PMP® preparation approach of a Scientist! – Nagaraj Masuluri, PMP

PMP preparation approach explained by an ocean scientist, Nagaraja Masuluri after passing his PMP exam.Quite a few of my students come from non-traditional project management fields – scientists, professors, fashion designers, Solopreneurs and so on. This goes to prove the value of PMP® as a project management knowledge base. I’ve noticed that each one has their own unique PMP® preparation approach though.

In this week’s PMP Lessons Learned article, an Ocean Scientist, Nagaraj Masuluri, shares his PMP® exam experience and approach.

Nagaraj completed his post graduation in Physics. Presently pursuing Ph. D. in Remote Sensing and Satellite Telemetry based studies in Fisheries.

Nagaraj is working as a Scientist in an autonomous body of Govt of India where they do research about Oceans and then convert the research findings into an operational services useful for the public.

This is a long one, so get your paper and pencil to make some notes.

Being a scientist, why did you go for PMP®?! 🙂

PMP preparation approach by nagaraja masuluri pmpI have been working in a government R & D sector, studying about Oceans. We have our own set of guidelines, rules and procedures to follow when we deal with various projects planning, execution, etc.

For long I have been wondering about mainstream project management practices, and interested to know how they are different what we follow. This line of inquiry also could help me be better at my work, I have hoped.

Initially I heard about PMP® and much later about PRINCE. I preferred PMP® because I felt that it covered all aspects of projects of all sizes pretty well.

Now that you are PMP® certified, what benefits would you expect?

My field of working is completely different and there is no weightage that I may be accruing due to PMP certification.

It was my own interest and passion about knowing the best practices in project management and I wanted to see if I could use it while planning, executing and implementing the projects in my career.

And another motivation that I could see by doing PMP was the value of PMP certification that can fetch me a new role, if I plan to move to private sector.

Reading the PMP material, twice, made me to grasp a larger portion of knowledge that PM should possess and this is going to help me in adopting good practices while dealing with projects at my office, especially while planning the projects and monitoring and controlling the associated risks.

Which study resources did you consider, and eventually used for the exam preparation?

I was also a successful applicant of PMIEF and secured PM Prep cast training and simulator free of cost for PMBOK 5th edition.

But due to various reasons I was never able to complete it. Although work kept me busy, I had been following various sites / blogs such as Shiv’s Blog PMExamSmartnotes.com, articles from projectmanager.com, and university courses on project management, etc.

Eventually I purchased the book-set of Shiv Shenoy’s Ace Your PMP® Exam.

Also, I subscribed to PMI Membership with my local chapter.

Then tried with Shiv’s PMP® Launchpad, the free course, and got more inclination and then subscribed to ‘PM Exam Last Mile Prep Program’.

I followed the 11 week study strategy included in this Last Mile program.

Though there are constraints in the time that I could spend, I completed the training with mind maps, videos of each Knowledge Areas and associated mock tests, while reading PMBOK 6th Ed. in parallel.

The exam date was nearing and need to have some more practice, I purchased Joseph Philips exams on Udemy, and PMI’s exam simulator (freely available with PMI membership). This then I supplemented with few more exam questions over internet (Oliver, etc.).

I have purchased lot more resources to use and study for the exam. May be with diluted focus I failed the first time. Then my core focus during second time preparation was completely different and the resources that I used were very limited. I used the following –

  1. PM Exam Last Mile Prep (I studied the Knowledge Capsules through till day before exam day)
  2. Infocareer PMP Assure free videos on each knowledge area (used up to two days before exam)
  3. Rita Mulcahy (read through till day before exam day)
  4. Practiced about 500 mock test questions (I suggest to take as many as possible, though I couldn’t)

I got a good friend Mr. Phani Radhakrishna from PMI PCC chapter who mentored and motivated me, without whom I couldn’t thought of taking the second attempt. His continuous motivation made me to pay the exam fees for the second attempt.

What was your PMP® preparation approach & what was your study plan?

Because of change in circumstances at my office and work load, I couldn’t spend much time on studying. However last 10-days were very crucial days, where I put more efforts (time wise 5-7 hours daily).

I also started using the Knowledge capsules from PM Exam Last Mile Prep program in parallel.

Throughout I was completely dependent on these Knowledge Capsules to identify my gap areas and to recollect the gist of each Knowledge Area.

I started going through the videos (@1.75x speed) about each KA (I still left 2 KAs unfinished) and in parallel, studying through the chapters in Rita Mulcahy.

Of course I couldn’t read every point in the book, but went through important concepts with more thorough reading on the gap areas where I was weak in.

Practiced most of the chapter-end mock tests in Rita book.

The day before the exam, I slept around 11 pm and woke up at 4:30 am, revised, got ready and went to office to take the exam at 9:00 am.

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

As explained above, the curriculum in the PM Exam Last Mile Prep is very helpful to easily grasp and visualize the entire knowledge of PMBOK, especially through Mind Maps.

There were few knowledge areas which I couldn’t able to read during the second attempt but the knowledge that I gained during my preparation in the first attempt was still prevailing in my mind, which is mostly due to Mind mapping based learning.

The summarized formula sheets and the Knowledge Capsules were 100% essential to identify my gap areas in a short time. As I went through the knowledge areas, I got the entire gist of that KA in quick time.

I feel they are essential readings, even just before the exam day.

In addition, the application support was also crucial. Shiv Shenoy went through my application and suggested key aspects on how the application should be.

I made four to five revisions of my application (keeping in view of the number of characters, terminology to be used, etc.) before submitting the application, where Shiv’s support was very appreciable.

What was the role of Simulators in your preparation?

Simulating exam was key to PMP® preparation approach, I must say. Though I could do a limited number of questions only, the benefits are invaluable.

Even after detailed studying I have faced these issues:

  1. I forgot the KAs that were studied earlier by that time I finished the Stakeholders Management Knowledge Area
  2. analyzing the questions in practical scenario

I could always narrow down to 2 choices from the 4 multiple choices given. But missed to choose the best answer.

Taking mock tests, going over incorrect answers, and studying the reason behind the right answer helped me fine tune my approach to solve each question.

The other benefit I observed is that each time I took a mock test and analyzed the answers, I filled my knowledge gaps, and came out becoming more confident about my exam preparation. This was priceless.

You may be interested: in recommended free online mock test simulators and other PMP resources

Any challenges you faced along the way?

The big disadvantage that I had was forgetting some of the concepts as I move through knowledge areas. And using mind map based study from PM Exam Last Mile prep program I was able to retain most of what I studied within a short time.

Another issue that I faced while taking exam is slow reading of question and difficulty in applying the knowledge. Both these were overcome to a large extent by practicing using mock tests, and looking for keywords in the questions as I read them.

I was, initially, successful to bring down the four choices to two choices. Most of the time, both answers were pretty suitable answers for the question, but still we need to chose the best suitable and the immediate action that we need to take subsequent to a problem defined in the question.

This is where I failed in my first attempt.

Though I couldn’t revise every concept in the PMBOK for the second time, I kept on asking myself why not this and why that way only, after narrowing down four choices to best two choices.

This self-questioning method was helpful as my PMP® preparation approach, especially in scenario based questions.

What was your exam experience like?

I took online proctored examination.

In my first attempt, I did it from home and in second attempt from my office.

During my first attempt, I tested my laptop with internet, mic and webcam, everything was fine. But during the exam, the software that I need to use for proctored exam i.e. OnVUE was newer version, as compared to the software that I used while testing.

So, it is always better to download the software on the same day of exam.

Another issue while taking the pictures of the sitting place, id card, etc.

On the exam day, I logged into the system of Pearson website, but the ‘start exam’ link did not come up. Uploaded everything. But somehow my exam didn’t start, which was supposed to get activated 30 minutes earlier.

Then the screen was refreshed and I had to log back in and and do entire ID proof verification, surrounding place picture upload, etc.

The software also denied me going further as it was treating my Wi-Fi as very slow network.

With all these glitches in mind, I took my second attempt from my office. There also, I used LAN based connectivity, Instead of using Wi-Fi.

Tested the laptop, connectivity, etc. two days before the exam date.

Everything was good to go.

On the exam day, without any second thought re-downloaded the Software i.e OnVUE software, installed, tested the system and started check-in process.

Then Invigilator came and asked me to show the sitting place and surrounding places with webcam of laptop. Showed it (a bit difficult with LAN connection) and finally he asked me to remove the connection to the monitor of my office desktop which is behind at a distance of one meter.

Then I started the examination. During the exam, on some occasions, I kept my mouth covered with my hands, as a normal gesture we do while thinking. But the invigilator came on chat and told it is not allowed to cover mouth.

Finished my exam 45 minutes earlier (I didn’t opt for the break) and then started reviewing the second part of the questions and submitted the answers 35 minutes ahead of time.

At that juncture, I fully covered my mouth, but this time with the excitement due to the message “Congratulations”. 🙂

This is how I had two different types of experiences of the examination process.

And the types of questions you faced?

The complexity of questions was comfortable during my second attempt.

There were no questions with complex formulas.

All the questions, including EVM Concepts are based on logical thought process.

Hence there was no need of calculator for me.

I had to use the white-board application to draw the Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM) boxes to evaluate the critical path methods. Except that, most of the questions were based on the logic and the best action that we need to take based on the situation.

Sitting for 4 hours was not an issue for me as I used to do the same during practice of mock tests.

Would you have any specific study tips for PMP aspirants?

In a nutshell, I suggest going through introduction of each knowledge area at a very high level and then use some mind mapping based training like PM Exam Last mile prep (focusing on the linkage of ITTOs – absolutely there is no need to memorize them). And then use Rita Mulcahy book to know a detailed aspects of each KA (understand the sequence of actions).

  • Practice the chapter-wise mock questions.
  • Last ten days, just use summary sheets like the knowledge capsules and formula sheets I used from PM Exam Last Mile prep program and identify the areas where you are unable to recollect and apply the concepts, refer back to mind maps / Rita book (as you feel comfortable).
  • Practice as many full-length mock tests as you comfortably can. These help you manage time on the exam.
  • The day before exam sleep early and make yourself comfortable, physically and mentally – be ready for the exam with 100% energy.

Hope this has been useful. Take your own PMP® preparation approach and make it a point to study every day.

Small steps + consistency = your PMP goal.

All the best!

Nagaraj Masuluri, PMP

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