(UPDATED - 8/2019) Echo's Awesome Plan
…to those hard working, full-time folks eagerly awaiting the dish on how I prepared and passed the PMP exam the first time, this is for you…

I got my PMP in November 2017 after 8 months of preparation. Through my own research I found that there are many professionals looking to take their career to new heights with a certification in project management. Many of which turn to google, forums and sub reddit’s for PMP exam strategies and study plans to help guide their preparation to become PMP certified. So to those hard working, full-time folks eagerly awaiting the dish on how I prepared and passed the PMP exam the first time, this is for you. Here is my best advice!

DISCLAIMER: My study plan was based on the 5th edition of the test and PMBOK. The exam and resources changed March 2018.  My strategy is based on a plan I put together to align with how I work best. This strategy might not work for everyone, but I believe the strategy and techniques could apply to all future versions of the exam and PMBOK.

My Background in Project Management

I implemented software projects for over 5 years before taking the exam. My academic background includes a business administration degree (undergrad and grad) with focus in project management.

Having knowledge of concepts helped me when studying. However, the exam prepares you for scenario-based questions on the PMI standards for project management. Of the companies I was involved with in my career, the experience I had did not necessarily align with some of these practices. This proved to make studying a challenge. I had to separate what I knew and did daily, in comparison to what the PMI guidelines set as an expectation for those in the field.

So, for those of you thinking my road to the PMP was easy, it certainly wasn’t. In fact, it was a long study plan that had unexpected bumps in the road, backed against a full-time job often requiring 50+ hours a week. But I found a way to make it work, because I wanted it enough!

The Strategy

The core strategy I had was to learn the material on my own using resources that I had researched and read were effective for others. While I wanted to take the exam as soon as possible, there were no time restraints other than taking and passing the exam before it changed in March 2018. My study plan began in May 2017, with a loose goal of sitting for the exam in the 3rd or 4th quarter of the year. I left some flexibility for myself in the unfortunate event that my application was audited (read my application tips here), or my score was inadequate.  Neither of which happened.

Study Materials
  • PMBOK (5th edition)
  • Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep Book (8th edition)
  • PMP® Exam Prep – 3 Days (RMC Learning solutions)
    •       Timed and scored practice exam simulator
    •       Hot Topics flashcards
Study Plan

After reading numerous forums and book reviews on how other aspiring PM’s had prepped and studied, I had decided to move forward with the system recommended in Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep Book. The plan sounded good and came highly recommended. It wasn’t long before I realized that I needed to use the plan as a guideline and add in what I thought would work best for my study habits, thus creating the plan I detail later in this article.

Round one

My initial pass was the most time-consuming round of learning the material, getting familiar with the types of exam questions and understanding more about the areas that weren’t heavily practiced in my workplace, so I could give those chapters more attention. Since the book was lengthy and I realistically knew I couldn’t dedicate much time a day, I decided to allot myself a maximum of 2/weeks per chapter (see the schedule below under “Initial Plan”).

Understanding my learning style, I chose a combination of approaches to learn the material.

I bought several 5-star notebooks and dedicated a section to each chapter. Starting in chapter one, I wrote down any terms that I wasn’t familiar with after reading them in the book. The simple act of reading, then writing helped me.

Within the workbook itself, I flagged pages that had good information I wanted to refer to. I also highlighted material that I wanted to re-read during the second round of studying. Some of these details I included in my notes, others I just left highlighted within the book.

Understanding my learning style, I chose a combination of approaches to learn the material.

As I went through the chapters I completed the exercises as instructed. Some were useful for the exam while others I could have done without.

I then took the exam at the end of the chapters (despite what Rita’s book recommends in the self-study plan) before moving on to the next topic. To me this was important to get a baseline right away rather than completing all chapters before getting that benchmark.

Notice I haven’t even discussed the PMBOK yet?😊

Initial Plan
Chapter 1 May 1st – May 13th
Chapter 2 May 15th – May 27th
Chapter 3 May 28th – June 10th
Chapter 4 June 11th – June 24th
Chapter 5 June 25th – July 8th
Chapter 6 July 9th – July 22nd
Chapter 7 July 23th – August 5th
Chapter 8 August 6th – August 19th
Chapter 9 August 20th – September 2nd
Chapter 10 September 3 – September 16th
Chapter 11 September 17th – September 30th
Chapter 12 October 1 – October 14th
Chapter 13 October 15 – October 28th
Chapter 14 October 29th – November 11th
Chapter 15 November 5th – November 11th
FULL EXAM SIMULATION Allow 2-4 Hours
The Results?

After my first full exam simulation, which consisted of completing all chapter end questions in one sitting, I was scoring in the mid 60’s. This is 100% normal during the first pass! I didn’t care, because it made me feel very discouraged already being 7 months in.

I decided I needed help and motivation.

On a whim, I signed up for a 3-day PMP® Exam Prep through RMC Learning solutions, (Rita Mulcahy’s company). The platform was an online all-day prep with other tools for learning. I then decided to focus all my attention on the exam prep, and chose to take a week off of work to take the course, which ran from November 14th – 16th, and set my exam date for November 25th.

I wanted the information as fresh in my mind as possible and I knew that with time off and a holiday the following week, I could get a lot of dedicated studying done. And well — I had been putting off setting a date. There…I said it.

Round Two

My second pass through was quite the sprint! It moved fast, but the more I read and followed my plan, the more I noticed all the pieces come together.

Days prior to the scheduled 3-day PMP® Exam Prep, I had some pre-work to complete. I did the work that was required and was anxious to get started and fill the gaps that my scores reflected. The course was fast paced, and I learned a few tricks of the trade to understand formulas and ITTO’s (Inputs, Tools, Techniques & Outputs) a little better. This was about the only time I leveraged the PMBOK. (Remember, you can do this with or without the PMBOK.)

While I was completing the Exam Prep, I also went through the entire book again. This time it was a much easier read than before. I completed the first timed exam and was scoring much better. I enjoyed the exam simulator because it told which process groups I was falling behind in, which is how the exam is scored. This was a huge help for me! I was able to go back and make sure I understood those areas better and brush up on the associated knowledge area if needed.

In addition to the exam simulator, I went through key flash cards for certain topics and referenced exercises in Rita’s book for exercises in the areas that I didn’t have complete confidence in.

My final exam simulation was the day prior to the exam. I scored in the mid- 70’s, where I needed to be. I said to myself, “if you aren’t ready now, no amount of cramming the day before is going to help.” So I took it easy and tried to relax before the big day.

Round 2 Plan
3-day PMP® Exam Prep November 14, 15, 16th
Read ALL Chapters November 14th – November 21st
First Timed and scored practice exam simulator November 22nd
Study gaps, review flash cards and key exercises November 22nd – 24th
Second Timed and scored practice exam simulator November 24th
EXAM DAY November 25th

Exam Day

The exam was early in the morning, so I stopped by Starbucks and got some food, and most importantly caffeine. I drove to the exam location, arrived early and sat in the car reviewing some notes and listening to music. Then, I went in to take the exam.

After the sign in and instruction process I was seated. At the facility, while the tutorial was playing, you couldn’t use the time to write on your scratch paper, which is known as “the brain dump.” I thought about what I would write once the tutorial was over. Turns out, there wasn’t anything I could come up with. I had committed everything to memory for the past 7 months, and at this point, I either knew it…or I didn’t. The tutorial ended. Go time!

Right from the start I found myself marking questions for review. Stress began to settle in. I reached a point where I was reading the questions I had marked for review and picking the first answer based on gut feeling alone. This couldn’t be good.

After nearly 7 months of studying I was going to embarrass myself and everyone who believed in me by completely blowing it. I never did well on exams like this, but I figured with the amount of studying and preparation I had done, I hoped to offset my poor test taking streak. I decided to just answer the questions quickly and submitted the exam with 20 minutes to spare. At this point, I had been in the exam room for just over 3 ½ hours and I was completely over it. And I was hungry.

Then I had to sit there for a few dreaded moments waiting for it to calculate my score.

“Here we go” I thought.

And the survey says...

Up on the screen the words “CONGRATULATIONS” appeared.

OMG, I PASSED!!  My first thought was, “how the f*** did I pull this off?”

I was thrown off guard so much I didn’t even complete the remaining screens to review the exam scoring on process groups.  Whoops. The onsite personnel asked me to go back in and complete that piece before I could leave. I was still shaking.

Leaving the exam, I texted my boyfriend, who was my biggest supporter, and anxiously wondered what was taking so long. I called my parents, who were in the middle of moving, to tell them the good news.

I then immediately updated my LinkedIn profile to read Echo A. Woolf, MBA, PMP because I was so excited!

All the studying after long days at work was WORTH IT!

Lessons Learned

I think it’s always important to reflect on these kinds of things. In fact, if it wasn’t for so many others sharing their experiences, it may have changed the tools I used, the strategy I followed, or the exam prep I factored into my schedule. It’s my hope that these takeaways help you in some way so you too can pass the PMP exam.

Don't Rush

  • Self-study takes a long time. Set a goal, but don’t completely rush it if you can help it!
  • You can out a plan together that works for you and your study style.

Research the Right Tools

  • Rita’s book is so worth it and aside from the small changes I incorporated to mesh with my study style, I am honestly not sure how I would have passed without it. I didn’t complicate things by choosing a ton of resources, just made sure I picked the right ones.
  • The RMC exam simulator was the best. It gave me great direction on where I should focus and the areas I was already competent in.
  • Most importantly – know your study style, and work with.  You can find more information on study styles, and grab our free eBook here!

Have a Plan

  • Leverage sample plans online or craft your own to start. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but a guideline is helpful to ensure your studying is in line with the time-frame you have in mind for studying and taking the exam.
  • Plans can change, adjust as needed but not too frequently

Seek to Understand, not Memorize

  • Understanding when things happen, and in what process, is very helpful. It will naturally help prepare you to understand the ITTO’s, so I wasn’t too stressed about studying them. What everyone says is true – understand the material and you won’t have to stress about memorization.
  • The exam is verbose; Try to understand what the question is really asking and determine which of the options are the next best thing to go. I read some of the tactics Rita discusses about the types of questions that are on the exam. Once you understand and accept its more than a vocabulary test, you’re less likely to be thrown off by the exam questions. Again, know the material and understand what the PMI answer is, which may differ from what you are use to practicing in the workplace

Summary

The PMP exam preparation is not a walk in the park. In fact, it is probably one of the hardest exams I’ve had to take. Being someone who never had to study much, it was also a huge adjustment. If you’re a project manager, or have experience working on projects and are looking to have global recognition, with a potential for more income, it’s worth it.

I always told myself I would get my PMP. And I finally did.

What are your thoughts? Any suggestions for upcoming material? If so, let me know in the comments below!

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