Common Theme among PMP Lessons Learned Posts

4 minute read    Updated:    Harwinder Singh

PMP Lessons Learned and Study Tips Sharing lessons learned after taking the PMP exam has become a ritual. It’s our way of paying back to the community that helped us in achieving the PMP credential. These lessons learned are a great asset for anyone preparing for the exam. I developed the habit of reading every lessons learned post that I came across, during my exam prep days and it continues until this day. It helped me pass the exam then and it helps me keep up with the latest developments now. I have literally read more than 100 such posts in the last year itself.

As everyone’s experience is unique, there’s always something unique in each post. However, there’s also a common underlying theme in these posts. In this article, I’m going to share that common theme. The purpose is to help you focus your effort on the important aspects of the exam, and not get carried away with everything and anything that you read or hear. Before we get started, a small disclaimer - please use this information at your own discretion (what-worked-for-me-may-not-work-for-you).

Lessons that PMP exam-takers learned the hard way

  1. PMBOK Guide is The Bible for the PMP exam. I cannot stress this point enough. I realized this only when I was taking my PMP exam. Most successful PMP candidates will tell you to read the guide at least 3 times.
  2. Do not read too many exam prep guides. Usually one good PMP book is sufficient.
  3. Classroom training or online training? It's a personal choice.
  4. The exam does have some straight forward questions on Inputs, Tools and Techniques and Outputs (ITTOs). Memorizing ITTOs surely helps, but if you have sound understanding of the project management processes, you can answer the ITTO questions with the same ease.
  5. Most formula related questions (including the Critical Path questions) are not too complex. For most of the questions, you don't even need to use a calculator.
  6. The quality of questions on the (real) exam is generally better than that of most sample questions in the market.
  7. The questions are generally not as wordy as some training providers may make you believe. In my personal experience, I did see a few (about 5) verbose questions on my exam. But that was 3 years ago and things might have changed now.
  8. No questions with double negatives. Let me first explain what double negatives are, with some examples: a. All of the following are false EXCEPT ... Here the question is basically asking "Which of the following is true ...".
    b. All of the following are true EXCEPT ... It is the same as "Which of the following is false ...".
    c. None of the following is true EXCEPT ... Same as (a). Some sample exams play the double negative card too often. You need to be aware of double negatives, but need not stress too much.
  9. There could be questions with grammatical and/or spelling errors. Yes, believe it or not, you may find such errors on the exam. I can testify to this myself. I believe that these would be fairly rare now, but it's good to be mentally prepared.
  10. Attempt lots of sample questions, but only from reliable sources. You may be an excellent project manager, but ultimately you also need to be a good exam-taker to earn the PMP credential. It's important to practice taking tests, especially full-length tests at a stretch. Refer to my recommended list of free PMP exam sample questions.
  11. Four hours are more than sufficient to complete the exam. The average time to complete the first pass is two and a half hours, and to review the marked questions is another thirty minutes. But that doesn't mean that you can afford to sit too long on any particular question.
  12. Brain dump is like an insurance cover. Many people (me included) offload the 5x9s, important formulas and points on a sheet of paper during the 15 minutes tutorial session preceding the exam, but don't refer back to them at all during the exam. I think it helps in calming some nerves and giving a sense of security, nothing more.

So those were some points that I regularly see in the lesson learned posts. I hope you picked up something useful from the list. Feel free to share your comments and experience. And do stop-by to share your PMP lessons learned here, after you pass the exam.

Image credit: Flickr / Dawn Ashley

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Hi Harwinder, Thanks for the post, yes we have picked up something useful from this list. However I feel the list doesnt contain enough information.It must be something like reading single LL rather than reading many.

Harwinder Singh Avatar

Hello Anon,

Thanks for your feedback. I'll see if I can update this or write a new more comprehensive article.

BTW, did you have any specific points in mind that you would have liked to learn more about?


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yes there are some... 1. difference between Quality Assurance & Quality Control(the questions from the part is quite confusing), same for the Qualitative & Quantitative Analyis in Risk Management. 2. Project Selection Methode 3. You know there are many process in PMBOK, these process overlap each other in practical. Still can you give in which sequence each process occure in real world of project management? for example we cant start any other activity untill project charted is approved.


Missing Avatar

It sounds like what the anon poster is asking for is a study guide, which this post isn't meant to be.

Harwinder's 12LL are spot on, though I feel like I remember getting a double negative question or two on my exam.

Harwinder Singh Avatar

Hi Anon,

Which study guide are you referring to? I recommend Rita's book if you are having difficulty with these topics, specifically Quality Management.

I'm not sure whether Project Selection Methods are part of the PMBOK 4. But Chapter 4 in Rita's book has enough information, for the exam.

The order in the planning process group is important. You can also refer to this post:

[Order of Activities in Closing Process Group](/2010/04/pmp-order-activities-closing-process.html)

Feel free to post your questions on the "Study Notes" page. I'll be glad to help.


Harwinder Singh Avatar

Hi TL,

Thanks for your feedback. BTW, I started with a 5 point list and slowly it grew to 12 :)

I guess PMI has a fairly large pool of questions, and it's hard to say anything with 100% confidence. Even if one gets a couple of questions with double negatives, it's nothing to fear. Some training providers exploit these as "scare factors", which is what I was trying to guard people against. Your experience validates the point.

Thanks again.

Missing Avatar

Hi. I refer Rita's book for my preparation. Its detailed enough about Quality and Risk topic in the book . However I confused sometime from which process the question is asking about., May be I have to read few more times these sections. And I have anther question this time that, I read somewhere that 30% of PMP exam questions are from out of PMBOK. Could you please tell me where are they from? or is it 25 question which are not considered for marking..? also I read one question from one Exam simulator, what colour of hat a project manager will wear while conducting meeting? is there such things?

Harwinder, dont you feel PMP exam is a kind of Test of English Language too? I feel if PMP questions where straight forward rather than using confusing language, all could answer these questions easily.

Harwinder Singh Avatar

Hi Anon,

It's true that everything on the exam, may not be from the PMBOK Guide. And yes, those out-of-the-blue questions may be part of the 25 pretest questions.

If you have 3 years of real Project Management experience, refer to a good study guide, and practice quality sample questions, you should be able to answer most questions. So, study your material well and don't go by hearsay.

Regarding your point on the language of questions, I think your comment is based on the sample exams, but those exams don't represent the real exam. Generally, I don't think that the questions on the real PMP exam are worded that way.

Hope that helps.

Missing Avatar

Hi Harwinder, thanks for your feedback on my queries. You asked me to practice with good quality sample questions. I do have these PMP exam exam stimulators " Rita fast track, PMPEXAMSTIMULATOR & CertChamps" and other free sample questions from various sites. Out of these three simulators I found only Rita has quality questions. CertChamps questions are pretty easy. 80% straight forward questions. PMPEXAMSTIMULATOR questions are vague.Not good wording at all. So could you please suggest where I can get quality questions which are close to real PMP exam apart from Rita both free and commercial? I visited your list of free 6000+ questions.