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“I Didn’t Pass the PMP® Exam”

by Doug Boebinger, MS, PMP®

Disappointed man in his office

A reader of IPDI’s monthly newsletter contacted us with a question. They had taken a PMP® prep course from another provider and were not successful in passing the Project Management Professional (PMP®) exam from the Project Management Institute PMI®.  They asked for advice on how to better prepare for the exam, and what to look for in a PMP Prep course.

Passing the PMP Certification exam is not easy and should not be taken lightly.  Certification in any career field is a major step forward and the professional organizations that set up certifications want to make sure their exams are thorough enough to ensure that those who pass have a solid grasp of the foundational material.  PMI is no exception.

Central to the PMP exam is the Project Management Institute’s publication, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition.  Learn more about the PMBOK® Guide here.

Here are some suggestions we can offer:

  1. Read the PMBOK® Guide – I know it is not the most exciting book in the world but you need to know it like the back of your hand (which does not mean write it on the back of your hand).  I recommend a minimum of three readings of the PMBOK® Guide – you need to read it chapter by chapter (and read the whole chapter in a single sitting) and then by the flow of project management (as outlined in Chapter 3).
  2. Read a good PMP Prep book – A good PMP prep book is not a replacement for the PMBOK® Guide but it can help you understand what the PMBOK® Guide is trying to say. If you are taking a PMP Prep course, will the course provider supply you a book?
  3. Take a good PMP Prep course – There are a lot of companies offering PMP Prep courses.  Sadly, a lot of them do not have a long history or a track record of success.  Here are some things to consider as you select a PMP Prep course provider:
    • How long has the course provider been teaching PMP Prep?  The longer the better.  Newer providers may not have a proven course that properly prepares people for the exam.
    • How many training hours is the course?  Some people think that shorter is better. They want a fast hit, get through it, type of course.  Personally, I do not believe that 8 to 16 hours of course time is sufficient.  PMI requires a minimum of 35 hours of project management training and I recommend that you take a course that is 35 hours, minimum, in length.  This provides sufficient time for the instructor to teach you, answer questions and make sure you are comprehending the materials.
    • How does the course provider teach the PMBOK® Guide?  In other words, does the course provider teach it by ‘Knowledge Area’ or by ‘Process Group’?  Since the PMP exam is mostly about the flow of project management (what should you do next? What is the most important thing to do now?  What tool/technique is the best to use in this situation?), I would recommend a course that is taught by ‘Process Group’.  ‘Knowledge Area’ is important, but for teaching the PMBOK® Guide, it is easier to understand it by ‘Process Group’. (NOTE: The PMBOK® Guide is written by ‘Knowledge Area’ with each chapter from Chapter 4 – 12 being dedicated to a single ‘Knowledge Area’.)
    • Who is the instructor and how long have they been teaching PMP Prep?  I have seen courses taught by instructors who have never taught in their life and who were just PMP certified last week.  Personally, I don’t think that leads to the best learning environment. You want someone who has been certified for a while and thoroughly understands the PMBOK® Guide – not just ‘what’ is says but ‘why’ it says it.  Understanding the ‘what’ it says is easy. Understanding ‘why’ PMI says it and what PMI is trying to achieve is the key to success on the PMP exam.
    • Is the instructor not only knowledgeable but also an engaging presenter? You want a professional instructor who understands the materials and makes them come to life. Face it, the PMBOK® Guide is not exciting, so you need an instructor who can make it interesting.  The instructor should also have a proven track record of getting people PMP certified.
    • How long has the instructor been a project manager and in what industries?  Even though PMI requires a minimum of 36 non-overlapping months of experience to become PMP certified, do you want to take a PMP Prep course from an instructor who has only been doing project management for 3 years?  Also, if they have only worked in one industry, can they really relate to you and your industry?  True, the PMP exam is not industry specific, but if the instructor cannot understand your questions because they don’t understand your industry, how will they provide applicable answers?
    • What additional materials does the course provider supply?  Is all you see all you get?  What else will the course provider supply? Does the course provider supply additional resources – supplemental PMP prep book, prep materials, sample exam questions, study materials, etc.?
    • Do they stand behind their course?  In other words, do they offer an exam retake policy where they will pay for you to take the PMP exam again if you are not successful the first time?
    • Can I ask the instructor questions after the course is over?  You want a course provider that will help you even after the course is over.  You will have additional questions as you do further studies and you want to know that you will be supported all the way through the process.
    • Will the course provider help with the PMP Certification Application?  The PMP Certification Application is difficult to complete.  Will the course provider assist you in understanding the application process and how to obtain the information necessary to properly complete it?
  4.  Study before and after the course – If possible, read the entire PMBOK® Guide before the course so you have a basic understanding of what will be taught.  Then you also need to study after the course is over to solidify what you have learned.  Some course providers recommend you take the exam the day after the course is over.  There are a few issues with this:
    • You may not have the 35 course contact hours accumulated necessary to submit the PMP certification application.
    • If, during the course, you find you are not as prepared as you thought, it may be too late to reschedule.  (You may reschedule your exam up to 48 hours prior to your exam date/time.)
    • You may be too tired from the intensity of the course to be physically and mentally ready to take a 4-hour exam.
  5. Take sample exams – Will your course provider give you sample exams as part of your course?  And, are the sample exams ‘tiered’ to help you develop your knowledge?  Sample exams are an excellent way to determine what you still need to learn.  Since learning is an evolutionary process, are the sample exams at different levels of difficulty to help you prepare properly?  Does the course provider have ‘foundational’ sample exams to make sure you have a strong understanding of terminology – ‘intermediate’ sample exams to step up your learning – ‘advanced’ PMP exam simulation tests of 200 questions each to help you train for the style of questions on the PMP exam as well as the endurance necessary to go the distance.

I hope this information helps our reader, and you, in determining your approach to becoming PMP certified.

If you have specific questions, feel free to contact IPDI.

PMP, PMI and PMBOK are registered marks of Project Management Institute, Inc.

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