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In this document I will explain the following:
- My plan for preparing for the PMP exam.
- The materials I used while studying.
- The difference between my expectations and what I found on the exam.
- What I would do different if I did this again.
- My thoughts on the PMI-OC class.
Proposed Study Methods
I began studying for the PMP examination by reading Kim Heldman’s PMP Project Management Professional Study Guide. As I read, I began to grasp the breadth of the material. From prior experience I know that my studying is most efficient when I begin with a framework, and then fill in the spaces within that framework. Based upon those experiences, I established the following plan:
- Read Heldman to get an outline of the scope required.
- Find a diagram that shows the framework for how all the processes fit together.
- Read the PMBOK searching for details.
- Memorize the framework.
- Use the PMP class to add content to the framework.
- Read peripheral material to verify the breadth of my studies.
What I Accomplished
I came close to accomplishing what I had planned.
- I read Heldman, twice (electronic version once and hardcopy once).
- I read the PMBOK (electronic version) twice.
- I created wall charts to illustrate the Core and Facilitating processes.
- I memorized the framework, meaning that I could visualize the interconnections between the processes in my mind and re-create it on paper.
- I learned a great deal from the PMP class.
- I read the following peripheral materials:
- PMI Compendium of Project Management Practices,
- PMP Role Delineation Study
- OuterCore study guide (twice)
- Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures
- And I read the first several chapters of Kerzner’s Project Management, A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling.
- I also purchased the Rita Mulcahy Hot Topics: Audio Flashcards for Passing the PMP and CAPM Exams. I listened to these CDs at least a dozen times because I wanted to have a precise understanding of the core vocabulary.
- I took notes and then organized those notes into a study guide. I would glance through those notes when time permitted. I even went all the way through them one last time at a Starbucks just before taking the test.
- I used the on-line practice exams in the Heldman book to help me understand the format of the test material and the structure of the test questions. I found that once I took one of the Heldman exams, I did not benefit from re-taking it because I remembered the questions. Even the random tests were useless to me on my third try. Nonetheless, these tests helped because they taught me about the format and style of the exam.
- My final preparation was to run through a 200-question random test concocted by using questions from Heldman and Exam Cram 2. From this I learned that I could finish in about 2 hours. I also learned that I was likely to have the wrong answer on about 50% of the questions that I marked for review.
What I Found on the Test
There were a few things about the test that surprised me:
- All of the questions seemed to be in order from Initiation to Planning to Execution to Controlling to Closure and finally Professional Responsibilities. I had expected more randomness.
- I had at least six CPM questions on my exam. I had only expected one or two.
- There were several questions where I wanted to write-in “none of the above” as the best answer. Specifically, a couple of the professional responsibility questions seemed likely to elicit a lawsuit no matter which of the four answers I picked.
There were also some aspects of the test that did not surprise me.
- The look and feel of the exam was very similar to the Heldman practice exams.
- The questions were generally of better quality than the practice questions I had seen in Exam Cram, OuterCore and Heldman. Heldman was the closest to the actual questions, but few of the Heldman questions were as complex as some of the real questions. OuterCore had a better selection of complex questions; the type of questions that took 5 or more minutes each. Exam Cram had little resemblance to the real test.
- I took 2:20 to go through the exam. So my practice run of 200-questions was good preparation. Confidence that I would finish and still have time to review allowed me to pace myself and not stress when I hit time-consuming CPM questions.
- I then spent about 45 minutes going back through the 39 questions that I had marked for review. It worried me that I had marked 39 questions and it bothered me that even reading a second time shed little light on some of them. Generally, I just did not like any of the possible answers on about 10 of the ones I marked. Another 10 seemed to be designed to challenge me to find the least objectionable answer. Others I realized were probably straight out of an auxiliary PMI book that I had not read.
- My estimate that I would miss about 50% of the ones I marked for review suggested that I was likely to get about a 180 on the test. So, after this one review I submitted my exam for grading, and waited for the answer. I passed with a score of 180. My time and accuracy estimates were good.
- Altogether, I spent 3:05 on the test.
What Would I Do Different If I Did This Again?
I am not sure that I would do much of anything differently. There are other areas that I would like to have studied, but I ran out of time. I was given a new project a couple days before the PMI-OC class ended. That project required a lot of overtime. Then the afternoon after I took the test another project went badly awry so it was transferred to me. I suddenly found myself working 18 hour days. If I had waited to do more studying, I would have missed this chance. I was lucky that I took the test on the day that I took it, even if it meant that I did not have the time to finish Kerzner or read anything by Verma.
Based upon my experience, here are a few things that I recommend to others:
- Take the test as quickly as you can after you finish your class because you never know what might happen.
- I am not sure that reviewing the questions that I marked helped at all. I only changed the answers on about 4 out of the 39 I had marked, and I am not sure whether my changes helped or hurt.
- Ignore some of the peripheral materials that I read. I do not believe that either the PMP Role Delineation Study or the Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structureshelped my preparation.
- Focus your time wisely. I pulled the CD from the Exam Cram book to get the test questions, but I did not spend time reading that book. I also borrowed a copy of Mulcahy’s book, looked at it for about five-minutes, and returned it. It may be the best book on the market, but it’s style was not to my taste.
- Get more breadth in your studies. Although this point seems to contradict the prior two points, all three are actually recommendations to use your time wisely. I missed three out of the seven questions on “corrective actions”. I believe that I would have gotten most of those correct if I had been able to read one or two of the books by Verma. They are short, and can probably be skimmed through in one or two evenings. I wish I had done that instead of reading the role delineation or WBS books.
- Memorize even more. I know all of the process names and I can draw them on paper from memory. I memorized about 50% of the inputs and about 75% of the outputs. Even so I had to guess at the answer on two or three of the questions on tools and techniques. There were a couple questions where two answers both sounded reasonable. If I had memorized the tools and techniques I would have known those answers.
- I have an engineering background so CPM was easy for me. I was lucky because there were a lot of CPM questions on my test. Each of those questions takes a lot of time.
My Thoughts on the PMI-OC Class
The Orange County, California chapter of PMI (PMI-OC) hosts PMP preparation workshops. When I read the PMP application I discovered that I need 35-hours of classroom instruction on project management. As I went through my college transcripts I was surprised to see that I have never taken a class on project management. I taught several classes in graduate software engineering, but I have never taken a class in the subject. So, I searched for a way to get that 35-hours. Fortunately, I found the PMI-OC class.
That class was a wonderful experience for me. The key things it provided were:
- That essential 35-hours of classroom time.
- A group of people all trying to do the same thing, with the same misconceptions and struggles.
- A rigid schedule that meant I could not put off until next week what had to be finished before Saturday.
- We used the OuterCore study material. I frequently argued with the quiz questions in OuterCore and questioned the value of those practice exams. I was surprised on the real exam to find that the CPM questions were much more like those in OuterCore than in any of the other materials that I used. I was also surprised to find a large number of questions on the exam where I did not feel like any of the answers were the “right” answer. OuterCore helped me through that because I had come to accept that the right answer is not always among the choices, so all you can do is to pick the least objectionable answer. Interestingly, the exam tutorial even gave a question with a similar theme. That question asked about the color of some object, and none of the answers were right. The tutorial then explained that sometimes you just have to pick the best one out of a sorry lot. So now I am grateful for the OuterCore quizzes.
- Most importantly, I heard the stories of quite a few people that have gone through the same experience, and passed. Those stories helped me refine my study plan and gave me good advice on how to make the best use of my study time.
So, what would I like to see changed about the class?
- I would like to have all 9-hours filled every Saturday. Alright, so I was one of the first people out the door when we finished early, but I really wish that we had filled in a few more of those sessions with one more example. My suggestion, for what it is worth, is to have one or two filler topics on standby in case the main topic ends early. For example, since the topic of Human Resources is fairly short, drop in another CPM example on that day. Or, plan in advance for the lunch session to be two-hours instead of one-hour.
- I would also like the instructors to branch out a bit. All of the instructors have read a wide variety of material on their lecture topics. So, get through the packaged material, and then spend a few minutes talking about some of the recommended readings.
In conclusion, I recommend the following:
- Know your own study method and follow it.
- Discipline yourself to a schedule and stick with it.
- Take the test as soon as you can after your class ends.
- Look at the PMI study kit. The people at PMI put a lot of thought into the books they selected. Perhaps you prefer Heldman over Mulcahy, or Verma over Kerzner, but stay close to those recommendations.
- Find a good class. I personally recommend the PMI-OC PMP workshops. Maybe your local chapter has a program of similar quality.