What to Do if You Fail the PMP® Exam

So, did you fail your most recent exam try? You’re not alone. It happens all the time. It’s a tough examination and the first time through is often an education in how to approach it. A substantial percentage of takers fail. Let’s take a look at how to adapt and respond should this happen to you.

Is Anyone Covering for You?

If you invested in an exam prep provider’s course, you may have their commitment to pay for your re-examination fee. Check your course contract, be aware and take advantage of any guarantees!

Notice What You Didn’t Know and Compensate

Assuming you took the exam via software rather than on paper, you were presented your pass/fail decision plus your rating in each of the PMBOK®’s specified project phases within seconds of exam completion. This is indispensable information for consideration in the study time ahead of you. Next, here’s what you need to do:

  • In the areas where you were below competency, read the corresponding PMBOK Guide section multiple times, being sure to keep your concentration at a level that guarantees retention if not full understanding.
  • Locate as many questions as you can in those areas, and take them. Don’t worry about finding questions in areas in which you did well – put less emphasis on them.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have exam simulation software that reports your results by project phase, repeat these steps until you are above 80 percent correct in your answers. Remember that this score is not the measure used in the actual examination, but it’s a convenient gauge for your use.

The Distribution of Questions

It’s also useful to keep in mind the relative importance of each examination domain in terms of the number of questions. Questions are allocated among the domains in the exam according to the amount of time a project manager typically spends in each domain:

  • Initiation – 13 percent
  • Planning – 24 percent
  • Executing – 30 percent
  • Monitoring and Controlling – 25 percent
  • Closing – 8 percent

In each of these domains you are presented with a classification, rather than a numeric score:

  • Proficient (meaning an above-average score)
  • Moderately Proficient (meaning an average score)
  • Below Proficient (meaning a below-average score)

Below Proficient in any domain is a recipe for failure and indicates an area for priority in subsequent exam-prep study.

How Many Times Can You Take It?

You are allowed three attempts at passing the exam within your one-year eligibility period. Failing that, you must wait one year from your last try before attempting the exam again, but you can apply for other PMI credentials. On the other hand, if your one-year eligibility period expires before you pass the exam, you must reapply and pay the required fees again.

Having missed the boat once, the re-examination fee is $275 for members and $375 for non-members.

Remembering the Readiness Criteria

As discussed elsewhere, you are likely ready for the exam when you can take an exam set of 200 questions distributed throughout all the PMBOK Guide (r) Knowledge Areas and answer about 80 percent of the questions correctly in four hours. Being able to determine this depends, of course, on your having a set of suitable exams for which you don’t remember the answers from previous attempts!

Good luck, and don’t wait a long time to try again, because your knowledge store for the exam will diminish over time unless you continue to study.