This is a PMP exam lessons learned of Mr. Maruthiram who is a visitor of this blog and has passed the PMP certification exam.
I prepared for and passed the PMP exam in 21 days and, in my lessons learned, I will tell you how I did it.
Before you begin, read blog posts and gain a good understanding of relevant topics.
Week one: Read the PMBOK Guide and Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep book with a focus on major topics and practice questions. Afterward, attempt your first mock test.
Week two: Read the remaining topics in the PMBOK Guide, have an in-depth look at Rita’s book and practice questions and try two more mock tests.
Week three: Read Rita’s book again, re-read the PMBOK Guide and try three or four more mock tests.
21 Day Challenge to Pass the PMP Exam
I had a little project management experience when I completed my training in 2015 in Hyderabad for two weekends. This helped me gain a high-level understanding of project management concepts. I didn’t pursue the PMP certification until 2018 when the syllabus was about to change. I thought I could pass the PMP exam with one month of preparation. I attempted and I failed.
Here’s my success formula to crack the PMP exam with 21 days of preparation.
In 2019, my PMI membership was about to expire, so I decided to attempt the PMP exam again. This time I was determined to pass. I started looking at the PMBOK Guide. This was a good place to start, as it gave me an overall picture of the exam content. Some concepts were complicated, but I understood them with the help of the two blogs listed above.
I started with Integration Management from the PMBOK Guide and then went through Rita Mulcahy’s book for practice questions. It was not working, because the PMBOK Guide provided advanced information and I did not study much, except for reading blog posts. You cannot pass the exam just by reading the PMBOK Guide once and referring to a few blogs.
Rita’s questions showed me holes in my knowledge. You must study a PMP exam reference book to understand concepts.
I realized I had missed many details, so I went back to the PMBOK Guide and referred to the highlighted text in Rita’s book. This helped a lot.
I did the same with other knowledge areas such as Scope, Schedule, and Cost and covered all content in a week. I felt confident and attempted a simulator exam provided by my coaching institute, and I got 112/200, which seemed pretty good for one week of studying.
I did not refer to any extra resources except materials provided by my trainer, Rita’s book, and the PMBOK Guide during my exam preparation. I believe using too many resources is a waste of time. Practicing questions from low-quality sites will lower your expectations and give you false confidence.
I felt ready after 21 days and I applied for my PMP exam. I prepared for the remaining concepts (Quality, Resources, Communications, Risk, Procurement, and Stakeholders) in the same way for another one and a half weeks.
I took two more mock tests: one from SimpliLearn, and got 78%, and another with my coaching institute, on which I got 72%. This helped me boost my confidence. At that point, I realized that I needed to reread Rita Mulcahy as I was missing a few concepts, particularly Quality, Communications, Risk, Procurement, Stakeholders, and Resources.
I read these chapters and re-visited the PMBOK Guide. Then I went to other topics such as Integration, Scope, Schedule, and Costs in Rita’s book.
I feel you need to have a good grip on the Integration chapter, as I saw many questions on change control and close project/phase on my exam.
I attempted two mock tests given by my coaching center, both sets from Oliver F. Lehmann’s website (one-hundred question online test and a two-hundred question full mock test), and by Fahad Usmani (one-hundred question test, and a large four-hundred question test, and PMP Mock Test). I consistently scored above 70% or higher. I advise that you not take the PMP exam until you reliably score 70% or higher on the mock tests; otherwise, you risk failure and the expense of applying for a second attempt.
Lessons from my Past Failure
You must read the PMBOK Guide. Highlight important points if you have a hard copy, or prepare notes if you have the eBook.
Read Rita’s book to understand the concepts. Use my recommended blogs to fill the knowledge gaps and for reference, but do not rely on them completely.
Mock tests and blog posts should not be the backbone of your study. I never achieved 80% on mock tests without preparation, and this is the reason I failed the test on my first attempt. My results showed me I needed a deeper understanding.
Schedule the exam when you score above 70% on mock tests with no aid.
During your training, refer to the above two blogs to have a detailed understanding of concepts.
For example, Communications are used for facilitation, explaining what model should be used to communicate, and Stakeholder Engagement explains how to engage stakeholders.
Keep practicing mock tests, even if you have not completed the syllabus.
Don’t worry about the exam duration; if you understand the concepts, you will have more than enough time.
While studying, I found topics like Quality, Communications, Procurement, and Stakeholder Management were easy, but the questions on these topics in the exam were difficult. Study these concepts thoroughly.
While attempting mock tests, make sure you finish the exam at least a half-hour to an hour early; otherwise, it is likely you were not well prepared and that the exam time will be insufficient.
I realized that Rita’s book was a vital resource and the practice questions given in it were similar to the PMP exam.
Revise all concepts including your notes and whatever you have highlighted during the last three days before the exam and cut back on the number of mock tests. I recommend you to avoid mock tests the day before the exam as they may undermine your confidence or cause you to burn out. Be like a capacitor: store your energy for the real exam.
Habits During Preparation
I never attempted such a difficult exam that had a four-hour duration. So, I arranged my routine during my 21-day challenge to give me every possible advantage.
I exercised (a healthy body equals a healthy mind), drank green tea, and avoided my cell phone and internet because these are serious distractions.
I ate healthy food and avoided eating out as processed products can cause lethargy.
In my free time, I listened to devotional music (Hindu, Sufi) to help me stay positive and avoid negative thoughts.
I didn’t take any leave for my exam preparation.
My daily routine was as follows:
- Get up at 5:00 am
- Walk till 5:30 am
- Prepare for the exam till 8:30 am
- Work from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
- Study again in the evening from 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm
- Sleep by 10:00 pm
I utilized three full weekends for my preparation. I am thankful for my wife, who helped me to stay focused and distraction-free during my challenge.
I avoided parties.
During the Exam
Always read the last line of the question and then read the question entirely. For example, the last sentence might say ‘Which of these is a false statement?’ If you’ve read that first, you’ll be looking for incorrect information when you read the question.
Set a goal for the number of questions you will complete in a selected duration. For example: during the first hour, I will complete seventy questions.
Use the highlighter tool to highlight important points during the exam. Use the striker to strike-off incorrect options. The PMP exam is about eliminating the wrong options. It will be more challenging if you don’t use these tools.
Get earplugs from the exam center and use them to avoid external noise. During my first attempt, some folks were attempting reading assessments, which was distracting.
Avoid wearing jewelry or shoes as you have to remove them at check-in. Enter the exam empty-handed, like a beggar, and come out like a king.
Try to eat one hour before the exam. I had a light meal of rice, dal, and curd. This kept me from being hungry during the four-hour period. Avoid eating spicy or deep-fried food before the exam, because you might feel thirsty and may need to take a break while the clock is ticking.
It is good to figure out in advance where the restroom and the pantry to get water are before entering the room so you can answer nature’s calls quickly.
What’s on the Exam?
I did not find many questions on professional conduct, Agile, or mathematics on my exam.
Many questions were from the Integration and close project/phase. If you understand Integration, you will answer at least forty questions correctly.
Communications and stakeholder management had many confusing questions.
My result was “Target” on three domains, “Above Target” on two domains and the overall result was “Above Target”.
I believe I can crack any competitive exam with the techniques used in my 21-day challenge.
Maruthiram Kavuri, PMP