Thursday, March 19, 2015

PMP Success Story - The ‘Long and Very Short’ Ride of PMP

Prashant Shah prepared for the worst to happen, but worst did not happen! He, in fact, received the best. Prashant is a proud PMP today. And he did it just over 2 months.

When I first met Prashant in Bangalore, he was very apprehensive about the exam. He is a calm and composed person, but the apprehension about the exam was showing when I started off. Over the weekends I sometime had lunch with him and Sumit (whom he has mentioned below) and used to respond some of their questions. But by final day, Prashant had grown in confidence, which was evident when he put together the final process puzzle along with the team.

He has outlined his experience on how he succeeded in cracking the exam. A lot of core tips and tricks have been shared by him, which I am sure many will benefit from. His experience is very detailed. But then, is not “God is in the details”?

Go on and read his unique experience.


I am proud to have completed my PMP Certification last month and am extremely glad to be sharing the ‘long and very short’ of my PMP journey with you. Having worked in the Operations / Project Management industry for over 16 years, it was my current role that highlighted the importance of obtaining a PMP certification. I always thought that practical knowledge goes a long way in your career and a certificate can only facilitate you to get a foot in the door so to speak – I could not have been more wrong with PMP.

I definitely owe a big thank you to my colleague and dear friend – Sumit Thakur – who had been pushing me to apply for my PMP certification for over a year – this is the long part of my journey. It so happened that both of us were visiting India in December 2014 for a holiday and decided to complete the 35 contact hours of study at the same time. We came across the PMP course at Bangalore which matched our schedule and had an impressive course outline. Hence, prior to leaving Sydney, we scheduled it for 13th – 21st Dec, 2104. 

The Effects of Formal Face-to-Face Training

After completing the booking for the course, I obtained the profile of Mr. Satya Narayan Dash and was quietly confident of being in the right hands. I remember trying to read the PMBOK guide and classroom material prior to the class and freaking out thinking there was no way I could clear the exam - given I know a number of extremely smart and experienced people who had taken multiple attempts to clear their PMP exam. I found the PMBOK guide very dry and hard to read whereas the material from the classroom seemed more simple and easier to understand.

When Mr. Dash started with the introduction to PMP, knowledge areas and process groups, I was struggling to get a methodical grasp of the subject. However, I found Mr. Dash to be extremely knowledgeable and passionate about project management. He was always willing to patiently clear all my queries, which made all the difference. In fact, it turned my liking for the course completely – from struggling, to read the PMBOK guide to looking forward to the class.

Mr. Dash initially mentioned on the first day that we would be able to list all the 47 processes by the time we finish the course and I was not too confident at that stage. However, when he managed to get our group to complete the listing on the last day it did give me a very good understanding of the amount of information he had passed on to us in such brief time and how his teaching method had made all the difference to my confidence.

My Approach:

From the time I enrolled in the course, I was clear that I wanted to complete the certification within 6 months at the latest. However, getting back into the routine made it hard for me to get my application sorted. I managed to find some time in early February and completed the submission of my application. I was elated to receive a notification 5 days later advising me that my application has been accepted and I can book to take up the exam. At that point, I had to make a call on how long I was going to give myself to study. I looked at making what I call an ‘investment decision’ and made a choice to book my first attempt on 25th February – 2 weeks from the day my application was accepted. I was not confident on passing the exam but thought of my first attempt as my trial run. I did understand that taking the exam twice would cost me close to $600 USD. 

Preparing for the worst, I made up my mind mentally to fork out the extra money to get an idea for the exam and went ahead with booking it in 2 weeks’ time. I also decided that in case I failed to clear it in my first attempt then I would schedule my second attempt in a week after my first attempt and if I failed that, then I would give myself over 3 months to prepare thoroughly and clear it the final time. 

My reasoning behind it was that I had recently completed the course and most of the information was relatively fresh in my mind and I also know that unless I put a date towards it I would never seriously sit down to study.

My Preparation:

I planned to complete at least one run of the PMBOK Guide and Head First PMP and attempt 6 mock tests before the exam. As fate would have it, I fell ill and urgent work commitments ensured that I couldn’t prepare until the weekend before the exam. Since I was already prepared to lose my money, I didn’t want to reschedule my exam and was going ahead with it regardless. On the last weekend before the exam, I wrote the knowledge areas and process group table about 6 times which made me confidently remember them. In the 2 days prior to my exam, I decided to read Head First PMP end to end – frankly because it was a much easier read compared to the PMBOK Guide and I didn’t have time to read both. I completed reading the book end-to-end in 2 days and attempted the practice questions at the end of the book. That was all the time I had for my preparation - this is the ‘very short’ part of my journey. It gave me a good idea of my ability and for the first time I was getting confident that I might be able to crack it in the first attempt.

The PMI-PMP Exam:

I had booked my exam for the first session in the day as I wanted to ensure that I was fresh and ready to go. Upon getting to the prometric centre, I checked in my bag and finished the mandatory checks and started with the exam. Remembering what Mr. Dash had told us during the class, I used the first 15 minutes and brain dumped the knowledge areas, process groups and earned value calculation formulae on to the work sheet that were provided. These sheets would form my backup and reference throughout the exam. I clicked ‘Next’ on the 15 minute tutorial page and the exam begun.

Thanks to Head First PMP I did realize that many of the questions asked would be formatted in a manner to throw me off my thought process. Being mindful that 4 hours may not be sufficient, I decided to read the questions backwards first. For example, if the question was 6 lines long, I read only the last sentence to get an understanding of what was being asked and then if required I would go back and read the whole question again. This saved me a lot of time as there were many questions which didn’t require me to spend time in reading the complete question. One other tip I can provide is while selecting from multiple choices it is easier to use the elimination method than the selection method. After reading the question I would remove the 2 most blatantly incorrect answers and then have to select the better of the remaining two. This increased my chances of a right answer from 25% to 50%. These two tips saved me a lot of time overall.

While I completed 100 questions and realized that I had plenty of time to spare, I decided to take a 10 minute break, stretch out and re-focus on the remainder. In total, I managed to complete the exam in about 2 hours 50 minutes including the break. After completing all the questions, I revisited the 3 questions I had marked for later and completed them. I clicked on the ‘end exam’ tab and hoped to see my result on screen, instead it just went back to the home page. The examiner asked me wait a few minutes, which definitely felt like an hour, so she could check my result. 5 minutes later I was provided with my score sheet and congratulated on successfully clearing the exam. I walked away from the center jumping in disbelief!

Dos and Don’ts

  1. Do not aim to memorize the book. Spend time to understand it conceptually and select your answer logically. Read with the intent to retain the knowledge than to pass the exam.
  2. In my opinion, read the PMBOK guide and one other book (I highly recommend Head First PMP) and attempt 4 to 6 mock tests. This should be sufficient to pass the exam provided you have extensive project management experience and the ability to understand the methodology (which is what you are tested on). I cannot categorically say that reading anything more can do more harm than good as it might add to the confusion, but I bet there are a number of PMP’s out there who would vouch otherwise. I can only say what worked for me and do not intend to question anyone else’s intelligence.
  3. Do practice brain dumping of knowledge areas, process groups and earned value formulae within 15 minutes. This ready reckoner will save your life in the exam.
  4. When you are unsure of the answer, mark what you think is the closest one and move on. Aim to revisit the question again if time permits in the end. Trust your gut feeling if you unsure, more often than not this feeling holds true. For the record, I only marked 3 questions during the exam and didn’t change the answers when revisited in the end.
  5. Once you decide to attempt your certification, ensure you first lock in the date so you have a target to work towards. Mr. Dash had asked us to do the same and it did wonders. I am certain if I gave myself 3 months to prepare without actually locking in my exam date, I would not have concentrated hard enough.
  6. Most important advice I can give for the exam is to RELAX. Contrary to what a lot of people say, I can vouch that it is surely an exam that is achievable in the first attempt. So as they say ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’!
Apologies for the length of the post as I have tried to provide as much information as I could and hope that it helps you pursue your PMP certification. Now that I have completed the certification, I view my projects in a different light and am amazed at the difference it is making. Here is wishing you all the best and hoping to see you on the other side. All the best!

Brief Profile: My name is Prashant Shah and am an experienced operations and project management professional within the IT and manufacturing domains. My career over the past 16 years has included significant people and revenue management responsibilities while managing business critical programs across numerous countries and entire businesses of two smaller companies. I am currently employed as a Program and Project Delivery Manager with Hewlett Packard Australia and am an MBA alumni from UTS Business School in Sydney.

Prashant’s online profile is available at PMI’s registry.

Prashant wrote this piece with his current workload – to share his PMP exam experience and enrich others. He is also a family man, which has its own share of responsibilities. I am thankful to Prashant for sharing his experience in-spite of being hard constrained for time. I believe it will help other PMP aspirants in their journey.

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