of business problems. I sought out to obtain my PMP® as a way to communicate my strength in the Project Management aspect of my skills and without traditional Project Management training, I found this certification to be the perfect way.

I studied for 3 months. Here is how:


Repetition is truly how the material will soak in and how you will eventually understand the small nuances of this subject matter. Note that my study plan may have been a little overkill to obtain a passing score as I received an Above Target in all Domain Areas. While PMI does not release what a passing score is, the ranks of performance for all domain areas are Above Target, Target, Below Target, and Needs Improvement.

Month One:

I watched Sandra Mitchell’s Prep Course Cert Prep: Project Management Professional (PMP®) on LinkedIn Learning and read Andy Crowe’s book The PMP® Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try, Sixth Edition 6th ed. to begin to understand the material. Not much will sink in at all after these passes but this is just the beginning!

Month Two:

To be able to qualify for the PMP® exam you must have 35 contact hours of formal project management education. Since this is a requirement, I highly suggest fulfilling this requirement in a live class or bootcamp setting if you can. This is where the material began to stick as I was now hearing it for the third time and learning it in a different way than the book and LinkedIn class.

The class I took MGMT 843.1 - Project Management Professional (PMP®) Exam Preparation through UCLA’s Extension consisted of 4 8 hour classes every Saturday in November (Yes, even on my birthday blah). After each class, I read the material in Sohel Akhter’s textbook Project Management Professional (PMP®) Certification Exam Prep 6th Updated Edition and completed the chapter questions at the end of each chapter after the professor reviewed the information in class.

I loosely went through the flashcards that were given to us in the class. Month three is where these really came in handy.

TIP: For ALL of the practice exams you do: answer the questions as if you are in the exam, with no notes. This practice is for you to PRACTICE feeling comfortable with your knowledge of the material just as much as it is to test your knowledge. Grade your answers and dive into what the correct answer is and WHY for each and every one you got wrong.

Month Three:

This is where things got fun… I don't recommend sitting for the exam as soon as you complete a class or bootcamp. You need time to digest the material yourself and understand the nuances of it. While some people can take it within two weeks of their class, I took a month.

In the UCLA prep class, we were given 3 tools, the textbook, a workbook and flashcards. The workbook is so good! Do the entire book! I used Excel to track my scores on the chapter quizzes from the main text and then tracked them again when I did them in the workbook. Tracking your progress in a visible way will help fuel your momentum and will show you where you need to spend more time studying.

Below is an example of how I tracked my scores.

To keep everything fresh in my mind. I listened to a Udemy course by Joseph Phillips - PMP® Exam Prep Seminar - PEMBOK Guide 6 communicating or otherwise idol (basically a refresher of the class and a less expensive option if you want to do this class for your 35 hours). I did not take this class too seriously as I already had a great understanding of the text but the refresh was helpful. I also recommend that you do the quizzes at the end of each section. I did not do the assignments although I am positive that they were valuable.

Practice Tests

I took a total of 6 practice exams, below are links to the online ones. The highest score I received on any practice exam is 78%. I was advised not to sit for the exam until I had reached 90%, I am SO glad I didn’t wait for that. I have seen articles that note that a consistent 70% is enough to sit for the exam although I am unsure that this will do it .

I went through the flashcards repeatedly, removing the ones that I knew from the deck until I had completed the entire deck (for the most part).

Diving into the practice tests is truly where you will perfect your knowledge. I took every practice exam as if I was in the test - with no notes and a timer. As I went through the tests, I flagged any question I had an inquiry about and gave them all my best guess. Once the test was completed, I reviewed 100% of the answers I got wrong until I understood them. I also reviewed all of the questions I flagged to see if my guess was correct and why. I created a “Master Study Guide” for myself with the reasoning behind every question I got wrong, this turned into my main study guide the last few weeks before the exam.

Your Brain Dump

It is recommended that you use the first 10 minutes of your exam to quickly write down anything you want to be able to refer to in your exam. My brain dump consisted of two pages. Use one page of your dump to note all 49 processes and one page to list any formulas, mnemonics, charts etc. that you want to be able to refer to in your exam. As you study, keep a sheet of paper where you will jot down things you learn that you may want to have on your brain dump. Keep it in the back of your mind but do not finalize it until about two weeks before the exam. As you practice, some things will not need to remain in your dump once they are committed to memory.

You will need to memorize the process chart. I recommend looking for patterns in the chart that work best with your thought process and practicing writing down the chart daily before the exam.

Week Before the Test

I’m crazy! The entire time I was studying I was using materials based on the PMBOK Guide (the main text that the test is given on) but never actually read the book. After watching a video on situational questions, I got nervous and decided I should read the text. I read this book in 2 days the week before the exam!

While I DO recommend reading the guide and I do recommend reading it last, Ill leave it up to you if you choose to cram it in two days. Reading it last was an amazing way to learn the things I hadn’t picked up yet and solidify that the things I did know.

Study tips and tricks:

  • Use your resources! Join Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, create a study group with people in your class or bootcamp – these will prove valuable as you have questions or need motivation.

  • Don't be afraid to post a specific question from an exam and ask for help figuring it out

  • The best teacher taking the practice exams and ensuring that you study 100% of the questions that you got incorrect and why the correct answer is correct

  • For difficult or hard to understand formulas, YouTube was a huge help when I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong

  • Understand what documents or plans are created in which processes and where these documents are utilized and housed

  • Watch YouTube videos of people answering test questions, there are some great ones out there

I sincerely hope that this helped you and would love to hear about your journey. Don't forget to have fun with it! If you are the type of person who enjoys tackling and achieving big tasks, this is one for you. Just remember that studying is temporary and once you pass you'll be on to implement your learnings in your next big endeavor with a major accolade in your Ninja Kit!

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