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Passing the New PMP Exam with PMBOK Guide Fifth Edition

The Project Management Institute (PMI) requires Project Management Professional (PMP) certification candidates to prove their experience, document their education, and pass the exhaustive PMP exam, updated in July 2013 to reflect changes in the PMI book "A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge" (the 'PMBOK Guide'). Joseph Phillips, PMP, Project+, and Certified Technical Trainer+, reviews significant exam changes to help you prepare to pass the latest version of the exam.
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So you want to bolster your résumé and pass the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam. And why not? You have experience as a project manager, you know how to lead projects, and you've known plenty of project managers who just suck at what they do. You're starting here, reading about the PMP as well as A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Fifth Edition (PMBOK Guide, for short) and how it affects the PMP exam. Good deal.

You can order a copy of the PMBOK Guide directly from the Project Management Institute (PMI), Amazon.com, or your local bookstore. It's a tough read, but an excellent resource for referencing specific information. Many great books out there cover the PMP—including the two I've written about the exam (see Note), but make certain you're getting a book that's been prepped for the fifth edition of the PMBOK Guide. It's a good idea to have additional study materials, but you don't want to invest hours in an outdated book. Blech!

Qualifying for the Exam

Let's make certain you qualify for the PMP. Certification has two paths: with a bachelor's degree, and without a bachelor's degree. First we'll look at the degreed path numbers to see what you need:

  • 36 non-overlapping months of project management experience within the last eight years. That means three solid years of leading project management processes and tasks. For example, if you're leading two projects at once for six months, you can't call that 12 months of experience; two projects in tandem for six months count as just six months of experience.
  • 4,500 hours leading project management tasks within the last eight years. Each hour you spend doing project management work counts toward the required 4,500 hours.
  • 35 contact hours of project management education. This requirement has no other time limitation, but the classes must focus on project management. Most project managers take a PMP Boot Camp (like the one I offer at Instructing.com) that teaches project management and helps in passing the exam.
  • 61% (approximate) or greater score on the exam. This is the minimum passing grade.

Now let's look at similar requirements for candidates with only a high school diploma or associates' degree who want to qualify for the PMP exam:

  • 60 non-overlapping months of project management experience within the last eight years. That means five years of leading project management processes and tasks. As with the degreed path, if you're leading multiple projects at once, you can't count those months individually toward your 60-month experience requirement.
  • 7,500 hours leading project management tasks within the last eight years. As in the degreed path, each hour you spend doing project management work counts toward the required 7,500 hours.
  • 35 contact hours of project management education. This requirement is the same for degreed and non-degreed candidates.
  • 61% (approximate) or greater score on the exam. This is the minimum passing grade.

Understanding the Exam Process

You've probably heard nightmare tales about the new exam and how tricky the questions can be. Yes, it's a tough exam—and we like it that way! We don't want everyone to qualify for the exam, and we don't want everyone who takes it to pass. (Of course, I want you to pass.) If the exam were easy, everyone would take it, and that would cheapen the certification's value in the marketplace. This is business—not peewee soccer, where everyone gets a trophy.

To take the PMP exam, apply online at the Project Management Institute website. PMI will review your application and determine whether you qualify to take the exam. There's a chance—albeit a small one—that your application will be selected randomly for an audit. If you're audited, you'll have to send PMI proof of your education and verification of your work experience. I've known many participants who were audited, and it's not a big deal—just a little headache. If you're honest on your application, getting through the audit process is a snap. When your application is approved, with or without the audit, you'll receive a letter from PMI authorizing you to take the test, with details on how to schedule the exam.

One important step in the application process is paying for the exam, which costs $405 for PMI members and $555 for nonmembers. Since joining PMI costs $129, you can actually save a little money by signing up for membership before you take the test; your total cost for the exam ($405) plus membership ($129) would be $534, a savings of $21 versus taking the exam as a nonmember. As part of the process of joining PMI, you might also want to join your local PMI chapter—one of the best benefits of PMI. Chapter membership typically is roughly $25–$35, depending on which chapter you join, so factor that fee into your PMI budget.

When you're ready to take the test, which you'll schedule online through a Prometric Testing Center, try to arrive a bit early for the exam. I actually recommend that you drive to the testing location the night before the exam, so you can learn exactly where you're going, and show up at least 20 minutes early for the exam. You won't be allowed to take anything into the examination room with you, but the proctor will help you sign into the exam software and give you six sheets of blank paper. A calculator is provided as part of the exam equipment. You'll have four hours to complete the exam, and you'll learn whether you passed or failed just a few excruciating minutes after you've finished.

Studying to Pass the Exam

The PMP exam objectives are based largely on the PMBOK Guide and its processes. This simple bit trips up many would-be PMPs: You need to know all of the 47 project management processes in the PMBOK—even if you don't use all of the processes in your projects. Most project managers won't use all of those processes on every project—but you really have to know these processes as well as if you used them all.

The processes are first bunched into process groups:

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and controlling
  • Closing

That's fine, but the real focus is how the processes are bunched into knowledge areas. The exam focuses on these knowledge areas and the processes therein. The following nifty table details the knowledge areas, the number of processes, and the relevant PMBOK Guide chapter for each.

Nine Knowledge Areas on Which the PMP Exam Is Based

Knowledge Area


Number of Processes

PMBOK Guide Coverage

Project Integration Management

Coordinating all other project management knowledge areas


Chapter 4

Project Scope Management

Defining, creating, and controlling the project scope


Chapter 5

Project Time Management

Scheduling and sequencing activities, developing and controlling the project schedule


Chapter 6

Project Cost Management

Estimating costs and controlling the project budget


Chapter 7

Project Quality Management

Planning, assuring, and controlling quality


Chapter 8

Project Human Resources

Managing, leading, and controlling human resources


Chapter 9

Project Communications Management

Planning and controlling project communications


Chapter 10

Project Risk Management

Identifying, tracking, responding to, and controlling project risks


Chapter 11

Project Procurement Management

Managing all aspects of project procurement


Chapter 12

Project Stakeholder Management

Identifying, managing, and controlling stakeholders (a new knowledge area in the fifth edition of PMBOK Guide)


Chapter 13

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Fifth Edition includes 10 knowledge areas, up from nine knowledge areas in previous editions. The new knowledge area is Project Stakeholder Management, which some people would argue this isn't really a new knowledge area—just an expansion of what was already part of Project Communications Management. Either way, it's new, so you can expect a chunk of questions from the four processes in this new knowledge area.

PMBOK Guide, Fifth Edition also includes five new processes that you'll likely see on the PMP exam:

  • Plan Scope Management
  • Plan Schedule Management
  • Plan Cost Management
  • Plan Stakeholder Management
  • Control Stakeholders Engagement
  • In previous editions of the PMBOK Guide, much of the planning was lumped into "Develop the Project Management Plan." But planning now is spread across the 10 knowledge areas, with each knowledge area having at least one plan. To pass your exam, you should be familiar with all of the project management processes and their associated knowledge areas. It's not just being aware of the processes; you'll need to know how to apply the processes in a scenario. The scenario-based questions trip up many project managers on this test. You have to broaden your mind and think of how these processes and knowledge areas can work in environments that are different from the one where you work now. One of the best studying tips I can offer is to answer test questions according to the PMBOK Guide—not based on how you'd do things in your work environment.

    In the next article in this series, I'll break out all of the processes and offer a plan for creating a study strategy. Until then, get started on your PMP exam application!

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