PMP FAQs: All that you need to know about PMP (Part 2)

Taking the actual PMP examination – The good practices to be followed

PMP has become one of the most sought-after and most valued credentials in the world today. More and more practicing project managers and even new aspiring project managers are aiming at adding the PMP credential to their name. PMP credential has become a must-have credential now rather than a good-to-have one.

To earn the credential, one needs to pass a 4-hour long PMP examination which contains 200 multiple choice questions. Passing the PMP exam is not so easy. While many aspirants pass successfully, many fail as well. Passing PMP exam requires solid preparation for understanding all the concepts of project management. It also requires a clear understanding of the exam question pattern and also a clear understanding of many common errors people make while taking the test. Taking the PMP exam can surely create some amount of anxiety in the minds of the test-takers.

While we have already discussed in the first part of the article about how to prepare systematically, in the second part of the article, we will try to understand in more detail about the question pattern, and many common mistakes people make, and how to handle the real PMP examination better. Most importantly, we will also understand how test-takers can prepare themselves psychologically to take this exam.

Tips for taking the exam

One needs to understand the PMP exam question pattern well. You must also understand the types of questions and how they are framed. That will help you to crack the PMP exam successfully. In this section, we will provide some of this information.

To start with, it is important to understand what the PMP exam does and does not test.

What does the PMP exam tests?

  • Your knowledge of the PMI®'s processes and philosophy.

  • Your understanding of the many terms that are used to describe the processes.

  • Your ability to apply those processes in various contexts.

  • Your understanding of professional responsibility as it applies to the project management discipline.

  • Your ability to apply key formulas to scheduling, costing, estimating, and other problems.

What the PMP exam DOES NOT test:

  • Your project management experience.

  • Your common sense and intelligence.

  • Your knowledge of industry practices.

  • Your knowledge of software tools.

  • Your knowledge of various management programs.

Taking the Test:

The PMP exam is a computer-based test. A tutorial is provided before you start the actual PMP exam. One must go through the tutorial before starting the exam.  PMI no longer allows anyone to write any information on the scratch paper during the tutorial.  You must wait until after the exam starts.  The test center will provide a booklet with sheets of scratch paper and pencils.

Below are some of the most important points one must keep in mind while taking the PMP test:

Question Pattern:

  • Most exam questions fall into one of these four categories:

  • Basic concepts and definitions: They are usually easy, answer these on the first pass through the exam.

  • Processes, inputs, tools, and outputs: These are detailed questions and require some memorizing.

  • What to do NEXT or FIRST: Know the sequence of the processes in each knowledge area.

  • Evaluate a scenario and draw inferences: Usually wordy scenarios and can be challenging, you may have to rely on your experience and basic reasoning ability on some of these, you should also be able to eliminate unnecessary and irrelevant information.

Tips for answering questions in the right way:

It is always important to read all the choices. This will help in choosing a better or more inclusive answer. Many times people make the mistake of choosing an answer without reading all the options.

For Example:  
Who among the following  will be the stakeholders in the project?

  • People who are directly involved in the project.

  • People who will be impacted positively or negatively by the outcome of the project.

  • People who can influence/impact the project with their power and money.

  • All of the above.

Note: All are correct but “d” is more inclusive and therefore the best answer.

PMP questions will many times not have direct and simple options to choose from. Hence, eliminating incorrect or highly irrelevant choices will be critical to answering many questions.

For Example: Project scope is:

  • The work that must be done in order to deliver a product with the specified features and functions.

  • The features and functions that are to be included in a product or service.

  • A narrative description of work to be performed under contract.

  • The performance criteria of the end product.

Note: Generally we all know that scope is always related to final product and work involved. By reading the options, option C and D seem to be a little irrelevant. Now the choice has to be made between A and B.  Your chance of guessing correctly is now much better, 50% instead of only 25%.

In many instances looking for the “odd one out” helps in answering a question (a choice that doesn’t fit the pattern of the other choices), for example:

Of the following, which is not a tool and technique to the Collect Requirements process?

  • Interviews

  • Facilitated Workshops

  • Stakeholder Register

  • Prototypes

Note: Choice “C” stands out as a likely correct answer even if you are clueless about tools and techniques as Stakeholder Register is a document which can be either an output or an input.

Being alert helps in finding answers to a question many times.  Answers to a question can sometimes be found in the body of another question.

One needs to carefully note “strong” words such as ‘all’, ‘always’, ‘never’, and ‘completely’.  Any choice using these words is less likely to be correct.

One needs to look for words such as “not”, “except” in questions carefully.

Download the "PMP Exam Content Outline", a pdf file, from the PMI website and understand the tasks of each of the five domains of project management very clearly. That will provide a clear understanding of the exam coverage, the roles, and responsibilities of the project manager. Because that is what the PMP exam is testing us. The guideline can be downloaded from the below link:

Below are few additional tips one needs to keep in mind:

Taking the PMP exam can surely create anxiety; especially during the first few minutes can be critical. Hence it is important for you to realize this and calm down during the first 10-15 minutes of the exam.

  • Out of anxiety one may start thinking faster.

  • Hold on to your nerve.

  • Slowing down and deep long breathing will be helpful.

  • It is always helpful to read answers from the bottom up (d, then c, then b, then a). This way you ensure that you read all the options before answering.

  • Answering easy questions first will help build confidence.

  • If some of the first questions seem difficult, just keep passing them. You will surely find easier questions which you can answer. Then you can come back to more difficult questions.

  • One needs to read the questions and all the options very carefully.  However, one needs to be careful not to introduce additional information into the question (answer only what was asked).

  • Keep the main topic in mind.

  • Answer all easy questions in the first pass and come back later for long, complex or unfamiliar calculations.

  • It is always a great idea to visit the test site before the day of the exam.  You will reduce anxiety and ensure that you arrive on time.

  • Keep it simple many times. Just go with the obvious from PMI point of view. The WBS is very important!  The project manager should be in control of the project always!  These seemingly “too obvious” choices are often correct and they are usually promoting the importance of PMI and project management.

  • Arrive at the test site early and avoid anxiety by all means.  Maintain the inner confidence. You are well prepared. Do not engage in unnecessary "nervous" conversation.  After all, it is only an exam. Not a matter of life and death!

  • A locker will be provided to you, where you must put all personal items. You must not take any personal items to your workstation.

  • If the question is on the negative side (i.e., which of the following is not), try reversing the statement into which of the following is. A confusing question is frequently made simple through this technique.

  •  Develop your own abbreviations and mnemonic to remember lists (for example, IPECC = Initiation, Planning, Execution, Control, and Closeout).

Why people fail in the PMP exam?

Once we have understood many good practices to be followed while taking the PMP examination, let us quickly once again try to understand some of the reasons why people fail in the PMP exam.

Top Reasons for Exam Failure:

  1. Not reading the question correctly.

  2. Not considering all the choices.

  3. Introducing additional information into the question.

  4. Using personal experience while answering questions.

  5. Inadequate basic knowledge of project management.

  6. Not taking a good training to understand the Project Management concepts and also PMP exam pattern.

  7. Not studying well enough.

  8. Not using a focused set of study materials; using too many sources of study materials.

  9. Not practicing enough with good quality mock questions and mock tests.

  10. Using mock questions from untrusted and unverified sources on the internet; the Internet is filled with a lot of garbage.

  11. Inability to recognize and remove irrelevant information in the body of a question.


To end the article, we can summarize that if one needs to really prepare well for passing the PMP examination, he/she must take a good PMP Exam preparation training. You also need to follow the above suggestions and points during the run-up to the actual PMP examination to crack it in the first attempt itself.

I would like to share one last piece of suggestion which works wonderfully well many times to keep off unnecessary pressures. No one wants people to know if they failed! For some people, this creates a lot of unnecessary pressure and fear if people know about their PMP exam dates.

Do not share your PMP exam plans and dates with anyone except yourself. Keep it to yourself and to your coach; and start your preparation without revealing to anyone as to when you will be writing the exam. Prepare well, and write the exam. Pass the exam, then come back and announce to the whole world that you have become a PMP now and earned the credential!

Success will be all yours. Wishing you the very best!

About Author
Sunil Agrawala