Journey to PMP

On December 16th, after only a few hours sleep, I was awoken by someone falling and crashing in the kitchen.  I looked at the clock, it was 4am and my heart was racing.  I groaned and shoved my face back into my pillow.  I closed my eyes but I knew it was hopeless.  I was scheduled to take my PMP exam this afternoon and I would be too nervous to settle down now.  Still for the next four hours I stubbornly fought to fall back asleep again.  At 8am I crawled out of bed defeated.  I couldn’t cancel the day of the exam without losing the hundreds of dollars that was paid for it but I also couldn’t help but feel that my chances of passing this exam would be slim.

I am good at taking exams.  I don’t tend to get to anxious and I’m good at studying.  I’d just finished my masters and I had exams down to a fine art.  That being said I was still really nervous about this exam.  For one thing everyone seemed to say it was really hard.  I knew smart experienced people often didn’t pass it.  I also had a lot riding on it.  My work place had paid for a two week boot camp and was fronting my initial exam fee.  I felt like I had to pass to make that investment worth it.  Finally, after three years of grad school I’d had enough of studying to last a lifetime and I couldn’t face another month or two of cramming.  Christmas was coming and I was determined to not study through it.

This wasn’t the first time I had encountered PMI’s project methodology material.  Back in 2008 I had received an online certificate from the local college and in 2013 I had taken a project management for IT course.  I should know the material.  Still there were changes with the new version of the PMBOK5 and I had been told that it wasn’t enough to know the material I had to know how the exam creators wanted me to interpret the material, and truthfully this perspective did not always seem logical.

Still, I’d studied quite a bit.  The PMP boot camp was five days and taught by a very experienced project manager from Seven Wonders Learning.  I left the class feeling much more comfortable with the material but I still felt that I had a lot more studying to do before I was ready for the exam.  I scheduled my exam for three weeks later knowing that if I waited too long I would lose momentum and would have to start over months later, but this time without the boot camp.  I read through the slides from the class, retook the class quizzes, reread or skimmed the chapters from Rita’s book and took the end of chapter exams.  Two weeks in I started taking free full length exams on the Exam Central site.  I practiced laying out the process chart cards a couple of times each day.  I struggled with the procurement chapter but found a video online that was helpful in understand when to use each one.  At the end of this I felt simultaneously ready and like I could study for another month.

That afternoon I arrived early at the Prometric exam center.  They brought me in early and had me put everything I had in a locker, including my snacks and a water.  I had four hours to take the exam and once the clock started it wouldn’t stop for anything, including bathroom and water breaks.  I was checked thoroughly and then escorted into a small, airless room about the size of a closet.  The exam center is used for administering many types of exams so the room was mostly full of test takers along with the myriad of little coughing and typing noises that a small room crammed with people in cubicles are inevitably filled with.  Typing, shifting, coughing and the incessant opening and shutting of the door I had been placed right next two.  I put in the ear plugs I had brought, eschewing the large noise cancelling headphones. I had a pad of paper, pencil, and two carefully allocated Kleenexes.  If I needed more I’d have to use these and then request more from the apathetically friendly young people manning the center.

I can’t tell you anything specific about the test itself but I will tell you my impressions.  My guess is that there is a large bank of exam questions that the exam randomly pulls from.  Although I’m sure the questions are meted out according to a percentage by knowledge area, the questions within that knowledge area may very well be similar.  For many topics I felt that I got asked essentially the same questions over and over again.  My advice is go with the best answer even if it seems unlikely since you just answered it three times prior.  Unfortunately this may mean that if you don’t know something it may have a disproportionate impact on you as you could get the same thing wrong more than once.

Another thing I realized is that there are “tricks” in the questions but mine weren’t overly devious.  I had been given the advice to read the last two sentences at the end of long questions and figure out what they are trying to ask before reading the whole thing.  This was good advice.  Many people run out of time and I think that this is because they start jumping into complex analyses or calculations with out realizing that there was some wording that let you know the answer, often with no calculations at all.  I was only really caught out trying to over complicate a question once.  I quickly realized that calculating the paths given me in one of the network diagram questions was a fools errand that would take me 20 minutes.  A quick re-scan of the question revealed information that made the hairy seeming question very very simple.

After two hours of intense concentration I finished my first pass through of the exam.  I left the room for a short break and came back to review my marked answers.  At that point I was so tired that I realized I was changing them to wrong answers, so I changed them back and gave up on going back to them.  I realized that I was over thinking it.  I was nervous to hit that done button as it is so very final, but I realized I just had to do it and live with the result.  After an agonizing survey the result came up that I had passed on my screen.  It was all I could do not to cry in gratitude.  I left the testing center wrung out but elated.  It was done, over.  I proud moment for me.

Unfortunately my fellow boot camp student haven’t taken it yet. I’ve tried to encourage them but in the end it is just something you have to commit to doing and then just do.  For those of you out there working toward the exam my final thoughts are these:

1) Commit and do it – Yes it is a lot of work and can be stressful but you can do this and if you drag it out it is much more painful

2) Do study hard – Although the test didn’t seem that hard to me, you do need to really know the material.  Don’t think you can just get by on experience or a cursory familiarity.  You need to at least get a good study guide and understand how PMI views project management and each knowledge area.

3) Beware of tricks but don’t think you can’t catch them.  They really aren’t that devious. Just be aware that they will try to distract you with unnecessary information to get you to go into automatic, especially with calculations. You are smart enough to laugh at them, get the right answer, and move on.

4) Don’t endlessly add to your material – At some point you will have everything covered.  Some people I know kept adding books and apps but in the end you just need to get the bases covered and study what you have really well rather than try and study everything out there.

5) Don’t lose sleep over it.  If you are prepared and manage your time well you will do fine.  If you do lose sleep like I did, try not to lose all hope.  Apparently it can still be done.

So what was your experience studying and taking the PMP?  What did you find the most helpful?  Do you have any advice for those getting ready to sit for it?

Rita’s PMP Exam Prep 8th Edition

As I mentioned in my last post I plan to take the PMP exam in November or December of this year and after doing a little research on how and when to start preparing I realized that this will be a process.  Most posts I’ve read indicated that the study period for this exam should be about three months, so I’m starting now.  There are many ways to prepare for the exam.  The first step is to get the PMBOK 5 and prepare for some serious memorization.  In addition, there are a number of boot camps, online prep courses and exam guides that you can purchase.  They are all expensive and all new, since everyone has had to frantically revamp their curriculum over the last eight months with the release of the new edition of the PMBOK.  This situation makes me a little uncomfortable since I feel like the guinea pig who will test out whether these courses are really aligned appropriately to the content of the new exam rolling out starting in August.  I’ve put that aside though, as there is no point in worrying about it.   The stars are aligning for 2013 and I won’t let myself get derailed.

In addition to the pay options I’ve also frequently seen the recommendation to try and get into a study group.  Hopefully I’ll be able to talk some co-workers into giving up some play time to form one.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

I will probably try multiple approaches and to start I’ve purchased the eighth edition of Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep.  The list price on this book is $99 but I got it new for $89 on Amazon.  Not a huge savings but not bad given it was just released.  

I didn’t spend a ton of time researching each different exam prep book out there, and I’m sure there are plenty of good ones.  I had an older edition of Rita’s prep book before and I liked it.  Rita and her books are also generally well respected.  The only hesitation I had was in knowing that since Rita had tragically passed away from cancer in 2010, this book wasn’t really written by her.  Instead the book was written by an eight person committee of contributors at the organization that she established, known as the RMC.  I’m usually pretty suspect of anything done by committee, but honestly it is probably the case that most books are written this way so I’m giving it a try.  

I just received the book in the mail on Friday and I’ve not really dived into it yet.  I have gone through it though to get an idea of what it has to offer and I’m going to summarize what I’ve found here in this post.

The book opens with the ‘tricks of the trade’, which are basically tips on how to study for the exam.  Chapter 2 & 3 outline the processes and framework from the PMBOK, which can be pretty overwhelming for the uninitiated.  These chapters also include different charts and exercises aimed at helping you try and get a handle on the overall paradigm that the PMBOK follows.  Chapters 4 through 13 each tackle a knowledge area in depth and include a short exam on that area at the end of each chapter.  Chapter 14 discusses the professional and social responsibilities of a PMP certified professional.  Finally, the last section provides more tips, this time for passing the exam.  The book also includes as CD with practices exam questions (1500+ according to the package).  A big selling point of the book is that the tone is written in a conversational style.  Compared to the dry and technical style that the PMBOK is written in, the conversational style is much easier to read.  The book purportedly also delves into nuances of the material that shows an experienced project managers interpretation of the PMBOK knowledge areas, a perspective necessary for harder questions that go beyond rote memorization of the knowledge areas and PMBOK framework.

I will try to let you know how things go once I actually start studying the book and using the exam prep CD.  Are you planning on studying, or are you currently studying, for the PMP exam?  What methods are you using and how did you like them?

UPDATE:

Although it took me awhile to get into Rita’s book, I did end up finding it helpful in the end.  Although the CD ended up only having a handful of practice questions and not the 1500+ I thought I was getting, the end of the chapter questions in the book were very helpful.  To get the 1500+ questions I would have had to fork over another $300.  Instead I just used Exam Central which is free and one of the better banks of questions available online.   I didn’t end up doing the exercises in the earlier chapters as I found them more frustrating than useful, but that might just be me.  The exercises in the later chapters were more focused and helpful.