Michael D. Green

Blogger, Consultant, Technologist and Very Opinionated.

How to Pass the PMP Exam on Your First Attempt!

19 Sep 2015 » careeradvice


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog about how to pass the PMP Exam on your first attempt.

Where Have I Been?

As you can see, it has been a few months since I have written a blog entry. Well, your’s truly has spent the last 2 months studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Exam.

I am very proud to say that on my first attempt, I successfully passed the PMP Exam on September 15th 2015 with a mark of Proficient in all 5 Process Groups and I wanted to devote an entire blog to share my experiences and my thoughts on how to pass the exam on the first attempt.

I knew that I would eventually blog about my preparation for the exam, so I took great care to keep notes about the products and strategies I used and my overall experiences throughout the process.

I wanted to provide information that “cuts” straight to the chase and answered the following:

  1. Did I Pass the Exam on My 1st Attempt?
  2. How Long did I Study for the Exam?
  3. What Study Material Did I use to Prepare for the Exam?
  4. Was the Study Material Helpful?
  5. What Mock Exams Did I take?
  6. What Were My Mock Exam Scores?
  7. Strategy Overview?
  8. Study Artifacts I Created?
  9. The Application Process?
  10. Study Tips?
  11. Exam Tips?
  12. Taking the Real Exam?
  13. Final Lessons Learned?


As a caveat, I want to state that in this blog entry, no specific exam questions will be discussed and I have no relationship with any of the organizations whose products I will mention in this blog. In short, this blog is solely dedicated to share my experiences throughout the entire process and my thoughts on what is needed for someone to successfully pass the PMP® Exam on their first try.

Did I Pass the Exam on My 1st Attempt?

Yes, I took the exam on September 15th 2015 and was able to get a Proficient on all 5 Process Groups.

How Long Did I Study for the Exam?

I kept a daily journal (I will discuss all the artifacts I created later) of how much time I spent per day studying and what tasks I completed on each day. Per my journal, I started studying for the exam on July 14th 2015 and took the exam on September 15th, 2015, so roughly 2 months.

What Study Material did I use to Prepare for the Exam?

  • Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Prep Exam, 8th Edition - I could not have passed the exam without the late Rita Mulcahy’s book. Rita did an exceptional job of not only providing me with the material that would be on the exam but she also presented the material in a way that was easier to grasp than PMBOK® and got me in “test taking” mode. Her chapter exercises and end of chapter exams were extremely tough and in some ways, harder than some of the questions on the actual exam.

  • Rita Mulcahy’s PM FASTtrack, Version 8 - Rita’s exam simulator was an extremely helpful study tool. I took about 3 mock exams and the quality of the questions were very good. The only downsides to this product is that many of the questions come from her book (previously mentioned) and although the product claims to have roughly 1600 questions, after the first mock exam, you will start to see the same questions on all subsequent exams.

  • Rita Mulcahy’s Hot Topics Flashcards - I rarely used Rita’s flashcards and the only reason I had them is because they came with the product that I bought online. I learn by using acronyms, repeatedly writing things down and associating concepts with pictures or events, so her flashcards were not helpful to me.

  • PMP PrepCast PM Exam Simulator - I bought the PMP PrepCast Elite product to acquire the 35 contact hours needed to apply for the PMP Exam and to gain access to the 9 Mock Exams. PMP PrepCast Exam Simulator was extremely useful because they are heavily tied to PMBOK®. I felt that the situational questions were a little easier than Rita’s but I got more Earned Value Management questions with this product then I did with Rita’s Exam Simulator and the product does a very good job of ensuring you don’t see the same questions over again. One issue I had with the product is once you close the browser or your session expires, your exam results are not saved. Because of this, I had to take note of all the answers I either got wrong or marked for review immediately after I had spent 4 hours taking the mock exam or I would lose my results.

  • PMP PrepCast Videos - When I purchased PMP PrepCast Elite, it came with tons of videos featuring Cornelius Fichtner. The videos go into great detail about all the 10 Project Management knowledge areas and tips for taking the exam. I rarely listened to the videos and when I did, it was usually for only a few minutes.

  • PMBOK®, 5th Edition - The Project Management Body of Knowledge is a must read if you expect to pass the exam. The material is very technical and dry in nature but after reading Rita’s book, PMBOK® was a lot clearer and as I went deeper into study, started to prefer PMBOK® over all other study material. I would not have passed the exam if I had not read this book at least twice.

  • Praizion PMP Exam ITTO Science Power Cards - After I had been studying for maybe a few weeks, I did what most people do, I started to panic and stress over ITTOs. I started researching to see if someone had created an online game or a phone app that I could use to help me remember all of the ITTOs. In my opinion, this product was a waste of money and as I will state later in this blog, you don’t even need to memorize all the ITTOs. Also, the application is not very user friendly and looks like it was developed in the 1980s.

What Mock Exams Did I Take?

  • Rita Mulcahy’s PM FASTtrack, Version 8
  • PMP PrepCast PM Exam Simulator

What Were My Mock Exam Scores

  • 1st - 68% (Rita Mulcahy’s PM FASTrack)
  • 2nd - 74% (PMP PrepCast PM Exam Simulator)
  • 3rd - 77% (Rita Mulcahy’s PM FASTrack)
  • 4th - 77% (PMP PrepCast PM Exam Simulator)
  • 5th - 76.5% (PMP PrepCast PM Exam Simulator)
  • 6th - 75% (Rita Mulcahy’s PM FASTrack)
  • 7th - 85.5% (PMP PrepCast PM Exam Simulator)

Strategy Overview

When I decided to get serious and study for the exam, I wanted to make sure I adopted the best approach that would ensure that I passed the exam on the first try. Below is an overview of what I did in mostly chronological order:

  • I read Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Prep Exam, 8th Edition, completed all chapter exercises and recorded the results from each end of chapter exam.

  • I started doing brain dumps every day to help with certain areas I needed to memorize such as acronyms for the 5 process groups, Rita’s planning process group steps (25), equations and the 47 Processes (not the ITTOs but the processes themselves).

  • I read PMBOK®, 5th Edition

  • I started taking mock exams

  • I started doing a 2nd brain dump on alternate days for theories, budget estimate types/percentages, 4 PMI® code of ethics categories and sigma percentages/number of errors.

  • Once I consistently could score in the mid 70s on mock exams, I scheduled the exam on October 1st, 2015.

  • After getting 75% on the last PM FASTrack mock exam, I decided to literally re-read PMBOK® in 2 days and noticed that I had forgotten a lot of the material.

  • I took a final mock exam (PMP PrepCast PM Exam Simulator) on September 13th, 2015, earned a score of 85.5% and decided to push my exam date up to September 15th, 2015.

Study Artifacts I Created?

Throughout my quest to pass the exam, I created many artifacts in Google Drive to assist me in my studies. Google Drive allowed me to literally access these artifacts anywhere, whether waiting at the doctor’s office or in line to get a bite to eat.

  • 47 Processes By Knowledge Area - I created this artifact to help me visualize the relationship between the 47 processes, 10 knowledge areas and 5 process groups. Once I started to memorize the 47 processes, I would refer to this document if I couldn’t remember all the processes while doing a daily brain dump. You can find the artifact here

  • Ricardo Vargas’ PMBOK Guide 5th Edition Processes Flow in English (in color) - Ricardo’s process chart were absolutely invaluable. I downloaded this artifact on my phone, my desktop at home, on my work laptop and also uploaded it on Google Drive. Ricardo’s process chart helps you really visualize how the 47 processes interact with each other, which is a lot more important than memorizing all the ITTOs. You can find it here

  • Equations - I created a spreadsheet that contained all the equations, when to use them and how to interpret them.

  • Exam Simulator Score Tracker - I created this document solely to keep track of all of my mock exam scores.

  • Knowledge Gaps & Notes - I created this document as a point of reference for all my known knowledge gaps and quick facts. My goal was to consistently research each knowledge gap and eventually remove the gap from the list.

  • PMP Brain Dumps - I created this document to remind me of what brain dump I needed to do on each day. I got to the point to where I had 2 different brain dumps that I would do on alternate days. I would literally open up Notepad++ and write everything I knew in my brain onto it.

  • PMP Exam Overview - I created this document as a source of information about the exam, the application process, all the study material I had purchased and how many times I had read each chapter in Rita’s book and PMBOK®.

  • PMP Exam PrepCast Chapter Exams - I created this spreadsheet to keep track of every chapter quiz I took to ultimately receive my 35 contact hours certificate from PMP PrepCast. The results from the final exam you have to take was also recorded in this artifact.

  • PMP Exam RMC Chapter Exams - Similar to the PMP PrepCast Exam spreadsheet, I used this spreadsheet to keep track of all the end of chapter exams I took in Rita Mulcahy’s book for reference and progress purposes.

  • PMP Study Journal - I created this spreadsheet to log all the time and activities I did on a daily basis. This served as a very good historical reference and it was also used to report non-billable time used for self-improvement in my company’s time system. You can view my study journal here

  • Project Management Projects - I created a document for each project I planned to use on my application. These documents contained the project management hours I logged, the project description, objectives, key deliverables and outcome.

  • Project Management Experience Hours - If you hold a Bachelor’s Degree, you need to have 4500 hours leading projects. I used this spreadsheet to help me calculate how many hours I had for each project and for each of the 5 process groups. You can find the template here.

  • Pictures - I took pictures of various project documents, charts, diagrams and grids. Looking at these pictures helped me to visualize what these artifacts actually looked like and more importantly, why someone would use them.

The Application Process?

The application process an applicant has to go through to obtain permission to take the exam can be stressful and time consuming. I treated the application process just as important as studying for the exam itself. A year before taking the exam, I contacted my old supervisor and told him that I was going to be taking the exam and that I would be using the project hours I gained while working for him on the application. Also, while I was studying, I talked to my current supervisor and told him that I would be using some of the projects at my current job on my application.

I have a great relationship with both of these individuals and neither had any issues but I wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page and that they would be comfortable putting their signature on a document to verify my project management experience in case of an audit.

After I created a document with a summary overview of each of my projects, I sent them over to my supervisors for approval before I submitted my application.

I learned 2 things when I submitted my application:

  • PMI® only allowed 550 characters (not words) for each project, so the project management experience documents I created were kind of a waste of time because I had too much information

  • When you submit your application, you are only waiting to see if your application has been accepted. Once your application is accepted and you pay your PMI® Exam fee, it is only then that you find out if you are going to be audited. Luckily I was not audited but I was well prepared if I had been.

Study Tips?

  • Put a study plan together and stick with it.
  • Do not attempt to memorize all the ITTOs, it is a waste of time
  • Try to understand PMBOK® and the 47 processes and the ITTOs will come naturally
  • Take as many mock exams as you possibly can
  • Take mock exams from multiple sources but ensure their quality
  • As you take the mock exams, develop your test taking skills
  • Know what the different charts/diagrams used to manage a project look like (ie milestone, cause and effect, control charts etc etc)
  • Know what the different documents used to manage a project looks like (ie project charter, activity list WBS etc etc)
  • The real exam is probably going to take you a little longer than the mock exams
  • Shoot for a score of 70%+ on mock exams before you schedule the real exam
  • Make sure you review and understand the questions you marked or got wrong on each mock exam
  • While studying, constantly ask questions like “Why would I use this technique?” or “If the Project Sponsor asked for this or for that, where would I find the information”? The majority of the exam is “situational” and not a “memory” test.
  • Do not overstudy. The main reason I pushed my exam date up 3 weeks was because I had peaked and I was starting to burn out

Exam Tips?

  • Once you schedule the real exam, visit the testing center prior to taking the exam
  • Try to eat a good breakfast so you don’t have to take a restroom break during the exam because the timer never stops, no matter what you are doing
  • After you answer a question, move on to the next question and don’t dwell on the previous question
  • Make sure you read questions in their entirety and read every answer. Possibly reading the answers from D to A
  • Look at the timer once every 50 questions so you have an idea about how much time you have but you are not obsessing over time throughout the exam
  • Try to shoot for 55 minutes per 50 question increments, so you have time to review questions
  • I generally had about 30 minutes left after each mock exam, however, on the real exam, I only had about 14 minutes left for question review.
  • Relax, close your eyes and breathe every once in awhile as you take the exam

Taking the Real Exam?

On the day of the exam, I made sure to eat a lot of food so I would not have to take a restroom break during the examination because the test is still being timed and you have to sign out, sign back in and be checked with a metal detecting device before you can go back to your seat. I also made sure I had all the necessary identification prior to taking the exam. Many applicants use the 15 minute exam instructional period to do a brain dump. I did brain dumps every day for 2 months, so by the time I took the test, I knew the material very well.

Every applicant will have a different test experience but below is a basic overview of the types of questions I encountered on the real exam:

  • Lots of Contract Type questions
  • Lots of Network Diagrams
  • Lots of EVM questions
  • Lots of situational questions

I felt the test was difficult from start to finish as you get situational question after situational question after situational question for 4 hours, so be ready for it. Similar to the mock exams, I could never really get a good feel for how I was doing until I actually saw my scores and the real exam was no exception.

After I finished answering all the questions, I was ready to see my score and a survey pops up. After I took the survey, I was a nervous wreck until I saw the “Congratulations” message on the screen and was even more surprised when I saw that I had gotten a mark of Proficient on all 5 Process Groups. There is no doubt in my mind that the decision to re-read PMBOK® a few days before the test really put me over the top.

Final Lessons Learned?

I really enjoyed studying for the PMP® Exam. I enjoyed seeing how Project Management is really a unique science, all the management and quality theories and the people who proposed them. I use to talk to my co-workers every week about the material I was studying and I would whiteboard processes, tools and techniques whenever we would have detailed discussions about Project Management Theory.

I am glad I chose to self-study instead of going with a boot camp. I am sure boot camps work for some people but I like to go at my own pace and I am very good about creating a study plan and sticking to it. I am currently not married and I have no kids, so I have to admire those who are married, have kids and have a full time job and still manage to study and pass the exam.

Finally, for those who wish to pass the exam, remember to try to “understand” the study material as opposed to trying to “memorize” it. You could have provided me with all the ITTOs while taking the real exam and it would not have helped me pass the exam. If you do this, you will have a significantly better chance at passing the exam and you will be a better Project Manager because of it.

I hope this information will be useful to someone and good luck on passing the exam!