A Super-Mom’s Guide to Excel at PMP Exam – Sunober Cooper, PMP

guide to pmp sunober

By the grace of God, I cleared my PMP on my first attempt and Whoa, it was one of its kind – not in terms of difficulty but in terms of staying focused for 4 hours straight.

In my opinion, the level of difficulty depends on how much time you put in, while grasping the concepts. What this exam does for sure is to test your ability on understanding the concepts and applying them for a given situation (that’s why using Simulators increases odds of PMP success).

sunober cooper pmpI’m sure you realize that each PMP certified professional has a story to their achievement and here’s mine. I hope you’ll be able to take something out of this and apply in your own PMP preparation plan.

Objective: How did the thought of PMP come by?

In all honesty, I had no plans to do PMP but when I appeared for an interview at my current workplace.

I was told by my lead that they needed certified Project Managers and if I would be asked to do PMP after being hired, would I be comfortable doing it.

Ta da! That rang the bell and I decided to upgrade my knowledge.

After that, my direct reporting and mentor, being a PMP & PMI-ACP certified professional himself, proved at each instance how important this certification was, not just by his knowledge & wit but by his skills par excellence, to handle any and every problem easily. I learned a great deal from him and was truly inspired and determined to achieve this certification to enhance my knowledge and skills.

I’m going to share with you my strategies and tips to pass PMP exam using the same 5 Process Groups that we study for the exam. 🙂

Let’s get started!

Initiating: First Step towards achieving the PMP goal

I registered myself with a local institute (AUC Technologies) and attended sessions to earn my 35 PDUs and all other resources, which was the starting point.

Since most of us pursue PMP studies with a full-time job it is very difficult to strike a perfect balance between work and personal life, and I was no exception.

Being a mother of a 6-year old and a full-time working woman, it wasn’t easy to give time to studies and that too after being so far from university days.

I believe that the PMP preparation is all about momentum.

Once you lose that, it’s hard to get it back. Plus, by getting into a good study momentum you can cut down on overall study time and efforts to a large extent.

So, my first task was to tentatively decide on a deadline and then start preparing my study plan working backwards accordingly.

Thanks to PMESN blog, I came across many wonderful articles, with one emphasizing on limiting study resources to maximum two. And so I decided to stick to PMBOK 5 and RITA (one of the best study resources).

Also Read: Exam Strategies & tips that got me Above-Target score – by Nikhil Kalekar, PMP

Planning – did it until I discovered what suited me the best

After the study resources were decided, I started planning my study schedule on how to go about covering chapters.

I had to revise my study plans 3 times as something or the other would come up ruining my study plan completely. 🙂

I then decided to try a different approach and downloaded both the books in my smartphone and studied whenever I got the chance (during commute between home and work), lunch hour, every social gatherings etc.

Also, I dedicated 2 hours a day on a consistent basis so I can study with complete concentration. I’d suggest choosing time of the day that best suites you where you can be sure not to be disturbed by anyone (psst.. switch off your phone and log out of your social networks!).

It is very important that you devise your own study plan suiting your lifestyle & schedule.

Execution – there is no rule book, select your own strategy

I decided to thoroughly go through PMBOK first in order to get an overall idea of what Project Management Standard is all about.

Then I went through RITA only in areas in which I felt that I could not follow PMBOK 5 (especially Cost, Time & Risk Management).

I knew that with my busy schedule, there was no second time, so I studied thoroughly the first time only. (Yes, you read it right, I just read PMBOK 5 once).

After completing each chapter, I solved sample questions from Rita’s Fast Track knowledge area wise & some questions provided by my study institute.

I noted my score for each knowledge area to know my weak areas.

Also Read: PMP Certification Exam: How I got all-5 ‘Above Target’ in my first attempt – Rajkumar S, PMP

Monitoring & Controlling – collecting some good resources as I went about studying

While I was mid way through, I had a Skype chat with Shiv who suggested to book a date first thing since there was a possibility of running out of desirable slots just ahead of the exam being changed effective from March 27, 2018.

He also suggested that once you lock in the exam date, this would further change my study pattern and he was so right, it really did.

I booked the slot right away and was more focused now in achieving my goal. Shiv’s blueprint and prep ebooks helped me in clearing my concepts, especially in my areas of improvement.

I also got connected with Oliver Yarbrough on LinkedIn who was kind enough to give me free access to his mock question bank, that  cleared many concepts.

Once I was done with the studying part, I attempted Super PMP – Rita Fast Track (RFT) to know my level of preparedness. The scores were really bad as one can expect during first couple of attempts.

Many of us would not dare to take the timed mock before practicing questions as the results could demotivate us, but in my view this is far better than getting this result in the exam itself. I was prepared for the worst as I knew this was my first time and just wanted to know my level of preparation. It clearly showed me that I did not need to focus too much on Closing.

I then decided to attempt Rita’s mock exam, process group wise now.

At the same time I was going through questions shared by PMASPIRE, Exam-labs, answered questions in a Youtube video called PMP Exam 2017 – Advanced Level (which were quite close to questions which appeared in the exam) and also downloaded an app PMPRO.

Obviously, I am no super human and so did as many questions I could, from these resources, I strongly believe that “Practice makes a human being perfect!” and so focused on taking out time to answer question and study why I got an answer wrong.

I had planned timed mocks before the exam and decided on taking at least 3-4. I took four timed mocks before appearing for the exam.

Gradually my scores started improving every time I took a mock –

  • 1st – 15 days before the exam – RFT with scores as you have already seen
  • 2nd – 12 days before the exam – AUC Technologies (they have always been very accommodating) – Scored 64% overall
  • 3rd – 2 days before the exam (although it was planned 5 days prior to the exam but due to certain external reasons, had to be postponed) – AUC Technologies – Scored 74% this time
  • 4th – 2nd last day before the exam – Oliver Lehman 175 questions (good material) – scored 81% and was finally a bit satisfied

This gave me lot of confidence to study harder and improve my score further.

Also Read: My 2-word antra for PMP success – by Arun Prakash Sharma, PMP

On the eve of the exam day

I must admit that I overdid myself on the previous day of the exam, to the point where I was reading but not registering anything in my mind – I was completely blank. My brain was exhausted, and so I decided to call it a day and go to sleep.

I had my exam at 9.00 am the next day and had thought of sleeping by 11 pm max. but I still went to sleep around 11.45 pm. Till 3 am in the morning, I was tossing and turning but could not manage to sleep and had to wake up again at 5.30 am as per my daily routine. It was as if my eyes were closed but the brain refused to shut down.

Tip: Revise until evening on the day before the exam and spend the rest of the evening, watching a good movie or your favorite channel. A good night’s sleep is very important to recollect all the stamina to stay focused for a good 4 hours. I know it is difficult and the guilt is always there that “I should study before the exam than watching a movie” but believe me, you need to relax.

My PMP Exam day experience

I spent just 20 minutes revising before the exam – formulae, some key terms from my notes which I kept forgetting and skimmed the chart I had made, and so on.

I entered the Prometric center at my reporting time i.e. 45 min. prior to the exam time. The center is also an experience in itself but you’ll be much relaxed before appearing for the exam as you won’t be touching any study material for at least 45 minutes before you appear for the exam.

After reading the instructions of the Prometric center and running through the security scan where you have to show the camera that you have nothing to take inside the exam room (by flipping out your jeans/pants pockets and having no jewellery on etc.), you are given scratch sheets (around 4 pages) and taken to your seat by the invigilator.

Once I began my exam, I’m given 15 minutes to go through the tutorial which guides you on;

  • How to mark/unmark questions for review
  • How to review all questions together
  • How to highlight certain portions of the question (but not the answers)
  • How to strikethrough certain portions of the question (like irrelevant info)
  • How to use the calculator (You can even ask for a manual basic calculator if you are not comfortable using the calculator software. I opted for the manual one, for which I had to again go out and show the camera that I was taking the manual calculator with me inside).

I often read blogs where people commented that the exam is quite different than the mocks but nobody wrote clearly as to how it was different.

When I experienced taking it, I agreed with them but let me tell you how. I spent most of my time on Rita Fast Track (simulator) where questions were quite lengthy (unlike the exam itself) but when you read the answer and its explanation, you start building your concepts and that is what helps you in the exam.

In my experience, the exam questions were quite short as compared to RITA, didn’t have much irrelevant information and were straight forward.

So if you have the concepts clear in your mind, you can easily look out for the correct answer as soon as you read the question.

Also Read: PM PrepCast & Simulator review and Bonus resources that help you get PMP before PMBOK-6 kicks in.

Issues you may face during exam, and how to overcome

1. The first major challenge is Time Management and that comes through practice.

I could not complete my 1st mock attempt (managed to do just 173 questions) but then again Rita has long questions. But with a lot of practice, I learned to manage my time.

I completed my real exam just 2 minutes before the end time and had no time to review the marked questions.

Tip: Solve questions with the best possible answer (in case you do not have time to review it again, like me). There is no negative marking for an incorrect answer. So, if you have answered a question you are uncertain about, you still have 25% probability of getting it right.

2. The second major challenge is choosing the correct answer out of 2 given choices in Situation Based Questions.

For majority of the questions, you will find yourself eliminating 2 out of 4 answers easily but the two remaining answers will keep you in doubt. Again, its based on your concepts from PMBOK and not from your experience in doing projects (at your workplace). You may have to unlearn what you have learned on ground!

Tip: While studying, make a flow of events which will happen for a particular situation.

For example, If there is a change request, there are certain situations in which you need to inform the sponsor immediately and then there are certain situation in which you need to first evaluate the impact of the change and submit the change to the change control board to review before approaching the sponsor.

Closing – My recommendations

These are some of the PMP success stories that helped me –

Also Read: The 4-Week PMP plan that’s making waves in the community.

Few study tips (based on my experience)

  • PMBOK 5 is nothing but an elaboration of its Page # 61 (skeleton). Print it first thing, understand it thoroughly and then start studying chapters. Go through page 61 every single day before you start studying.
  • Shiv’s Brain-dump (use as a collection of all formula and important stuff to revise before exam)
    Once you are done with reading the book/s, print these formulae out and keep them handy at all times. Refer to them multiple times if you get an answer wrong.
  • PMP glossary (keep this handy at all times and refer to it multiple times to clear your concepts while reading chapters, attempting mocks or RFT). Also read the glossary at the end of PMBOK 5.
  • While studying, relate things with your everyday things & make mnemonics (look for PMP mnemonic book here). Just to give you an example, there’s a concept of Crashing and Fast Tracking in Time Management. The easiest way I could understand these two was,
    • Crashing = where there are so many people that they crash into each other 🙂 and since its putting more people on a project, it accounts for more cost (impacting Cost Performance Index)
    • Fast Tracking = I associated “Tracking” with railway tracks which are mostly laid in parallel and so fast tracking means activates done in parallel to save time but then it increases the risk as ideally some activities should be done one after the other.
  • Also when you solve mocks, you learn a lot. Make notes of the concepts. The best way is to relate key words to the key terms. It helps a lot when you see these key words in the exam, you can at once relate the key term and move on the next question. For example,
    • Delphi method – anonymous feedback / large group / questionnaires circulated
    • Pareto Diagram – 80/20 rule / histogram with most critical issues
    • Analogous Estimating – top down / high level estimates / not accurate / historical information
    • Better and selected when;
      SPI / CPI > 1
      SV / CV > 0
      NPV (Net Present Value)= higher the better
      IRR (Internal rate of return) = higher the better
      BCR (Benefit cost ratio) = higher the better
      TCIP < 1
      Payback period = lesser the better
  • Previously I had all ITTOs printed on separate sheets but just 6 days before the exam, I decided to put them up together to make logical connections of knowledge areas into the respective process groups and believe me, this helped me a lot. I could see all the processes in a better way now and understand things better. For e.g. Plan procurement management is the only process in Planning process group which has change request as output. This was the most referred things during my final days of study.

In the closing..

And in my closing remarks, a big shout out to my husband and parents for their constant support and motivation!

My husband really helped me for months in taking good care of all the house chores and our son so that I could study stress-free. My parents have always been a blessing in every way. They have taken care of my little one through-out and have always supported me in all my endeavors, no words can be enough to thank them for their selfless efforts. And last but not the least, my in-laws who helped babysit my son while I would give my timed mocks. Blessed to have such a wonderful family!

That’s all folks! I’ve shared my experience in as much detail as I could.

Happy Learning and Good luck for your exam!

Sunober Cooper, PMP

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Marwa January 14, 2018, 9:51 am

    Thanks a lot Sunober, you really inspired me with your success story, all the best luck for you

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