Is The New 2021 PMP® Exam Hard? – Pete Vasquez Shares His Lessons Learned

Is PMP exam harder? Pete Vasquez shares his insights“Is the new PMP® exam harder?”, this is the often asked question ever since PMI moved to the new PMP® exam on 2 Jan 2021.

Pete Vasquez prepared for the 2020-PMP exam and had to take the new PMP® exam due to lack of time. And in this article he answers, having been on both sides of the new exam rollover line, whether the new exam is hard. Or harder (hint: he scored overall Above Target! ) Don’t miss his top tips at the end of this article.

Pete is a native of Los Angeles, CA, and has an AB in Diplomacy and World Affairs and an MBA in Corporate Finance. He has over 20 years of Business Analyst experience in a variety of industries including banking, utilities, and education, and over 4 years of IT PM experience primarily in utilities.

When not working, Pete is actively looking for the next flight to somewhere new with a camera to take a million photos of the land, people, and night sky.

What made you take up PMP® certification?

I have been a business analyst for quite a long time and started the process to take the IIBA certification, but I noticed that there was not very much importance given for it by employers.

Thus I thought that moving on to Project Management might be beneficial when I took a job managing resource allocation and got familiar with Earned Value as a measure of project health.

After that assignment, I started looking for and found an opportunity to work as an Associate Project Manager and got first-hand experience requirements for the PMP exam.

This experience convinced me that getting into the world of Project Management filled with opportunities for growth and fulfilling work would be the right path forward.

PMP certification is the best possible step to take for the 36- degree focus it has on all aspects of Project management, including the Agile approach now.

How does it feel now that you are certified?

Now I see the PMP certification as a reinforcement of my MBA. I am more interested in the organizational aspect of executing value proposition as opposed to sitting in an executive suite and managing direct reports.

I want to continue a career of developing work environments that facilitate the growth of all associated stakeholders.

So, I trust the PMP certification will help open doors for me to new and interesting challenges.

Also read: Peter Hua shares 3 things that helped him pass his PMP exam

Can you talk about the study resources you used..

I looked at a variety of resources: online, local training organizations, community college courses, university programs.

And I considered paying quite a lot for a comprehensive program. With so many years after my last academic or testing activity, it was difficult to get my head back into the focus required to formally study for, and take an exam.

Contemplating my experience I took the first step by joining and downloading the PMBOK. I needed to understand the framework and identify my knowledge gaps.

Thus I concluded that an overview to gain perspective and the training materials would be sufficient. I chose Skillsoft and I joined the “I want to be PM” group on LinkedIn.

Skillsoft trainer did a good job; great presentation answered questions, provided a comprehensive deck and lots of practice exam materials.

How did you approach the exam and what was your study plan?

I provided myself A LOT of time.

I’ve heard of people taking a couple of months of study on evenings and weekends.

But I actually took some time off and gave myself plenty of time to develop an approach that involved summarizing and mapping out the Knowledge areas in detail. And also thinking about those examples from my experience that fit AND see how these related to the process groups.

In this way, I saw where I did things correctly and took additional lessons from my experience for the next time.

I had a lot of ‘Ah-HA!’ moments doing my lessons learned.

Because of the pending changes in 2021, I was able to draw from my most recent experiences in Agile development to anticipate the new domain perspective being adopted.

Also read: Shweta shares how she passed PMP online with Above-Target score

You prepared for the earlier version of the exam and then took the new version. Is the new PMP® exam hard?

Initially, it was quite ambiguous actually. During the second half of 2020 when I was seriously preparing for the exam I heard a lot of concern about the new exam changes.

Thus I decided that I should take the exam as soon as possible in order to ensure that I passed with plenty of time to spare.

I did take the study course in October 2020 with the ambitious goal of a late November or early December test date.

Then I started to fall behind on my study goals and I wanted to read and understand the guide. I put pressure on myself during the Holiday season and I frankly wanted to be doing other things.

So while I did try for a Dec 30 test date, I was too late and I ended up scheduling a month or so later. At that point I might as well be among the first to pass with the changes.

I just made sure I was up to date on the latest news from on the Domain approach and was glad to see that my recent Agile experience dovetailed nicely with the new exam outline.

So the short answer to the above question is – the PMP exam itself is a hard preparation compared to most of other comparable PM certifications, but the new exam is not much harder if you studied with focus and to a plan, using right resources.

Any challenges along the way?

The most difficult issue was getting experience to fulfill exam eligibility.

I spend about a year looking for an opportunity and I was not even sure how to make it happen.

I began working for a consulting group and asked my managers to assign me to a project where I could gain that sort of experience.

Fortunately for me, I was able to get assigned to a client that had this type of work and the onsite project manager needed an associate, or support analyst, to join at the end of the initiation stage of one of his projects.

That was a fortunate break for me.

Other barriers can be personal.

After some time and a couple of deployments, I began asking for support to qualify for the PMP exam.

I hoped to take the exam as I worked and could leverage my manager’s knowledge. And I wanted my employer to invest in me and pay for it.

Instead, I moved across the country and had to delay the whole process.

I then had to leave my consulting group and take work on a different project as I settled into a new city. And I had to raise the funds for the process myself.

Finally, I was able to take the exam 15 months after my original plan. One will find the way if there is resolve!

The week before the exam is crucial. What was your approach to study during this week?

My study plan was designed to be filled with practice exam time and reviewing wrong answers the week before the exam.

All study and reading have to be completed before this time… and I wanted to be sure that I had read PMBOK, understood the math/formulas, and had read about the pending changes to the exam.

I also had recordings of the PDU courses, but I had been taking notes so I did not go over them again. And I went over the course deck to make sure there was nothing I had missed.

I believe it is true that the experience will help bring everything together.

Last week I spent focusing on practice exams one after the other. NO TIMING! I just tried to stay calm. But I absolutely did keep score in order to see how I was trending.

So, I took practice tests of 25, 35, 60, 100, 150, 200 questions.

It was whatever I had from my training course and guidebooks to make sure I was mixing up the questions. I just progressed from small to larger tests; small tests were more frequent each day and by the night before, I took one 2.5 hour, 200 question test.

I’d study the wrong answers after each test, analyze the trending in the score and adjust as necessary.

As days passed I kept taking more tests if my score was not trending to my satisfaction.

I did all of this up to about 4 hours before the test. Then I went out for a walk, cleared my head and prepared myself for the exam. Taking time off was the right choice for me. I could not imagine studying and taking this exam in the middle of a deployment.

You may be interested: Increase your odds of PMP success, get daily support by joining these communities for free today: LinkedIn group and Facebook page.

What was your exam experience like?

I took mine online.

PMI lets PearsonVUE administer the test. I paid special attention to their instructions to prepare the space beforehand.

They are good with their tech and once one sends in ID and photos of the workspace, they log in to your machine and confirm everything is clear and the integrity of the exam can be assured.

The test screen has a running clock on the screen and the exam offers TWO breaks.

I estimated some time to answer each question and tried to stay on that pace.

BUT, paying attention to the question and the available answers is VERY important. I’d focus on getting the answer right, not dwelling and then moving on.

We all want to pass on the first try, but these tests require constant analysis. We get 3 chances to get it right (in the 1yr test eligibility period).

Any specific study tips for PMP® aspirants?

  • I emphasize an approach that ruthlessly exposes gaps in our knowledge. Attempting mock tests at chapter level, and each time you complete the study will help you identify these gaps.
  • There is A LOT of material to cover and process, but there is a logic that makes all the processes fit together. Understanding this is essential.
  • Learning the exam content is one part, but you will know where you stand only when you take mock tests. Also, mock tests let you practice how to manage time on the exam.
  • Try to understand what you study by applying it to your own work.
  • Finally, don’t go for any study resource out there, do your research and choose the one (or more) that gives you good hold on the content.

If you are still wondering if the new PMP exam is harder, well, the answer is in your hands. Go with a good plan + good resources + consistent commitment, and you will find it to be the easiest of them all!

All the best,

Pete Vasquez, PMP



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