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Surviving the PMP


I haven’t posted here for a while because studying for the PMP (Project Management Professional) has totally consumed my life. But no more! I passed the exam yesterday morning!

So just what is this PMP thing, anyway?  The PMP was created by the Project Management Institute  http://www.pmi.org/ , and is
“the most important industry-recognized certification for project managers. Globally  recognized   and demanded, the PMP® demonstrates that you have the experience, education and competency to successfully lead and direct projects.”
http://www.pmi.org/CareerDevelopment/Pages/AboutCredentialsPMP.aspx

Increasingly, companies are asking for this certification, and since I have a project management background, it was the logical step for me. That was my initial thought, anyway, but once I got into it, I found out what a treasure trove of information the PMI provides. Sure, I’ve managed a number of projects, but studying for the exam introduced me to a lot of good information, techniques, and ways of thinking about things.

So rather than thinking about the PMP as just another certification, I am a believer. It’s good stuff.  

What does it take to get it?   I’m not going to echo what’s readily available on PMI’s site http://www.pmi.org/Certification/Project-Management-Professional-PMP.aspx . Rather, I’ll tell you what it really takes. First, you have to fill out an application with your project management experience – every hour of it – broken down into categories. This can be painful if you have worked for several companies, have not kept many records from your projects, and have to track down a previous manager in rural France. Yeah, you guessed it – that’s exactly what my situation involved. Fortunately, I was able to reconnect with some people I like that I had almost lost track of.

Next is a classroom requirement. Most people solve this by taking a week-long exam prep class, as I did. These aren’t cheap, usually about a grand. Some people in the class complained that the instructor kept telling us that we would have to memorize a lot of material, and that there were few tips or hints of what or how to study. Well, here’s the reality, folks: there are no shortcuts. There is a lot (a LOT!) of sheer memorization. There is nothing a class can do to teach you how to pass the test in 5 easy steps.

As I began to study, I asked my wife, who got her PMP in 2005, how she had memorized all of the material. She said she just kept at it until it mostly got crammed in. I ended up doing the same thing. You can get there if you put the work in.

So the next step is to study.  I’ll go into this more in a minute, in the next category.

The final step is to take the exam. It’s 200 questions and it’s not easy. One of the difficult things about it is that the questions can come from a wide variety of sources. There isn’t any one book you can know cover-to-cover and be confident that you’ll know every answer. I have no idea where some of the questions came from. There were some terms that I’d never heard of, and that has been the experience of other PMPs, too. You simply can’t know everything on the exam, you just have to hit as many as you can.

OK, so how do I study for this thing?   I’ll say this again: it takes a lot of hard work. There’s no way around it. You have to read and memorize a lot, and you have to be able to apply what you know to word problems. My best tips are:

Tip #1: Take a lot of practice tests from a lot of different sources. These can be found on the Internet. The good thing about taking these tests is that you get a feel for the test format and you are introduced to terms that may not have been included in your exam prep class. If you take the same test over and over, or just take tests from one source, you’ll learn their questions and only their questions. This is a bad thing. You really need the exposure to different sources that will ask different questions and even ask the same questions in a different way.

A word of warning: Every test that I took had at least one error in it. Every single one. When you look at the questions you missed, don’t just accept what they say is the answer. Look it up and verify it.

Tip #2: Create study sheets or quick references. Once I saw there were a number of formulas in different chapters, I made up some pages with all of them neatly organized in one place. I also had references for definitions, charts, the processes, and critical path diagramming.

I memorized these so that I could sit down with blank sheets of paper and write down all of the formulas / charts / definitions / processes strictly from memory. When I started the actual test, I took the first few minutes to write all of this down on the scratch sheets.

Tip #3: Use mnemonics. Instead of trying to remember “Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, HR, Communication, Risk, Procurement” it’s much easier to remember “I See The Cost of Quality Communication on the Risk of Procurement”. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the weirder the sentence, the easier to remember. That may sound counter-intuitive, but think of it this way – who do you remember from your 1st grade class? If you’re like most people, it’s the kids you liked, the ones you disliked, and the ones who did something spectacular. Everyone else is just one of a nameless, faceless mob because you have no “hook” to remember them. So assign an immediately memorable hook to your sentences.

For example, under Cost, we find the processes Estimate Costs, Determine Budget, and Control Budget. My mnemonic here is “The Cost is the Early Bird Crashes”. I also had “HR Plans A Death Match” and “It’s Risky; Plan It Quickly, Quickly, Red Cow” for HR and Risk. You get the idea.

That’s all I have, but it worked for me. Study hard, and good luck.

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One Response to “Surviving the PMP”

  1. Congratulations. I mean to do this one of these days, if I can stop procrastinating…


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