Top Regrets of Those Who Failed the PMP® Exam

If it turns out that you failed to pass the PMP® exam on your first try, you are not alone. In fact, it’s not at all unusual.

Years ago the exam was about seven hours in length. For a number of years now, the allowed exam completion time is four hours. Thank goodness for small favors, as they say.

PMI does not use a strict ratio of correct versus incorrect answers to gauge whether you pass or fail. Rather, it uses a system that accounts for the degree of difficulty of each question. And of course, one portion of the exam isn’t actually included in your grade, but rather used to determine if a new question is of sufficient quality to warrant being a graded question, and perhaps to assess its relative difficulty. So that particularly “dumb” or unusually obtuse question you encountered may not have counted against your score at all. However, let’s be clear. Just like life itself, many of the “real” questions are quite tricky. Best guesses say (and there’s nothing to back this up) that a passing score is in the ballpark of 65 percent correct. That’s why our advice here has been to score 80 percent or higher on exam-quality (situational) questions before you take the exam.

Questions to ask yourself:

1. Did you read the PMBOK® Guide multiple times before the exam, concentrating on the material as you went?

2. Did you score 80 percent on practice exams, and were those questions difficult and situational in nature?

3. If you took a prep course, was it provided by a PMI Registered Education Provider (REP)? This is important for various reasons outlined in a separate article, but don’t forget that REPs are required to make their materials compatible with the PMBOK Guide on which the exam is based.

4. If you found a correct answer, did you quickly check it and move on? Recall that it’s very possible that all four answers are correct. There’s always a reason, however, why the “correct” answer is correct, given that it would be the first thing to try or just simply the most logical.

In a separate article we address strategies for preparing to retake the examination. Let’s take a look at the thoughts of some people in this situation:

  • Some takers realize too late that doing extremely well in all areas but one is a recipe for certain failure. Remember this! Work especially hard on any area that you despise or just “don’t get.” Does your exam question source allow you to see which areas you’re currently weak in? If not, you must get one that does.
  • A common regret is the rush to take the exam before it changes. Every few years, the examination changes. For real or imagined reasons, there is usually a rush to take the exam before it changes. It’s true that the PMBOK Guide has only gotten bigger in page count over the years. Still, only rush if you truly have time to prepare according to the guidelines we’ve given you on this site.
  • Some test-takers discover that the environment at the exam site is a little different from what they thought it would be, and for some more than others, this can be a disaster. For example, the room temperature may be warmer or cooler than your comfort zone. To manage this risk, dress for a cool environment and bring a light sweater or jacket to put on if needed. Similarly, and incredibly, there are exams for other certifications that cause someone to use small machines that can be noisy, so have a noise-reducing headset with you, as well.
  • Occasionally, the mathematically oriented test-taker regrets placing too much emphasis on formulas or, very rarely, too little emphasis. The exam is not mathematically intensive, so don’t overdo it. On the other hand, one missed math question could trigger failure. So, study proportionately and allocate your time with this factor in consideration.

A Tip!

The exam is often verbose, presenting you with extraneous information, just like real-life project management does. If the question is long, one way to deal with this is to read the last sentence first. Doing so will often help you focus and determine what is relevant and what isn’t in the question.

Choose Your Re-Examination Time Wisely

Don’t forget that if you fail three times within a year, you have to wait a whole year before trying again, not to mention the expense of repeated re-exams. These are all good reasons to have “your ducks in a row” before jumping back into the water.