Why Do Candidates Fail in the PMP Certification Exam?

Why Do Candidates Fail in the PMP Certification Exam?

Two of my peers who have more than 15 years of IT experience in the banking industry and as a project manager for almost five years appeared for the PMP certification exam last week. They said they took a PMP Prep course from a registered PMI education provider and prepared well for the exam. However, still they were not able to pass the exam. Like them, several hundreds of project managers who appear for the exam fail to pass on their first attempt.

As we all know the Project Management Institute (PMI) is the leader and the most widely recognized organization in promoting project management best practices. It was founded in 1969 and started offering the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certifications in 1984. Many jobs require the candidate to have completed the PMP exam.

There are many reasons why candidates fail in the exam. The most common reasons are:

They have a shallow understanding and don’t study deeply: This is one of the most common reasons why candidate fail to pass on their first attempt. Both practical and theoretical knowledge is required for one to pass the exam in the first attempt itself.

Solution: I would suggest the exam takers to read PMBOK Guide latest version from cover to cover at least three times. You will be easily answering several questions if you read the Appendix sections from page 345 to 455. Concentrating more on Appendix section G (interpersonal skills) would help you to answer lot of behavioral oriented questions on the exam.

They fail to read all answers: This is another mistake most of the exam takers do. They look at the given options sequentially and if they think the option 1 or 2 is right, they skip the other options.

Solution: Read questions and given answers carefully. Re-read all questions containing negative words such as “not” “least” or “except”. Likewise check for all qualifying words: “all”, “most”, ‘some’, “none” and keywords such as input, output, tools and project management process. Since the exam is four hours you have enough time to go through all the given four options.

They do not think PMBOK is always right: Let me give a simple example here. Below is a sample exam question for your reference

Phase exits, stage gates or kill points are all terms for:
a. GO/No meeting
b. Project closure criteria
c. Kickoff for next phase
d. Phase end reviews

The right choice is “D”. Even though your organization may use different way of assessing the project phases and different terminologies for processes, the PMBOK says before closing a project or a phase the manager should contact Phase-end reviews.

Solution: When you are taking the exam you need to think PMBOK Guide is always right and in order to pass the exam, we need to use the right Key word phases used in PMBOK Guide regardless of whatever you do today to manager your project.

As some of may know already, PMP candidates are limited to three exam attempts within a year. If they fail three times within one year, they will have to wait one more year before submitting their application form. Hence, focus on the passing the pmp certification exam the first time. Anonymous survey results show that less than 50% exam candidates actually pass the exam on their first attempt and I’m pretty sure you can pass it at the first attempt if you avoid the mistakes highlighted here.

Good Luck!

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Why Do Candidates Fail in the PMP Certification Exam?, 7.8 out of 10 based on 17 ratings
Original Author : Dr. Joseline Edward, PhD
Courtesy : http://www.way2pm.com/
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51 Responses to “Why Do Candidates Fail in the PMP Certification Exam?”

  1. Peter Sinclair says:

    I have mentored PMP and CAPM as part of my local PMI Chapter for the last three years. The majority of people that fail the PMP exam because;

    a) They don’t know what project management actually is. While they say they have been ‘project managers’ for the last 3 – 5 years it is not until they actually understand what PMI expects a project manager to do that you actually realize how little they know about PM.

    b) PMP courses should not be about teaching you to be a project manager. You are supposed to have had 3 – 5 years experience as a PM. What PMBOK and Rita’s books do is introduce a common language and common set of process. Those that don’t go through PMBOK 3 – 5 times won’t understand this common language or how the processes interact.

    c) PMBOK does not contain all the information required for the PMP exam, again this is what the 3 – 5 years experience and other training should have taught you. Concepts such as 6-sigma, international project management, ethics etc are not in PMBOK. Baris (above) mentions this as well.

    Understand the language, process and interaction between process. Understand how you would apply these process to actual situations. Other good reading on project management is anything by Harlod Kerzner.

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  2. Dennis Schwabe says:

    Rita Mulcahy’s material I feel is excellent in supporting one who desires the PMP certification. With the testing CD, it allows you to ask questions while being pointed areas which need further study. One key – it is not all that is needed. I found terminology between her material and the PMI Exam sometimes different. Why to PM’s fail I believe is a lot of the PMI terms may not be normally used in the everyday business environment. Therefore, one has to “translate” from the day to day terms to PMI terms and learn. This is the key..

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  3. Stan Katz, B.ENG, MBA says:

    One of the best ways to pass is to take the PP Certification Course we at WPC World Class Productivity offer through University of Toronto and University of Waterloo. Check our website – wpcconsulting.com or contact me for more information. In addition to our experienced instructors we also provide techbooks, flashcards, a detailed website with many sample exams plus other study aides.

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  4. Baris Akbulut says:

    PMBOK is never enough on its own, it is true you should know it by heart but I’d also suggest Rita’s books and maybe another book to add some more perspective to your knowledge base. My choice is Joseph Philips’ PMP study guide. To be frank, I think the REP courses are not a very contributing factor in your PMP success, it is highly unlikely you will pass the PMP exam by solely relying on these 35 hr courses..

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  5. Dave Pratt, PMP says:

    Rita’s book is great. I read the PMBOK once — it’s a good cure for insomnia, although the information in it is great. It is essential to read it, since it is a baseline for the test’s information.

    With the PMBOK, be sure to appreciate the process groups and knowledge areas. The input, process and output flow is important to get down, but don’t try to memorize them. Just get the logic and the rest will come.

    I used a book like Rita’s to prep, and then got a set of test prep CDs through the PMI bookstore. I ran through the CDs three times, although I should have stopped at once. Those CDs were the best bet for me, although by the third time through, I was focused on what I didn’t know rather than what I did know. That is dangerous and shows that you can over prepare.

    Many of the PMP prep courses are very good. I paticipated in one at our local PMI chapter as an instructor. I thought the course was very good.

    All that said, how well you do depends on you: your state of mind; how honest you are about your understanding of the material; how comfortable you are with taking multiple choice tests.

    On that last note, remember that there are generally two good answers and two bad answers for each question. Even if you’re not sure about which of the two good answers is best, you can at least whittle things down to a 50/50 chance of getting the right one pretty easily.

    Best of luck.

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  6. PMP course says:

    I agree many individuals taking the test over think the answers and then begin to doubt themselves but Smooth sailing to the PMP exam has never been so simple with just study roadmap, E-learning has definitely changed the world of training giving rise to online PMP courses to prepare for the PMP exam.

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  7. Annette Suh, PMP, PMI-RMP says:

    I actually failed the test twice, the first time I waited too long after taking the prep class, the second time, a year later, I didn’t take enough practice exams.

    So, 4 years later, I took another prep class, and bought a subscription to a PMP-exam simulator. I really think that the exam simulator was the main reason I passed, because I was able to rate myself in the knowledge areas.

    I did not do a cheat sheet or brain dump, rather, just memorized the Rita Mulcahy book and PMBOK important facts, and forumulas.

    Keep in mind that you only need about 61% to pass, so testing out at 80% on practice exams means you are well within the limits to pass. I was getting about 78% on my practice exams two days before my actual exam, so I knew I’d pass. It was still a very difficult test, and hitting the “end test” button was extremely difficult, but thankfully I passed.

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  8. Russell Henderson says:

    Thanks for the suggestion. Especially Appendix F and G.

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  9. Mary Connell , PMP says:

    I agree with Jim to a point. I agree many individuals taking the test over think the answers and then begin to doubt theirself. I finished the test in under an hour and thought I must have done something wrong and did the test all over again checking all the answers. If I remember correctly I believe I got 92% right. (Maybe I should not have changed some of those answers….) I do know pressing the button to say I was finished was one of the hardest of things I have ever done.

    The point I differ from Jin on is that while many do not prepare adequately for the test (and taking a Boot Camp is a definite help) you can also over prepare for the test. The two weeks prior to taking the exam I studied so much on the points I felt I was the weakest on and took the practice exams so many times I was stressing myself out. It was almost a relief to finally take the test.

    Jim’s recommendation to memorize a “cheat sheet” and then right it down once you get into the room is a great one. It really helps when you get to those hard to answer questions.

    On a side note I am glad that my test is behind me and I do not plan on taking it again….. I make it habit to get my PDUs in the first two years so that I can carry over 20 PDUs from my third year toward my next certification

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  10. Elaine Jackson, PMP says:

    I agree with what is posted but believe some people are also looking for the PMP for the wrong reasons.

    * to appease their managers
    * hold onto their jobs
    * to earn more money.
    Many corners are cut and individuals look for a quick way to get the material memorized Limited schedules and multi-tasking leads to no time for studying

    By making studying a priority each day we should see the rate in individuals passing the exam increase.

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  11. Mikhail Olubuade says:

    it could be over confidence on the part of experience Project Manager but for inexperience ones lack of adequate preparation

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  12. 成波 吴 says:

    continue to study even passed the exam.

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  13. Jim Ward says:

    I believe that another reason for failure to pass the exam is that many exam takers think PMI is always trying to trick them, so the over analyze the questions, even when the correct answer is obvious. While there are many message distractors in the questions, ambiguity and subjective interpretations, the ability to decifer what is really being asked and to then answer in a straight forward manner is a key to successfully passing the exam.

    I do agree that failure to adequately prepare for the exam is the biggest reason why people fail. However, I do not believe that study of the PMBOK alone is adequate preparation, although I think concentration on the appendices, especially Appendix G, is good advice.

    I always emphasize to my students that they must prepare a “cheat sheet’ containing key formulas and other facts, commit this to memory and practice recreating it from memory before entering the exam room. Once in the exam room, this cheat sheet should be recreated from memory before starting the exam. Failure to do this is a sure sign of inadequate preparation.

    How does someone know whether they have prepared adequately? Again, not be reading the PMBOK, but rather by taking practice exams. If a person can score 90 percent correct on a practice exam, closed book (but using the cheat sheet recreated from memory), that person is more than ready to take the exam. Failure to score at least 80 percent correct on practice exams under these conditions is a very strong indicator of lack of sufficient preparation.

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  14. Dalvinder Matharu, PMP® says:

    Read the article and agree with your comments. I did pass at the first time. I did study the PMBOK thoroughly. PMBOK is the guide for all the other books written by writers for passing the PMP/CAPM first time.
    The ability to read all the answers before making a selection is a good advice as well. If one has prepared thoroughly then the answer is obvious but one has to read all the answers to select the best of the four answers in some cases.
    I personally think that some people who have worked as PM’s take the knowledge of the way they work rather than what the PMBOK’s reasoning.

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  15. Ghadeer Omari says:

    thanks this was very helpful. i will take this into consideration as i intend to take the exam very soon.

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  16. Jason Westland says:

    I believe it’s the failure to learn the terminology. PMP has a lot of new terminology that you need to learn, and much of he terminology is unique to PMI. You simply can’t rely on your experience and knowledge, you need to learn the terminology as well.

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  17. Vikas Singh says:

    Just to add on…. as a suggestion to aspiring project managers..

    They should take this certification as a project itself & then do a through risk analysis…
    they would automatically then have the mitigation for all “RISKS” … that can be a show stoppers…
    A dedicated approach is very much needed here unlike several other professional certifications available for professionals….

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  18. Premraj Kaushik says:

    Seems near to True …

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  19. Hitendra Kumar, PMP® , ITIL V3 says:

    Yes, in order to pass the PMP exam, I read the PMBOK about 4 times. I also referred the Rita Mulcahy book. This helped me understand the PMBOK concepts better. People who fail the exam, take a few topics for granted, eg- EEF, OPA, Baselines to name a few.

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  20. Anshul Chetal PMP® ITIL® says:

    Reading PMBOK is like job half done, the Exam is situation based and checks for actual knowledge not just what you remember from the book. Issue for people not able to clear PMP in 1 go is that not every one has experience in all phases of Project. Best mentor for PMP is project manager him/herself, so to Clear PMP, read PMBOK and use concepts in your projects….this way not only you will clear the exam, even project will become a showcase project.

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