Updated: May 8, 2020
Update 5/7/2020: This article discusses the still relevant PMP Brain Dump concept, but the new Online Proctored PMP Exam has changed the mechanics of how it can be done on the virtual whiteboard. To see tips on using the virtual whiteboard, check out our new blog article First Look: PMP Brain Dump & the Virtual Whiteboard in the Online Proctored PMP Exam and our Forum post New Best Practices for "Digital" Brain Dumps
In working with a number of individuals preparing for the PMP exam I have often been asked what I used or what they should include on the brain dump. Is it really necessary to memorize all the Process Groups and Knowledge Areas? How important are the equations to the exam? Do I need to memorize all the ITTO’s? Since I don’t get to fill out the brain dump before the test now should I still fill it out? The answer to these isn’t as simple as yes or no sometimes so I wanted to write an article giving more detail behind the Brain dump and its importance.
The Brain Dump is one of the most invaluable pieces of preparing for the PMP exam but it will only benefit you if you make it yours.
The Brain Dump is the starting point. –Some people might not like hearing this perspective but in my opinion memorizing the Brain Dump (Process groups, knowledge areas, and earned value equations) is just the start of information that needs to be learned. About a week into my month long study prep for the PMP exam I had memorized my “Brain Dump” and I continued to use my brain dump on every practice test I took. I also developed a habit by following the same sequence: Write out the brain dump, take the practice exam or Write out the brain dump, read the PMBOK. What I learned early on was that the Brain Dump was just the frame work of PMP. It wasn’t enough to memorize the Brain Dump. I needed to learn more. This was only apparent because I memorized the Brain Dump early on and used it while studying. The “more” in my opinion is learning where every input came from and where every output went for every process. (this is included in the PMBOK but probably overlooked.) In learning this I began to understood how the processes worked together which I believe ultimately led to my success on the PMP exam. (I got a proficient in all 5 areas)
Why do I need to write out my Brain Dump if I’ve memorized all the processes and the equations? – Knowing that I had the brain dump next to me allowed me to relax and focus since I knew I could check my work against the brain dump. The reality is that for me personally, I only used my brain dump 2 times and it was to confirm what I thought was correct, but by writing down the information it did two things: 1) it gave me confidence that I knew the material and gave me a bench mark when studying. 2) It gave me the feeling of having an open book during the test. Before the exam I practiced daily writing my brain dump and I had it down to less than 6 min. Most of the time I was writing so fast that my writing wasn’t even legible, but to me it didn’t matter. It built confidence and knowledge. Lastly I suggest filling it out right at the beginning of the exam. If I would have waited I would have been too fried to try later and would have made mistakes.
It isn’t the brain dump but the process of learning to fill it out that matters. -When I was taking engineering and science classes in college I was surprised that my professors allowed the students to write whatever they wanted on a test equation “cheat” sheet. In one class we could input any information we wanted into our TI-92 calculators which had text options to use for the exam. What I quickly learned though was that having the information accessible didn’t mean it would help on a TIMED test. The act of writing out my own equations sheets and knowing where I put each equation, what it was used for, and how to apply it mattered more. It is the same with the brain dump. MAKE IT YOUR OWN. For me I re-organized the earned value equations in a way that made sense to me. I even re-wrote a couple of them into different formats (eg EAC = BAC-CV) simply because my mind understood the material in a different way. By making the Brain dump unique to my understanding I learned the material. I didn’t just memorize it. For the Process Groups I created my own pneumonic (IP E=MC^2) and (Is TCQ how Comm Really Pleases Stakeholders). I developed number patters to know how to fill out all the processes.
I want to conclude in saying that I think the Brain Dump is one of the most invaluable pieces of preparing for the PMP exam but it will only benefit you if you make it yours. I want to encourage anyone preparing to take the exam that they can pass. Don’t underestimate the exam, develop a plan, and stick to it. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope it helps.