As she was talking about her PMP® exam experience, Smita said that she believed in the phrase ‘a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow’. And she used this iterative PMP® planning strategy in her preparation as well. She had to reschedule her exam a couple of times, which also became a reason for iterating the plan.
Smita Kabra is a software professional with over 10 years of rich experience. She has been an active member of our PMESN community.
I see that some of her preparation strategies shared here are right on the dot.
For instance, she used Kanban board to manage progression at process, and even concept level. She made it fun and ensured she moved along the plan, one task at a time. Or, she learned the processes by applying to her project and pondering how would she do things differently.
I’m sure you will learn a lot about how to prepare better for your own PMP® exam, by understanding how Smita did it.
What made you take up PMP®?
The journey actually began in my early 3 years into my professional career, I started to work as a quality assurance analyst. As I gained confidence in my role I realized the need for formal project management education.
I happened to be mentored by the person who had earned PMP®. As I started to learn from him I got interested to get into project management and decided to get PMP® certified. Unfortunately back then I did not have the project management experience to meet the application eligibility criteria.
As I grew and got opportunities to work as a project manager and met eligibility criteria, I decided to apply for PMP® exam. In addition, my husband encouraged me to plan for PMP® exam as he had earned this certification 5 years ago.
What benefits do you see now that you are a certified PMP®?
The benefits from achieving my PMP® certification are many – the knowledge, tools and techniques to manage any type of projects, and resultant confidence. Not to mention a chance to build my professional network.
I’m also confident that my PMP® certification will show potential employers that I am experienced enough to take up challenging projects. This has already increased trust with my managers and co-workers in my current organization, it has definitely changed the perception.
Which study resources did you use for the preparation?
I did use a few and they were distributed between primary study material, reference material, and mock tests.
- Rita Mulcahy (ad0 and the PMBOK guide, primarily
- PMP Study tips, Techniques, Strategies (PMExamSmartNotes blog) – especially the articles from this collection are very helpful
- Saket Bansal’s videos on EVM and few other concepts
- LinkedIn PMP® course by Sandra
- While studying these I created my own notes and mid maps
- I tried to do a lot of free exams online and also used Rita Simulator heavily.
- Enjoyed concepts from HeadFirst PMP® book for few concepts like Integration, Risk, Cost, & Stakeholder management
What was your PMP® plan?
On an average I spent minimum 2-3 hours daily consistently for 8 weeks, this was not regular sometimes as with full time working mother.
I focused a lot on Planning and Monitoring & Controlling as these have plenty of processes.
I would try to use real example from my current projects and past company projects and identified gaps if I had used particular PM framework how I could have avoided issues.
I would create a study plan and then would execute and check and if it doesn’t go as planned. Then I would re-plan and execute and check and again re-plan, this cycle repeated until I was satisfied that my daily schedule and study plan matched to keep a sustainable study pace.
One of my ‘pet projects’ was the PMP® certification preparation itself. I tried to apply as many processes and Knowledge Areas as I can to finish that goal during my study.
Did you face any issues along the way?
I had to reschedule my exam a few times. Each time it reschedules I would rework my study plan. 🙂
Finally, when I was trying to book the exam, only day that was available was the last day of my eligibility period!.
With this I had 45 days for my exam and I took a mock test to evaluate my study. I scored 53% (I hadn’t yet completed one round of study). And this was a trigger for me to get serious and study hard.
Rescheduling exam has ripple effects that impact work and family life. Thus, as much as possible it’s better to stick to a reasonable study plan and get it done in one go.
The week before the exam is crucial. What was your approach?
Yes, the week before the exam is most critical and thus I had taken a week’s leave with my manager’s support. Having dedicated time for preparation helps managing any last minute surprises.
I would attempt a mock test everyday, sometimes even two. What helped me was to go back to those questions which I had answered wrong and understand what went wrong in my thinking. This way I could discover gaps in my understanding and quickly fill them.
On days when I scored less on a mock test I would motivate myself to focus more and do better the next one.
I revised all the concepts the day before exam and stay focused as much as I could.
Can you share your exam experience?
My test center was located to close to my work in Reston, VA and my exam was on a Friday morning.
I would suggest test takers to drive to the test center few days before the exam and talk to the staff. You would have read this many times, trust me it helps. I would also recommend reaching the exam location at least an hour early, you can stay back in the car, but this helps avoid the anxiety of being late to the exam.
I was provided with dry erase pens and laminated sheets for scratch work. If you are planning to write down detailed brain dump then this may not be very conducive! If you are planning on writing down brain dump then make sure you call up your particular test center and ask if they give scratch papers, before scheduling your test.
The staff was supportive. They know the criticality of exam, they would come inside the hall if you need any help.
As the exam clock started, I wrote down just the PM framework, formulas and key concepts that I felt are important, on the scratch sheet.
I gave myself 30mins for questions review. However, I felt the time was not sufficient for my review as I had rush through some questions.
The complexity of questions were: 20-25% were difficult, 50% were medium, and remaining were easy.
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Any study tips for PMP® students?
Here are my top-4 study tips –
- It is best to start with a PMP® plan of study. It does not have to be fancy or perfect. Do one, run with it for a couple of weeks, refine it, see for another couple of weeks… you get the iterative idea. 🙂
- I would stress again to focus on core concepts and practice. Practice and practice. I got this tip from my husband (who is PMP® certified himself) and I cannot stress enough the benefits of practicing concepts and the mock tests.
- Definitely recommend skimming through PMBOK guide – irrespective of the core study materials you use (book/course/class/coaching).
- Make study a fun exercise: I used Kanban board for my study in my study area. I had all the post-it notes with important concepts which I would move from to-do, to in-progress, to done. This I kept reviewing daily and this helped me a lot as it was also a fun exercise.
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