Lessons learned by syed safdar azeem

I passed my PMP certification exam on March 19th, 2018 on my second attempt. The first attempt was on Jan 11th, 2016.

I am grateful to the PMI for updating the PMBOK Guide and keeping it relevant, which acted as a motivation for some folks like me to schedule the exam. It happened to me twice, I scheduled my exam both times because of changes in the PMBOK Guide or the exam content outline.

On Jan 11th, 2016, everyone was talking about changes in the PMP exam, so I rushed my exam preparations and attempted the exam knowing I was not ready and I might not pass. I failed the test, as expected.

I did not lose hope and decided to try again within 30 days, but kept on delaying it because of other priorities.

I gained momentum in August 2017 and scheduled the exam for Sep 17th, 2017 after I came to know that the PMP exam was again changing on March 26th. However, soon after I lost momentum and rescheduled the exam for Feb 19th. Again I had no solid preparation.

I got my PMI membership on Jan 18th, 2018, and started my studies again. This time, I was prepared well. Being satisfied, I scheduled my exam for March 19th, 2018. This time I passed.

In short, unless you put a dent in your pocket, you do not gain momentum.

Exam Questions Breakdown

The following are a few topics from where I found many questions in my exam.

Risk, Stakeholders, Communication, and Quality: you will find many situational questions from these knowledge areas. They are designed to be tricky and many questions will seem to have two correct answers. The other two choices were easy to eliminate.

Integrated Change Control: 5~6% of the situational questions were from this knowledge area.

Expected Monetary Value (EMV): about 5% of the questions were on this topic. None of them were complicated. With simple, logical thinking, you can find the answer.

Critical Path Method (CPM): here, only logic was needed to solve the questions, even after drawing the network diagram. Sometimes a backward pass was not needed.

Quality Tools: about 15% of the questions were on this topic. You need a good understanding of these terms to solve such questions.

Conflict Resolution and Risk Responses: around 5% of the questions were from these topics.

Project Life Cycle, Organizational Structure, Role of PMO, OPA and EEF: you will find at least one question from each of these topics in the exam.

Estimation Techniques and Group Decision-Making Techniques: around 5% of the questions were from these topics.

Contract Types: approximately 3% of the questions were on this topic.

Please note that these percentages are just an idea and based on memory; I didn’t count them exactly.

There were no questions on the project selection methods or the decision tree method on the exam.

I did not get many long questions, only about 3~4 were lengthy.

Exam Strategy

I planned to solve at least 75 questions in the first hour and ended up completing 72. In the next 2 hours and 10 minutes, I completed all 200 questions, and then took a short break.

I left 8 harder questions for later review and attempted them again when I was a little more relaxed. I noted the serial number of these questions on my paper.

Before the break, I marked a lot of the questions for review on the screen but also wrote them down on the rough sheet. I had to change 11 of the answers out of the 18 questions I marked.

Bottom line: manage your speed and time and try to have as much as possible for review.

I passed with “Above Target” in four domains and “Target” on the Executing domain.

Pretest Tutorial

I suggest you learn how to use the marking and strike through techniques. This is very handy when you have to drill down your answer to the last two choices.

Exam Preparation

It took me one and a half months to prepare for this exam. I gained momentum as soon as I spent money.

PMP Training: I got my 35 contact hours training through a session held in my office in 2012 via VINSYS.

The PMBOK Guide: I went through it twice.

Rita’s 8th Edition: I read it once and learned the Planning Process Group chart in the same order it’s given in the book.

Andy Crowe: I read it only one time.

Sean Whitaker’s PMP Rapid Review: this was a good book to correlate the domain-wise tasks.

Edwel’s Bootcamp: this is an excellent book for a quick review and to learn things that you will not find in any other book.

Head First PMP: I used this book to go through some tough topics like risk responses, conflict management, contracts, and others. The examples in the book were good.

Edward’s confusing terms and Saket Bansal’s videos using a whiteboard and marker were very helpful; he is a gem.

I also found Fahad’s blog useful. It has loads of study material with great examples, explanations, and query resolutions. Everything related to the PMP exam is available here.

Purchased PMP Training: “The Last Mile Program” and a “6-hour live class recording” from Daniel Ryan helped me go through everything on the second last day of preparation. Shiv Shenoy’s mnemonics helped me create some for myself. Shiv’s notes were also beneficial.

Emphasis on Mnemonics

I would recommend using mnemonics since there is a lot to remember. Create them based on your native language so you can remember them.

When I started preparing for the exam which was scheduled on January 11th, 2016, my wife, Noor Rizvi, created a few mnemonics for me. To remember the knowledge areas in order, she created one which, in fact, makes no sense but helped me remember them: “I Safdar Tutu C Quality, Hoon Carta Rehta Project Sahi”- I, my middle name, she calls me Tutu, see, am in Quality Assurance, works as project manager and do it right.

This is useless for anyone else in the entire universe, but since I could correlate the information with it, I remembered it. She created many more for me and most of them were personal. It was fun.

Mock Exams

I did many mock tests, and some of them resembled the real exams. I list a few below.

Rita’s PM Fastrack Simulator: 10 days before the exam, I attempted seven sets of 200 questions timed to 4 hours. This helped me speed up.

Edwel – 200 questions: these were very helpful.

Sean Whitaker: I used 200 questions and 400 question books.

Simplilearn: I used their 200 question simulator.

Exam Central: I did their test with 112 questions.

I attempted Oliver’s 75 questions about ten days before the exam and only scored 55%, so I skipped the 175 question set.

Bottom line: don’t just go through the hardest questions as the exam is not as tough as some mock tests. Do not be frightened if your score is poor on a mock test; however, do not skip reviewing the wrong answers.

Don’t memorize ITTOs, it is not required. Once you build an understanding of the processes, you will be able to answer most questions.


I want to give special thanks to Praveen Jain, Anmol Sinha, Farhan Nadeem, Saket Bansal, Cornelius Fichtner and Nalinee Singh for providing me with guidance.

I also want to thank Sriram Maniram, who shared his success story on www.pmstudy.com and recommended joining the group ‘I want to be a PMP.’ This group is motivating and informative, and you will get to know at least one person across the globe getting PMP certified every day, which keeps you motivated.

A big thanks to the owners for creating this group.

Last but not least, a very special thanks to my family (my parents, wife, and kids) who stood by me during my preparation.

Best of luck to all the aspirants who will now attempt this exam based on the PMBOK Guide 6th edition.

Message me if anyone wants any help, and I would be eager to speak with you.

Thank you.

You can contact me on LinkedIn at the following URL:


Did you pass the PMP exam and want to share your lessons learned with the community? Please contact me at [email protected]