How to Study for the PMP Exam

This section may not make a lot of sense right now, especially if you are unfamiliar with the content of the PMBOK.  After reading this book, you should come back to this section.

The PMP exam has three types of questions (all multiple choice).

  1. Scenario Questions.  A real-world scenario, where you must select the best course of action.  The scenario could be a change, a conflict, a risk, or an ethical situation.  These are the trickiest questions because (1) you must have memorized all the facts, (2) you must be able to apply your knowledge, and (3) two ore more of the answers may seem valid. 

    How to solve these questions?

    1. Learn all the facts in the PMBOK Guide.
    2. Practice.
    3. Learn to identify key words and patterns in each question, which will help you eliminate some of the wrong answers.

  2. Math Questions.  You must interpret network diagrams, or calculate statistical or economic figures.  The math is not complicated, but you must be able to solve the questions quickly.

    How to solve these questions?

    1. Learn equations.
    2. Practice math questions until you can solve them fast enough.

  3. Example Questions.  These are somewhat like the Scenario Questions, except you are not really applying the information or interpreting the facts.  You are given an example, and asked to identify an input, output, or tool, or a component of an input, output, or tool.

    How to solve these questions?

    1. Learn all the facts in the PMBOK Guide.
    2. Practice.

I don’t want to use the word memorize.  I prefer to use the word learn.  Because memorizing a fact or equation is not enough.  PMBOK is full of tools, and it is better to understand how each tool works and why.  If you understand how it works, you can apply it to a new scenario, not just on the exam, but in real life.

Some Types of PMP Exam Questions

There will be many questions on the exam that fit into one of the three patterns.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Some of these questions may not make sense to you right now.  Read them and keep them in mind when you read the rest of this book, then come back here and look at them again.

  1. Narrative Question.  A Narrative Question will provide a narrative of a project scenario and ask you, what should the project manager do, or what should the project manager do first?  You will be presented with several options.  Narrative Questions can include questions from the rest of this list.  They include:

    1. Change Requests.  You will be presented with multiple scenarios where a customer/stakeholder/team member requests a change that may/may not impact the project.  Sometimes, you will be told that you must make an immediate decision.  Sometimes, the customer will ask for a “tiny” change that won’t affect the budget.  What do you do first?  The best course of action is to evaluate the Change Request and see what impact it will have on the project constraints.  Even if you are under pressure to make a quick decision, in a situation where there appears to be no impact to the constraints, you should always evaluate the impact of the action.

      The PMBOK is procedure driven.  Apply the procedure and don’t allow emotions to affect your decision.

    2. Stakeholders.  Some questions will provide scenarios where a project was delayed, completed over budged, or where its deliverables were not approved.  The question will ask you why the project failed.  Many times, it is because the stakeholders were not properly identified.

    3. Conflict Resolution.  There will be a couple of scenarios where team members experience conflict and you are asked about the best way to resolve the issue.  The team members should attempt to resolve the conflict on their own, and if they are unable to, then the project manager should intervene.

    4. Communications.  You will be provided with several scenarios where you must choose the best way to communicate with team members, or stakeholders.  Sometimes the team members have diverse cultures and are in different countries.

    5. Contractors & Suppliers.  You will encounter a situation where a contractor informs you of a delay in supplying you with critical project components.  You must decide what to do (fire the contractor, look for a new contractor, or hold a meeting with the contractor).  Meetings are usually the best answer.  While the contractor’s actions have negatively impacted your project, firing them and looking for a replacement is usually worse than working with the existing contractor.

    6. Project Closing.  There will be scenarios where you are told that your project is no longer meeting the objectives of the organization and needs to stop.  You will be provided with several options.  These include trying to convince the project sponsor or CEO to keep your project going, or to abruptly end the project, but the best choice is to start the Close Project Process.

      You need to remember that your project is a tiny gear in a huge organization.  Don’t get emotionally attached to your project.  If the organization decides that your project no longer fits in with their strategy, shut it down.  The resources used by your project can go towards something more productive.

      At the same time, we do not abruptly shut down projects.  We must follow a process to document our actions & lessons learned, close contracts with suppliers, and release the project team.

    7. Ethics Questions.  You will be provided with several ethical situations.  The correct answer is usually straightforward.

  2. Example Questions.  These are less complicated than the narrative questions.  Typically, you are provided with an example, and are asked to identify the method, tool, or technique that is being used.

    1. Organizational Process Assets and Enterprise Environmental Factors.  The question will ask you to identify whether items are Assets or Factors.

    2. Kick-Off Meeting.  You will be asked about the Kick-Off Meeting.  The purpose of a kick-off meeting is to gather the stakeholders and explain the project’s charter and objectives.  The stakeholders (including team members) must attend the meeting.  The Kick-Off Meeting is led by the Project Manager.

    3. Project Charter.  The purpose of a charter is to give the project manager the authority to lead the project and use resources in the project.  The charter is given to the Project Manager by a higher-level person (the Project Sponsor).  A Project Manager cannot start the project with the Project Charter.

    4. Project Schedules.  You will be asked whether to Crash or Fast Track a project.  You need to Crash or Fast Track the project schedule when you are behind schedule.  Choose to Crash the project when you have money; otherwise, choose Fast Track.  Scheduling questions can also be Math Questions, where you calculate the cost of Crashing the project.

    5. Stakeholder Analysis.  There are easier questions where you need to identify a stakeholder’s risk tolerance, classifications, or the best way to communicate with a stakeholder or group of stakeholders.

    6. Stakeholder Salience Model.  You will be asked how the Salience Model classifies stakeholders.  Stakeholders are grouped by Power, Legitimacy, and Urgency.

    7. Stakeholder Register.  Identify components of the Stakeholder Register.

    8. Risk Register vs the Risk Management Plan.  The Risk Register contains the individual risks and their responses; the Risk Management Plan does not.

    9. Risk Tools.  You will be asked about Risk Audits, Risk Categorization, Risk Assessment, Risk Probability and Impact Assessment.

    10. Risk Response Choices.  You will be provided with an example of a risk and asked to identify whether the best risk response is to Avoid, Transfer, Mitigate, or Accept.

    11. Threats vs Opportunities.  You will be asked to identify whether a scenario is a threat or an opportunity, and to identify the appropriate response.

    12. Tuckman’s Stages of Team Formation.  You are given a scenario and asked what stage of Team Formation the team is in.

    13. Conflict Management.  You will be provided with a scenario and asked to identify the type of Conflict Management technique that were used or that should be used.

    14. Data Gathering Techniques.  Given a scenario, identify which of the techniques was used, or identify their pros or cons.  Techniques include Interviewing, Expert Judgment, Brainstorming, Facilitated Workshops, Focus Groups, Questionnaires, Checklists. 

    15. Benefits of Prototyping.  You will be asked about the benefits of prototyping.  Prototypes are tangible and allow you to obtain feedback early in the project.

    16. Types of Group Decisions.  Given an example, you must identify the type of group decision including Unanimity, Majority, Plurality, or Dictatorship.

    17. Delphi Technique.  Identify when the Delphi Technique was used.

    18. Quality Tools.  Given a scenario, you must identify which Quality Tool (Fishbone, Flowchart, Pareto, Histogram, Scatter Diagram) was used or should be used.

    19. Changes.  Identify whether a change is a Corrective Action, Preventative Action, or Defect Repair.

    20. Soft Skills.  Given a scenario, identify soft skills (listening, influencing, decision making) that a Project Manager used or was lacking.

    21. Communications Methods.  You will be asked to choose whether a Push, Pull, or Interactive Communication method is best, or you will be asked to identify whether a type of communication is a Push, Pull, or Interactive Communication method.

    22. Contracts.  You will be asked to identify the type of contract in place for a specific scenario, or choose the best type of contract to use.

    23. Grade vs Quality.  You will be asked about the difference between Quality and Grade.  Low Quality is unacceptable; Low Grade may be acceptable.

    24. Procurement Management.  You should understand Bidder Conferences, Negotiations, and Contracts, and what their benefits are.

    25. Requirements Traceability Matrix.  Identify the contents and benefits of the matrix.  The Requirements Traceability Matrix links customer requirements to product components/tests.

    26. Responsibility Assignment Matrix.  The matrix ensures that only one person is responsible for each task in the project.

    27. RACI Chart.  The chart identifies who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, or Informed for each aspect of the project.

    28. Estimating Methods.  Given a scenario, identify which type of estimating was used or should be used.  Identify pros and cons for each estimating method.  Methods include Analogous Estimating, Bottom-up Estimating, and Parametric Estimating.

    29. Code of Accounts/Control Accounts.  A Control Account is used for project cost accounting.

    30. Management Reserve and Contingency Reserve.  Identify when to use and when to release the Management Reserve or Contingency Reserve.  Typically, the Contingency Reserve is released when the specific risk associated with it no longer exists.

    31. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), and WBS Dictionary.  The WBS contains a breakdown of the work to be completed, as individual work packages, each of which is linked to a Control Account.

    32. Statement of Work vs Scope Statement.  The Statement of Work is issued by the customer, but the Scope Statement is issued by the Project Team.

    33. Plans.  Identify components of the Cost Management Plan, Risk Management Plan, Schedule Management Plan, Scope Management Plan, Procurement Management Plan, Stakeholder Management Plan, Communications Management Plan, and Human Resource Management Plan.

    34. Baselines.  Identify components of the Cost Baseline, Scope Baseline, and Schedule Baseline.

    35. Processes.  Identify Inputs, Outputs, and Tools & Techniques of each of the 49 Processes.

  3. Math Questions.  Math questions will involve a chart and/or a calculation.

    1. Which project is more cost effective?  You will be given two or three projects with different upfront costs and returns, and asked to calculate which one provides the best return after a number of years.  You may also need to calculate the Cost Ratio, Payback Period, or Internal Rate of Return.

      The question may include an inflation rate, and you would be required to calculate the Present Value or Future Value of an investment or return.

    2. Production Process.  You will be provided with raw measurements from a production line, and the control limits.  You will be asked to determine if the process is under control or if it should be investigated.

    3. Costs and Scheduling.  Calculation of Earned Value, Actual Cost, Cost Variance, Schedule Performance Index, Cost Performance Index, or Budget at Completion.  You may also be asked to determine if a project is on budget and/or on schedule.

    4. Network Logic Diagrams, Critical Path Method, and Critical Chain Method.  You will be provided with multiple logic diagrams, and then asked to identify/calculate the Critical Path.  You may be given a scenario where the length of one or more activities changes, and then you are asked to recalculate the Critical Path.  You may be asked to calculate the Free or Total Float for the project.

      You might be required to identify the Early Start, Early Finish, Late Start, or Late Finish dates for a project.  You might also be required to identify Leads and Lags in the schedule.

      All of the activities will probably be Finish to Start.

    5. Three Point Estimates and Standard Deviations.

      Be able to calculate a three-point estimate or standard deviation.