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Cracking the PMP

By , 13 May 2009
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Summary

With adequate planning and preparation, the PMP examination can be cleared. This article provides a detailed approach to crack the exam based on the author’s practical experience and common pitfalls one should avoid.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Preliminary Preparation
  • During the 2 Week Training
  • Create a Roadmap to Clear the Exam
  • Taking the Mock Tests
  • Common Pitfalls to Avoid
  • History

Introduction

Clearing the PMP is like crossing the finish line in a marathon – it is a gruelling test of endurance. Having a clear goal, being consistent and persistent in your preparation will go a long way in helping you crack the same. Read on, as the author shares how he did it.

Preliminary Preparation

As you might already be aware, a candidate is required to attend a mandatory 35 hour training course to be eligible for attempting the exam. This training is usually provided by the local PMI chapter in your city or affiliated training partners. Before you actually attend the training, you can take up a series of proactive steps which will give you a head start.

Action Steps Taken Up By Me

I made it a point to read the entire PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge – a PMI publication) once from cover to cover before actually attending the training. The following were the benefits:

  • Like most other candidates, I was not in “discovery mode” during the training. I already had a good grasp of the subject matter being discussed.
  • It also gave me a good idea of the entire span of topics I needed to get a good grip on to be able to crack the exam.
  • I also had my list of questions ready to ask the instructors about topics / points which I could not understand in the 1st reading of the PMBOK.

Remember, 35 hours is a very brief period – it is not possible to discuss all the 44 processes in the PMBOK in great detail and one cannot blame the instructors. Being proactive and reading the entire PMBOK in advance works as it did in my case and it will give you a head start in your preparation. As someone has said, “Well begun is half done.” 

During the 2 Week Training

I attended the training conducted by the local PMI chapter. More than the subject matter being discussed – the striking aspect of this training was the cross-section of practicing professionals who come together under one roof. The group had practicing project managers from diverse industries such as manufacturing, construction, nuclear energy, armed forces and of course, information technology. The sheer variety of experiences shared provides good food for thought and is one of the gains of participating in such training. Keep the following points in mind during the training:

  • Be alert and vigilant during all the discussions – this will help you in practical application of the skills learnt.
  • Ask questions – do not keep even a single doubt to be clarified later.
  • Network with other participants.
  • Make sure a study group of the participants is created on Yahoo / Google before the course is over. This has great benefits which will be highlighted in the subsequent sections.
  • Always keep a flash drive handy – a lot of study material will be shared during the 2 weeks of training. Ensuring that you have access to all of it will save you hours of effort – this is synergy at its best.
  • During the mock tests, keep a track of where you stand in comparison with other participants. This will give you real time feedback on your state of preparation for the exam.
  • Switch off your cell phone and absorb the experience. Taking a break from your busy professional duties and just doing something different for a good length of time will cause you to think in new directions and release your creativity. Just enjoy the experience. 

Create a Roadmap to Clear the Exam

On the day following the last day of the training, do yourself a favor and take a break from work for 1 day if it is a working day. If it’s a holiday, lock yourself up in a room, cut out all the distractions, interruptions and start creating your roadmap – a blueprint which will lead you to sure success.

Action Steps Taken up By Me

The day following the last day of training was a Monday. I took leave from office and started preparing a plan...

Step 1: Identify and Finalize All the Study Material to be Read

List of stuff I used:

  1. The PMBOK
  2. Practice standard on EVM – a PMI publication
  3. Practice standard on WBS – a PMI publication
  4. PMP Exam Prep - Rita Mulcahy and mock test software
  5. Study material provided by the local PMI chapter

Tip

The practice standard publications target specific areas and are self-sufficient, i.e., you will grasp the entire topic and will typically not need to refer to any other book. What makes these important is that PMI usually puts in quite a few questions on these topics on which practice standards have been released – which proves their importance.

Pitfall

There are a large number of websites, blogs, and postings made by many people sharing information. Whilst it might be useful to refer to the same, I have observed many people getting lost in this veritable sea of information and not knowing when to stop. The study material listed above was all that I read for clearing the exam.

Moral of the Story

Identify clearly what study material you will be using, keep an upper limit on the same. Do not get distracted or side tracked. Remember you have limited time.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

- Benjamin Franklin,
American statesman,inventor,author

Step 2: Take Stock of the Amount of Time You Can Devote Towards the Exam Preparation

This will have 2 components:

  1. Free time available on working days, i.e., Monday to Friday
  2. Free time available on weekends, i.e., Saturday and Sunday

In my case, I spend a lot of time traveling to work. When I listed the time available to me, the following were the results:

Monday to Friday: 1.5 hrs (reading during traveling) + 1 hr (at day-end) = 2.5 hrs per day
Saturday & Sunday: 8 hrs per day

Total available time in a week for study = (2.5 X 5) + (8 X 2) = 28.5 hrs per week

In addition, I factored in 8 hrs for every available public holiday. And of course, clearing the exam will require a minimum amount of sacrifice and commitment which you may be sensing already.

Step 3: Devise a Strategy to Study the Subject Matter

The PMP examination comprises 200 multiple choice questions wherein you need to choose the correct option from 4 possible answers within a time limit of 4 hrs. The PMBOK comprises of 44 processes grouped under 9 knowledge areas. Most of the questions asked are scenario based and test your overall process understanding, i.e., the answer choices are very close and unless you have understood the 44 processes thoroughly, you will not be able to make the right choice. Questions do not repeat in the PMP exam.
How do you eat an elephant – one chunk at a time. How do you crack the PMP exam – 1 process at a time.

For example – let us consider the “Scope” knowledge area. It consists of 5 processes:

  • Scope Planning
  • Scope Definition
  • Create WBS
  • Scope Verification
  • Scope Control

Let us identify all the tasks required to master these 5 processes.

Scope Management Task break-up

Sr.No Task details
1 Read Scope Planning(PMBOK)
2 Practice process diagram *
3 Read Scope definition(PMBOK)
4 Practice process diagram
5 Chapter 1: Introduction to the practice standard for WBS
6 Chapter 2: Defining the WBS
7 Chapter 3: Importance of the WBS
8 Chapter 4: Defining WBS quality
9 Chapter 5: Considerations while creating a WBS
10 Create WBS(PMBOK)
11 Practice process diagram
12 Scope verification(PMBOK)
13 Practice process diagram
14 Scope control(PMBOK)
15 Practice process diagram
16 Scope Management – Rita Mulcahy’s book
17 Attempt all scope management questions in Rita Mulcahy’s book

* A process diagram is similar to a flowchart – it tries to represent all the inputs, outputs, tools and techniques corresponding to a particular process and links all the processes in a particular knowledge area using arrows. It’s like a mind map – it captures the knowledge area understanding on paper. An example is provided for understanding at the end of this section.

If you closely observe the above table, the task listing sequence is initially aimed at understanding all the scope management processes in detail. Task 17 is a check point to see if you are exam-ready. In this manner, you can follow the same process for all the 9 knowledge areas and identify all the tasks at a detailed level.

“The winning is really in the details, I told Floyd. It’s in the details that you get ahead.”

- Lance Armstrong, 7 time Tour De France winner in his book “Every second counts"

Step 4: Attach a Time Estimate to Each Task Identified in Step 3

The modified table is shown below:

Scope Management Task break-up

Sr.No Task details Estimated Time
1 Read Scope Planning(PMBOK) 1 hour
2 Practice process diagram * 0.5 hours
3 Read Scope definition(PMBOK) 1 hour
4 Practice process diagram 0.5 hours
5 Chapter 1: Introduction to the practice standard for WBS 0.5 hours
6 Chapter 2: Defining the WBS 2 hours
7 Chapter 3: Importance of the WBS 2 hours
8 Chapter 4: Defining WBS quality 1.5 hours
9 Chapter 5: Considerations while creating a WBS 3 hours
10 Create WBS(PMBOK) 1.5 hours
11 Practice process diagram 0.5 hours
12 Scope verification(PMBOK) 1 hour
13 Practice process diagram 0.5 hours
14 Scope control(PMBOK) 1 hour
15 Practice process diagram 0.5 hours
16 Scope Management – Rita Mulcahy’s book 3 hours
17 Attempt all scope management questions in PMP Exam Prep(Rita Mulcahy) 1 hour

Developing accurate time estimates will come through experience & practice.

Step 5: Create a Schedule

Using the output of Step 2 and Step 4 you are now in a position to create a work schedule.

Let’s say you consider your start date as 5th January, 2009 then your schedule should look like the table below:

Scope Management Task break-up

Sr.No Task details Estimated Time Target date Status
1 Read Scope Planning(PMBOK) 1 hour 05/01/08
2 Practice process diagram * 0.5 hours 05/01/08
3 Read Scope definition(PMBOK) 1 hour 06/01/08
4 Practice process diagram 0.5 hours 06/01/08
5 Chapter 1: Introduction to the practice standard for WBS 0.5 hours 06/01/08
6 Chapter 2: Defining the WBS 2 hours 07/01/08
7 Chapter 3: Importance of the WBS 2 hours 08/01/08
8 Chapter 4: Defining WBS quality 1.5 hours 09/01/08
9 Chapter 5: Considerations while creating a WBS 3 hours 10/01/08
10 Create WBS(PMBOK) 1.5 hours 10/01/08
11 Practice process diagram 0.5 hours 10/01/08
12 Scope verification(PMBOK) 1 hour 10/01/08
13 Practice process diagram 0.5 hours 10/01/08
14 Scope control(PMBOK) 1 hour 10/01/08
15 Practice process diagram 0.5 hours 10/01/08
16 Scope Management – Rita Mulcahy’s book 3 hours 11/01/08
17 Attempt all scope management questions in PMP Exam Prep(Rita Mulcahy) 1 hour 11/01/08

Important points to remember:

  • Factor in some time for interruptions and surprises – though Step 2 indicates that 2.5 hours is available on working days, the schedule has tasks estimated at 1.5 hours keeping interruptions and delays in mind. 
  • Having a workable schedule is better than having no schedule at all. On the other extreme, do not prepare a schedule which is too tight – you will soon lose enthusiasm. Remember, you are in a marathon.
  • Always keep a printout of the schedule on your person – this way you will never be caught off-guard whenever you get time gifts, for example, flight delays, etc. Make optimum use of time gifts which come your way.
  • As you complete a task, make sure you mention the date in the ‘status’ column and tick the task as complete. This will give you a tremendous sense of satisfaction and motivate you to work harder and complete more tasks on schedule. Soon, this will become a game and you will gain momentum and just run through the study matter.  

“Have you ever thought about how little it takes to prevent a motionless locomotive train from moving? If you were to put a single 1 inch block of wood in front of each of the drive wheels of a locomotive, it would not be able to move. But if that same locomotive is moving at 60 miles per hour, it can crash through a wall of steel-reinforced concrete that’s 5 feet thick!”

- Jim Dornan in the book "Strategies for success'

Most of us know of the physics equation of momentum,

Momentum = Mass X Velocity

By doing some activity towards your goal everyday, you ensure that you are maintaining the minimum velocity (momentum) which will take you towards your goals faster. The schedule has been created keeping precisely this factor in mind – small results to be achieved almost every day.

“I measured my preparation and it was important for me to be on target.”

- Lance Armstrong, 7 time Tour De France winner in his book “It’s not about the bike”

In a similar fashion, you can prepare a work schedule for studying all the 44 processes.

A Slight Deviation

What you have seen above is just one way of setting and achieving goals. If you are like me and have had a tough time in setting and achieving goals, I would strongly recommend that you read these 2 classic books on setting and achieving goals.

  • Big things happen – by Don Gabor
  • Goals – by Brian Tracy

In 9 years of reading many books, I would rate these 2 books the best when it comes to teaching goal setting.

Step 6: Finish What You Start

If you have reached this far reading this article, congratulations. This effectively means that you are serious about achieving your goal.

While having a written schedule on paper increases your chances of success, it also means that you need to be self-disciplined and consistent in your daily actions. Also, having a schedule automatically makes you aware that it will take more time and effort than you originally thought. It automatically makes you aware of the enormity of the commitment required.

Act on the schedule on auto-pilot and without realizing it, you will reach the last lap of clearing the PMP.

“I’ve read that I flew up the hills and mountains of France. But you don’t fly up a hill. You struggle slowly and painfully up a hill, and maybe, if you work very hard, you get to the top ahead of everybody else.”

- Lance Armstrong, 7 time Tour De France winner in his book “It’s not about the bike”

“After the loss to Boogerd, I went back to training. I rode, and I rode, and I rode. I rode like I had never ridden, punishing my body up and down every hill I could find.

I rode when no one else would ride, not even my teammates.

To win the Tour I had to be willing to ride, when no one else would ride.”

- Lance Armstrong, 7 time Tour De France winner in his book “It’s not about the bike”

Taking the Mock Tests

Now that you have completed studying the subject matter, it is time to start testing your exam readiness using simulated mock tests. Rita Mulcahy’s exam simulation software is excellent and sufficient in itself. The mock test will give you real time feedback on whether you are ready to attempt the actual exam. Any gaps in understanding will also become apparent immediately.

The Week Before the Exam

Spend this week practicing the mock tests and the process diagrams you have prepared while studying the subject matter.

On the Day of the Exam

Take a good night’s rest before the day of the exam. The 4 hour exam is stressful and will require you to be in the best shape physically and mentally.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Time and again, I have observed some of the sharpest and most talented people never committing to appear in the exam for ages and eventually never clearing the exam. On the other hand, I have also observed relatively average candidates clear the exam. So what’s the reason behind this? Listed below are some common pitfalls to avoid:

  • Make sure you fix a deadline for clearing the exam within 6 months of the 35 hour training – any delay beyond 6 months will reduce your chances of success.
  • Make sure you plan your approach – remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
  • Occasionally, your prior experience in project management may work against you when you appear in the exam. Why so? Given a scenario, you may choose one option as appropriate based on what your experience tells you whereas the PMBOK may have a different view on the same. The correct answer will always be as per what is mentioned in the PMBOK. Put on the PMBOK hat and answer each question.
  • Be prepared to make some sacrifices along the way – there is a price to pay but the rewards are well worth it. 

History

  • 13th May, 2009: Initial post

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

About the Author

Sainath Sherigar
http://www.ugain.info
India India
Sainath Sherigar,PMP,ITIL V3F,COBIT 4.1F is a practising Project Manager and has diverse experience in leading global projects from inception to final delivery and closure.
 
Find useful information on Project Management and Information Security on his site http://www.ugain.info
 
You can email him at sainath.sherigar@gmail.com or blog him at ugaininfo.blogspot.com

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralPMP Realization. Pinmembervarnk21-May-09 3:41 
GeneralRe: PMP Realization. PinmemberSainath Sherigar24-May-09 7:24 

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