How to prepare for the PMP exam - Part 6: Using practice tests to get ready

Despite all the studying you've done for the Project Management Professional Exam you may be nervous about taking the test. Here we break down how PMP sample questions and PMP Exam Simulators can help test your knowledge and prepare you for the big day.

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PMP expert Cornelius Fichtner has prepared a series of how-to articles designed to help interested parties prepare for the PMP exam. This article is the sixth in the series.

Despite all the studying you have done for the Project Management Professional Exam you may be nervous about taking the test. Here we break down how PMP sample questions and PMP Exam Simulators can help test your knowledge and prepare you for the big day.

Just like a competitive athlete, a PMP candidate sets out a training course with the actual test as the final event of that preparation. Preparing for the PMP Exam is less like a 100-meter sprint than a marathon because preparing and passing the exam is an accomplishment in itself. The certification can make a significant difference, exponentially, from the day "PMP" follows your name.

How Will You Know That You Are Ready?

PMI doesn't tell us how many questions must be answered correctly in order to pass. All we are told in the PMP Credential Handbook is that "The passing score [&] is determined by sound psychometric analysis."

So how do you get around the catch 22 situation of wanting to know when you are ready, when nobody tells you what "ready" really means? My recommendation is to apply the 85% rule as follows:

Keep track of your score as you answer PMP Exam sample questions. If you consistently answer at least 85% of sample questions correctly on your first attempt (subsequent attempts don't count), then you can probably consider yourself ready for the real exam.

Exam Questions: What to Expect

Next to studying the PMBOK Guide®, practice questions are your most important study activity. After all, the PMP Exam is not a simple memory-recall, multiple-choice test. You have signed up for a four-hour, 200-question multiple-choice exam with up to five question types. These include complex situational questions, short situational questions, formula-based questions, knowledge-based questions and interpretive questions. Each question type has its own purpose and pitfalls, which makes knowing how to get the most out of each question crucial.

Situational questions test your ability to identify the relevant and ignore irrelevant content. These questions tend to be lengthy so it is especially important to read and accurately identify the ACTUAL question, so that you can eliminate insignificant information.

Formula-based questions are more than just "solving for the median" or calculating earned value. There are about 49 PMP formulas that you must know backwards and forwards, ranging from simple averages to Probability and Depreciation. You must know both the formula and how to perform the calculation in order to get the answer right.

Knowledge-based questions require you to know facts -- most often from the PMBOK Guide. These questions also occasionally ask which processes belong to which Knowledge Area, or which Inputs, Tools & Techniques or Outputs go with which process. Sometimes you are asked to identify an example chart or graph, such as recognizing a RACI or Pareto chart.

Interpretational questions may also test your ability to deduce a situation or condition. For example: "If your project has an SPI and a CPI both greater than 1, how well is your project performing?"

Specific Technique questions will contain a tool or technique like a network diagram and ask you to provide an element that's inherent in that diagram such as forward pass or backward pass.

While there are some free PMP exam sample questions available online, that is just a start. As you move further along in your studies, you will probably want more and harder questions. Your best bet is to get quality questions in an exam simulator.

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