How to Best Prepare for the PMP® Exam Questions

Other than having the required experience, the PMP® exam is the most significant hurdle on the way to obtaining your credential. In this article we discuss the nature of the examination, the questions it poses, and how to take it.

Overview of the Examination

The PMP® exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, each with four possible answers, only one of which is correct. The 200 questions must be completed within four hours. While the Certified Associate in Project Management® (CAPM®) examination is largely oriented to factual recall of processes and knowledge areas, the PMP® exam is not. Rather, it is oriented toward determining your ability to take that same information and apply it to realistic scenarios.

How to Approach the Questions

It’s possible that more than one or even all four answers are technically correct. When that happens, the intent is to get you to find the best of the available choices. Remember, you can only pick one choice.

Because this is a one-type-fits-all examination (all industries, all examples of projects in industries) the questions of necessity have some unspoken, underlying assumptions that you must keep in mind or risk missing correct answers. (Sharing exact exam questions from real exams is an ethical violation, of course.)

  1. Context is critical and it is not always explicitly stated. Assume that you are working on a large project in a large organization, regardless of the size of your own organization. Thus, if an answer seems much more complex than what you experience in your own work, do not reject it out of hand.
  2. There is one critical assumption that you must NOT make. DO NOT project yourself, your unique strengths or your weaknesses into the context of a question. Suppose that a question poses multiple candidates for a particular job in your project. It’s natural and tempting to choose the individual who is qualified but happens to compliment your personality and capabilities best. However, this choice could  lead to an incorrect answer. Answer the question only in the context of the specific information presented in the question. Even if the answer would be more correct in the context of your personal knowledge and skills, the test software can’t possibly take this into account. Some criticisms of the exam, that it is too heavily based on ideal scenarios and not realistic enough, can be traced to this inevitable fact.
  3. Be highly suspicious of answers that include absolutes such as “always,” “never,” etc.
  4. When you are forced to guess, if all else fails, your first impression of the correct choice may be a good bet.
  5. Questions often contain unnecessary detail, reflecting real-life situations in which you must utilize one of your most important skills: distinguishing what is really important from what isn’t. You must separate the chaff from the grain.
  6. When an answer makes an absolute statement, consider that it is probably inappropriate in the context of a complex situation, and thus a strong clue to the correct answer.
  7. Recall that in our study recommendations, we suggested that you carefully note the nomenclature of processes, “Knowledge Areas” and project phases. The reason for that is that the examination carefully determines your recognition and classification of these concepts. Be careful of “Knowledge Areas” being called processes, and vice versa. Also beware of names being changed, even if ever so slightly. While it isn’t necessary to memorize all inputs and outputs of processes, you should have a detailed awareness of names and the distinctions between processes and “Knowledge Areas.”
  8. A very important context to keep in mind is that the project manager is in charge, makes decisions, is proactive, and never approaches his or her manager with a problem without a suggested approach or at least the available options in hand. Also, don’t forget that in the exam the project manager is YOU.

While Taking the Examination

It won’t be surprising if you “hit a wall” and become discouraged early in the exam. If you’ve prepared well and carefully, you may then find that you finish surprisingly well, if not early. Finally, you will find that you can’t believe four hours have passed. It’s also extremely unlikely that you will finish early.

  1. If you already know how to use a mouse and keyboard (duh!) you can safely skip the “tutorial” presented at the beginning and use that time much more productively. Use this time instead for writing down key formulas that you might need later. Even if you aren’t successful with a given equation, the second attempt may be easier.
  2. You will find that many questions at first don’t seem to have obvious answers. Typically, on the second or third look, they may suddenly seem easy. The exam software allows you to mark answers you want to come back to later. Use that feature to your advantage. You will have time to come back to them after reaching the final question, provided you haven’t wasted too much time on the first pass.
  3. Quickly check your progress in questions answered versus time at several points. You will likely find wide variations. Just when you think you may finish very early, you may find that things slow down while you make much more substantial progress. In any event, you must stay aware of how things are going.
  4. If by chance you find yourself almost out of time, quickly answer every available question. When you do so, you have at least a one in four chance of getting each question correct. That’s better than a zero chance!
  5. You may be pleasantly surprised at the relative simplicity of paucity of math-related questions. That said, you never know what subject will be addressed. Sometimes you can even do the math in your head.

Last but not least, be sure to get enough rest on the night before the exam. Plan your schedule accordingly.

You will get feedback very quickly after clicking on the submit button. It’s a great feeling when you see the word “Passed” on the result screen!