Top 10 tips to crack the PMP exam in your first attempt


Who doesn’t want to pass the PMP exam on the first attempt? Don’t we all dream of it? But if you look at the statistics, 2 out the 5 aspirants fail to pass in the first try. So, does that mean the exam is very difficult to crack? Though most people say ‘yes’ to this question, it is not as impossible as it is mostly made out to be. When you look at the reasons for the failure of many people, you realize that there are some common patterns. For example, a majority of them cite that they have not written enough mock tests or that they ran out of time. So, to succeed in the PMP test in your first go is to learn from these mistakes and not repeat them in your own exam. Let’s have a look at some essential steps that determine whether you actually crack the exam or not. 

Top 10 tips to crack the PMP exam in your first attempt:

1.    Master the PMBOK Guide

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is published by PMI. Becoming proficient with the PMBOK® guide is the single most important step in passing the PMP exam. There are a lot of books out there in the market but nothing can compensate the official guide. You might say ‘I don’t’ see a lot of questions from the guide’. True, but it gives you the conceptual clarity without which it is impossible to clear the exam.

The bad news is that the guide is lengthy and boring to read. Hence, most people prefer other market versions which do not look so unappealing. But ignoring this guide comes with a heavy price. If you find a lot of people complaining about not clearing the exam even in multiple attempts, it is most likely that they have sidestepped the PMBOK guide. 

In all, starting your preparation with the PMBOK guide will help build the foundation for your preparation. Further, make sure you revise the book at least twice before you appear for the test.    

2.    Have a Plan or Schedule

A study plan acts a roadmap for your preparation. Before you sit down to study, you need to clearly define your goals and plan how you are going to achieve them. Let’s face it; the exam can be overwhelming for most of us. If you do not have a clear roadmap in place, it is so easy to get lost in the preparation with no idea as to where you are going. 

There are some important points you need to cover while preparing your plan. The most important one is the time. How many months do you have for your preparation? How many hours can you devote to the exam on a daily basis? Can you study in the mornings before you go to your office or do you prefer evenings? Try to answer these questions and figure out what works for you. Next, do research on the resources that you need to refer to. Divide the syllabus into different tasks and give yourselves timelines to complete them. Additionally, make time for your practice tests.

However, remember that having a plan in place doesn’t automatically ensure that you clear the exam. You need to also stick to it. This is where it gets tough for people. So, if you want to stand out from the crowd and pass your exam easily in your first attempt, make sure you create a study plan and follow it diligently.    

3.    Refer to another study guide

While it is imperative to study the PMBOK guide, it is not enough for clearing the PMP exam. The reason is that PMBOK is not exam oriented. The guide provides the theory or facts behind the processes. However, it doesn’t tell you how these processes are linked to each other and how to apply them in the real life. A quick look at the PMP questions will make you realize that most of the questions on the exam are scenario-based. Hence, just studying the PMBOK guide will build your basics on project management but not necessarily help you clear the exam.  

Moreover, there are many topics that are not covered in the PMBOK guide that regularly appear on the PMP exam. So, you need to choose an additional guide that covers these topics. The popular ones in the market are

  • PMP Exam Prep by Rita Mulcahy

  • Head First PMP: A Learner's Companion to Passing the Project Management Professional Exam by Jennifer Greene

  • The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try by Andy Crowe

4.    Solve a lot of Practice questions

PMP exam questions are mostly scenario-based. These scenarios can be quite diverse. So, just reading the theory doesn’t automatically guarantee that you can apply this knowledge in the situations. That’s where the practice questions help.

Further, as you solve a variety of questions, you will notice that questions can be divided into certain categories.  Some questions are short and direct whereas others are lengthy. There are questions which are formula-based. There are others scenario-based. You also have the ITTO questions which ask you about the tools and techniques in the project management.   

So, how does solving practice questions help? It will help you identify the different kinds of questions as you read them and the kind of skills you need to build to tackle them. On the test day, the minute you read a question, you should be able to recall the strategy to solve it. 

There are many sources for practice questions in the market. Make sure that you do your research on the quality of the material and the reputation of the source before you choose one. 

5.    Write Practice Tests

An extension of the above tip is to write the complete simulated tests apart from solving practice questions. If you treat the PMP exam only as a knowledge-based test, you are bound to fail. Yes, it does have a vast syllabus and the questions are tough. But, do not underestimate the stamina that is required to sit for 4 hours and answer 200 questions of varying difficulty levels with equal efficiency. 

So, you need to write the mock tests to get into the psychological zone required to perform effectively in those 4 hours. Further, practice tests help you monitor your progress and mold your test-taking strategy. Am I able to complete the test in the 4 hours? Am I taking too long to answer the questions? Which types of questions are giving me trouble? Are my nerves getting the better of me? Is my efficiency coming down as the test progresses? Am I able to remember the concepts that I learned? Am I overlooking any information causing me to make silly mistakes? All these questions are important. And, the only way you can answer these is to write the simulated tests.

If you observe that you are getting more than 80% consistently in your mocks, you can be assured of passing the actual exam. Use the mock tests as a feedback mechanism to tune your strategy to excel on the exam day.

6.    Use the 35 hours of project management training efficiently

Before you even apply for the exam, the PMI requires that you spend 35 contact hours on formal project management education. Most people think of it as a task that they need to get done with. Rather, treat it as a learning experience that can take them to the goal of passing the PMP exam. These 35 hours should be utilized to build a strong foundation of the concepts tested. If there any specific areas you are weak in, the contact hours can help you clarify them. 

Ensure that you choose the training provided by Registered Education Provider (REPs). These trainers are evaluated and approved by the PMI. So, you need not worry about the quality or the relevance of the content. 

7.    Develop a strategy that works for you

When you read the success stories of people who passed the PMP test in the first attempt, most of them have a different story to tell. What is the best strategy for the exam? There is nothing like one size fits all strategy that works for everyone.
No person is the same. What works for some might not work for others. For instance, some of us can learn very well using the flashcards. Others prefer a visual mode of learning. There are others who study best in a group. So, the best way to crack this exam is to understand your strengths and weaknesses as well as your study styles. Try different approaches in your mock PMP tests and zero in on one that works the best for you.

8.    Join the PMI and connect with other Project Managers

Becoming a PMI member before you write the exam has many advantages. One, the exam fee is cheaper if you are a PMI member. Secondly, PMI opens up vast opportunities to network with many other project management professionals. 

As the PMP exam is dynamic in nature, it is essential to keep track of the latest developments in the field. The best way to do it is to connect with other project managers. Also, studying in a group has a lot of benefits. If you struggle with a certain concept, you can get it clarified by someone in the group. Further, project management experiences that others have can help you crack some of the difficult scenario-based questions. Finally, studying in a group can keep you motivated to stay on the course of your preparation.

9.    Manage your time well

Managing time can be divided into two components: 

  • During the preparation stage

  • During the exam 

Most people who write the PMP exam tend to be working professionals. So, it is important that you manage your time between your professional responsibilities and the study time for the exam. As the exam requires quite a bit of studying, solving practice questions and writing the mock tests, planning your time is paramount. In the months that you prepare, do only the highest-priority tasks. A vacation to relax might sound like a good idea. But, if you plan it in the middle of your preparation time, you might lose track of your progress. 

There are some people who complain that they couldn’t complete the test. Well, the problem is to do with the lack of time management on the exam day. Remember that if you leave out more than 1/5th (about 40) of the questions in the exam, it is extremely unlikely that you will pass. 

You have about 1.2 minutes to answer each question in the exam. If you need to take a break in between the exam, then it is going to be less than that. When you take into consideration the time to relook at some of the questions, you will roughly have about 50 – 60 seconds for each question. 

Some tips to manage your time efficiently on the test day:

  1. Decide the maximum time you want to spend on a question. 90 seconds is a good limit. Once you cross this time, mark the question for review and move on to the next. 
  2. Tackle the easier questions first and then come back to the difficult ones.
  3. Take into account the time that may require for your breaks. 
  4. Make sure you set aside some time in the end to review some of the questions that you haven’t answered. 

10.    Learn to hold your nerve

You might have done excellently during your mock tests. But, do remember that your exam day can be a little different because of the anxiety and the nerves you might carry to the exam hall. Most of us do not perform well under pressure. There are many variables that you cannot control. Some of the smallest things could rattle us during the exam. For example, if the washroom is far from the exam hall and you took longer than the time you set aside for the break. 

But, if you stress out and come under pressure your performance is definitely going to be impacted. How do you handle stress during the exam?

  1. Write a lot of mock tests. The more you face the simulated environment, the better you get at handling it.
  2. Tell yourself beforehand that no matter what goes wrong during the exam, you will not carry lose your confidence.
  3. Remember that difficult and easy questions are spread across the exam. Just because you haven’t done well in some questions, doesn’t mean your exam is not going well. 
  4. Manage your time well as the pressure of time is what causes the anxiety 

To sum it up, the best way to approach the exam in order to pass it in the first attempt is to treat it as a ‘project’ in itself. As a first step, define your goals or objectives clearly. Next, finalize the resources you want to use (study materials, institutions, mock papers etc.). Breakdown the syllabus into tasks and allot timelines to completing them. Check your progress and make changes to your strategy as you analyse your performance in mocks. Most of all, be confident about your abilities. Believe that if you put in consistent efforts, it is not a difficult task to clear the PMP exam in the first attempt. 


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Madhavi Bodepudi