What is the difficulty level of the PMP Exam?

1 minute read    Updated:    Harwinder Singh

PMP Exam Difficulty Level

The difficulty level of the PMP exam is a subjective matter. What is difficult for me, might be easy for you. I cannot assign a difficulty score to the exam on a scale of 1 to 10. However, I can tell you my personal opinion and what the “general” consensus is.

Generally, the PMP exam is considered difficult, and I agree with it. It is more difficult than any other (PMP) mock exam (free or otherwise) you would have attempted before. The questions on the real exam are phrased differently than on the mock exams. Questions are also lengthier (more wordy) than those on sample exams. The wording is very tricky, and there are a lot of ‘situational’ questions - situational, situational, situational. Even some of the formula related questions are situational. I hardly remember any question on the real exam that I had seen before the exam, even though I had attempted more than 3500 sample questions.

However, if you have Project Management experience, prepared well for the exam, and attempted plenty of sample questions from “good sources”, you should be able to crack the real exam. It’s difficult but not impossible. After all, there are more than 300K PMPs out there and not all of them are geniuses.

Survey: Rate the difficulty level of the PMP Exam

PMP Exam Tip

Start with some good free mock exams and save the commercial ones for the last. For the commercial exams, I recommend BrainBOK PMP Exam Simulator (1000 Questions). A 60% score in your first attempt on the BrainBOK exams is a good indicator of your readiness for the real exam.

Image credit: Flickr / mrtwistter

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I also disagree with the post. I just passed my PMP yesterday (albeit with all 'moderately proficient' and one 'below proficient' in planning). Rita's exam prep book and her FasTrack program were immensely helpful. To be perfectly honest I studied less than 20 hours. I also took a exam boot camp 6 months ago to satisfy the 35 hour requirement. But in the end, it was not very helpful.

I strongly suggest going through Rita's book and trying practice questions. From my experience, her fasTrack questions are actually harder than the PMP test.

If I can do it, anyone can.

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How you feel the exam will depend on the level of preparation you had before sitting to take it. There are very tough questions while others are pretty straight forward. It my opinion the exam overall is difficult. The path I chose was this:
1. Read the PMBOK guide
2. Read Head First PMP. This one helps understand difficult topics the easy and entertaining way.
3. Rita's PMP Exam Prep guide. This one is a MUST.
4. Practice with Fast track exam simulator from RM. If you score an average of 75% in your practices tests , you are good to go.

Seems like a lot but I was able to cover this material in 3 and half months.

Missing Avatar

I agree with the original post and consider the exam challenging.
I wrote my PMP today and passed with "moderately proficient" in all areas. I completed a 9 week (36 hour) prep course that ended a month ago and studied at least that much again in the month since then (let's say 80 hours in all).
As part of the prep course, I had access to the online practice questions from AmeGroupInc, which I spent many hours poring over, but the actual PMP exam questions were worded quite differently and were less obvious.
I was also surprised that many of the questions were unfamiliar to me, so I had to rely on my knowledge/experience of "best practices".
So if I had to take the exam again, I would try to source a better practice exam question set - probably Rita's since that seems to get widespread approval.

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I also passed PMP recently i.e. December 2011. I did not refer any Rita book or its test papers. I do not agree that Rita book is one of the strong means to crack PMP. To my knowledge these are the facts about PMP:
1. 90% of PMP questions are situational i.e. your understanding of real life project management and how you link inputs, tools & technologies and output with PMP written processes. No books can explain you these.
2. PMI does not reveal its question and answer, so while going thought any trusted books/test you actually trust the writer who wrote and not really what PMI expects.
3. In case you fail, you will never know what mistake you did…PMI does not reveal your mistakes for the questions you attempted.
4. In majority of questions ALL answers are correct, you need to choose the best one. In short you don't have a choice to ignore wrong answer.
With this said so, in reality you pass PMP because:
1. It was good day for you and you did not have severe headache during the long test of 4 hours.
2. Your common sense worked. Most of the time it does not!
3. You tried to relate your project management experiences and tried to best guess the best answer.
4. This one actually is true for majority of the people (and they don't know) – You actually gave up just after answering first 20 questions. Once you decided that you would fail, you just answered without using your brain quickly to finish off and see fail result. But you actually passed! Biggest unexpected happy shock of life! Why this happened? Here is the answer - When you decided that you have already failed, your fear factor went away. A failed person has nothing to loose and hence your relax/relieved mind helped your hand to choose the right answer (you did not even know this).

I wish you all the best to the all PMP aspirants.

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I just passed the PMP exam on my first attempt this week. I completely agree with the post that the actual exam is way more complicated than the mock tests. I was easily able to finish the mock tests with in 2 and half hours but finished the actual exam with barely a few minutes left on the clock.

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I wrote the PMP exam this morning and found it more grueling than difficult. Several of the questions were repeats, and I found the level of question to be less engaging than they were in "Rita".

That said, I averaged 90% on the Rita exams by the time I'd been through them a few times but got only "moderately proficient" across the board on the real exam. That's with about 150 hours all in (reading PMBOK and some chapters of "Rita", studying various techniques, and doing the Rita exams and another a few times over).


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just passed mine on may 28, 2012, gotta tell ya, i was sure shot fail but somehow passed it...long story short, if you are serious about passing it the first time, you have to put in 5 to 10 times the effort that you are putting in already...reason being for most of us...i would imagine...the effort we put in for an exam is directly proportional to the level of difficulty we expect or assume.

Therefore, to avoid any unpleasant surprise at the end of your exam...bust your ass now, move your exam date for another week to 10 days and pass it or you may have to reschedule for the 2nd attempt anyways so doesn't make sense to attempt it unless your preparation is any less than 90%!, Work hard, really really hard and if you do that there's no reason you shouldn't pass it.

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Just passed mine today. I found it more difficult than any other free mock exam I tried. Rita mock exams took me 2.5 hours to complete. The real exam took almost 4 hours. Questions in the real exam are longer and more situational. My exam place was also not very good (noisy) so concentrating took some effort.

Fair effort though, so I am rewarding myself with a nice bottle of wine as I type this. :)

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I passed my exam today with proficient in all domains, but the truth is I felt exam was more difficult than any of the mock tests I gave during preparation. Difficult due to following reasons
1. Questions were very situational with surely 2 nearly best choices
2. Questions very lot more wordly and lengthier and hence consumed lots of time
3.There was hardly any question with just direct answer ( You know answer by just looking at question)
4. More than just remembering Tool & Tech for a process, it was more application of it.

Nutshell ... Need to prepare really well to crack it unless you are really lucky and you always select a right choice :-)

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I just passed the exam 3 weeks ago. I agree with what you have said here. I registered an online exam prep course and practiced free questions as many as possible. During the exam, I did feel like I couldn't pass the exam but i tried my best for the remaining hours and finally got to see the 'Congratulations' message. It was really a stressful and amazing experience.

John McGilvery Avatar

I gotta say as someone who took engineering exams in the Navy, Have IT certs and an MBA from Texas A&M. This exam is grueling. Take it lightly at your own peril. I passed on my first attempt after a boot camp and 3 months of heavy self study. It took me every bit of 3 hours and 58 minutes to succeed. Ha! Luckily I’m very analytical in my every day life and at work which is what you’ll need to pass this exam because the answers aren’t clearly in black and white. Take it from me…It’s a hard exam.