A Topper’s Guide to Passing the PMP Exam – Akhalaque Ansari, PMP

pass pmp prep ak ansariPassing PMP was one of the toughest challenges for me as far as professional certification exams are concerned. At the end of it, the outcome is worth every ounce of energy spent, every hour of sleep skipped, and all the sacrifices I had to make. I’m PMP certified now and the feeling is simply fantastic.

In this post I am sharing my exam experience and some of the techniques I used to make my efforts more effective. This is quite a detailed guide and I hope that this will help PMP aspirants prepare better for their exam.

My research threw up some startling facts

My PMP journey started when I was working as a Project Manager for an MNC. Some of my peers were PMPs and they advised me to go for it considering its market value in the domestic/international arena.

Initially, I did some research and figured out that PMPs earn at least 30% more than their non-certified peers. Then I figured out that many large corporations go only for PMPs and some of them don’t even accept applications of non-PMPs.

PMP is highly sought after by people not only from Information technology but also from various other industries like Automobile, Oil and Gas, Research, Marketing, Sales, Construction, Engineering. This makes PMP certification more lucrative proposition unlike other certifications, which target only one particular audience.

Hence, I decided to join a training institute to embark on my PMP journey.

Some of the study resources I used are..

First, I joined a PMP training institute in Bangalore. They provided me with online study material and few mock tests.

I studied the material thoroughly, but as soon as I started on the mock tests I realized that I was not doing well. I would score in the range of 50% to 55%. Since they did not provide class room training, I decided to join another institute for a face to face training.

My personal recommendation is to go for class room training than an online one because interactive training is the best method to learn. But keep in mind that once you are out of the classes, you need to back that learning up with self-study immediately; else you will start forgetting what you have learned.

Lesson learned – do your due-diligence with the training institute you want to opt for, or an online training you wish to take up.

I read the PMBOK just once.

I studied the training institute’s study book about 4 times. I also took about 5000 multiple choice questions along with the templates they provided to figure out different types of template, their content, and use.

I also revised mock tests thrice before the exam to give myself the much-needed confidence.

Internet is a great place to learn things. At any point there are over 2 billion people connected around the world. I joined online PMP groups that share the knowledge and approach towards PMP exam.

That’s when I came across Shiv’s PMP group.

The first thing I would do when I logged into Facebook was to go to this page and try answering the mock questions that he posted on a daily basis. This practice gave me confidence.

Also Read: Mayank Bajpai’s entire PMP “Exam Brain dump” (it’s not what you think)!

Learn from others

Every time I read the experiences of PMP certified professionals it motivated me to try harder.

I went over PMP smart notes and found them to be quite helpful. I would highly recommend them to all PMP aspirants and would like to take this opportunity to thank Shiv for doing a great job in giving something back to the community. Please keep up the good work Shiv!

My PMP study plan

I believe that the PMP preparation is all about momentum. Once you lose that it’s hard to get it back.

Hence, I decided to study at least an hour after work EVERYDAY to maintain the study momentum. I gave myself 1 year to do so. On weekends or holidays, I would ramp up to 5 hours a day. I would try to avoid exceptions unless it is absolutely necessary.

Once I completed the first round of studying the book, to solving multiple choice question, I would take a timed mock exam. I would take it with the seriousness of the real exam.

Since I am not a morning person I would keep the mock schedule from 12.30pm to 4.30pm, and I preferred the same slot for the real exam as well.

I scored close to 60% in my very first 4hr mock test, and when I did my 3rd and 4th revision I was scoring 85% – 90% consistently.

Fine-tune your study efforts

I strongly suggest reviewing the mock exam results and retrospect on areas that need more focus.

For me, the grey areas were Quality and Risk, so I gave myself ample time to nail them. By the end of my preparation they became my favourite knowledge areas.

I would suggest dedicating at least 400/500 hours (including the mock tests) to give yourself a fighting chance the clear the PMP exam.
If you want to study more sky is the limit, of course. I studied about 800-1000 hours but then I am a traditional person who likes to take printout, mark the important ones and then study – so it is subjective.

As it happens to a project, I too hit hurdles

The biggest issue we all face is time management.

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

To stick to my timelines, I constantly reminded myself of the benefits of being PMP certified. I advised my family/friends to understand my aspirations and excuse me if I cannot attend a social gathering/get-together.

No point trying to memorize anything

Since I am an Engineering graduate, I have the habit of memorizing everything under the sun.

This exam tests your ability on understanding the concepts/fundamentals and not your ability to memorize.

I started a more practical approach and would tie jargons to stories. For instance, Risk appetite is How hungry are you? Risk tolerance – How much eating is too much?

Another example is, I would imagine that if I am sitting in the office and the 1st fire alarm goes off, my security officer will ask me to wear a mask and continue working. However, if the 2nd alarm goes off I am required to evacuate the building. This would be my Risk tolerance limit. The 1st alarm would be my threshold limit as I still have some interest and I am still working.

I faced challenges with remembering the ITTOs (I/P, O/P, TT) for all the 47 processes.

I came with a plan to go through them every morning. The idea was to print each process ITTO on a page and stick on my bedroom wall, 47 pages in all.

The first thing I would do getting up in the morning was to go through ITTOs once – just to understand them. It hardly took 10 minutes because if you keep it for the last moment you are bound to forget them.

ITTOs are logical as many of them are repeated through the processes. The output of one process becomes input to another process. For example, try to understand study why we have SOW, Business case, Agreements, EEF and OPSs as the inputs to Project charter and why not others. Most importantly, understand what information is embedded in those that are used to create and approve Project Charter.

My preparatory steps to PMP exam

  • 1 week before the exam is very crucial as it can make or break your overall preparations. DO NOT start your first mock test during this time as your confidence might take a beating if you score less than 70, 75 or 80 depending on the difficulty level of the mock test and you don’t want that at the last moment. You must take at least few mock tests during your study time itself.
  • Avoid the “student syndrome”. As students have a habit of doing everything at the last moment so stop studying anything new and only revise what you have done so far.
  • I would typically write down all the formulas (ROI, NPV, IRR, EAC, ETC, TCPI, VAC, Float, 3-point estimate etc) every day and make sure I can write them down under 5 minutes during the real exam to avoid forgetting.
  • I had made lot of personal notes on concepts that I kept forgetting or was not able to recall easily. I highly recommend you do the same. Those notes may not make sense to another person but will definitely help you recall stuff during the exam.
  • I revised the Formula’s, ITTO, my notes and the questions of the mock exams that I prepared earlier twice. Many people make study notes and then do not make time to revise them.
  • My preparation was enhanced by the 5K mock question print outs that I collected over a period of one year and they gave me the much-needed confidence.

My PMP exam day experience

First thing I wanted to do was to relax and have a full 8 hours sleep before the night of the exam to battle out the gruelling 4 hours of the exam the next day. This helped me stay as focused as I could.

  • I started off well by answering 10 to 15 questions correctly and that gave me the confidence to carry on. I got 5 to 6 calculation questions on NPV, Total float, CPI and the questions were pretty much situational based. It’s very important to start off well as it will set the tone for the rest of the exam.
  • There were questions that tested my concepts on PM. For instance, I had a meeting with X people so what would be the resulting output, I have got Y thing approved in which document will I update it? The team is discussing X process and procedures in which process group they are currently in?
  • The exam will try to trick you and it’s very easy to get carried away. Example, which document will you update a) Issue Log, 2) scope baseline, 3) cost baseline, 4) Project Scope statement. In such scenarios we need to know that scope and cost baselines, project scope statements are part of Project Management plan and they cannot be updated without getting it approved through the change control process.
  • I could figure out at the end of the exam that I will pass but I never knew I will score a perfect 5 proficient/above average in all the 5 process groups. The simple reason is there are questions where PMI will provide more than 2 or 3 correct answers and you need to choose the best one, so in spite of we choosing the best we still cannot be 100% sure of the correct answer unlike the cost forecasting, CPI/SPI,ETC, EAC, VAC questions where we always have 1 correct answer.
  • The toughness of the exam will depend upon your preparation. Since I was well prepared I thought it was moderately tough but again, it is subjective.

The biggest advantage I would feel is to stay calm throught the exam. This puts you in the best possible frame of mind to get back on track if things don’t turn up as expected.

Also Read: PMP Exam Experience of a Busy Dad: AkbarAli, PMP

My study tips or techniques for PMP students

The first thing we want to do is to believe in ourselves that we can do it. It’s one of the toughest certification in theworld, but we are ready to take it head on

Please prepare as a professional and NOT as a student who read’s the book from cover to cover. While reading ask yourself what will go wrong if I don’t have a Project charter or I haven’t identified stakeholder adequately and what is the idea behind why the inputs are the way they are

Unlearn whatever you have learned so far in your professional career. What I meant to say is PMI wants you to answer the exam keeping PMBOK as a reference guide so always choose the answer what is best advised in the PMBOK guide even though your experience tell you otherwise.

Don’t waste your time giving way too many of mock tests without studying concepts first, as they will eat away 1 day (4 hours of test and a couple hours more to retrospect). 5 mock tests with a score of 75-80 should be good enough depending on the difficulty level of the exam. Remember your mock tests will never improve if your preparation is not up to the mark. Remember, Garbage I/P = Garbage O/P.

Stay away from Nay-Sayers who don’t believe that you can do it and from people who tell you that they did it in 2 to 3 weeks’ time. Nobody in this whole wide world has ever cleared PMP is 2 to 3 weeks so it’s better to be aware of what we are against and work towards achieving the goal.

While preparing always try to understand the concept and not memorise them. PMI will test your fundamentals and your ability to drive any project irrespective of the industry.


Here’s my PMP exam result report..

Remember what comes easy will not last long and what lasts long will NOT come easy.

Happy Studying and All the Best!


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