Foto: Jazmin Quaynor

How to pass the PMP exam

For a couple of years I have been wondering which kind of qualification could help me in my daily work as a project manager. Thanks to a former colleague of mine who I met at the very first beginning of my career as a project manager I found the Project Management Institute (PMI) which “is the world’s largest non-profit membership association for the project management profession” (see They supply project management standards, training, research, certifications and an expanding network of project management professionals.

Exactly one year ago I finally managed to convince my boss that a certification within PMI’s standards would not only be an advantage for me in person but mostly for Odd Hill as a company. That is mainly because I got to freshen up on what I learned about project management during my studies nearly six years ago as well as I could now evaluate those learning with the background of about five years of work experience. These are learnings I am going to share with my colleagues within the project management team as well as my new learning will improve my style of working.

PMI’s own studies show additionally that with more than one third of all project managers in a company certified, the company can finish a significantly higher number of its projects successfully (read: in time, in scope and on budget).

When I first started my research on what to expect from that certification, I learned quickly that it is not sufficient to read one book and register for the exam but that one would have to fulfil certain requirements before one can even apply for exam registration. I decided to prepare for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, in this case I needed to fulfil the following:

  • A four-year degree (e.g. a bachelor’s degree of a university)
  • 4,500 hours of leading and directing projects
  • 35 hours of project management education

You can find out more about the prerequisites on PMI’s website. The 35 hours are usually collected by participating in an exam-taking preparation course.

Preparing for the PMP exam

The framework of PMI focuses on ten knowledge areas. Each of these knowledge areas has its predefined set of processes with inputs, outputs, tools and techniques which you need to know by heart.

The very first important step for my success was to find a well lead preparation course in which not only the bare theory of the PMBOK (“Project Management Body of Knowledge” aka “PMI’s Bible”) is presented but also strategies for taking the exam and what knowledge areas you should focus on most. My course provided me with learning material and access to online test preparation with loads of test questions. Make sure your course provides you with that as well!

We followed the material which can be found in the “The Velociteach All-In-One PMP Exam Prep Kit: Based on the 5th edition of the PMBOK Guide (Test Prep series)” which suited my needs for a focused training very well.

After that preparation course I spent a ten week period studying at home (worth noting I spent about 70 hours on studying during that period) while working full time and for me that was the maximum amount of time that I could spend. I found most use of the flash cards which offer short and concise information about each process as well as certain keywords and techniques you need to know for the exam. You have to know them and their flow through a project perfectly.

Additionally I made sure I had answered all available test questions that I could find in the books as well as online. Worth noting is that the questions in the final exam are different from the test questions. However, the training questions helped me to gain self confidence and to check which areas I need to focus on during my studies.

Taking the PMP exam

Expect to be very short on time during the exam! You have to answer 200 questions within four hours. The clock keeps going while you for example check out for a bathroom visit or for a drink/refreshment.

Good to know: The test is a computer-based multiple choice test and you can always navigate through all the questions, and “tag” questions that you are unsure of in the first round. Answer all questions during this first round and mark those questions you are unsure of. Don’t think for too long. Usually you know the answer even if the question sounds difficult. The best thing is: You can’t get minus points!

I divided the available time as follows:

  • During the introduction (15 mins on how to click something with the help of a computer mouse): Write down all formulas and everything else you tend to forget on high stress levels (see cheat sheet below in this post).
  • Answer the first hundred questions in 1.5 hours.
  • Take a 5 mins mini break.
  • Answer the remaining hundred questions in another 1.5 hours.
  • Take another 10 mins break for a cereal bar and a visit to the bathroom.
  • Go through the marked questions within the remaining 45 mins.

I had about 45 questions marked and that was exactly sufficient to go through during the remaining 45 minutes. Don’t make the mistake to change them all just because they’re on your “Marked” list. Probably a few of them will be correct already and you don’t want to change them just for the sake of changing them :)

You get your result directly after you’ve clicked on the “Hand in the exam” button (the result is shown on your computer screen after a few seconds of calculation).

And finally..

A few more general tips for passing an exam:

  • Find out where the exact location of the testing facility is a few days before the exam and how long it will take you to get there.
  • Plan loads of buffer time upon arrival. Better have an hour in a cafe around the corner than arriving only a minute before the scheduled exam.
  • Take something to drink and a cereal bar with you.
  • Prepare a cheat sheet with everything you can hardly remember (of course you don’t take that with you into the testing facility but these short facts will never be forgotten). I got this advice from my biology teacher in school and it still works. The contents of the cheat sheet should be written down during the introduction phase of the PMP exam.

Disclaimer: These are my very personal findings. As you can probably understand they don’t guarantee you to pass the exam but I hope you can find some inspiration and guidance in them. Feel free to contact me via pia.kohler [at] (mail) if you have any questions!