How to Pass the PMP on the First Try

By: Yadira Y. Caro

Having a Project Management Professional Certification is an achievement many of us working in technology and management want to attain. It is globally recognized as a standard to demonstrate knowledge of best practices to manage any project. In other practical terms, it gives us competitive advantage to get better positions and thus, better salaries. According to studies, those managers who have it earn up to 22% more than those who don’t.

Taking the PMP is an investment. I’m not only referring to the money spent in preparatory courses, but also on time spent getting ready to fulfill educational and work requirements. However, after spending multiple hours to lead to this certificate, I noticed how many of us simply delay taking test.

Perhaps this is due to fear of failure. Only 40-50% pass of the PMP test takers pass it on the first try. This fear of never feeling prepared makes us think ‘I need to study a bit more’ and keep delaying the test even further. Participating in a PMP bootcamp – and taking the test immediately after of course- helps increase your chance of passing on the first try. Some of us however, are not able to attend one due to time (requires a full week out of your job), money or simply no bootcamps taking place nearby.

After fulfilling all my educational requirements in 2015, a year and a half later I finally took the PMP. I took the test and passed it on the first try. Here are some tips which might help you too!

Set a deadline and stick with it
You have all the requirement to take the PMP test. Now pick a date and schedule it at a testing center near you. Test centers are everywhere: I took mine here in Germany, and while a test center was not available in my city, I was happy to drive to 1.5 hours to Frankfurt.

Set your studying schedule as well, a realistic one. Do not plan your test for a month from now if you know you will barely have time to study. I scheduled my test four months prior with the commitment of studying an hour per day. It is what I had available as I had a full time job, a toddler and a baby on the way (morning sickness is a pain!).

Create your own cheat sheet
As you being to study, start drafting your study cheat sheet. Many books may come with one, but drafting your own helps reinforce the material as you are learning. In mine, I included the names of processes, formulas and terms I knew I needed to remember. Also, keep your cheat sheet short as you’ll look at it often to help remember what you study. It is called a “sheet” after all.

Review the PMBOK, but don’t use it as your study guide
The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) provides all the foundational information, about project management, but the test focuses on practical questions which are not covered on this book. While I looked at the PMBOK to remember information about each standard and process, the real meat of the test is offered in many other books. I focused on books written by these two authors:


• Roji Abraham: His 300 Practice Questions for the PMP Exam and Be a PMP Ace in 30 days offer great tips and plenty of questions to study on.
• Aileen Ellis: Any of the books written by her, based on the area you want to focus on, were extremely useful. One I realized which areas I was consistently getting lower scores on, I bought (for a very low price) her e-books which have numerous questions and explanations. Although the test did not have as many formula questions as I expected, I truly believe constant practice made a difference.

Practice questions every day
This is the key to pass the PMP. Practice questions often, but make sure you are focusing on the right ones. Some apps offer PMP practice questions, but these are often in a short trivia format. Questions on the PMP are quite long, so focus on those apps and books with longer questions which require greater analysis. The more you practice, the more you get used to this format.

On test day, relax and use all the time you have
I took my test while I was on the first trimester of my pregnancy. I wanted to take the test in the morning as it is my peak time for concentration, but my test was two hours away from home. Instead of waking up at an ungodly hour to deal with morning sickness and drive to take the test, I booked a hotel nearby the test center. It made all the difference as I had a good night sleep knowing I would not have to battle traffic.


On test hour, I proceeded to write down all the formulas and key words I had studied, so I could refer back as needed. I took my time with each question and answered each one; but I marked those I was uncertain of. Once I finished, I revised the marked questions. Then, with some extra time, I went back to review each unmarked question briefly just to make sure I did not miss anything and was consistent with the answers. The test is four hours long, so make sure you use up to your last minute. A single question can make all the difference.

Good luck on your test! Pass this along to your friend or coworker who is still procrastinating on taking the PMP.

Follow Communicate for more tips and expert advice.

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