pmp lessons learned

I passed my PMP exam on December 13, 2010, and in today’s blog post, I will share my PMP lessons learned.

Note: Although these are old lessons learned, it is one of the most visited posts on this blog. Therefore, I have updated this blog post with additional comments to make it more useful for the aspirants preparing for the current exam. The lessons learned are old but provide valuable information that is still helpful and will always be helpful.

I hope you will find my PMP lessons learned helpful in your PMP exam preparation.

Let’s get started.

I decided to apply for the PMP exam back in May 2009.

After collecting all the information and reading the PMP Handbook, I started looking for an affordable training program. I found that programs in Kuwait were too costly.

So, I widened my search for a low-cost training program in my home state (Uttar Pradesh—India). I could not find any PMP training providers near my location, even in my state capital.

I had no other option except to attend a classroom PMP training in New Delhi, about 400 miles from my home. I started this training program in the first week of January 2010, during my vacation. The only book I studied before joining the training program was the PMP Handbook.

Note: At the time, I did not find any online PMP training programs, though PM PrepCast was available at that time in audio format. Unfortunately, I could not find it.

I began the training without doing my homework, and I suffered a lot because of my lack of preparedness. During sessions, I often could not take part in the discussions and faced many new concepts.

It was an embarrassing situation, and I still regret it.

In the class, all participants were provided with a Head First PMP book, manual, mind maps, and a CD that had PMP exam sample questions.

I had a poor impression of the Head First PMP book. Initially, it looked unusual to me. It contains hand-drawn diagrams, different types of fonts, notes in the margins, etc. However, as I started studying the book, I began to like it. It helped me understand important concepts.

Note: The Head First PMP book has not yet been updated with the latest exam content outline applicable from the 2nd January 2021, so I recommend you go for the Rita Mulcahy book instead of the Head First PMP.

After completing the training, I joined the PMI membership, and then I applied for the PMP exam.

My application was approved, and I started my studies at a slow pace. I lost interest in studying a few days later, and then I stopped my PMP exam preparation completely.

I became busy and forgot about the PMP exam. Suddenly, my eligibility was approaching its expiry, and then I woke up and applied for the PMP exam. I was not selected for the PMP audit.

I headed to the Prometric website (now Pearson VUE is conducting the PMP test) and scheduled the exam. I had three months to prepare.

Note: You currently have the option to attempt the exam from home; however, I would not recommend you attend a proctored exam if there is a tests center available locally. A small error, system jam, or power outage can cause you to fail your test.

After I applied for the exam, I got a boost and started to study rigorously. I don’t know where I got this energy from, but I believe I was excited and became devoted to my studies.

I had a great deal of passion and enthusiasm after scheduling the exam.

After going through the Head First PMP book twice, I started reading the PMBOK Guide. At first, reading the PMBOK Guide was not enjoyable. However, the second time I was more comfortable with its concepts and enjoyed it more.

Note: Now, you will have to focus on the PMBOK and the Agile Guide.

I also purchased Kim Heldman’s book, which was fantastic. The book is organized according to the process group, while the Head First PMP book is based on knowledge areas.

So, I had two books with different perspectives. Kim Heldman’s book was more detailed than Head First PMP. I studied both Kim Heldman and the PMBOK Guide twice.

I did not buy any simulators to practice the questions. I used the exercise questions given in both books and a few online tests.

I only used Oliver Lehmann and Head First Labs (This test is not available now). The Head First Labs test was straightforward, and the Oliver Lehmann test was tough.

I focused on reading and spent little time practicing questions. The three months were enough PMP exam preparation time for me.

I visited the test center a day before my scheduled exam to avoid having to search for it on exam day. The next day, I reached the test center 30 minutes before the scheduled time and completed all the formalities.

Note: Though I did not use any simulator to practice the sample exam questions, I don’t suggest you do the same. Use any good quality PMP exam simulators to practice PMP example questions. One such simulator is PM Exam Simulator by Cornelius Fichtner.

Read my PMP exam simulator review.

The exam started with a familiarization session. This was an introductory session; it showed me how to select an answer, use the calculator, and so on. The duration of this session was 15 minutes.

This did not count towards the exam time. Therefore, I completed this session within five minutes and utilized the remaining time to note down some important concepts and formulas.

Note: The PMI has banned making notes during this awareness session. You must end the session, start the exam, and then you can make your brain dump.

After completing my notes, I took a two minutes rest, completed the session, and then the test started. The questions were neither too tough nor too easy. Some questions were lengthy, but most of them were average length. Shockingly, I found a few repeated questions.

The mathematical questions were easy and were based on the formulas.

Be careful while solving situation-based questions; these are tricky.

I took my first break after one hour and my second break when I had completed all the questions after two-and-a-half hours. I spent the rest of the time reviewing the questions and answers.

Note: When I attempted the test, there were no scheduled breaks, but now after 2nd January 2021, you will have two scheduled breaks. One break is after the 60th question, and the second is after the 120th question. The duration of the break is 10 minutes.

After a final review, I submitted my answers. This was followed by a survey. At last, I saw my result.

“Congratulations! You have passed your PMP Certification Exam.”

After seeing the result, I left the exam room, and the Prometric staff gave me a printout of my results and congratulated me. I could not express my feelings in words. This was one of the happiest moments of my life. I informed my friends and had a little party that night.

This was my journey to become a PMP.

PMP Lessons Learned

My PMP exam lessons learned are as follows:

Lesson Learned #1—Collect Information on the PMP Exam Application Process

Get a PMI membership and become involved with your local chapter. Meet PMPs and ask them for their lessons learned. It will motivate and energize you.

The most authentic source for PMP exam-related information is the PMP Handbook. So, please read it.

Lesson Learned #2—Read a Good PMP Exam Reference Book and the PMBOK Guide

This will help you understand the training well.

I joined my training program without even opening the PMBOK Guide, and I suffered a lot. It would be best if you weren’t in my position.

Note: Now, you have to read the PMBOK and Agile Guide.

Lesson Learned #3 – Take an Online Training Program

Do not join a classroom training program unless you have a strong reason. I suggest you take an online 35 contact hours program instead.

Online training programs are affordable, flexible, and you can attend them from anywhere. For my training, I spent two nights traveling and spent three days in a hotel.

At that time, online training programs were not well known. Now you have options, so choose wisely.

Lesson Learned #4—Schedule the Exam

This is the most important PMP lesson learned.

After completing the training program, schedule the exam for three months in the future. This is enough time for your PMP exam preparation.

If you think you will prepare well, then schedule the exam; trust me, you will never feel ready for the exam. Once you schedule the exam, your hidden potential will emerge, and then you will be motivated to prepare well.

You won’t take your preparation seriously unless you schedule the exam. If you don’t do it right after completing the training program, you may lose interest.

Lesson Learned #5—Refer to At Least Two PMP Exam Reference Books

My favorite is Head First PMP, and my second choice is Kim Heldman. You can also use Rita Mulcahy instead of Kim Heldman.

Reading two books will give you different perspectives and will grant you more insight into the concepts.

Read the PMBOK Guide as many times as you can. I went through it more than five times.

Lesson Learned #6—Use a Good Quality PMP Exam Simulator

I did not use any simulators; I only practiced the questions available at the end of the PMP reference books and supplied by my training providers, and those were enough for me.

However, I suggest you use any good-quality PMP exam simulator. It provides you with many practice questions and mock tests to iron out any weaknesses in your knowledge.

These should be enough for you.

Don’t try every free test available on the internet. Most are outdated with poor quality questions. Moreover, they don’t offer any support.

Lesson Learned #7 – Don’t Try to Memorize ITTOs

Don’t try to memorize ITTOs; they’re not easy to remember, and trying to do so will only waste your time and probably demoralize you. If you follow my instructions for the PMP exam preparation, I assure you that you will solve more than 70% of the ITTOs by yourself.

ITTOs are there to understand the project management process flow, not for memorization. So, understand them but do not try to memorize them.

Try to understand the sequence of activities from “develop project charter” to “determine budget process.” Many questions in your exam come from these processes.

Now, you won’t find any ITTO-based questions in the PMP exam. In fact, the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition has no ITTO concept. So, stop worrying about ITTO.

Lesson Learned #8—Don’t Forget to Verify the Answers

This is important.

Don’t forget to verify your answers before the final submission. Even though you are sure of the correct answer, you may have clicked the wrong option by mistake.

I was a victim of this.

While checking my answers, I noticed that I selected incorrect answers for two or three questions even though I knew the correct one.

This may happen to you as well. Therefore, before completing the test, check all your answers once again to avoid this error.

Lesson Learned #9—Don’t Leave Any Answer Blank

I attempted all questions and answered them even if I was not sure. Please note that the PMP has no negative marking, so don’t leave any questions unattempted. Leaving a question blank ensures that you won’t get any marks while selecting an answer gives you a 25% chance of being correct.

Attempt all questions and don’t leave any answers blank.


The first step to pass the PMP exam is to make a plan and follow it because you plan to fail if you fail to plan. Understand the PMP exam process, attend a training session, and schedule the exam. I strongly recommend you schedule the exam as soon as you complete your training so you will take your studies seriously.

Most experts believe that three months is enough. I completed my studies during this time, and I believe this duration will be enough for you too.

Good luck with your PMP exam.

These are my PMP lessons learned. I hope it was helpful.

If you want to share your PMP exam lessons learned on this blog, you can contact me through the comments or send me an email at [email protected]