CXO

10 tips to help you ace PM certification exams

If you're planning to write any of the project management exams, here are 10 simple tricks for being successful on your first attempt.

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The Project Management Institute's PM certifications are the most globally recognized in project management. The PMI offers these eight certifications:

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP)
  • Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)
  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
  • PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)
  • PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)
  • PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)
  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

It's estimated that 3 out of 5 (60%) of people pass the PMP exam on their first try. Follow these steps to increase your chances of acing any of the PM exams.

SEE: PMI certifications: What these IT certs could mean for your salary and PM career (TechRepublic)

Before you start studying

Tip 1: Break the content down into either the five phases/process groups or the 10 knowledge areas.

This makes the next step of determining how much study time you need much simpler, and the task of actually studying less daunting. Depending on your studying style, available time, and comfort level, it may make sense to break down content into even smaller chunks so you're not overwhelmed by the volume of material to cover.

Tip 2: Allow at least six months before writing any of the project management exams.

Some experienced professionals may be able to write the exam with less time, while new students may require more than six months to be fully prepared. Factor in how many hours you have available to study per day, how much material has to be covered, and make sure to build in a realistic buffer. Leaving too little time to amply prepare can create the need to cram the month before the exam, and this can set you up for failure.

While you're studying

Tip 3: Avoid multitasking

Set up a quiet room away from distraction; while you love your family, your pets, and your friends, this is not the time to spread yourself too thin if you plan to pass the exam on the first try. There are eight PMI certifications, each having stringent requirements and complex exams that make quiet, focused study time a critical factor for success.

Tip 4: Use exam simulation software to test your progress and perfect your methods before the real exam.

By using the simulators I list in the article "7 great IT certification exam simulators for project managers," you'll experience an environment that's similar to the actual exam, as well as similar types of questions that you can expect to be asked. In addition to the exam simulator, vendors may offer some or all of these features and more:

  • flash cards
  • quizzes
  • analytical progress reporting
  • detailed explanations covering all topics
  • a comprehensive list of terminology offering easy to understand definitions
  • different exam modes
  • accessibility through a PC, tablet, or telephone
  • the ability to mark "for review"
  • up-to-date content
  • the ability to start now or start later
  • live feedback
  • unlimited repeats
  • in-depth statistics
  • realistic environments
  • 24/7 support

Tip 5: Consolidate what you've learned before moving onto new content.

By breaking study content down into smaller, more manageable sections, it allows your mind time to commit to memory what you've learned while you sleep; this increases your chances of retention.

It may also be helpful to assign alternating study and quiz days with some buffer, especially if the results of the previous day's studying prove unfavorable in an exam simulation. You should give yourself extra time for additional review and simulations in areas where you may be struggling.

What to do several days before the exam

Tip 6: Use your project management skills to allocate exam time and your required effort.

This is the time to start thinking and acting like a PMP. Use the same skills you used for studying to allocate how you're going to use the exam time and also to determine the strategy you'll use if you run into difficulty. Try to think about all the scenarios that might crop up and make a plan for how you will address them.

Tip 7: Plan to write alone.

It may be tempting to take a friend along who is also writing the exam, but this may not prove to be a good idea. Why? Most people are competitive, which can work against you. Writing an exam is an individual effort; you should only be writing based on your own personal best, so keep yourself focused solely on your performance.

Tip 8: Just before you write, don't discuss the exam with anyone.

Now that all the studying is complete and you've allocated your time wisely, try to avoid discussing the exam and the content with others. This will help you stay clear minded and focused without second-guessing what you've learned or if you're ready to write the exam. Oftentimes discussing an exam just before writing it can throw you off your game, especially if others have differing views on questions or exam strategies.

What to do on exam day

Tip 9: Make common sense decisions when you're unsure about an answer.

It's common to face a mental block on questions you may have previously felt prepared to answer. It takes intentional effort to remind yourself to stay calm, focused, and practice sound judgment. Sometimes overthinking a question can send you in the wrong direction. More often than not the answer can be found by reflecting on previous questions and common sense to solve other questions you may be struggling with.

Tip 10: Have confidence and don't second-guess yourself.

Know your exam writing strengths and weaknesses and do what works for you to stay calm and focused. Everyone has different strategies that work best work for them in stressful situations, and the project management exams can definitely create high stress for anyone.

Effectively allocating your time and having strategies to deal with difficult exam questions will help you remain calm and ready for the challenge. Walk in confident that you will pass on your first try.

Also see

About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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