I got my PMP certification in just 3 months with the help of these 3 essential tools: a lot of motivation, one book and one exam simulator.
In this article I will give you some useful advice about the certification exam and I will also tell you about how my experience with the exam was. Of course your experience could be different but I am sure this article will be helpful to everyone trying to pass this hard test.
First, the test center was not like I was expecting. It was a small lab with glass walls and cubicles inside. There was a computer in each of these cubicles.
Accessing the lab is even more difficult than going through a security control in an airport. You must leave all your belongings in a locker outside the lab, and with “all” I mean all: your mobile phone, watch, keys and also your coat. They even ask you to show your empty pockets!
Once you are stripped of all your belongings, they ask you to read a piece of paper containing the exam rules. Don’t waste time and energy reading this; in summary it just says inside the lab everything is prohibited and observed (there is a small cam on the ceiling above every computer… Look out! They are watching! ).
Before entering the lab, you must also sign an attendance sheet and then they give you some scrap paper stapled together, two pencils and a pair of earplugs. You may ask: earplugs? It seems like I’m joking but I’m not (I ended up using them). In this lab some other exams were hosted (not only PMP) and just beside me there was a guy constantly mumbling and beating the keyboard of his computer. Plus, it was Christmas season and, believe it or not, there were people outside the lab singing carols…
Finally they open the door for you, tell you what cubicle you must seat in, and close the door. The countdown has just started…
The previous tutorial
Well, so you are now inside the lab, seated in front of the computer, armed with your pencils and earplugs. You still have 15 minutes to complete a tutorial about how the exam software works. Although these 15 minutes are not deducted from the 4 hours intended for the exam, I would recommend not to waste time with it. It’s very basic and it explains even how to use the mouse. Instead, you should follow one of the good pieces of advice that PMP Rita Mulcahy gives us in her PMP Exam Prep book (the one that I read to prepare for the exam): use that time to jot down on a sheet of paper all the formulas, tables and things you have memorized, so during the exam you will not have to waste time trying to remember all these things…Believe me, when you reach the question 168 you will thank yourself (and me ) for having done this.
Four hours, two hundred questions… The truth is that when I arrived to the test center I was very confident and not nervous at all. But it’s also true that once I was there sitting alone in front of the computer, with the timer displaying 3:59:59 and counting down, I started to get a little bit anxious.
It also seemed to me that the first questions were specially complicated (the typical situational questions like What would you do…?) and I started to feel very gloomy. So at the beginning I had to mark a lot of questions for later review because I wasn’t sure of the right answer. But then easier questions started to gradually pop up here and there and so I started to pick up my pace. Mi initial plan was to take a break every 50 questions and even to eat something light during one of these breaks (for example, you can leave some fruit in the locker). I did the first batch of 50 questions in 55 minutes and took a break for 5 minutes, but then I gradually noticed that I wasn’t going to have enough time and finally I could only take another 3 minute break to go to the restroom.
At home, using the simulator, I had previously done some practice exams of 200 questions in about 3 hours each, but the truth is once you are in the real exam, you’re more careful about choosing the answers and doing calculations, and before you notice, time has flown by.
So, after my second break I still had 60 questions to answer and just 57 minutes left. That was the most fun part of the exam, because I was watching the timer more than the questions and I started answering questions very fast, not second guessing myself any more. Tic, toc, tic, toc…
When I finished answering all the questions, there were still 3 minutes left to review all my I'm not sure questions (there is a Review button that allows you to review the questions that you have previously marked), but I desisted from trying to do so, because I thought that it would be worse.
The final result
...0:00:03... 0:00:02.... 0:00:01.... Time’s up!
Click OK to continue… the screen becomes totally blank… your heart rate increase… and suddenly a long paragraph appears in the screen.
You start reading anxiously. Have I passed or not? What the hell is this? A customer satisfaction survey? God! Four hours suffering and now, instead of telling me if I have passed, I have to complete a survey??? Exactly. Sadly, before you can know the exam result, you must answer some 15 additional questions: What do you think about the test center? What do you think about the exam? Bla, bla, bla…
Click Next, click Next again… Last question, survey is finished. Click Finish to continue. Finally!! No, wait... a new message appears: Are you sure you want to continue? Click OK.
…new blank screen… I close my eyes, I don’t even want to look at it… a new paragraph pops up in the screen. At first glance, it’s not easy to know if you have passed or not. There is no green or red traffic light icon, there is not a big PASSED or FAILED anywhere. You still have to read this paragraph carefully to find out if you are a brand-new PMP!!
Finally there is one last screen where you can see a breakdown of your exam results classified by knowledge area, although there is no information about total correct/wrong answers.
The exam is over. You remove your earplugs, go out of the lab and pick up your belongings. They give you a sheet with the exam results and you leave.
Conclusion and advice
In general, the exam seemed more difficult than I was expecting, maybe because I had got used to the simulator and when you start to see questions that you have never seen before, it can make you a little bit nervous. You must go to the exam knowing that the questions will be similar to the ones in the simulator but not a single one will be exactly the same.
In my opinion, this exam is more than an extensive knowledge test, it’s also a physical and mental resistance test, and you have to be prepared for that. Before doing the real exam you should have done at least two 4 hours practice exams at home with the simulator, keeping track of time to better know how you are performing.
You must also take into consideration that at the beginning of the exam you are fresh and the answering time should be shorter, so you must be able to answer more than half the questions in the first two hours.
This was my PMP exam experience and how I got my certification. When I started studying, it seemed an overwhelming task, but if you plan your study calendar in advance (being realistic about the time you will be able to put into it), practice a lot with the simulator and keep yourself healthy to face the long 4 hour test, you will have done the most difficult part.
Good luck with your exam!