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PMP Certification Overview

How do I prepare for the PMP certification exam?

The PMP certification exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, each question consisting of only four possible answers. The questions that you will see on your specific exam are selected from a bank of over 13,000 questions. There is no way to predetermine what the specific selection mix of questions will be.

PMP Certification Exam - Overview

Unlike the GMAT, the PMP exam is non-adaptive. You may select questions for review and move on to other questions, returning to those questions that gave you difficulty, without penalty. The PMP certification exam is four hours and once begun, the clock will tick until four hours are complete, or the test taker submits the exam for grading prior to the completion of four hours.

Make sure you answer all questions - no credit will be given for unanswered questions. In this case an unanswered question is the same as an incorrect answer.

PMP Certification Exam - Tip

There are 25 'pretest' questions on the exam that carry no credit. You are only graded on 175 questions out of the 200 questions presented; however you will not know which questions are experimental and which questions you are being graded on.

As of this writing there is no definitive passing score for the exam - for each of the process areas Initiating, Planning, Executing, Control, and Close you will be graded either a) Proficient, b) Moderately Proficient, or c) Below Proficient. According to the PMI Certification Department, the following is in effect:

  • "There are not a minimum or maximum number of domains or chapters in which candidate needs to demonstrate proficiency in order to pass the exam. The pass/fail rate is determined based on overall performance, not on how many questions were answered right or wrong in a particular domain or chapter. Each of the domains or chapters has a different number of questions within them that are relative to each other but not equal to each other. That means it is possible to score Below Proficiency in one of the domains and yet still pass the examination. It all depends on how many items were present in the domains that were failed".

Preparing for the PMP Exam

The PMP® exam is four hours and 200 questions - this means that you have approximately 1 minute and 12 seconds to answer each question. In order to ensure an optimal testing experience there are specific stress relievers you can employ that will help you get through the test with a minimum of angst. Consider the following as part of your test taking strategy:

Arrive Early. Consider traffic and time of day when making your way to the exam center. You don't want to arrive in a rushed or stressed state before the exam begins. It is strongly recommended that you scope out the exam facility a week or two before the actual examination, if at all possible. You want to know what to expect walking through the door of the test facility. You will be under constant video monitoring and observation for the entire duration of the exam.

Rest Up. Take the evening off from studying the night before the exam - if you don't know the material by this point, cramming into late hours the evening before the test will simply multiply your stress level by a factor of two or three. It is most important that you be rested with a good night’s sleep under your belt on the day of the exam. If you can, schedule the test for early afternoon instead of early morning.

Dress in Layers. Frequently exam rooms are air conditioned to a point where they are too cold for many people. Therefore it is recommended that you dress in layers and remove layers or add layers as necessary to maintain your own individual comfort level.

Do the Brain Dump! Prior to the start of the exam and during the 15 minute tutorial you will have time to write on scratch paper all the formulas you will need for the test. While many of us pride ourselves on our airtight memories, rest assured that if exam panic sets in, all that you thought you had memorized will fly out of your head in an instant. Do yourself a favor and write down these formulas in an unstressed state prior to the actual start of the exam - this will pay dividends many times over while you are taking the exam. Some past test takers have actually reported that examination proctors upon handing scratch paper to the test-taker will state, "don't forget your brain dump".

PMP Certification Exam - Tip

Have a strategy in mind prior to taking the test. If you know you will need to stand up and stretch after 90 minutes, allocate time in your strategy to do just that. The idea is that you want to pace yourself for your own maximum comfort and effectiveness on exam day.

Go through the entire exam and answer the questions you can answer very quickly - within 20 to 30 seconds. Mark all other questions for review.

  • You can frequently answer 80 questions in 45 minutes using this approach. Now approach all the ‘marked for review’ questions on the second pass - these questions will take you a little longer to answer but only because they require more thought. 
  • You can answer another 70 questions in the next hour and 15 minutes using this approach. Sometimes other questions and answers will jog your memory on a question you marked for review. 
  • You will now be left with your 50 most difficult questions on the third pass for which you have a full two hours to ponder the answers. Having this much time to approach your toughest questions is a real stress reliever and a major confidence builder for the exam. 

PMP Exam Tips and Tricks

Answer all questions. You do not get any credit for an unanswered question. If you are completely stumped by a question there are only four possible answer alternatives. You have at least a 25% chance of getting it right. If you can eliminate at least two apparently incorrect answers your chances have improved to 50-50. Always answer a question even if time is running out.

Fill in the blanks. With a fill-in-the-blanks type of question, sometimes the correct answer is not grammatically correct. Don't let that stop you from filling in the correct answer.

Software calculator.
You will be provided with an online, basic calculator that performs the following functions: add, subtract, multiply, and divide. A TI-83 graphing calculator with sophisticated integral and derivative calculus functions will not be allowed in the exam room.

Look for sweeping generalizations. Frequently you will see broad generalizations and questions using terms such as; "MUST, NEVER, AWAYS, COMPLETELY" or other absolutes. When referring to the project manager's actions, these terms are almost always wrong. Make sure you understand PMI's point of view first before attempting to answer questions containing these terms.

Use the whole exam time.
Allow yourself the full four hours to complete the exam unless the following situation applies: you have answered all the questions and double-checked the answers. Studies have shown that over-thinking answers on an examination will frequently cause test takers to second-guess themselves. More often than not, they will change correct answers to incorrect answers. Your first instinct on a difficult question will generally be correct. If you have used the three-pass method, double-checked your answers, and 30 minutes on the exam remains, your best strategy may simply be to submit your answers for grading.

On a number of exam questions you will be asked what is the BEST or FIRST action you should take regarding a specific situation. When we see questions like this, it is a tipoff that there is usually more than one correct answer. Read these questions carefully and understand what is being asked.

There are a fair number of question responses that are what we call 'cheerleader' answers. Statements such as "quality is really important" or "scope verification is really time consuming" are answer choices that are guaranteed incorrect. Also keep an eye out for answers in which there is some type of emotional response to a situation. Project managers manage projects with data and fact. “Touchy-feely” answers can usually be eliminated immediately from consideration.