Three Things I Learned Taking the PMP Exam

By: Dave Pradko

Curious what it takes to pass the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam? I was, too. I’ve owned previous versions of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), and I thought I knew what would be on the PMP exam. However, as I took a PMP prep course and practice exams, I realized that the PMP exam for the 6th Edition* of the PMBOK has a much different focus than I was expecting. Here are three things I learned studying for – and passing – the PMP exam.

The PMP is Heavily Agile

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has been steadily increasing the amount of Agile content to the PMBOK over the last few editions, but I was still surprised how much of the PMP exam was Agile content. About 75% of the exam was Agile or Agile-predictive hybrid methodology questions. The PMP has never been just for software development, but Agile was. To see PMI weight the exam so heavily towards Agile and hybrid content reflects just how accepted and utilized Agile has become, and also reflects PMI’s acceptance and promotion of Agile for project management.

Just Studying the PMBOK Isn’t Enough

A project manager using several tools – a laptop, a page of charts, a notebook, and a post-it note.

It would be impossible to tell from reading the PMBOK just how much emphasis the PMP exam places on Agile and hybrid content. The Inputs, Tools, Techniques, and Outputs (ITTO) dominate the PMBOK by amount of content. It takes much of the PMBOK’s 700 pages to cover all the ITTOs from predictive (i.e., waterfall) project management methodology, while the Agile Practice Guide is a much smaller document. Knowing what and how to study for the exam, then, falls to the PMP training industry that’s sprung up around helping you pass the exam. There are hundreds of training providers ready to sell you a PMP prep course that covers the material and provides the 35 contact hours and Professional Development Units (PDU) needed to sit for the PMP. In addition to the training courses, there are other PMP study aids out there – knowledge modules, practice quizzes and exams, flash card apps, etc. They range from a few dollars to over $1,000 and it can be a challenge to evaluate them and decide which will be a worthwhile investment.

The PMP Community

One thing that can help with your evaluations and decisions of the best study aids is the PMP exam community. In particular, I stumbled almost accidentally onto the r/PMP community on Reddit. Thanks to pretty strict rules and moderation, the community is very focused, engaging, and supportive toward PMP candidates. And there are dozens of threads a day of aspiring and recent PMPs asking questions ranging from professional experience prerequisites, the application process, study courses and materials, to exam prep questions. The most valuable part of the subreddit seems to be the crowd-sourced wisdom around things like the training courses and materials. For instance, while PMI’s own Study Hall is new and many are trying it out (including yours truly), PrepCast seems to be the community favorite for helping PMP aspirants prep for the questions to expect on the exam.

In Conclusion

Of course, realizing that I got a passing score on my first attempt was my favorite thing I learned. The PMBOK has changed dramatically over its 35 years and editions. And it’s really instructive to see the emphasis that PMI and the project management world put on project managers understanding Agile and hybrid methodologies, and how much PMI has embraced Agile approaches and servant leadership for its project managers.

*The 7th Edition of the PMBOK is now out, but the exam still covers the 6th Edition.