August 2011 archive

Passing the PMP exam in 27 days – The method to my madness

Last couple of months have been excruciatingly painful. After about 2.5 yrs of hibernation, I decided to finally wake up and update my certifications and get some new ones as well. It all started with the process of updating my Citrix certifications, but sometime in July, I realized that the PMP examination is changing by the end of August. So I decided I am going to try to get that out of the way as well (STUPID ME!) So I completed the application (which needs to be approved and in some cases also gets audited) and signed up for the exam (against my wife’s recommendation as she felt I did not have enough time to prepare). Just for the record, I think it was one of the dumbest decisions I made, but since I made it, I had to make sure I passed the exam and not lose face in front of my wife (who by the way is always right when it comes to such things).

So it was August 1st. I had two Citrix exams still pending and the PMP. Not to mention regular work from 8-5 and be on call, the baby, and a million other things. I started looking through the course contents for the exam and it was obvious that this is not like the technical certifications that I am used to where by experience, you can still get through with some preparation. The PMP requires a LOT (and I mean a LOT) of hardwork. There is quite a bit to memorize, there is some math, the questions are very wordy, tricky and confusing. Not to mention the exam is also a test of endurance considering you have to attempt 200 questions . I realized that there is no way in hell I am going to achieve this without a gameplan. In order to have a fair shot at passing this exam, I needed to prepare for the exam in a systematic fashion and make a schedule. Somewhere along the way, I made a decision that if I were to pass the exam with my model, I will blog about it and hopefully help others in the process.

The Material

I primarily relied on one book for the entire preparation (partly because I did not have time to read a gazillion books) – Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep, Sixth Edition. This book is one of the best exam prep books I have read and has a wealth of information. Even if you do not plan to do the exam, I would recommend every professional who is involved in projects on a regular basis to read this book. There is a lot to gain and I assure you that the way you think about a project lifecycle will change.

In addition to the book, I had some cheat sheets with formulas and key theories (points that are  hard to remember) and a lot of mock questions. PM FastTrack is something you should consider as far as mock questions go. I probably attempted around 3500 questions in 27 days.

The Strategy

The basis of my gameplan was to have milestones for each day to keep monitoring my progress and adjust the schedule accordingly  and also a checkpoint to decide whether I should carry through with this exam or not. My goal for each day was to do a minimum of 100 mock questions, revise my cheat sheets, complete one module of Rita’s book and review questions at the back of the chapter and make condensed notes for the chapter.  I decided that my checkpoint was going to be Aug 22nd, which is when I would decide if I was going ahead with the exam or cancelling it. The way I would decided was based on my mock test scores. If by that point, I was scoring 70% or higher, I felt I had a good chance of passing the test and would go through with it. If not, I would cancel it. I also wanted to develop my schedule such that I had one week to revise. I only wanted to review my condensed notes, mock questions and cheat sheets the last week.

The Execution

Believe me when I tell you that it looks easy when you develop the schedule, but actually executing this schedule was one of the hardest things I have done. My wife had to make a lot of sacrifices to make this work and I hardly got to see my baby. Without their support, there is no chance in hell I could have done this. My preparation would start around 7:40am in the train, when I would try to do 50 mock questions. I would typically find time to do another 30-50 during the day and another 50 on my way back from work on the train. I would get home, and try to sit to study by 8:30pm, finish one module, including notes. (typically 2.5 hrs) and do the questions related to that module. So overall, I would do around 150 questions a day. After having done the test, I feel that the mock tests helped me a great deal in training my brain to see through all the clutter and filter out only the relevant information. I also felt that the notes that I made helped me immensely the last week of preparation and I would urge everyone who takes this test to do the same. Prior to August 6th, my studying was more ad-hoc, reviewing PMP forums on the internet, doing mock tests, watching training videos etc.

My Tips for the Exam

So this section is a summary of the lessons learned (a project close process in PMI language, and since this is the project close process in my PMP ordeal, I decided to use this term):

  • Spend plenty of time doing mock tests. I would recommend doing 50-100 questions every day. Do not do questions just from one chapter. Try to attempt all knowledge areas. By the time you sit for the exam, you should have attempted at least 2000 questions.
  • Try to read Rita’s book at least twice before attempting the exam.
  • Make condensed notes for each of the chapters. Try to focus on just the points while making the notes and not wordy explanations as the whole idea of the notes is revision prior to the exam and trying to recollect the details in your head.
  • Review key concepts that you find hard to remember on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Spend most time on the Execution and Monitoring and Controlling phases  as that is where a majority of the questions come from.
  • Dont get too paranoid over the Earned Value Analysis calculations. They are actually quite simple and hardly 6 questions show up in the exam.
  • MEMORIZE the inputs and outputs to each of the processes. I found this very hard to do.
  • Have a process in place for your preparation and try to make a schedule. Please allow plenty of time for revision. I would recommend at least a week.
  • I attempted the exam after a full day of work (from 5 to 9:30pm). I would strongly recommend that you attempt the exam with a clear head, first thing in the morning if possible.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I would not recommend trying to attempt the PMP in 27 days. The amount of prep time totally depends on your experience, but I think you need a minimum of 2 months to have a good chance of passing. With that said, if you have no choice but to attempt the exam the way I did, the above strategy should help 🙂 Regardless of how long you take to prepare, I hope this post provides some general guidelines and helps you when you take the exam. Good luck!
PS: I have some notes that I prepared for this exam. I would be happy to share it with anyone who’s interested. Please leave a comment with your email address and I’ll shoot it over to you.
George