The Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification Exam: Insights From Those Who Have Passed

What is the hardest part about taking the PMP exam?

It’s a question that gets asked a lot. And although there are a lot of questions about obtaining a Project Management certification in general–who should consider it, does it help your career, what jobs or industries require it, etc.–all the questions get boiled down to one single concern once someone decides to pursue a PMP certification: Will I pass the test? Just how hard is it? How should I prepare?

So we asked certified project managers, people who have taken the test before and passed, what was the hardest part for them?


Preparing Before You Prepare


In my view, there are two significant challenges to earning the PMP certification:

1. Earning the required experience hours for the certification on all aspects of project work. These experience hours need to be documented in case your application is selected for an audit.

2. Completing enough practice questions and full length (200 question) practice exams.

Bruce Harpham,


For me [it] was collecting data on all the project work I did.

Roman Baranovsky


While the years of experience just happen, and there is no quick way of circumventing it, the most painful part was documenting that experience after the fact.  So, if you know you are enroute to a PMP, start documenting the experience now.  Check out the PMI website and see what the requirements are, and start working on them now.

Trina Serrecchia, Field Guide to Awesome


Practicing for the PMP Exam Itself


It has been 10 years since I have done this, so I hardly remember now, but I think the hardest part was learning the PM BOK by heart, as the exam is essentially checking how well you have memorized the book.

Andy Brandt, Scrum and Agile Development Professional



Honestly, the entire process of obtaining the PMP is long and challenging.

I studied intensely, on my own, for 3 months, took an Edwel PMP test prep class, and did 4-5 practice tests.  Passed the PMP exam the first time I took it.

Preparing, studying and practicing take time.  I’ve met some people who didn’t do any preparations, except for a PMP test prep class.  Things did not go well.  The prep classes are about 4 days, and really just acts as a review of what you have learned from the PMBOK.  (I prepared so well, that the instructor actually asked me why I was there – I told her to just wait till the math portion of the course came up, that was where I’d need help.)

What worked for me:

  1. Using a PMBOK study guide, taking a pretest, reading the chapter, retesting, and reviewing what I didn’t get correct on the quiz.
  2. Memorize the ITTOs.  Backwards and forwards.
  3. Reviewing previous chapters to make sure I retained the information
  4. Take a prep class, but use it as a review.  Don’t expect to learn everything during that class.  This class is to prepare you for the test experience, only.
  5. Taking as many practice exams as possible.  Knowing that you can sit through a 4 hr test is helpful.  Once you are in the real test, the time goes very quickly.  I was answering questions within the last 4 minutes.

– Trina Serrecchia, Field Guide to Awesome



So the ingredients for success seem obvious, but not easy:

  • Know what you need in preparation for your exam, which in short means: Experience, documentation, and lots of studying.
  • Take lots and lots of practice tests to figure out what your weaknesses are (shameless plug:’s PMP practice tests are divided into specific skills that allow you to easily spot the areas in which you need more practice)
  • Consider classes and training if you have the time or budget for it, but expect to know material before you begin the class so that it goes smoothly and you get your money’s worth.

Knowing what you need to know is the first step on the path to any certification, and the PMP exam is no different. What did you do study for the test? Let us know in the comments!

1 Comment

Bruce Harpham

about 7 years ago

Thanks for including my perspective on studying for the PMP exam.


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