Passing the PMP exam requires you to think in ways you may not be aware of. A traditional approach to project management, and your years of experience may not come in handy when answering PMP questions.

Don’t believe me? – Just try out a few mock test papers, and you will realize that the answers you thought to be the most accurate isn’t correct most of the time. You are in for a big surprise if you continue studying for the exam by relying on your experience or your gut feel.

Here are some tips to make the right selection and think differently.

1. Choosing a Generic Answer versus a Hard Answer: Choices may be phrased in terms of “should”, “must”, “always”. For example, a project manager should “always” do the following, or “must” do the following. This is considered a hard answer.

In contrast, a soft answer will refer to best practice, but not refer to it as “must do” or “always do”. Keep in mind that project management is a soft skill – part art and part science. So there are many different ways to handle the same situation. If there are a 100 people in a room, you’ll probably get a 100 different answers to handle the same situation. In such a situation, how can you expect only 1 correct answer.

For example, let’s take this question

Q: What is correct about the Project Charter:

  1. Choice A: The project charter must be signed by the project sponsor.
  2. Choice B: The project charter must be signed by a manager external to the project
  3. Choice C: The project charter should be signed by the customer.
  4. Choice D: The project charter should be signed by a manager external to the project.

Notice subtle differences in the usage of “must” and “should”? Is it a must for the charter to be signed by the sponsor, or is it a best practice?

Most of the time, PMI is quite gray about such issues, never taking stands in terms of what you must do, or should do. The PMBOK guide will often indicate that it is up to the project manager to make the most appropriate decision based on the circumstances and situations of the project.

Thus, it would be best to select a soft answer – a best practice – a recommendation, rather than a rule. So in this case, which option will you select?

The correct answer is Choice D in this case.

2. Knowing the Right Order of Problem Solving: What happens when you encounter problems in your projects? Are you able to make a decision immediately, or do you try to avoid confronting the situation, cursing and wishing the problem would disappear somehow. Do you think that ignoring the problem for a while may cause it to repair itself, or maybe you think that problems are a nuisance, and you are not responsible for fighting or fixing them, even to the degree that such problems should be addressed by your boss or your customer, because they are responsible for creating them in the first place!

Well, if you are doing any of this, you are out of luck. The PMP exam can’t be passed with this kind of thinking. Begin to think differently.

To answer such a question, you first need to analyze it, and then understand the correct order of steps.

For example, assume that your customer just called you to add a big piece of additional functionality ( or scope change ) to the original specifications. This will add at least another month to your already tight time line. What would you do first?

  1. Choice A: Inform your boss that this additional scope can not be done within the time line.
  2. Choice B: Tell the customer that this additional scope can not be done within the time line.
  3. Choice C: Meet with the team and discuss alternatives to accommodate the additional scope within the time line.
  4. Choice D: This is the time to show that you are willing to go the extra mile, and win over the customer. Do your best to meet the time line with the added scope.

Read the choices carefully and think for a moment… What would you do in real life?

Remember that a Project Manager is proactive. You are supposed to find solutions to problems. Just informing about problems to the management, your boss or your customer is not the solution.

You have to brainstorm, think about the various tradeoffs that can be made, weigh the pros and cons of each situation, and evaluate them on the triple constraints of the project ( Scope, cost and time). Infact, there are more than the 3 triple constrainsts. You have to also look at the trade-offs on risk, customer satisfaction, quality, employees, the project team etc.

Without first doing a thorough evaluation, going to the boss, management or customer is a waste of time. You can be more effective and efficient if you apply the due diligence, do your homework, and then come out with solutions.

So irrespective of what you do in your real life project management, please think in the right way for getting the questions right for the PMP exam, and pass in your first attempt. You can also attend our PMP Exam Preparation Workshop on weekends in Singapore for more such tips on passing the PMP exam!

Vinai, PMP