How to Crush Your PMP Exam By Being Slow and ‘Study’!

crush pmp exam ruth hunterRuth Hunter crushed her PMP exam earlier this month. 🙂 When I asked if she could share her PMP preparation steps, she was kind enough to take time out and write this awesome article of 2100+ words – outlining all the strategies, techniques, and study insights she had during her PMP exam preparation.

There are 2 ways of approaching PMP exam –
  1. Lock in the exam date 4 weeks from now, work out a study plan, get your head down and race through it. Like a sprint.
  2. Yes, you guess it right.. more like a marathon. Prepare consistently everyday by carving out a study hour from your regular schedule, take the path of least resistance.
Ruth took the second way.
That’s why her study advice is so useful for you.

Ruth Hunter is a certified and experienced Project Manager working in Quality and Regulatory disciplines within the Medical Device and In-Vitro Diagnostic Industry in United Kingdom.

-Shiv Shenoy

PS: Don’t miss the last section where Ruth tells about what kind of questions to expect on your exam.

About Ruth Hunter, PMP

pmp ruth hunterI started my working life at the vet labs in London researching Salmonella and E.coli.

I soon moved into the private sector as a production technician. It was there I came across the importance of Quality.

An audit finding highlighted that the company had no Quality personal on the site and I was asked to apply for the resulting post.

If we are going to use animals for testing then it matters hugely to me that we do it properly. After more than 10 years in various quality roles I made the move into regulatory. I have a keen interest in process improvement and I am very task oriented.

When an opportunity came up to join a J&J cross sector (Pharma, Medical Devices and Consumer) team developing new processes and systems for regulatory, I jumped at the chance to work full time leading process improvement projects.

Developing my project management skills has come as a natural progression from that.

When did PMP come into the picture?

I had been working in a purely project management role for only about 6 months now. I took a job leading the readiness program for the new EU regulation on medical devices.

The project management group that I was seconded (on loan) to had organized for a trainer to come in from The Knowledge Academy and provide a week of PM training.

There was an extra space so at a week’s notice, and I attended.

The course was aimed at preparing attendees for the PMP exam. I discussed my experience log with the trainer and though I hadn’t had the title project manager, it has been a feature of what I do for a number of years so I had no problem completing the log.

After the course I got tied up with setting up my project but after a couple of months I decided that I wanted to make the most of the course and follow it through to certification.

First thing, I got my study resources

PMP Mentor App. This really helped reinforce the ITTOs and they are mainly situational questions. After a rocky start where I felt I was disagreeing with the right answer, I got on very well with this app and used it a lot when I was traveling or in very short bursts when I could grab a few minutes peace.

PMP study guide Joseph Phillips. I’d read reviews on a number of study guides and as I had limited resources I went for this one as it had an excellent review and was less than half the price of many of the others!

After reading the PMBOK, his style was much easier to read and I found myself scoring pretty well on the end of chapter test questions. This also came with some good little videos and a CD of practice exam questions.

The PMBOK. I had a copy supplied with my course but once I joined the PMI I had access to an online copy anyway. To be honest I prefer the physicality of a book but it is quite heavy to carry around every day.

In all I went cover to cover twice and referred to it on numerous occasions to reinforce a topic or follow up after I had answered a practice question incorrectly.

Then the mock tests

Here are the mock tests I used and my score –

Click for the recommended set of PMP study resources (including free ones) for PMBOK-6 based PMP exam..

And then I created few!

Created my own study cards. I know there are lots available to purchase but the process of creating them was part of my study plan

The map of the processes. This one from Ricardo Vargas ended up as a poster on my bedroom wall. I used the poster in conjunction with the EduHub spot cheat sheet which I printed and cut up into flash cards. This really helped me get the feel for how information flows through the processes rather than seeing them individually.

Brain dump. I learnt very early on how to do a brain dump, the table of the 49 processes and a number of the formula. I would test myself on this several times a week.

My study strategy

I sketched out a basic plan which increased in intensity as the exam approached.

At the end of June I applied for my PMI membership and submitted my application for the PMP. I needed an exam date to force me to knuckle down. I even put time in my calendar for practicing by brain dump.

As I was working through the PMBOK and study book and taking notes from them, I searched for online free videos and articles to expand or reinforce some topics.

Once I had completed my first pass of the PMBOK and the first pass of Joe’s study guide I then built my own set of flash cards.

Then I started on the practice exams. I had a limited number of them because again I was loathed to spend money on a simulator.

In the last month I was going through my flash cards almost daily. I even had my husband testing me on them during long car journeys.

I joined the ”I want to be a PMP” Linked in group and spent 20-30mins a day trawling through posted questions and reading people’s exam advice during the month before my exam.

Click to legally steal the proven techniques successful PMPs have been using around the globe (over 162+ PMP Lessons Learned articles).

It wasn’t a walk in the park though

When using free online resources be aware that much is still aligned to the 5 th Ed of the PMBOK. Early on in my study this caused some confusion!

Arguing with the PMP Mentor app over the right answer! I lost confidence in it and stopped using it for a while but after a software update was pushed out I tried again and got on with it much better. You can even do a full 200 question exam on it. I also enjoyed the tracking and trending capabilities. There are lots of adverts, but for a free app it’s really pretty good.

Fitting in the study time with work and family was difficult. We had a weekend away for a family party during Sept and I spent the day in the hotel studying and then joined everyone just for the evening. Getting through the certification was a serious commitment and I needed the support of my family.

I read a few articles on how well you needed to know the ITTOs. I used the ITTO focused exam from the Joseph Phillips CD. I didn’t score particularly well and got into a bit of a panic. The app and the EduHub cheat sheet really helped my confidence with this.

This is what I did the week before the exam

  1. Finished my second pass of the PMBOK
  2. 2 practice exams – I time spent following up on my wrong answers taking fresh notes. I also followed up on those that I may have got right but felt that I’d guessed at
  3. Daily flash cards and writing out my brain dump.
  4. I wanted to take the night off before the exam and distract myself but because I had to travel to the test centre I found myself alone in a hotel room and ended up doing the last practice exam that I had. By the time I’d finished going through the wrong answers it was about 10pm and time to get some sleep

My PMP exam experience!

I had to put everything except my photo ID in a locker which I was not allowed access to until I had completed the exam. Yes, they really do search you like airport security!

I went to the test centre in Edinburgh where there were a small number of people coming and going sitting a variety of exams.

Ear defenders were offered, and I did use them to block out the road noise and people coming and going.

You cannot use the introductory time for writing your brain dump and to be honest I didn’t end up doing one at all – even though I had planned to.

I did about 100 questions and then left the room for a drink and the toilet. You have to sign in and out and go through “airport” security again.

I did this again after the second 100 questions. I then came back into the room and about spent about 30mins going through my marked questions.

In total I used just over 3.5 of the 4hrs allowed.

When I clicked on the end exam button I expected to get my result but it actually takes you to a survey about your exam experience and what you thought of the test centre.

Then you get your exam result. The extra wait was painful. The invigilator spotted that I had finished and escorted me out of the room.

Before I knew It, I was out in the sunshine clutching the printout of my exam report.

Few pointers about the test you should know

  • As for the questions, there were very few Math questions and they seemed straight forward use of the formula rather than using multiple formula or rearranging formula that I’d seen in some practice question.
  • There were very few questions that were straight recall of ITTOs.
  • There were a surprising number of questions where I struck out two wrong answers and then got left with two that I struggled between. For many of the questions if felt like choosing the least wrong answer or the better answer, rather than the answer that I really wanted.
  • There were also some questions where they ask you what you would do first which sometimes felt like splitting hairs as I would have done all of the actions listed very quickly.

My exam insights

There is that tendency to answer from your experience or what your current company would do, rather than what is the best thing to do according to the PMBOK.

Everybody learns differently, but for me I had to write, take repeated notes, create my own flash cards and create pictorial diagrams and flows of information. I killed a few trees!

Building the knowledge over a number of months rather than rushing and cramming in a short space of time worked better for me.

I had one day off a week but got at least a couple of hours in on the other days. When a meeting at work got cancelled, I grabbed that hour. 4 hours is a long time so I built up to being able to sit and concentrate for that length of time, though I never did it without water and snacks on hand!

Looking at the chatter from other PMs who say they studied and passed in two weeks I am incredulous and find it belittles what many of us have to work so hard to achieve.

I found this certification to be a serious commitment and I have not been this nervous about an exam since I was at school. I put a lot of pressure on myself to pass first time as my company were paying for it. I am very relieved that I did it.

Looking forward, I’m hoping that not only the certification, but the knowledge and experience will help me going forward in my career. I’m keen for this not just to be an exam.

Good luck!

Ruth Hunter, PMP

 

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