The Challenge of the PMP Exam: How to pass PMP exam on first try

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” – Newt Gingrich (1943- ), American politician, historian, and author

When people find out that I just passed my PMP exam, the first thing they ask is “did you do it on the first try?” Apparently, it is “something like a phenomenon”. There are books written on how to pass PMP exam on first attempt.  Even more blog posts, most of which I probably read while preparing to take my test. Now that I have passed it – on fist attempt – let me put my two cents in. There is only one magic trick to it – all you have to do is study.

I honestly don’t know exactly how many hours I put in. My method is simple – you have to be consistent.  Like with anything else, you have to grid the stone of science.  Slowly but surely.  I would read the study guide every day for at least half an hour every night after work.  Yes, every single day. Considering how many letters I have after my name, I would like to think that I’ve got this studying thing figured out.


The ultimate study strategy is the one that works best for you.  Do you like to use flashcards? Do you like to listen to the material? Do you need to set up reminders to avoid procrastination? Select your study materials and plan your study time to set yourself up for success.

  • Read.
    • I have read the PMC study guide cover to cover. I read a lot of chapters in the PMBOK, but just to gain an understanding of the structure, the flow, how input and outputs work, terminology, etc. It is very hard to comprehend the PMBOK Guide, as it is a reference material.  This is why you need a study guide to put some meat around those dry concepts outlined in the PMBOK Guide. PMC chewed everything up very nicely, all you have to do is swallow.
    • Don’t just read. Comprehend.  Try to think about the concepts and their application as you read. How does “Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis” process enables project managers reduce the level of uncertainty, for example?
  • Use several different sources.  They have different points of view, focus on different materials, structure topics differently, ask different questions, etc.
  • Take as many practice exams as possible. Do not get discourage when you get most of the questions wrong. Reviewing those questions and answer explanations helps drive your thinking towards actual understanding of the concept.
  • Do not overstudy.  Do not read the PMBOK two times and the study guide three times or whatever some fools advise in their blogs.  They say that you should “touch” something three times to remember it.  Sounds about right. But do it in different ways.  For example, read the explanations of the same concept in two different study guides and hopefully later you will encounter it in one of the practice tests too.


  • Do not fool yourself – you will not be able to pass the test on the boot camp class alone.  Actually, I don’t believe that boot camp was necessary for me personally, as I prefer to study on my own.
  • The major value of the boot camp was the Study Guide.  We got Rita Milcahy materials as part of the tuition. Unfortunately, the boot camp drills do not teach you the understanding.  It was also wrong in where it told us to memorize stuff and that it was not necessary to focus on input and outputs.  You do not need to memorize anything.  But you do need to understand the concept of inputs and outputs.  Fortunately, they are very logical.
  • If you do decide to go through a boot camp class, my advise would be to do it after you have read the PMBOK Guide and some study guides.  It would be awesome as a review tool.


  • The order of different processes within each process group.  Again, this is logical and does not require memorization.
  • Some formulas – there are calculations on the exam.  But you need to know only the very basic formulas.  There wasn’t one question on the exam that I didn’t know the formula for.  And I did not spend any time intentionally memorizing anything for this test. I learned them based on the frequency on practice exams.
  • Network diagram. And all the concepts that tie into it.
  • Risk management.
  • Quality control vs quality assurance.
  • Change management.
  • Contract types and their application.
  • Documents – risk register, roles and responsibilities matrix, etc. – know what they contain and what they are used for.


  • Read the question carefully.
  • There were many times during my practice exams that I answered questions incorrectly simply because I either did not read all the information, or did not read the question correctly.  Also, there will be a lot of garbage thrown in to throw you off the path. Do not allow all the fluff to affect your logic.
  • Recognize questions that are being tested by PMI.
  • You will be able to tell which ones they are.  They are worded in a way that will literally astonish you.  After a few of those I started thinking that maybe my English is really not as good as I thought, because I could not comprehend what it was asking even after re-reading the question and answers several times.
  • Mark questions for review.
  • Sometimes other questions trigger recollection of related concepts.


  • Rita Mulcahy’s Exam Prep, Eighth Edition.
    • Read it cover to cover. Completed all the tests after the chapters.
  • My local library
    • Phillips, Joseph. PMP Project Management Professional Study Guide. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2013. Print.
      • Completed all the practice tests in the back of the chapters.
      • Also, liked the “Inside the exam” rubric that tells you what to be prepared for on the exam.
    • Angel, George G. PMP Certification: The Beginner’s Guide. Boulder: University of Colorado, 2014. Print.
      • I liked how the concepts/information was organized – table, graphs, diagrams.  I find those types of visual representations easier to comprehend and review than reading through long paragraphs of text.
    • Perrin, Richard. EdWel Programs PMP Exam Prep Boot Camp.
      • Reviewed all the memory checks.
      • Completed the practice test.
  • Other resources
    • LearnSmart online classes.
    • PrepCast free 15 question sample exams.
      • They are emailed to you every day. This subtle reminder kept me focused.

How did you pass your PMP exam?



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