Have the Right Mindset for Your PMP Exam

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The fact that you are reading this article means that you are interested in getting your PMP. You may have already taken some steps, perhaps you are gathering information about it or perhaps you have done more than that. The good project manager that you are, you hopefully have in mind or even written down on paper a roadmap, timeline, and a set of steps to get your PMP. This is all well and good, but no matter where you are in your PMP preparation journey, what we want to emphasize in this article is the importance of having the right mindset for your PMP exam.

What do I mean by having the right mindset?

Be positive

Are you the sort who thinks that the sky is falling or that the glass is half empty? Well, that may not take you very far and may n,ot serve you well for the PMP exam. It is best to approach the exam with the frame of mind that you CAN achieve your goal. You have the ability and the power to pass the exam and become a PMP. So although you may be able to conjure up a million reasons in your mind why you might not be able to pass the exam [we will discuss some of these fears later on in this article], know that you must not give in to those fears. Instead, figure out how you can harness those fears and turn them into appropriate actions as part of your preparation.

Success starts in your mind. Let it be the overarching theme of your journey, so that you can stay positive and focused on your goal.

It takes more than wishful thinking to pass your PMP exam.

Yes, it is important to have a positive attitude, but it is important to remember that a positive attitude is only the starting point. Later on, when you may reach some low points, a positive attitude may give that extra resolve to continue with the journey. But it is important to recognize that, in itself, a positive attitude does not equate to success. So ‘thinking’ that you are going to pass your PMP exam is NOT the same as passing it. ‘Thinking’ you are preparing for the exam is NOT the same as actually cracking open those books and answering those practice exam questions. It takes commitment and dedication and actual action on your part to prepare and do the work that it takes to get the PMP credential.

It is okay to ask for help or get the materials that you need to pass.

Independence is an extraordinary and admirable trait, but keeping everything to yourself may be to your detriment. Yes, ultimately it is you who has to show up and take the PMP exam, but you do not have to travel the whole road on your own. There are support groups of other PMP students and PMPs that you might find helpful. You also don’t have to do it on your own in terms of resources. Yes, it is possible that some people can pass based on reading the PMBOK Guide alone, but that does not work for everyone. Why waste your time and get frustrated when you can avail yourself of some great materials out there, which can help you understand those difficult concepts.

Learn to relax

If you are a nervous test taker, learn to relax. It is important to take a moment to breathe and stay calm. A little bit of stress is good, it helps keep you on your toes. A healthy amount of nervousness keeps you on alert to face the challenge, but you need to make sure that you don’t get over anxious and make silly mistakes or not take the time to thoroughly read the questions.

Overcome your fears and anxieties about the exam

From my experience, the road to getting the PMP is not always smooth or easy, so you have to be mentally prepared for some possible setbacks. It is normal to have some fear and/or concerns about the process and the outcome. But it is important not to let the fear take over. You need to be able to take control and allay your fears. Let me go through some common worries and fears about the exam and some suggestions on how you can deal with them.

1. I worry that I may get audited. That is not a reason not to proceed with your application or to not sleep at night. As Cornelius Fichtner has advised in his blog, "Simply make sure you are 100% truthful; have documentation to back up anything you claim on your application such as training certificates; and mention to current and former employers or colleagues that you are applying to take the PMP Exam in case they are contacted by PMI to verify any assertions on your application. Think of this application as a job application; there is a chance that your references will be checked."

2. I don't have time to study for the exam. Usually what I find is that people do have time but perhaps have not really been using it wisely. When you are waiting in the doctor's office for an appointment, there is time to review some flashcards. When you are driving your car on your way to work there is time to listen to a PM Podcast. It may require some sacrifice and you may have to miss some non-productive time that you might have been watching that football game or defeating aliens on that video game, but you have to keep your eye on the prize - that PMP credential.

3. I have to give up all my personal time preparing for this. I don't think it is advisable to suddenly put your entire life on hold as you prepare for the exam. It is impractical for most busy working professionals who have numerous commitments. It is healthy to still enjoy life and stay connected as you prepare for the exam. You have to find the right pace and balance that works for you.

4. I am no good at math. Not everyone is a math genius. You can overcome this weak spot with practice. You have to learn the formulas and common patterns of how formula-related questions can be framed. You need to be able to discern the relevant facts and figures from the information provided in the question. I strongly recommend the PM Formulas, to make sure you have covered what you need to know and it may give you that extra confidence for the PMP exam. Remember that improving your comfort level on the PMP exam related formulas is not only an exam booster, but it can also help you improve how you deal with metrics, numbers, and calculations in your work as a project manager.

5. I am not a great test taker. If you are not a great test taker, practice and preparation are key. Try to take as many sample tests as possible that cover all the knowledge areas. There are many exam test taking techniques available to help you improve your test taking skills.

6. I can't do this. I am not 100% prepared. Sometimes people think in absolutes, it can either be black or white. For some people, it leads to being perfectionists. Some people want to make sure they have read every available article out there on project management before they are ready. At some point, you may already be adequately prepared, but you may be procrastinating setting an exam date because you think you are not perfectly prepared. You have to try to objectively gauge how ready you are. When you take sample exams, set a target score. You may find that there may be areas that you need to work on. You don't have to perfect the exam but you do need to answer enough questions correctly.

7. I do not want to appear to be a failure to others. We can have a fear of 'looking bad' where we may even hide or fail to divulge our plan of taking the PMP exam, basically keeping it a secret from your work colleagues or your family and friends. You may want to only tell them once you have succeeded. I think this can be a mistake. We already mentioned earlier how you don't need to do this all on your own. The people in your life can act as your support network and encourage you. They can help you stick to your study schedule.

At work, it is a way that your boss and colleagues can see how serious you are about your profession and your career path. You can also demonstrate that preparation for the PMP is no joke. They will see how you are investing quite a bit of your personal time and effort. It is also likely you may already be applying some project management principles from your studies back into your work. Your company may even be able to help you covering your PMP training and exam costs or connecting you with other PMPs or project manager mentors within your organization. Overall, your efforts should garner you more (not less) respect from others.

8. I fear failure. Everybody fears failure, but if you think that the PMP is for you and for your career, do not get paralyzed by this fear. As we said at first, you need to start with a positive attitude. For science fiction buffs out there, Frank Herbert wrote: "Fear is the mind killer." And for sure, you need an alert and clear mind as you prepare for and take your PMP exam.

Keep your perspective

Yes, the PMP exam is very important. But even as we may fear preparing, taking or even failing the exam, in the scheme of things, it is not the end of the world. Some people do not pass the PMP exam the first time.

If you are a first-time test taker, be positive and plan your work and work the plan. All the same advice in this article applies to exam repeaters. You need to keep the proper mindset. Don’t look back at the test or yourself as a failure. Instead, consider how you now have more experience. Reflect on what may not have gone so well in past, but then regroup. Focus on what you can do differently to do better the next time around.

So there it is, no matter where you may be with your PMP exam prep efforts, be in the right mindset to carry you through the rest of the journey towards becoming a PMP.

About the author:

Yazmine Darcy, MBA, PMP has more than 15 years of experience in IT project management, strategy, change management and business process improvement. She has primarily worked in finance (retail operations, internet banking, retirement systems, treasury operations, global markets), but has also worked in human resources, aeronautics, and healthcare. She has a Six Sigma Greenbelt. She earned her MBA from Carnegie Mellon University and a double degree in Cognitive Science and Computer Science from Wellesley College.

Yazmine is presently working as a Senior Project Manager for OSP International, LLC.
Until Next Time,
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP
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Have pondered PMP but do not have enough project management hours under my belt. Probably up to around 2000 so not even halfway. May consider this in the future, although I've rarely seen it advertised as a must have in UK PM related roles. Seems to be a lot more popular in North America. Did some practice exam questions and some of the material was covered in the APMP curriculum.

APMP + Prince2 is possibly more valuable in the UK market?
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Like you, I've seldom seen PMP as a stated requirement for project management roles in the UK. It's highly respected in the UK, but you can get as much CV value from APMP and PRINCE2. I'd suggest investigating Agile PM training. It's a growing area and a future trend gaining a lot of traction in the businesses with which I'm working.
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