These 3 Things That Helped Me Pass The PMP Exam – Peter Hua, PMP

How to pass the PMP exam - explained by Peter Hua“It was a close call as I prepared to pass the PMP exam in the last week of Dec”, said Peter Hua, “and the biggest learning I had from the first attempt is that I should align my preparation to 3 very important things”.

Peter lives in Canada and helps a global IT company deliver its products and services to its major clients in the Financial, Retail, Hospitality and IT sectors – to keep commerce running in a world that never stops.

His education background is in Finance/Administration and Computer Science from The University of Western Ontario. When he isn’t working, you’ll find Peter enjoying quality time with his wife and four kids who keep him on his toes. He is an avid basketball fan, volleyball and tennis enthusiast and enjoys music and reading books.

Pete being part of my PM Exam Last Mile prep program, our weekly calls were quite enjoyable. I learnt quite a bit about time management from him on these calls!

Would you like to pass the PMP exam following the best practices from an exam topper?

This ‘PMP Lessons Learned’ article could easily be the most comprehensive one you would come across, and is filled with tons of tactical as well as strategic approaches you can use for the new exam effectively! Don’t miss the 8 tips he shares at the end of this article.

This is a deep one, so get a pen and paper to note down few study gems that resonate with you.

Let us jump right in!

What made you take up PMP? Did you consider any other certification exams?

peter-hua-pmpTo further my personal and professional development.

I had completed a PMP preparation course back in 2015 to obtain the initial education requirements. With growing family priorities and project commitments at the time, certification pursuit was pushed to the back burner.

Fast forward, a new decade was upon us and another project being delivered was winding down, a renewed sense of focus emerged to obtain certification.

I was informed that the exam content was also going to change – which added an extra incentive to make achieving PMP a priority.

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What was the core benefit you expected from PMP certification and how do you see PMP helping you henceforth?

Increased knowledge of project management (PM) best practices and adding new skills within my PM tool kit to apply on future projects.

Going forward, I’d anticipate that the certification would add and enhance existing professional credibility with clients, along with future opportunities for advancement and growth.

Will continuously build on and sharpen my current PM skillset with PMP and expand on other complementary skills and interests.

Which study resources did you use to pass the PMP exam?

I opted for the following 3 resources:

  1. PM Exam Last Mile Prep (Shiv Shenoy) – access to accountability calls & mind-map videos
  2. PM PrepCast Exam Simulator (Cornelius Fichtner) – high positive reviews on exam simulator
  3. PMBOK (PMI) – by default (majority of exam questions originate from here)

Note – aside from above, lots of other great resources to help you (from Rita Mulcahy, SimpliLearn, GreyhoundCampus, your local PMI chapter, Aileen Ellis, Phil Akinwale, to name a few).

Do your research (read reviews, ask friends/colleagues who have gone through PMP journey for input on resources used). Take into consideration your own preferred learning style (visual, audio, text, combination, etc.) and then choose your resources.

There are lots of PMP material and various education providers on the market. Sometimes, you may gather too much information and get into an analysis paralysis state.

My recommendation is to pick one or two resources and a mentor (helps you move forward removing blocks on the way) to complement PMBOK – based on your learning style – and move forward.

You may also like: This week’s discounts on study resources to pass the PMP exam!

Tip: You can also view free YouTube videos of various education providers to get a feel of their content and personalities. If one provider resonates more with you, check into their program offerings further.

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

I followed a 7-week study plan from Last Mile Prep Program; took exam on day 50.

There were shorter and longer study plan duration options, but the 7-week plan seemed realistic and fit based on my available time and effort.

I targeted at least 2-3 hours per day of study, at minimum; more study time over weekends.

Weekends was also used for any catch-up needed from original study plan.

I stuck to the study plan as much as possible, tracked progress and adjusted plan accordingly until final exam date.

Note: Once an exam date was booked, having a firm date amplified my commitment and engagement to study into a higher gear.

You have been part of PM Exam Last Mile prep program (thank you!). Could you please share how it helped you?

peter-hua-flashcardsThe online program provides an easy-to-follow study framework for all Knowledge Areas.

The weekly quick follow-up calls helped for added accountability during studies and appreciated the helpful guidance/insights to course-correct or focus on certain areas, when needed. (Thank you, Shiv!)

Other helpful resources included (knowledge capsules summary, mock tests, formulas, various question types to anticipate, and fun crosswords).

Mind maps approach to the lessons helped a lot with overall understanding of key topics.

The mnemonics technique made remembering different topic key phrases easier.

Both mind-mapping and mnemonics is now added to my learning tool kit for future use!

Also read: How James Bethea used his second attempt to pass the PMP exam in time!

Can you please tell our readers about some of the issues you faced during your PMP journey, and how did you overcome them.

Carving out study time!

With family and work commitments, I needed to make the necessary time for study before and after work and on weekends. Obtaining PMP does take a significant investment of your time and energy.

This is how I went about tackling this issue.

First, I established my clear WHY for obtaining certification and kept it top of mind. Once I decided getting PMP was a priority, I created a plan, and acknowledged the temporary sacrifices necessary to make time to study happen.

Next, Informed my family/friends of goal and enlisted their support for added assist with any personal family obligations, to allow for dedicated study periods.

A study area was designated where materials would be readily accessible.

Then, a study plan was developed with as much detail as possible upfront, reserving blocks of time in my calendar of planned study periods and adding reminder notices. For me, study sessions not scheduled in the calendar, makes it easy to miss and skip if no reminders are set to trigger.

In addition, having weekly calls with a coach/partner/study buddy/group helps with added accountability to work your study plan and report status.

Weekly accountability sessions help provide feedback and course-correct, as needed to keep momentum and plan going forward. As you progress, you start building momentum, then a study rhythm follows and you start to build consistency.

Study during times where your energy level is optimal.

At times, after some long workdays, initially I would try to “power” through study sessions late in the evenings.

While studying in this pattern, I felt it was not very productive and tested to just go to sleep when I would be too tired on a given evening.

I started waking up earlier instead to resume study and this seemed to do the trick.

After several sessions, I was more alert cognitively and energy levels were higher to absorb the study material in the early mornings (vs. late evenings), before work commitments began – which helped with my overall studies.

Figure out the best times your energy is most optimal for studying.

My first exam attempt did not work out as anticipated.

Then I took time away to refresh and regroup and passed on the second attempt.

In hindsight, main differences from first to second approach:

  1. completed significantly more practice questions – 2X more, at least 1000+ mock exam questions;
  2. reviewed mock exams and reasons behind incorrect answers more thoroughly and kept a log to spot common patterns for improvement
  3. managed time more consciously during practice exams – using basketball game analogy (I’ll share in a bit)
  4. supplemented my learning style with more tactile tools – I am a bit old school 😉 Added physical index flashcards and wrote out processes on the front and outputs on back initially; added other topics and definitions, where needed and repeatedly reviewed cards until I recalled items (processes and outputs) automatically.

Continued to add and refine cards with more knowledge and key points to the back of the cards, coupled with reviewing mind maps based Last Mile videos at 1.5X on second round study, and using PMBOK as a reference guide.

A combination of all these factors I believe helped me overall to succeed.

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

I blocked solid one-week off before the exam date to practice mock exams.

Simulated the test environment as close as possible based on the exam start time planned to get a good idea of how it feels to complete a full 4-hr test exam at the specified time.

On top of practicing to apply knowledge to quickly answer questions, I realized the exam also really tests your cognitive endurance and stamina.

It is a long test to remain sharp throughout the entire exam while also managing your time properly.

Practiced multiple full exams on back-to-back days during this week, to help build up the “test-taking” muscle.

Prior to this week, I had worked my way up by completing mini-tests, sets of 25, 50, 100 questions which helped ease the transition slightly, to write the full exam.

Here is a technique that I think would help pass the PMP exam the most: Once a mock exam was completed, would take a break and later review mock exam results for questions answered incorrectly, which helped strengthen and close any knowledge area gaps.

Mock exam analysis took at times, as much or more time than the full exam itself! I concentrated a significant amount of time in this area of review and referenced PMBOK, for added clarity on concepts, where needed.

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That is tremendously helpful. What was your exam experience like?

In my case, I opted to write exam in test centre (versus online) to minimize any interruptions during the exam.

I visited the test centre in advance to gain familiarity with test facilities several days in advance of exam date. Located actual test center room which was located within a building with various offices; located the restroom to know where it is (just in case needed, on exam day) 😉

Staff were friendly, some administration work needed to be completed before taking the exam. Your personal belongings were left within a locker on-site.

Reminded myself to take a couple deep breaths and do the best you can – leave it all out there, no matter the outcome.

New approach the second time around

Like I said earlier, I passed on the second attempt. So this time I went in using a basketball game analogy to track my time.

Better managing my time was one of the lessons learned from the first go round. A basketball game has 4 quarters (each quarter represents a period of time). After two-basketball quarters, it is considered half-time, which is similar to the mid-point of the exam.

Each basketball quarter will be roughly equivalent to 60-minutes on the exam. For every quarter, a reminder to myself was needed to gauge my test answering pace (I wrote down each quarter with a specific time to check-in on status, on a sheet and marker provided by the test centre).

Within every quarter, I targeted 50 questions to be answered, plus/minus a few questions.

This helped guide me on whether I was on pace, behind, or needed to pick-up the pace for the next quarter until the end of the exam.

How about the types of questions on the exam?

Questions were mostly scenario-based, with minimal formula-based questions in my case.

Some exam questions and answers required multiple passes for added clarity.

I tried not to spend too much time on one question, marked it for review and moved on (remembered: 25-questions were going to be pre-test questions which will not be evaluated as part of your total score, hopefully those marked fell into this bucket).

Most importantly: I left no questions unanswered as incorrect answers do not reduce marks.

Took the optional 10-min break at half-time, mid-point of the exam, to break and refuel.

Went back at it and attempted to finish strong in the second half. Determined I needed to pick-up the pace during the last quarter. The rest is history.

Any specific study tips, advice, techniques, or strategies you’d like to share with those preparing for their PMP exam?

  • Understand your preferred learning style (audio, visual, combination, reading, writing, etc.) and when you are at your best learning – early morning, evening or at night – for quality studies and also consideration when book time slot to write exam
  • Establish your reason why for wanting to obtain PMP, coupled with a study plan and strategies, then work the plan to maintain forward progress and momentum. No need to re-invent the wheel, learn from others who have completed the journey. Carve out the necessary time in your calendar and make the necessary sacrifices.
  • Enlist others to support you along the journey (ie. significant other, family, accountability partner, study buddy or group)
  • Emphasis on understanding from PMI perspective/terminology of questions and answers managing projects and choosing best available answer. Reference PMI exam content outline and PMBOK.
  • Practice, practice, practice – minimum 1000+ mock questions from quality sources (not all free online mocks are quality).
  • Track your time during exam – with a favorite sport game analogy (in quarters) or your preferred sport. Leave no questions unanswered.
  • Utilize the PMI mock exam which will helps give you an idea on PMI-type of questions.
  • I recommend PM PrepCast Exam Simulator; significantly helped with mock tests simulation and review to understand any gap areas.

Hope some of these lessons learned help you on your journey. With new exam content, there may be added resources to review but the study approach and strategies shared still apply.

Establish your why, have a plan, and give it your best shot! “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Your persistence will eventually pay off. One step at a time! Go pass the PMP exam!

Best of luck!


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