How to Pass the PMP Exam the First Time
Updated: Jul 11
Are you preparing to take the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam? Kudos to you because it's a beast of a test. When I prepared for the PMP back in 2019, I didn't realize how challenging it would be. Below is my exam prep brain dump and things I wish I knew.
Disclaimer: I used these strategies in 2019. Some of these links or the test itself may have changed.
For study tools, here is what you need:
Rita Mulcahy's PMP 9th Edition Exam Prep Book was the best exam prep book that I came across. It includes a study guide and practice exams. Well worth the investment.
The PMBOK Guide is a must but you probably already knew that. It's long and boring so buy the paper version and plan to read it cover to cover.
Limited on time and want individualized help? Your PM Instructor with Juan Martinez offers private (paid) bootcamps. He was highly recommended by a reliable source who passed her exam after taking his course.
HEADS UP! ⚠️
Purchase Rita Mulcahy’s book from her website. Do not buy the one on Amazon - it's a counterfeit!
Avoid books by Andy Crowe. I used them and they were too easy. For extra practice it’s fine, but do not depend on passing the exam with these books alone.
Edward Designer’s PMP Exam Tips has a table of links where you can find lots of free PMP practice exam questions. I listed my two favorites from that table below:
PMP Simulator: Free with a 7-day trial. It offers 3 question sets of 20 questions each. It looks and feels like the real test, and explains which knowledge area you need to work on. Loophole: you can sign up multiple times with different email addresses.
Oliver Lehmann: There are seventy-five free practice exam questions that are known to be pretty tough so if you can answer at least 2/3 of them correctly, you’re on your way!
Day of Exam
My pro-test-taking tips
Utilize those 15 minutes (tutorial time) prior to the exam to write out your brain dump. This time does not count towards your overall exam time.
You will receive a four-page booklet of blank paper and they swap it out if you use it all. I didn’t take as many as notes as I thought I would and I'm a major note taker.
Use the highlighter and strike out functions on the computer. They were REALLY helpful ("The PMP Simulator" will have this too).
I created my own system to keep track of what questions I just wanted to check again and what questions needed more time. I marked a lot of questions for review. Even if there was a question where I had no clue, I selected an answer anyway, marked it for review, and moved on - just in case I ran out of time at the end.
I didn’t use all of the test time; I had enough time to review all the questions I marked and I was left with 20 minutes. I’m also a fairly fast test taker.
What were the questions like?
The test questions were very fair. Each question wasn't very lengthy and there weren’t a lot of those questions like “All of these are correct EXCEPT” that I saw in practice exams. There were a lot of questions that asked “What would you do FIRST?” and “What would you do NEXT?” What made the questions challenging was that they involved different knowledge areas within one question so you really had to understand how all the knowledge areas work together.
I saw “risk register” and “issue log” answer options quite often. These two concepts are very similar so make sure you know the difference.
There were many questions about change requests, especially to changes in scope. Be an expert about change requests!
There weren't a lot of math or formula questions. I had to calculate the critical path once, and there were about three earned value type questions that were pretty simple. I didn’t have to calculate any contract-related formulas like Point of Total Assumption.
With Procurements, make sure you know when to use what type of contract; they will give you a situation and you have to select the contract type. Also, study what happens after a procurement contract is terminated and before the work is done.
Other things to consider
Every time you go in and out of the room, you have to sign in/out with a proctor, and then you are physically checked (empty pockets, metal detector, inspect your glasses if you wear any) before you re-enter the exam room. I took one break after going through all the questions once (at the 2 hour and 15 min mark); used the bathroom, drank some water and went back in. It took me 5 minutes to get back in the room. Keep in mind that it could take longer because other people might be taking breaks or coming in to take their test for the first time and you have to wait in line. My test was in the afternoon so no one else was coming in to take their test that day, but I noticed the morning test-takers had to wait in line to go back in. Consider taking your test in the afternoon.
My back hurts from sitting too long so I took aspirin an hour before the test. Think of anything that might bother you and take care of it beforehand (too cold, sore, have to pee, etc). I also meditated in the car to calm my nerves.
The room was 70°-75°F which was a fairly comfortable temperature. I wore a long sleeve tech shirt, t-shirt over it, and a vest over that. You cannot bring a jacket or coat into the room with you.
They advise that you arrive a half hour early to get processed, but I would recommend getting there earlier to get situated.
One more thing...
The exam is not the end of the road. In order to maintain your PMP certification, you have to fulfill 60 eligible credits every 3 years. It sounds like there's lot of time to do this, but don't be fooled. One credit could mean a one hour webinar or a one week course! I'm still in the middle of working on my first PMP renewal, so if you're interested in the resources I've used to help me achieve those 60 credits, comment below!
Whew, that was a lot. But in the end, it will be worth seeing your name on this certificate!
Were any of these tips helpful? Or are you also PMP certified and want to share your lessons learned? Help our community by leaving a comment below!