10 Disastrous mistakes while preparing for PMP Exams

Understand why, despite hard work, most people do not get through PMP Exams


With every 100 person appearing for PMP exams over 70 fail. This is not a very healthy trend. And this is also not because that the PMP Exams is very difficult of tough. It’s really not so. Most people just commit some serious mistakes, even with the best of intentions, and thus are unable to attempt the exams with their true potential. There are some self-defeating mistakes that most candidates commit while preparing for the PMP Exams. 

  1. Mistake # 1: Choosing the cheapest source to obtain PMP Training

This is by far the biggest mistake ever made by the PMP Aspirants. I do not mean that one should go for the most expensive PMP training in the world. But, when the aspirant uses only “price” as a criteria to decide where to obtain their training from, that is, by far, the biggest mistake. This has a cascading effect. Low cost training providers provide simple, compressed material, taught by person who has agreed to do so for the least amount of fees and therefore not really good at their job. The material they get from such providers is not up to the mark, does not have the coverage as well they do not have the authenticity. I know of a provider that amasses as many as 70 to 80 participants in just one training. While the training costs the participants dirt cheap, the provider makes a packet by having one of the worst trainer stand there and read out the slides in a completely one sided class. No one can ask questions nor any amount of time is spent in understanding the concept, the entire training is done just so that the participants can “Obtain their 35 Contact Hrs” by spending the least amount of money.

Most of such participants obtain the 35 contact hours, but are highly confused about what to study, how to study and what material to rely on. They fall prey to other similar “smooth operators” who promise “real PMP questions” at just a few dollars or access to a simulator at a very low cost where questions that were meant for a different edition have been posted there apart from other non-authentic and irrelevant questions. Participants unwittingly fall prey to such gimmicks and feel they are very well prepared only to have the rug pulled from under them during the real exams.

Choosing the training or the trainer should be based on credentials, approach, methodology and the material that they provide, rather than just the price. Yes some people do pass the PMP Exams after having been “Trained” from the cheapest of the providers but that is not because of the “provider” but by their own efforts and coupled by chance. However the numbers of persons who end up failing the PMP Exams after getting “Trained” by these cheapest providers far outnumber the few successful ones.


  1. Mistake # 2: Relying too much on free resources.

The second biggest mistake made by candidates is to pose too much reliance on free resources. Connected to mistake no. 1 above, this thrill of getting anything free is a global phenomenon.

Take a moment to think. If you are walking down a street and see good restaurants on the way who are offering certain food item at a certain price and then suddenly you come across a few that are offering the same food item at 1/10th the price others are charging. Would you eat there? Yep! You would find it suspicious. Are they offering stale food, how else have they got wholesome food ridiculously low priced? So many such thoughts would cross your mind. You would also see if this is a promotion or a philanthropic outreach. If the case is any one of the two, it would feel all right, but what if that were also not the case. Than it would only mean one of two things, either the food is not wholesome and compromises have been made on the quality and quantity as well as hygiene or it has been obtained illegally.

Now if this is how your mind works when food is concerned, then how is it that it does not concern the candidates about what they would be putting into their minds. Almost in totality the free material is either stale or illegally obtained from some rightful owner. In both cases you are participating, willingly in something unhealthy and immoral.

Stay away from free resources unless they are part of a marketing campaign or a temporary promotion. Other than these two cases, free resources are by far the largest reason for candidates failing in the PMP exams.

I am a member of so many of these PMP Groups and I invariably find people sharing “Free” resources without thinking and without a second thought.

Frankly, stay away from such free stuff. Think about it, candidates use free stuff only because good material was not given to them when they attended the “Cheapest” training and now they are scouting around for more material to bolster their chances with PMP. On the contrary, had they got trained by a proper provider, they would have received all the material to prepare as part of the training itself.

3. Mistake # 3: Reading to pass (as if we were still in School)

Another mistake while preparing for the PMP Exams, I have been noticing, is that candidates prepare for PMP as if they were still in school. That mind-set of studying long hours just before the exams, mugging up everything just before the exams and just looking at “Past Exams” questions to predict the pattern of questions that would show up in the exams.

This mind-set is a dangerous thing as it not only makes your success rate with PMP excessively low, it also makes you a “Paper Tiger” even if you pass the exams.

I mean, it was not even healthy during the University days where some of the engineering toppers in the exams did miserably in the real world work. Just somehow passing or getting good marks does not necessarily make you good practically. Today those companies who hire university students for placements in their organizations, have stopped hiring just the toppers. They actually conduct some kind of their own tests, trials, simulations etc. to ascertain if the candidates have what it takes to work in the real world work and challenges.

PMP is a professional certification and it has to be understood in that manner. Remember it has to be “Understood” and not “Mugged up”. Regular study and understanding along with your own professional work is exactly what is needed to clear the PMP exams easily and be practically effective.

I never allow professionals trained with my organization to spend more than 1 to 2 hrs every single day on PMP studies and yet we have near 100% passing. But more than passing, people trained under us tend to understand the subject and become practically more effective in real world projects.

Professional courses need to be done professionally and not like a school student where immediately after the exams one forgets everything. 


  1. Mistake # 4: Referring Multiple resources

Another common mistake among candidates is that they refer to multiple resources at the same time hoping that they will be able to cover everything. This is not a good idea. Different resources have different ideas for passing the exams. It is better to stick to just one resource or at the most two resources to study and prepare. This brings a lot of consistency in your study and preparation.

By referring to more resources, candidates get confused between different resources and start comparing same concepts explained differently in different resources. This throws up multitudes of confusions.

Most of the PMP resources are focused only on “Clearing the PMP” exams and not on really understanding the concepts. In fact one the most popular book written by an American author actually mentions things like “PMIsm” in her book to refer to those topics she is just asking people to remember instead of explaining what they mean in real world. She just tells people, throughout the book, “If you get this question in PMP Exams, remember to answer this….” And that’s all. Nothing more. If not unethical, this method of presenting a resource about the wonderful world of Project Management is a very irresponsible behaviour. This also leaves a feeling of unease among the readers, making them wonder if everything is actually covered or not. And therefore seeking out other resources.

A better idea is to pick up resources that are comprehensive and explain the concept to you rather than just pushing “points for clearing the PMP exams”. Once you get hold of such resources you will find it that there would not be any reason for referring any other resource.


5. Mistake # 5: Attempting questions immediately with start of preparation

Let us say you wish to run the 100 meter race and be a world record holder. I guess you will start building your strength and the muscle tone to be able to sprint in such a manner. Different muscle tone is needed for different track & field sports.  Let us say you started with some strenuous exercises do develop those necessary muscles. You are also working on your foot work and other aspects of the science of sprinting. When suddenly you are overcome with the need to “Test yourself” as to how good you have become. And you go for a race. You clock out at 12 seconds for 100 meters. You realize that forget about world record, you are not only below the National record you are worse off than even the local university champion. How would that make you feel? You will probably think you are not good enough. Some would even give up on their dream. But not once would anyone think, “was it even the right time for them to test themselves?”.

Testing yourself too early is one of the biggest reasons why candidates keep postponing their exams and sometimes even giving up on their certification dream.

Just like building your muscle tone for a substantial time, before sprinting, one must understand the entire PMBOK Guide content, master the ITTO’s, develop their own techniques for recalling relevant information and so on before even thinking of attempting the PMP practice questions.

On the contrary if you got hold of those “excessively easy and feel-good” questions than you might feel that you are already ready for the PMP exams. That wold also result into some serious issues with the actual PMP Exams.

I have seen horror stories of people spending years upon years just preparing for the PMP Exams because they start testing themselves even after just a few days of study and then wondering how they could be doing so badly.

Spend a lot of time understanding the material and developing your own ways of recalling relevant material for the entire subject before attempting PMP Practice Questions. 


  1. Mistake # 6: The Questions route to PMP Certification

This mistake is now getting increasingly popular. May candidates think that if they just attempt a lot of questions they would eventually know every question there is to know and answer it to clear the PMP exams.

Sometimes this works. Mostly this method fails.

What is the use of attempting so many questions if you do not even understand the concept the question relates to. This adds to stress because too much needs to be mugged up and too many situations have to be mindlessly remembered.

This concept is called the “Brute Force” concept where the idea is to try out all possible combination of questions and all possibilities of permutation and combinations of questions to ensure that any question that shows up on PMP exams would be from among the questions that you already practiced upon.

This catastrophic mistake is further compounded with the free or really cheap “Leaked Exams Questions” that people seem to share amongst each other. The internet is rife with a lot of persons trying to become street operators and go, “Pssssst, hey I have what you are looking for….. maaaan …if you want some leaked exams questions ….. let me know I can arrange it for you…… brother…. My cousin has this source and it works….. let me know if you want…. I can get for you…..  “. And people who are particularly taking the “Questions route” to PMP Exams easily fall for this and end up going through outdated, older edition questions, with gusto and trying to remember why the answer for that outdated question was so and so. Anyone’s guess what happens to such people during real PMP exams.

Such people also get completely undone when they find some questions in the exams that are completely new and not from the “Dumps” that they had gone through. This gets them nervous and eventually end up messing up the exams.

Yes questions are important but they are not the only things to be done to clear the exams.

Many of my students and book readers have just read the book or attended my session, did some self studies using the material provided by us and without practising any questions just gave the PMP exams and cleared it easily. The difference is that they “Understood” the subject and hence no matter what is thrown at them, no matter how tricky the question, they easily answered it.

However I am not at all happy at this style of not practicing at all. I do not recommend it. I still want people to do at least 3 to 4 full pmp sets before appearing for the real pmp exams. This is only to ensure that the person has the stamina to attempt 200 questions without any break and still get them right and also fast enough to do that in under 4 hrs. 

  1. Mistake # 7: Trying to mug up all ITTOs

This is another classical mistake. And this has been around just as long as the PMBOK Guide has been around. People try to remember each and every Input, Output and Tools And Techniques (ITTOs) of each and every process that is found in PMBOK Guide. This is plainly impossible to do, if not outright stupid.

People are sharing “Process Charts” to each other claiming that the chart of arrangement of processes would help them clear the exams etc. This does not work.

Let me tell you why it would not work. When the processes of project management are arranged in a specific sequence it is called a “Methodology”. Most of these charts around are arranged in the line of a single methodology called “Waterfall”. This does not make any sense when there is tailoring involved or when there are other methodology (like, Hybrid, Agile, Spiral or Incremental) at play. The questions would be for any situation and remembering the ITTOs in a particular way will be the surest way to end your PMP Dream.

In fact, most of the time candidates are not even aware as to why do they even need to know ITTOs. Exactly why are ITTOs so important?

There are hardly any questions in the PMP Exams that ostensibly ask “What is the Tools and Technique of that process or what is the Input of that process etc.… “ they just do not.

The reason why mastering ITTOs is important is because in exams the questions would be about a scenario. Candidates would have to read the question and immediately come to know which process is being talked about. This can only happen if the candidate is able to read the question and relate the elements of the questions to the ITTOs of processes to quickly ascertain which specific process the question is talking about. This, and only this is the reason why one needs to Master the ITTOs.

Mastering ITTOs is not a difficult thing if you do not try to learn it through the umpteen charts and other such drivel shared among the candidates. If you just understand the “main purpose” of each of the Processes, you will automatically know some of its important Inputs, Outputs and Tools & Techniques. Yes! It’s just as simple as that.

Let me give you an example. If you knew that the main purpose of the process “Validate Scope” is for the Customers or the owners to validate or check or inspect if the “Final Deliverable” is exactly as per the original “Requirements” given.

Now guess what would be its main output of this was the main purpose. Obviously the main output would be “Accepted Deliverables” or “Rejected Deliverables”. The only thing is that there is nothing known as rejected deliverables because the customer would eventually need all that he paid for hence instead of the output of “Rejected Deliverables” the output is “Change Request”. Now for checking the final deliverable one simply needs to do “Inspection”. Whenever any product or service is checked after it is made up it is called “Inspection”. Therefore the main Tool & Technique of this process is Inspection. And finally the customer would compare the deliverables with requirements hence Requirements and deliverables are the main Inputs. Since the deliverables have to be quality checked before validated by customers the input is not exactly “Deliverables” but “Verified Deliverables”. And voila, you know everything there is to know about this process including its ITTOs without mugging up.

Cool …. Right. Well this is how I got 97% in PMP exams in the year of 2001. 


  1. Mistake # 8: Relying on touted formulas and short cuts to clear exams

This is a result of several earlier discussed mistakes coupled with this urge to prepare everything fast. Fast food, fast dates and hence fast preparation for PMP Exams. And when immoral and unethical providers sense this illogical needs of people they come forward with “Short cuts”, “Guarantees” and “Tips and Tricks” stuff to make some money off such people.

There is nothing known as “Short cuts” in education and that too professional education. It needs understanding and discipline of practice. That’s all.

Shortcuts are very dangerous and should not be done. I mean some books on short cuts can be read but only after the basic knowledge building and only to do refreshing of concepts. These short cuts should not replace your main study. Never. 


  1. Mistake # 9: Not practicing full length exams in one sitting

This is a mistake and common enough to find its place in this blog. Most people practice questions. That goes without saying. There are also some good PMP Exams Simulator. However most people do not attempt the entire 200 questions in one go. They take umpteen breaks. Some people even do something like this, 50 Questions before lunch, 50 questions after lunch, 50 questions in evening and the rest of the 50 questions after dinner. And they feel really good once they get good marks in the exams. This makes no sense. See anyone can do well given sufficient time to attempt the PMP Exams. The trick is to be able to sit non-stop for 200 questions attempting one question after another and finishing all of them correctly before the end of 4 hrs. When they have not practiced such marathons and they have got to suddenly sit in front of the PMP Exams like this, it becomes excessively tedious and difficult.

The idea is not just the ability to answer questions correctly, the idea is to answer all the 200 questions, in one sitting, correctly and that too under 4 hrs of duration. This stamina needs to be practiced again and again till you are comfortable enough to do that in the real exams.


  1. Mistake # 10: Over-Planned preparation plan

This is common among those who are already project managers or project leaders. If they are good at their work, then they also love to plan. But then some (read that quite a few) plan the hell out their study plan. They make it so granular that it becomes almost impossible to follow. So and so process on so and so date and in so and so minutes or hours and so on. This is totally impractical. Some portions of the material take more time and some portions take less time. One should allow a little flexibility of coverage of material. Everyone understands at different pace and hence one should not go overboard in meeting a rigid granular plan.

Some candidates also plan it rigid enough to even go ahead and book the exams as well. And when the candidates miss some of the planned milestones in their “over granulated plan” they panic and postpone the exams. And this cycle kind of manifests its self and kind of repeats itself over and over again.

Planning is important for studies, because that puts things into perspective and also brings some thought process into professional studies. But to over plan and to become too granular in planning the studies is like ensuring that you scare yourself at every moment.

I truly hope that this blog helps you study and prepare for the PMP a lot better and prevent you from falling into the traps of any of these common 10 mistakes. 











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