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A PMP Evolved

As of 6 pm last night, the efforts of over a year and nearly $1000 has culminated in attaining PMP credentials. For those who don’t know, PMP is the standard certification for Project Managers. It’s done by the Project Management Institute which is the international governing body.

The exam itself is pretty brutal. Once you get past the $170 you have to shell out just to join the organization to be invited to write the exam, and the $400 you have to shell out just to sit the exam and actually start studying you realize you may just have to write it again. I bought a copy of the PMBOK guide by looking on Craigslist. A student in college started a Project Management course and quickly lost interest and dropped the course. She was hoping to recoup some losses on the textbook by selling it. It was unopened- and I saved $35 from the $70 price.

I downloaded a PMP podcast and Cornelius Fischner took me on a guided audio tour. He highly suggested if I am self-directed studying for the exam, I should rely on the PMBOK guide alone, so I did some research and found the Rita Mulcahy PMP prep package came the highest recommended. It included a book, a CD-ROM and Audio flashcards.  I’m not even going to say how much that costed, but rest assured 1) my math is solid with the over $1000 I paid, and 2) It’s significantly less than any training seminar out there. Meanwhile, a friend was sent to get his PMP by his company, and they paid for a seminar, a text book and his exam.

After he passed me his textbook and a CD, so now I had a total of 3 text books, 2 CDs and started studying. Then I stated a job which valued CSM certification more than PMP certification, I lost focus. I figured if I was going to go write the exam, I’d let the company I was working for pay for it because heck- they would benefit!

Fast forward to 2 months ago, I was between contracts and getting a little bored, so I  decided to study up and write the exam. I read through the Rita Mulcahy book again to refresh myself and complemented it with the PMBOK guide. I also downloaded some audio podcasts and listened to them and started doing Audio Flashcard drills during my morning runs. The flashcards were a mistake in some ways and the best choice ever in others.

The audio flashcards are intense! The audio would ask a question and give 7 seconds for you to answer before providing you with the answer- So picture it. I was dodging and weaving through morning commuters in downtown while running along and reciting aloud “The components of risk include Scope, Cost, Time, Quality, Client Satisfaction and… Dammit! RISK!!” On the other minus side, I would come back from my run having a scheduled a full day of studying and my brain would be tired from the audio flashcards.

“EAC at consistent production rate is BAC over cumulative CPI. EAC at budgeted rate is AC plus BAC minus EV. EAC to hit a date or with extraneous factors is BAC minus EV over CPI times SPI…”

On the plus side, I’m far more of an Audio learner than a visual, so I found the answers to the questions on the audio flashcard were actually sticking a lot better than me reading them.

So then it came time to start writing practice tests- and write I did! I wrote tests and reviewed the answers and brushed up on knowledge areas I was missing. I started writing exam simulations. (200 multiple choice real world scenario questions in 4 hours), and the first time I wrote one, I felt beat up afterwards. I remember going to the grocery store, taking out my debit card to pay and not being able to remember my PIN.

Over the next few weeks, my girlfriend (who is always nothing by supportive and never for a second doubted I would pass), was helping by listening to me motor mouth on about PMI principles and stuff I was learning. She suggested I learn mnemonic devices. I was skeptical, but she’s usually right about everything else.

Anyways- then I started actually passing my practice exams, so my girlfriend suggested I just write the exam and get it over with. I think she just wanted me to stop talking about EVM’s. This was the Tuesday and I scheduled my exam for an open time on Friday afternoon. I did my last Rita Mulcahy exam on Tuesday and scored high, but I think it was more a reflection that I was memorizing the questions and answers instead of actually knowing the stuff.

The last 3 days I dedicated myself to remembering the final holes in my knowledge- that was the EAC formulai. There are 4 of them and for some reason, I was a little intimidated by them. I just wrote them out over and over until they got locked in.

Then there was the matter of the 42 processes. My girlfriend helped by teaching me a mnemonic device to remember the 9 knowledge areas- at the point of memorizing the 42 processes, it didn’t help because i needed to know the knowledge areas in a particular order. I did a search on the Google and found a mnemonic device to help me remember. (I Saw The Cat. Quick! He Can Run Pretty), and the 5 process areas were things I knew anyways, but locked in a mnemonic device to remember the processes in that group that had significant processes.

STR: CDC, DSEED, PIQQP. HC: ADM, DM. IS: MI, VC. (And a bunch of digits which helped map out where the ones outside that device lied: Top 2/20/8/10/2 and Side 6563 34564)

With that I was able to fill in the whole 42 processes for my Brain dump sheet. Also on my brain dump sheet went all 4 EAC forumlai.

The morning of the exam, I sat on my rooftop patio in the sunshine reviewed my mnemonic devices and numbers. Then I did a did a few practice critical chain diagrams (complete with ES, EF and LS, LF) to make sure – had some lunch and headed out to the exam center. I was nervous. Nervous in a way I don’t usually get. My heart was pounding, my stomach had knots.

Traffic was horrible! I thought I was giving myself enough time to stop at Starbucks and get a triple espresso before my exam (girlfriend’s suggestion), but I was pulling into the parking lot with minutes to spare before the 1:30 schedule start. I rushed into the lobby and looked on the board for Prometric Center. There was no listing! I then looked on my phone which had the address and… Oops. Wrong building.

I ran up and down the street looking for the right place. I finally found it and walked in at 1:40. They were letting people in to write the exam. The place was rank with processes. Signing here- initial there. Empty your pockets. Lift your pant cuffs. Put everything in a locker that you can’t open. If you have a snack- put it on top of the locker.

So I sat down and started the exam and wrote my brain dump sheet (I’m glad I did, the 42 processes and EAC formula and Critical Path Diagrams really came up alot). 3 and half hours later, I did my final question and took a break to drink some water then going back in to do the questions I marked for review to do later. (I had 5 such questions that just didn’t make any sense first time around and were totally clear later).

At the end of the exam, I felt wrecked. I was totally exhausted. My brain was putty. I clicked the ‘End exam’ and awaited my exam result. I was confident I failed. I was sure I would have to retake and would have to retake before the exam got switched up at the end of July.

The computer calculated my score. It took time. Didn’t it know I was in a hurry? Didn’t it know this was important?! For crying out loud you stupid computer! This is my life we’re talking about and you’re taking your sweet old time calculating things.

And then my score came back.

And once again- my girlfriend was right.