My PMI Project Management Professional Certification Lessons Learned

Yesterday I have successfully passed the PMP Certification. This blog post summarizes my lessons learned about the whole process from application, study and the actual taking of the exam and also compares it to other certification exams I did recently.

My Studies

I decided to pursue the PMP certification sometimes in March 2009. At that time I was working as project manager and my company encouraged PMs to get certified. Me and some of my colleagues participated in 3 or 4 workshops led by PMP certified PM. I knew it is not an easy certification for which you can study just a few weeks, therefore I documented the whole process till the actual exam.

My first goal was to get certified by the end of 2009. Somehow it took actualy another year because I got sidetracked a few times. I bought following books for the preparation: PMBOK and PMP Study Guide (PMPSG). Both were based on the 3rd edition of PMBOK which was no longer valid. Nevertheless always before each workshop I read the chapters of both PMBOK and PMPSG that were the workshop topics. By July 2009 I was through both books. At that time I got sidetracked for the first time with VMware and decided that I will do VMware Certified Professional exam. I studied VMware hard, mostly hands on, then took the obligatory training and passed the exam in December 2009.

Then I returned to the PMP certification. I obtained my company sponsorship and paid the one year PMI membership fee + PMP certification fee. The first hurdle was the application. It is quite complicated process where I had to prove I have all the necessary experience and also some PM training. The whole process of filling the application took me a few days. When the application got accepted (my colleague was not that lucky and actually had to provide proofs of all the experience and training in writing). from that moment started one year window to take the exam. I thought one year is pretty long period and the student syndrome kicked in.

In July 2010 I restarted again. This time for my studies I had already available the PMBOK 4th edition and Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep books. I knew I was going to change my job by the end of August and thought I could pass the exam till then. However I got sidetracked for the second time and did EMC Information Storage Associate examination instead. I felt it was more relevant to my new job position and gave it priority.

Then I started in my new job and the end of the one year exam window approached fast. Therefore by 31 October 2010 I restarted my studies for the third and last time. I booked my exam – I was very surprised to see that I do not to have that many booking options with only 3 or 4 actual feasible exam days. I had about 5+ weeks to study till the exam.

I decided on following strategy:

  • read a chapter of the PMBOK
  • take 20 question test of that particulat chapter to assess where I am (with exam simulation program PM FASTrack)
  • read the same chapter of Rita’s PM Exam Prep book
  • take the test from the end of that chapter (usually about 30 questions)

Because of my many study restarts I also decided to change the order and went through the chapters from the last to the first. I started with Procurement and then followed with Risk, HR, Quality, etc. until Integration.

Everything went according the plan. My test scores (after PMBOK) were around 60-70% and went up to 80% after reading Rita.

On the 7 December 2010 I took a whole day off the work to study. I finished PMBOK and Rita’s books reading, read also the Code of Ethic and for the first time tested myself with simulated test with 100 questions from

The result was 83% which gave me confidence for the next day exam.

Exam day

I have never completed 200 question simulated test during my training therefore my biggest worries were how to keep my concentration up for the all 4 hours of the exam. My strategy was to take a break after every 50 questions. I bought Red Bulls to keep me alert and went to the Prometric exam center. It was very small overheated room with 3 computer seats, no windows and manycameras. The girl next to me on left was typing furiously all the time, the girl on right left after an hour. I guess they did different exams. As you cannot take any food or drinks with you to the exam room I had to leave that in the locker and accessed it only during the breaks.

The general advice is to use the first 15 preparation minutes that explain the exam software to write brain dump sheet. I wrote only 2 formulas on provided scratch paper (total point of assumption and to complete performance index), I was confident to have all the other formuals in my head and was too eager to start.  The real exam questions seemed less confusing then those from Rita’s book or PM FASTrack software. I went through them quickly with quite a fast pace of every 50 questions in about 35 minutes. I marked cca 25 questions for review. After I went through 200 questions I was quite tired but it was only 2 hours and 15 minutes of the exam time. I went through the marked questions changed only two of them and then decided that in no way I will review the questions once more and ended the exam in about 2 and half hours.

I had only one critical path question that required very simple calculation, only one procurement question that required to calculate contract payment but could be done without calculator. Only time I needed the calculator was in 3 or 4 instances – three point estimate and earned value calculations.

Before the display of the result you have to go through short questionnaire about the testing center experience. And then finally I got the result in the following form:

Examination Result: PASS

Initiation – Moderately Proficient
Planning – Proficient
Executing – Proficient
Monitoring and Controlling – Proficient
Closing – Moderately Proficient
Professional and Social Responsibility – Moderately Proficient

I got a print out and a promise to get the full certificate in mail in about 6 weeks.

My Lessons Learned:

  • Get yourself motivated to go through the whole process and not get sidetracked
  • Create a study plan
  • Get only a few study books and stay with them. I think PMBOK and Rita is enough. Late Rita Mulcahy has quite patronizing way of talking to you through her book which is quite annoying, but it gets the job done.
  • Do simulated test. The questions are situational take relatively long time to read it and have a lot of useless information. It needs training to get use to it. See how you react to taking many questions and when you need to take break.

Comparison to other certification

I can compare with VMware and EMC certifications. I think PMP is harder. It takes more time to study and you really need PM experience. The questions are usually situational so the answer is not a clear cut. Memorizing does not help, you have to know the concepts and the apply them. I am glad I did it not only because it looks good on my resume but because I have learned something during the process as well.

One thought on “My PMI Project Management Professional Certification Lessons Learned

  1. Congratulations! Thanks a lot for sharing your PMP exam strategy which is very helpful to aspiring PMPs!

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