Practical tips for passing PMP examination

  • You are advised to visit the Prometric exam center before your actual exam date to estimate the time for traffic as well as familiarize yourself with the centre environment.
  • Relax during the exam as stress will hamper your performance making you prone to careless mistakes.
  • Be confident, rehearse passing the exam in your mind so as to prepare your body and mind to work together to achieve PMP® success.
  • Understand the different types of questions which will appear in the exam so as to make use of the most effective strategies to solve those exam questions — though all the PMP® Exam questions are multiple choice questions, they can be broadly divided into certain genres that would require you different kinds of skills. Below is a detailed discussion of the various genres of questions that you will encounter in the real exam.

Read the questions CAREFULLY

This is particularly true for lengthy questions, you must read the questions carefully to look to KEYWORDS that would have decisive impacts on the correct answer. Just look at the following list of keywords and you will know what I mean:

Most Likely
Least Likely
Play attention to these keywords (they will not be highlighted or italic in the real exam paper!) by reading the questions at least twice during the exam, in particular at the latter part of the exam when your mind is a bit fatigue and your attention span has been drained.

Below is an example of such type of tricky question:

Question: All the following are false statements regarding the Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis process, except:

A. Project risks are assessed in numerical terms.
B. Project risks are prioritized.
C. Project risks are identified in this process.
D. The risk registry needs not be updated.

The correct answer is B.
The question is asking which statement is essential “true” after the double negation — false + except.
A is incorrect: since the process is about “Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis”, risks are not assessed quantitatively in this process.
C is incorrect: risks are identified in the “identify risks process”.
D is incorrect: the risk registry would record the assessment of the qualitative risk analysis.

Understand the question types

The exam includes a lot of question styles as a way to test your project management knowledge as well as your skills in tackling exam questions. Questions include:

  • Short and direct questions
  • Lengthy questions spanning 3 or more lines
  • Situational or scenario-based questions giving you a description of the current situation and asking you the next step
  • Formula-based requiring you to select and recall the most appropriate formula to calculate the answer (formulas must be remembered by heart)
  • ITTO questions asking you about the inputs, tools and techniques and outputs of project management processes

For situational questions, choose the BEST among several correct answers

Situational questions are usually lengthy questions in themselves, however they are also more tricky. These questions will describe a situation (usually problematic) and ask you how to best deal with it. There is usually no black and white distinction for the “correct” answer as usually 2 to 3 answer options are logical or reasonable. Situational questions will usually ask you to identify:

  • The best next course of action
  • The first thing to do
  • The best response

Don’t make the common mistake of reading the answer choices from A to D and select the first option that looks okay — there are usually 2-3 situational question options that look okay, your task is to find the BEST one among them according to PMI’s point of view.

It should be noted that since PMI expects project management to exercise responsibility and autonomy, ignoring the issue, escalating the problem to senior management or pausing the project to solicit advices from others tend to be incorrect…… be careful here as this is a general observation NOT a law.

Question: Sally is the project manager of two related projects (project A and B — project A is more important) concurrently with resource sharing. In view of the changing business scenario, the senior management has just made the decision to reprioritised the projects but focusing on project B with more resources. Some project team members have been re-assigned to project B. However, remaining team members for project A have reflected that the project milestones cannot be achieved with the reduction in manpower. Morale is low among them as this project looked promising. They do not understand senior management’s decision. What is your best next course of action?

A. Brainstorm with the team members for conflict resolution in order to find a way to regain their morale and dedication to the project.
B. Ask staff to work overtime on weekends on project A with a view to catch up with the project schedule. This can ensure both projects to meet the schedule without asking for more resources from management.
C. Escalate the problem to senior management with the hope that they would allocate more resources to work on project A by re-allocating some resources from project B.
D. Review the resource allocation and project data from both projects in order to find ways to better utilize available resources through sharing.

At first sight, it can be seen that all the 4 answer choices are feasible. Before giving the answer, we would provide a little more description on a possible way to solve such kinds of questions. It is suggested to follow the following steps:

1. Pick the most important and relevant information from the description of situation.
2. Read carefully all the answer choices for at least twice (it may be a good idea to read the options in reverse order, i.e. from D -> C -> B -> A for the second time).
3. Eliminate the obviously wrong answer(s) — usually only 1 to 2 options are obviously wrong.
4. For the remaining options, re-read them to closely understand their implications / rationales in order to find the best answer according to principles outlined in the PMBOK® Guide. Pay attention to the consequences for the actions.

The correct answer is D.
Let’s explain how the answer is arrived with the strategy outlined above.

1. Pick the info: Owing to changing environment, senior management has made an important decision to focus on project B which is now considered more beneficial to the company.
2. Read and re-read choices: from A to D and from D to A
3. Eliminate the wrong ones:
B is obviously wrong as working overtime is not recommended by PMI;
C is obviously wrong as the senior management should have considered all possible scenarios and still thank that shifting the focus to project B is beneficial to the company.
4. We have answer options A and D now to think more which one is the BEST:
A is a possible solution but it is also likely that brainstorming will result in false hope, there is indeed little the team members can contribute in this case.
D is considered the most proactive solution by trying to catch up with both project schedule without adding extra resources.

For lengthy questions, read the last sentence of the question and answer choices first

One of the characteristics of many exam questions is the length — more than half of the questions span several lines. Reading these lengthy questions alone would take up considerable time, no to mention the time taken to find and understand the core information in order to answer the questions correctly.

One very useful technique to answer these lengthy questions in a smart way is to read the last sentence of the question and the answer choices — which would give you all the clues on what to look for in the lengthy description that precede it.

Question: Josephine is the named project manager of a project to provide secure messaging solution for various departments of the company. The project will include requirements gathering, conceptual design, contract negotiation with an outside vendor, user testing, integration testing, deployment to company IT infrastructure and providing training to staff. In additional, there are top concerns for access control and security as the staff are located in 5 areas around the globe. The project is now falling behind the schedule as a result of change requests from some staff members whom Josephine has known and met for the first time. Major grievances includes the deliverable up till now does not actually address the collaboration needs of the staff. Which of the following project management processes is more likely to have overlooked by Josephine?

A. Identify Stakeholders
B. Control Schedule
C. Project Stakeholder Management
C. Control Stakeholder Engagement

The correct answer is A.
The keywords for the question is “whom Josephine has known and met for the first time” — this indicates that those staff have the power to influence the project yet Josephine has not identified them before. During the “Identify Stakeholders process”, the project manager is responsible for finding out all individuals and groups that would be “potentially affected by, or can influence the outcome of the project in a positive or negative manner”.
B is related yet not the most critical cause for the delay of project schedule.
C is not a project management process but rather a knowledge area.
D is about controlling stakeholders who have been identified before, not someone who comes up suddenly.

Formula questions: use the correct formulas

The most important tip for getting formula questions correct is to remember and make use of the correct formulas. Since the exam is a closed book exam, Aspirants would need to learn all the PMP® formulas by heart. Most PMP® trainers and exam takers would recommend making use of the first 10 minute of the exam (as writing during the tutorial time is not allowed now) to write down all the formulas on the scrap paper provided at the exam centre (a.k.a. PMP® Exam brain dump).

Though some PMP® aspirants consider the formulas questions to be among the most difficult questions of the exam, there are various types of formula based questions to be found in the PMP® Exam, ranging from very easy to very difficult:

  • EVM Graph Questions
  • Definition of EVM Metrics
  • Simple EVM Calculation Questions
  • EVM Estimate At Completion (EAC) Questions
  • Wordy Calculation Questions
  • Complicated EVM Calculation Questions

Again the technique here is to read the questions carefully to extract the important parts and make use of the correct formula to substitute the values into it.

Question: You are currently managing a building project where 20 houses are to be build over 20 months (i.e. 1 house to be built per month). The budget set aside for the project is $2,000,000. It is now at the end of the 12th month with 10 houses built and $1,000,000 spent. There was a work strike for a month that affected the project. What is the Cost Performance Index (CPI) of the project as of now?

A. 1.0
B. 0.9
C. 1.1
D. 1.2

The answer is A.
The formula to be used to calculate CPI is:
CPI = $1,000,000 / $1,000,000 = 1.0

Inputs Tools & Techniques and Outputs (ITTO) questions right through logical analysis

There are over 600 Inputs, Tools & Techniques and Outputs (ITTO) for the project management processes outlined in the PMBOK® Guide. Many Aspirants would have the question of whether all the ITTOs need to be memorized for the exam.

Since the PMI Exam is not about your ability to memory lots of facts (it is a test of your expertise in managing projects), asking Aspirants to remember all the ITTOs is not an expectation of the PMI. I only got 1 to 2 questions that ask me directly which one is / is not the ITTO of a project management process in my exam.

After careful study, one should be able to understand the logical relationship of the ITTO to the project management processes. And you should be able to recall such relationship while answering the ITTO questions — i.e. no need to memorize them. Time can be better spent on doing PMP® mock exams as well as memorizing the PMP® formulas.