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Journey to PMP Part 2: The Exam

confetti falling on a golden trophy

Welcome to Part 2 of my blog about preparing for the PMP exam! In case you missed it, here is a link to Part 1, focused on preparation. Part 2 is focused on the days leading up to the exam and the exam itself. 

Test Center or At Home?

I chose to take the exam at a Pearson Vue testing center. This was an easy decision for me to make. I am located in metro Atlanta, so I have relatively easy access to several testing centers. I have also heard several horror stories about at-home exams from colleagues. Folks have told me stories of trouble accessing the software, proctors not knowing what to do, the internet going out, and even instantly being failed for looking off-screen. I did not want to risk the strictness of the at-home exam. 

Surprisingly, the testing center I chose had only one date open in January and no availability in February or March. I either had to take the exam on January 25 or wait until April. You do not want too much time between studying and your exam date. Be sure to look at availability and plan your test date strategically. I had 3.5 weeks between when I finished my Udemy course and when I took my test, and I thought this was a perfect amount of time.

Understand, Don’t Memorize

Honestly, the content of the exam really surprised me. It was much more difficult than I expected. Almost the entire exam was situational, where you need to know what the PM should do first/next or what the PM should have done to avoid a situation. There will be many questions that have 2-3 answer choices that seem like the correct choice, but there are nuances that make one choice the correct one. The only way to pass an exam so heavily weighted with those types of questions is to truly understand what you are learning. I spent a lot of time memorizing calculations, theories of motivation, types of power, etc., from the PMBOK Guide that I did not need. PMI clearly wants candidates to truly know how to manage projects, not just memorize calculations and theories. 

One thing that likely helped me achieve Above Target scores were the Mindset videos from Andrew Ramdayal’s Udemy course. I listened to these while getting ready the morning of the exam. These videos provided me with some general ways of thinking that helped me answer many situational questions. The top statement of his that I repeated to myself over and over during the exam was “always assess, don’t take action.” PMs should always assess the potential impacts of a situation prior to taking action. You don’t need to solve a problem if you don’t yet know if it’s a problem or will become one. 

Know the Exam Content Outline

I didn’t spend enough time reading and understanding the exam content outline (warning, this link is a download!) from PMI. It felt overwhelming, and I didn’t think I could completely take it in. The Udemy courses mostly focus on content from the PMBOK Guide, which is why I now believe I spent a lot of time memorizing content I didn’t end up needing. PMI states in the exam content outline that the exam content has some commonalities but is not bound by the PMBOK Guide. I did not purchase PMI’s Study Hall essentials, so I am not sure how the content of those tests compares to the actual exam.

I reviewed the exam outline again post-exam when PMI provided me the breakdown of how I scored in each domain and task. When reviewing one of the tasks where I scored low, I was shocked to see one of the answer choices for one of the questions I was stuck on on the outline. I had a question mark for review with two answer choices I was torn between, and one of the choices (that I did not pick) was written there verbatim. Facepalm!!! 

Be Careful Online

Hi, my name is Emily, and I have anxiety! I wanted to know everything there was to know about what I was walking into on exam day. The night before the exam, I spent several hours googling and scrolling through the r/pmp subreddit to consume as much content and real-life experiences as possible. If you plan to do the same – be careful. You must certify that you have not seen any exam questions prior to beginning the exam. Anyone can put anything out on the internet, so use Reddit and free-range googling with caution and back out immediately if you see anything that could possibly be a recreated exam question.

Night Before & Day Of

Knowing that I was facing four hours of reading 180 questions, I did not do any practice questions on the day of the exam. I did a few practice tests the day before the exam to keep my test fatigue to a minimum. On the day of the exam, I watched some Udemy videos on drag + drop questions and mindset and reviewed concepts in the PMBOK Guide (though if I had to do it again, I would review the exam content outline). Don’t overwork yourself the day of because the exam was a mental marathon. I felt like I had been hit by a truck when I left the testing center. 

Bring Food & Water

If you take the exam at a testing center, bring a snack and a water bottle with you. The rules stated that the only things I was allowed to access during breaks without permission was food and drink. The water fountains at the testing center were not working, so I was relieved that I had decided to bring a full water bottle in with me to store in my locker for breaks. You cannot eat or drink during your exam.

Utilize the Highlight and Strikethrough Tools

The exam took me the entire four hours to get through. Since almost every question was situational, I took my time reading the questions and highlighting keywords. I highlighted words such as procurement, agile, risk, etc. to make sure that I recognized exactly what the question was asking. Highlighting keywords also made sure that I slowed down and stayed focused on each question. Four hours is a long time, and it is very easy to lose focus. You can also utilize the strikethrough tool to mark through answer choices that you know are incorrect. Both tools significantly expedite your review process when you mark questions for review and need to come back to them at the end. 

These are my top tips for passing the exam. I am happy to answer more questions about my experience if you want to reach out to me on Linkedin. Happy studying, and good luck! 

Thoughts on “Journey to PMP Part 2: The Exam”

  1. Hi Emily, thanks a lot. Great and very useful information. All these hints are also applicable for other PMI exams. Passing the PMP is a huge challenge and requires a lot of hard work, commitment and, as you said, sacrifices. But it worths the effort. Congratulations.

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Emily Lord

Emily is an Account Executive and started at Brainjocks, now Perficient, in 2013. She formerly served Perficient in Project Management and Front-End Development roles. She has her Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering and minored in Technical Communication and Mathematics.

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