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3 Keys to Passing the PMP® Exam

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

3 Keys

If you were attracted to this article by the headline, then you’ve probably already heard that the Project Management Professional (PMP) Exam is a challenging test. And, you’ve probably heard that many people do not pass on their first try. While both statements are true, the PMP Exam is totally doable for most people if they properly prepare. So, how do you prepare, what do you need to know, and how do you develop confidence in your ability before you take this test?

The answer to those questions lies in the 3 Critical Keys to passing the PMP Exam:

  1. Advanced-Level Understanding

  2. Memorization of Key Concepts and Terms

  3. Development of Test-Taking Skills

In order to qualify for the PMP Exam in the first place, you must show to the Project Management Institute (PMI®) that you have the required experience. Basically, if you have a college degree, you need 3 years of project management experience, and, if you don’t have a college degree, you need 5 years experience (there’s little more to it, but that’s in a nutshell). So, with all that PM experience, you might be tempted to think that you already have an advanced-level understanding.

While you may be an expert at how project management is done in your organization, you are probably not an expert in what PMI considers to be PM best practices, as presented in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®). Actually, your PM experience may cloud your judgment on the PMP Exam because your mind will automatically be attracted to what you consider to be a common sense answer that is really a trap set by PMI to weed out those who do not know what’s in the PMBOK. An advanced-level understanding of the PMBOK only comes from targeted, comprehensive training from someone who has already done well on the PMP Exam, knows the material thoroughly, AND knows how to teach it in a PMP Exam preparation course.

But, advanced-level understanding is only the starting point. Because the PMP exam is a relatively long test at 200 questions with a 4 hour time limit, you are going to need a brain packed with important concepts and terms so that you can easily retrieve the needed information from your memory banks in a timely manner. The PMBOK teaches that there are 5 process groups, 10 knowledge areas, and 47 processes that PMs should know and use, plus a plethora (618 total) of Inputs, Tools, Techniques, & Outputs (ITTO) to go with each process. To pass the PMP Exam, you need to memorize a lot of that stuff. But, what information in the PMBOK is important enough to commit to memory, and how is it possible to remember it all on exam day? Once again, the best way to gain this critical key is to receive targeted comprehensive training from someone who knows what you need to memorize, and can show you tons of brain tricks to help you recall it all when you need it most. A PMP exam prep course will teach you what you should memorize, how to memorize it, and how to recall it on exam day, since you can’t carry any notes in with you.

Even people who are prepared well with the first 2 critical keys will find some difficulty on the PMP Exam, if they don’t have the third: Development of Test-Taking Skills. The PMP Exam is written specifically to trip up those people who don’t know how to apply the concepts and knowledge from the PMBOK. It’s simply not enough to know the PMBOK, you have to know how to apply what you know to scenario-based questions. Most questions on the PMP Exam are not simple answers; the possible answers are often several sentences long, and most of them sound pretty close to correct on first glance. But, there are key-word triggers in each question that should cause you to zero in on the one correct answer out of all the distractors. Spotting these key-word triggers and knowing how they change the perspective of the question are very important skills to develop.

The PMP Exam is more a reading comprehension test than anything else, and you need comprehensive training from someone who can help you develop test-taking skills through clear explanations and use of analogy to ease the confusion that is present in many of the questions.

So, while the PMP Exam is definitely a challenge, it is much easier if you have the 3 Critical Keys to passing. And, the best way to get those 3 Critical Keys is to attend a PMP exam prep course from #pmprolearn


Tim Dalhouse, MBA, PMP is a retired U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant who stumbled into a civilian career as a Project Manager and found it a perfect fit. He now makes it his mission to help other Veterans obtain the Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) credentials, and help DOD agencies & contractors increase their organizational project management maturity. He’s trained over 500 students around the country to master and apply the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) for consistent, real-world success. Email: Website: is

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