Harold Carruthers, PMP – PMP Without Studying Through PMBOK!

pmbok pmp lessons learnedSo you want to be a PMP? So did I. After a failed PMP exam attempt earlier in the year I did pass the second time on December 1. Let me provide some perspective on how to survive this trek up the Mount Everest of certifications. 


You absolutely can do this!  Never ever give up!  You OWN this!

There is no test taker worse than myself. I have a reading deficiency in that I am a s-l-o-w reader. I literally have to focus on every word or I will miss the point. I overanalyze the sentence while interpreting the question to align my experience. In an exam that you get roughly 1 minute and 24 seconds per question this was not to my advantage.

When you get that post exam screen that says “CONGRATULATIONS” you will then know I’m right. You sit back, relax, then think back to this sentence and say, he was right. Remember, you OWN this!

PMP Study Materials

Don’t waste time or money on losers

Shiv’s study materials are simply incredible. The emails offered materials, advice and encouragement that were always on time and on target. I do admit some of the folks seemed to possess superhuman abilities to get through the materials but you OWN this.

Rita Mulcahy PMP Exam Prep, Eighth Edition Updated

Rita’s Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam is where I spent so much time in study. Unlike some other random internet materials, this is a quality work. It is good, thorough and tough.

Richard Perrin has excellent material

It is very comprehensive. I recommend it’s 388 pages of pure PM goodness without reservation.

Notice, the PMBOK isn’t mentioned in my resources?

It is just above the phone book in appeal to me. I did not make it part of my test preparation.


You got it. Just because it has the answers doesn’t mean you must use it. I read it one time along the way but I did not study from it. Though I know of a PM that intentionally “memorized the PMBOK” I don’t advocate it and I also don’t advocate ignoring it. Just use it for reference as needed. You know, like you do every day at work?  In particular, direct copy the formulas tables as these do sometimes get corrupted on web sites.

There are excellent materials out there but there are also some real clunkers. Do not accept all materials at face value. Some are flat out bad, outdated or personal opinions not based on the PMBOK. Spend time to validate your study materials so you don’t learn then have to unlearn.

My first test attempt failed partly due to bad study materials I received as part of a PMP bootcamp. So as not to be sued I will not provide that materials list or provider.

PMP Exam Preparation Strategy

Planned Flexibility so you aren’t a jerk

With an year window that is given from your approved application date there is plenty of time to develop your plan to get to the exam but do not drag your feet. Take it from me, 4 hours a day is quite a bit of time to study but find ways to enjoy this time. If you don’t enjoy it then you might not make the goal you seek. This is not a death march. Attitude is the key. You OWN this!

Set realistic goals but don’t make yourself an unnecessary pain to those around you. Life happens. Expect it and pre-plan your mitigation strategies when it does happen.

I studied in the way projects are put together. Initiation, planning, execution, monitor and control then closure. It just made more sense to me. Don’t be surprised if your test exams show initiation and planning as lower scores since it’s the first material studied. 

I made sure to take free exams along the way and was passing pretty much all exams regardless of test focus but they did give me a good idea of those areas where I needed to study harder. Unexpectedly, this also provided some answers for the exam.

3 weeks out from the exam date you will panic.

You think you can’t possibly know enough to pass. You may think there is too much material to review and too many calculations to memorize. This will pass but take an honest appraisal of your readiness then verify your appraisal with 2 or 3 timed exams. If you pass with say 75% then you should be good to go for the final sprint then the exam. If you don’t pass with the 75% then you decide. As I said life happens. There are no changes in this world that will take place with or without you having your PMP.

Speaking of life happening, I got the flu Friday through Sunday before the Tuesday PMP exam. Starting on Sunday afternoon through 11PM Monday I chose to focus as follows:

  • 100 question tests across all disciples
  • Areas where I was consistently having trouble answering questions
  • Memory dump (a.k.a. Brain dump) creation
  • All things related to personnel motivation, work styles and leadership characteristics
  • All diagram types and why they are used

Taking the exam

You OWN this!

Taking the exam twice I can tell you that the exams are not created equal. The first time was much harder than the second.

Practice your brain dump every day. I did not and froze when trying to create it from memory. I got most of what I wanted on paper but not all of the brain dump to paper.

Of all the memory dump components I used the one most useful on the exam is shown below:

                                  AC        <–            EV            –>          PV

                CV  =               MINUS                 MINUS                 = SV

                CPI =               DIVIDED             DIVIDED              = SPI     

The exam the second time had about a dozen math questions that were marked immediately for the second pass. Now catch this, the first math question (other than number of communication channels) was about question number 130. Sounds innocent enough except time wise I was just barely “on time” to completion.

I saw the time to complete those slipping away. I did manage to answer all but those dozen math questions with 15 minutes to spare. At 3 minutes apiece I did complete 5 legitimate answers to the math questions but had 7 answers based on best guess and gut feel. Not the best way to roll through the exam and I do not advocate it.

There were a few questions where the outputs were mentioned specifically for a process. Since I had no ability to memorize all the processes I knew these were answered based on familiarity and gut feel. In example, it has taken me 5 long years to memorize PI to 25 positions. My advice is to memorize the processes from the process-chart in PMBOK and their functions but I knew it wasn’t happening for me. But, I repeat, but, you can pass without doing so but I do not advise it.

When answering the questions, you absolutely can’t substitute YOUR experience for the expected answer.

Read that sentence again.

As a PM with 25+ years experience in 11 industries and over 40 years IT experience I was forced to answer questions in a manner that absolutely is not close to the real world. Think hard about the PMBOK based answer when an answer to a question is the PM telling the SVP to take a hike because the project is now closed that all requirements have been satisfied and deliverables completed.

In the exam room itself I found it much warmer than the reception area. I was very glad I dressed in layers so that all I had to peel off a layer to stay comfortable.

I hope this helps all of you. Remember, you OWN this!

Harold Carruthers, PMP

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