I successfully took my PMP exam last year. During my preparation time for the exam I had loads of questions about it, I was wondering if I had done enough to prepare for it and in my immediate network no-one had a PMP certification so I could not find someone that could sympathise with me and share with me some tips.
So now that I have my PMP certification, I thought that sharing “how I prepared to the PMP exam” here could be useful to some. So here it is.
What worked for me may not be working for someone else (bit of a disclaimer here). But it’s true, everybody is different and that includes the way we learn. Anyway that’s my PMI-PMP story.
1. Diving in the PMBOK
Although I took the exam in July 2007, I have started preparing for the exam in January 2006. And I started the hard way: reading from A to Z the PMBOK. Although I had skimmed through it in the past, it was the first time that I really started to study it seriously, reading chapter after chapter and writing on a notebook the key learning points for each of them: main processes, inputs and outputs. Taking particular attention on the concept that were not so obvious to me.
PMBOK is full of theory and very little on practice (read: nearly none) to link theory to reality and this is at times hard, specially for the Quality chapter because Quality Control and Assurance are not always easy to separate. The level of abstraction makes it sometimes distant to what one actually does on project.
Although it was a hard read in the end I was glad I did it and that I did it over a long period of time, because with time the PMBOK became slowly part of me. This book cannot be read in two weeks and forgotten about, what worked for me was to read it over a long period of time putting it to practice in my day to day job. I let it “sip” into me with time.
2. I need those PDUs
To take the PMP exam one need to bring 2 things on the table:
- a proven – documented – PM experience (that could be audited – actually mine was), make sure you keep in touch with your old bosses to ask for references. I did.
- 35 contact hours: training from a registered education provider (REP). I used RMC online training.
Again it took me some times to complete the training, the training was not very engaging, using mostly old web technologies, the introduction videos for each chapter was nice but overall I found it hard to go back to my computer and learn. The format was not engaging enough.
Anyway I completed the training, used the prep-exam questionnaire to death and got my minimum PDUs. It took me about 6 months to finish the training, I was very busy at work and my free time was limited, this is why it took so long.
3. Exam preparation in sight
After reading the PMBOK and doing my online training I decided to book a date for the exam. Things were getting more serious, by setting the end date I was more focused (surprise! surprise!). For this final preparation I went back to PMBOK, reading it on my way to work every morning.
When the date came closer I was working on it every morning for 2-3 weeks (I took some time off). Every morning I will sit with 3 friends: the PMBOK, the Definitive Guide to Project Management and The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try.
I read again the PMBOK chapter after chapter (based on Knowledge areas) taking pics at the other 2 and restart taking summary notes in a notebook.
The PMBOK is the most comprehensive document here, but as it does not come with guidances, tips or examples the two other books were very handy.
The Definitive Guide is a good book, giving you a good summary for all areas but it is not 100%PMP focused and by far not sufficient to prepare the exam, it is just too light in content. However I still found it useful. It is a good introduction before getting into PMBOK.
The last book, The PMP Exam: How…, is very very targetted to the exam, insisting on areas that one should take particular attention for the exam, very focused on tips about the type of questions you can expect. It comes with access to an online prep-exam system that was very useful. This book really helped building my confidence for the exam by its direct approach. It was the natural link between the theory of the books and the exam itself.
4. The exam itself
I took a morning exam. Got a big breakfast, got a good night sleep the night before (and the one before). It is hard to be relax for the exam, but I was also excited by it, excited to see the result of those months of learnings. It was time for me to take it and make it a success. I was ready.
2 things surprised me at the exam:
- The questions were somewhat different to the questions I faced during my practices exams with RMC or with the Prep Exam book, overall questions were slightly more difficult at the exam. So I think that is something you need to prepare yourself with.
- It took me the full time allocated to complete the exam, including a full review of each of the questions I had marked for review. Almost the full time allowed, maybe I had 5 minutes free in the end but not much more. They say work expand to the time allocated (Parkinson Law) – it’s was true for me here.
So that was my PMP exam story, I hope yours will be / has been as succesfull as mine.