Just like a competitive athlete, a PMP candidate sets out a training course with the actual test as the final event of that preparation. Preparing for the PMP Exam is less like a 100-meter sprint than a marathon because preparing and passing the exam is an accomplishment in itself. The certification can make a significant difference, exponentially, from the day "PMP" follows your name.
How Will You Know That You Are Ready?
PMI doesn't tell us how many questions must be answered correctly in order to pass. All we are told in the PMP Credential Handbook is that "The passing score [&] is determined by sound psychometric analysis."
So how do you get around the catch 22 situation of wanting to know when you are ready, when nobody tells you what "ready" really means? My recommendation is to apply the 85% rule as follows:
Keep track of your score as you answer PMP Exam sample questions. If you consistently answer at least 85% of sample questions correctly on your first attempt (subsequent attempts don't count), then you can probably consider yourself ready for the real exam.
Exam Questions: What to Expect
Next to studying the PMBOK Guide®, practice questions are your most important study activity. After all, the PMP Exam is not a simple memory-recall, multiple-choice test. You have signed up for a four-hour, 200-question multiple-choice exam with up to five question types. These include complex situational questions, short situational questions, formula-based questions, knowledge-based questions and interpretive questions. Each question type has its own purpose and pitfalls, which makes knowing how to get the most out of each question crucial.
Situational questions test your ability to identify the relevant and ignore irrelevant content. These questions tend to be lengthy so it is especially important to read and accurately identify the ACTUAL question, so that you can eliminate insignificant information.
Formula-based questions are more than just "solving for the median" or calculating earned value. There are about 49 PMP formulas that you must know backwards and forwards, ranging from simple averages to Probability and Depreciation. You must know both the formula and how to perform the calculation in order to get the answer right.
Knowledge-based questions require you to know facts -- most often from the PMBOK Guide. These questions also occasionally ask which processes belong to which Knowledge Area, or which Inputs, Tools & Techniques or Outputs go with which process. Sometimes you are asked to identify an example chart or graph, such as recognizing a RACI or Pareto chart.
Interpretational questions may also test your ability to deduce a situation or condition. For example: "If your project has an SPI and a CPI both greater than 1, how well is your project performing?"
Specific Technique questions will contain a tool or technique like a network diagram and ask you to provide an element that's inherent in that diagram such as forward pass or backward pass.
While there are some free PMP exam sample questions available online, that is just a start. As you move further along in your studies, you will probably want more and harder questions. Your best bet is to get quality questions in an exam simulator.
PMP Exam Simulators
A good way to gauge your readiness to take the actual PMP Exam is to practice using a PMP Exam Simulator. There are a variety of them on the open market, and some students choose more than one PMP exam simulator, so confirm the PMP Exam Simulator product you buy includes these MUST HAVE features:
1. Look for an Online PMP Exam Simulator that fits your budget. Do not be fooled into thinking that just because a simulator has a reasonable price that it does not offer a comprehensive product. Compare features, costs, reputation, and take advantage of any free trials offered.
2. Confirm that your prospective Online PMP Exam Simulator is based on the PMBOK Guide (current fourth edition), represents all of the question types and provides hints/explanations for each question.
3. Ask if PMP exam questions were written by more than one person. Make sure that the questions were written by multiple, certified PMPs, and that the questions parallel the actual PMP Exam. The Project Management Institute sought out PMPs to volunteer from all over the world to write the exam questions and another body of volunteers to review. This gives the actual PMP exam its reputation of being unpredictable. The best simulators will have the same variability in the background of the people who created them.
4. Look for an Online PMP Exam Simulator that helps you learn the materialby allowing you to review the exam questions and explanations after taking the exam ("exam" mode) and question by question during the study or "learning" mode. Reviewing questions right away will help you to identify and focus on specific Process Groups and Knowledge Areas from the PMBOK Guide. Make sure your exam simulator gives you access for at least 60 days so you can go back and review the questions and re-take the exam.
5. Look for products offered by PMI Registered Education Providers (R.E.P.) because each of these companies is thoroughly screened by PMI. R.E.P.s provide quality programs which must align and keep current with PMI standards.
Next time, we will talk about what you need to do to prepare for the "Big Day."
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, is a noted project management expert with nearly 20 years of project management experience in various industries. He has helped over 11,000 students in their PMP Exam Prep with The Project Management PrepCast, a downloadable and portable exam prep video workshop. A former PMI Chapter president, Fichtner is currently an active volunteer in his local PMI chapter and a member of PMI's New Media Council. He is also the host of the Project Management Podcast and the PDU Podcast.
Other articles from the 'Prepare for the PMP exam' series:
Prepare for the PMP exam part 1: Assess your eligibility
Prepare for the PMP exam part 2: Filling out the application
Prepare for the PMP exam part 3: Build a project study plan
Prepare for the PMP exam part 4: Study materials
Prepare for the PMP exam part 5: Tips, techniques
Prepare for the PMP exam part 7: Exam day logistics
Prepare for the PMP exam part 8: Getting recertified
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