Best PMP® Exam Prep Strategy: Research & Adapt – by Sandeep Mahajan, PMP

Best PMP Exam Prep Strategy as explained by Sandeep Mahajan, PMP“Best PMP® exam prep strategy is to research into resources and techniques and adapt to your own needs”, says Sandeep Mahajan after passing his (new) PMP® exam.  He explains more about this approach as a response to the last question in this interview.

Sandeep Mahajan hails from the “Wine Capital of India”, Nashik. He has been working as an IT Manager for a Health-gym software development company, handling the complete IT Management from procurement to operations to change/release management etc.

Sandeep is an avid photographer, blogger, music lover and Thalassophile (‘lover of the ocean!’, I had to look that up 🙂 ).

You will find interesting aspects of the PMP® exam preparation and how things went wrong on the exam for Sandeep.

The point to take is that this exam is all about expecting the unexpected, and if it happens, maintaining one’s cool and doing the best.

If you were wondering about TWO breaks introduced in the new exam, you’ll find exactly how it works, in a bit.

And for those from IT field that worry that their educational background is not optimal to be a project manager, Sandeep is a role model for having come from Commerce background and then working his way into technology and project management.

Why PMP®, and not any other Project Management certifications?

After working for 12+ years in Information Technology industry, with half of that in the capacity of a Project Manager I have seen varied challenges in successfully delivering projects. I have realized that no two project experiences are the same. Ever.

I experienced and learnt many skills in Project Management over the years, but somehow felt I didn’t have the complete picture.  Sort of ‘unknown unknowns’, if you what I mean 🙂

Thus I wanted to educate myself on all the aspects of project management.

While researching on this I found Prince2 and PMP are two certificates exclusively looked at by organizations.

Initially I thought of going with Prince2 since I’m working for a European company. Further research gave me the clarity that PMP certification more recognized, sort of industry standard for project management and more comprehensive.

Now that you are a New PMP® (yay!) what benefits do you foresee?

The credibility and recognition (apart from of course the knowledge) one gets as a PMP holder is incredible.

PMP exam is based on PMI’s Examination Content Outline (download here), which mirrors the real life project management practices gleaned out of Role delineation study that PMI conducts regularly.

Being able to apply this high quality knowledge gained through PMP is invaluable. Being PMP certified means acknowledgment of your efforts, hard work, dedication, commitment, and that you are able to follow the standards and bring the success to the project.

All this gives you the edge to grow faster in your career.

Also read: How Karthik aced his new PMP exam.

Which study resources did you use for your exam preparation?

I used Andy Crowe’s PMP Prep to clear the basics and then RMC publications book.

However, I must that that I enjoyed PMBOK guide the most.

I didn’t go beyond these as there are many materials but sticking to one that you understand is the key.

What was your exam prep strategy & study plan?

When I began I wanted to put together the best PMP exam prep strategy for myself. But then life happened. 🙂 And taught me that I need to be flexible and make changes to the plan as a true blue project manager would do.

I had the plan of appearing for Dec 2020 before the new ECO applied but due to an unplanned event that came up I had to postpone the exam in the very last stage of preparation.

I started the preparation again in the last week of January and was able to gain the pace.

Reading PMBOK guide and reviewing the incorrect questions that I failed to answer correctly were the key to my success.

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Was it all fine and dandy all the way till the exam day?

I didn’t face issues as such during preparation but due to office and home commitments, most of the time the planned schedule of study had to be postponed.

So this change has proactively adapted and adjusted the schedule or may be some alterations in the sequence.

In between, there were also times when I didn’t study on the weekend to enjoy some leisure time.

But for the fact that I had to move from old exam to new exam, and something that happened during the exam, things were okay for me.

How did you manage the crucial week before the exam?

I didn’t get any leaves I had planned for the last week of the exam due to office work deadlines.

But I was getting the same 4 hours or max 6 hours daily if I stretched a bit.

So I stuck to the revision plan and didn’t do any off plan reading/mock etc.

I had planned to read the first 4 chapters of PMBOK along with few specific challenging topics from change management, configure management, quality, resources and closing section.

I also had my ‘lesson learned register’ ready by that time from mocks and study materials.

You may be interested to know: How to remember ITTOs for all processes?!

Can you share your actual exam experience. Heard you had an ‘interesting’ experience?

I had to book the exam at a test center that was 180+ kilometers away, as it was the closest testing center.

However, the Covid cases started rising in that area and I got to know there could be a chance that the center may not be running during exam week due to local authority restrictions.

Hence I changed the mode to proctor based (online) exam.

Then something happened on the exam!

Proctoring process went well to start the exam, such as checking the room, ID etc.

Midway through the exam I got test app error.


After each break I got the error and I was advised to get the exam refreshed.

This pushed me back to 61st and 121st question respectively on 1st and 2nd break even though I had gone through them already!

To be honest, if something like this happens on the exam one cannot do much. But by being prepared for the unexpected and being calm if that happens, one can still manage to come out unscathed.

This is my personal experience.

Note from Shiv: You might have noticed the mention to 2 breaks above. PMI has the following information about the introduction of breaks in the new exam, which is very important to make a note of –

For the PMP exam, there are now two 10-minute breaks in the exam. The first will appear after you complete questions 1 – 60 and review all of your answers. The second break will appear after you have completed question 120 and confirmed that you have reviewed all of your answers.

Please note, once you have reviewed your responses and start your break you will not be able to return to the questions from the previous section of the exam. 

Once your 10-minute break is over, you will be able to resume your exam to continue with the next section. Please remember that once you re-enter the webcam view you, are expected to remain in view and all personal items must be placed out of arm’s reach.

If you do not return to the room at the conclusion of your 10-minute break, your exam timer will resume counting down until you return. You will not be permitted to take any additional breaks during the exam for any reason and leaving your desk will invalidate your score.

Here’s are few things about my exam that exam takers might find useful.

  • I used a Windows based system rather than a Mac to avoid any issues but still got one. So, be prepared for the unexpected.
  • It felt like I had 70% Agile/Hybrid type of questions (I know the distribution is 50% predictive and 50% agile/hybrid 🙂 ) and all were 3-4 liners.
  • 3-4 EVM related, one being about TCPI.
  • Exam had coverage from almost all Knowledge Areas including a good amount of Agile (of course 50% questions are from Agile/Hybrid).
  • Due to 3-4 liners long scenario based questions, I struggled with time management but was able to complete the last question when 24 seconds were left! 🙂 Thus, practice time management on your simulator by taking full-length tests.

After clicking on the end review, Congratulations screen appeared.

I felt much relieved and I thanked Almighty God, my parents and family for their endless support and sacrifice towards my goal.

You prepared 2020 PMP® exam and had to take 2021 version. Did you have to do anything differently?

I started studying in Nov 2020 and came to know the new ECO will be live from Jan 2, 2021. I tried rushing through to complete before December but I realized that I was not ready and it is not worth giving just a try as it affects morale and interest in the subject.

Thus I resumed my study with full pace from the last week of January 2021 and kept on following the same study plan without any alterations to it.

I, however, referred to the latest version of RMC but never stopped PMBOK reading/revision til exam week.

Also read: Add this tool to make yours the best PMP exam prep strategy.

What is the best PMP® exam prep strategy according to you?

As we know, PMI does not have a specific recommended ‘study material’ for PMP. Which makes it harder to go with the approach of taking the book, ploughing through it, and acing the exam with flying colors.

The best PMP exam prep strategy is to take the research and adapt approach.


Research into possible study materials out there, and figure out which one is best suited to your own way of learning. The exam has LOT of content to study, so the very first and crucial step is to figure out which set of study resources you will use.


Adapt the study to your needs and commitments towards work, family, and your personal & social needs.

This means, deciding the time of study in the day, place of study, study approach (top down, or bottom up) & techniques, and a study plan that you can stick to as much as possible.

Talk to the expert or find a mentor and you can do both of these much easier. Especially if you are busy.

Finally, fix a time frame and try to get it done within it.

As Elon Musk says, one can make a 30-day plan to clean the house and it will take 30 days, one can also make a 3 hour plan to clean the house and it takes 3-hours! In other words, ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’ (Parkinson’s law).

Good set of study resources, study plan, and a time frame to do it is a good way to get PMP certified with a low risk approach.

Good luck and go get it!

Sandeep Mahajan, PMP




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