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Jim Owens: Tips on PMP Exam

PMI wrote the PMBOK and they will be marking the exam, so they are right always and without exception.
The questions you must always ask yourself are, “what does the PMBOK say?” or “what would a PMP do?” And for those of you who think that you can forget the PMBOK after you pass the exam – just hold on a moment. PMBOK wasn’t written by a group of academics in an ivory tower – it was written by thousands of real Project Managers managing countless real projects in many countries, so maybe they know a thing or two.

Having said that, it’s helpful to remember that the exam is not a memory test on the contents of the PMBOK, it’s a test on project management practices AND details in the PMBOK. That’s why the entrance requirements are so high – you really need that experience to answer a lot of the questions. The test consists of 200 questions with multiple-choice answers. The exam is designed by psychometric experts – they want to know that you understand the processes and principles how you would apply them in a given situation. So while a number of questions are of the analysis and deduction type, expect over half to be of the form, “here is the situation – what are you going to do next?” A few of the questions are very hard (read “impossible”), but don’t let that unsettle you – just move on to the next one. You won’t loose marks for wrong answers – so leave time at the end to guess the impossible ones. But don’t throw them away on a WAG (wild-assed guess), try to eliminate wrong options first then guess from the remainder. Remember what Sherlock Holmes said (A study in Scarlet 1887)– “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Remember to do a “brain dump” before you start the exam. The way to do this is to think, “If I could bring one sheet of paper into the exam, what would I like to have on it.”

NB please don’t say that Jim Owens told you to bring a sheet into the exam YOU CANNOT BRING A SHEET INTO THE EXAM UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. But just imagine you could – make up an actual sheet and memorise it, it helps to write it out a number of times. Then at the start of the exam before you get (too) stressed, reproduce your sheet on the scrap paper that will be provided. Now you can reference it at leisure throughout the exam when the heat is on.

Four hours is plenty of time – most people can manage at least a first pass of the exam in two hours, then spend the rest of the exam checking, and the last 15 minutes intelligently guessing the “impossible” ones.

My recommendation is don’t leave the exam early – how are you going to feel if you fail by one question? Check, check and check again. You’ve paid PMI USA for four hours, you might as well use it.

Some questions will appear to have two right answers (that’s not possible of course), so all you can to is go for the best answer by trying to think like PMBOK. Sometimes questions will be framed in an unusual way because the examiners want to know that you understand the processes rather than just memorised them.

Oh yes – good luck


Jim Owens PMP


3 comments to Jim Owens: Tips on PMP Exam

  • Frank Einhorn

    Hi Jim, I shall be helping to prepare PMP candidates. Thanks for your write-up – excellent advice. Interesting that they don’t deduct marks for incorrect answers. But, even if they did, I like your strategy of eliminating the impossible answers and choosing from what’s left.
    Regards… Frank

  • Scott

    Great stuff, Jim, thanks!

  • NRS

    Great info. Thanks. If the exam is about application and not memorization why do we have to memorize all the input and output… there are soo many… so memorizing them, at least for me, is very difficult… I think it’s more useful to have scenario based questions instead of just question on what are the inputs of project charter…… just my 2 cents…