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Episode 136 – A Deep Dive into the 2021 PMP Exam

Episode #136
Original Air Date: 09.06.2021

45 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Louis Alderman, Samuel Mills

Join us as Louis Alderman, Velociteach Manager of Curriculum Development, and Bill Yates discuss the 2021 PMP Exam created by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Louis and Bill describe the Global Practice Analysis and Role Delineation Study conducted by PMI, and how that analysis impacts the PMP Exam. Louis explains the changes to PMI’s Exam Content Outline (ECO) from five domains to the three domains of People, Process, and Business Environment. Hear how those 3 domains are broken down further into Tasks and Enablers.

Agile is now a large portion of the PMP Exam, so Louis and Bill describe PMI’s inclusion of Predictive, Agile, and Hybrid types of questions in the PMP Exam. They specify how many questions of each type to expect on the PMP Exam. Listen in for exam tips, including how to pick the proper mindset or approach when interpreting the PMP Exam questions.

We welcome Samuel Mills, PMP, a podcast listener and Velociteach student who recently passed the PMP Exam. Samuel shares his exam experience with us. He talks about the application process, the decision to take the exam online, exam prep and useful study materials, and his exam time management. Samuel shares excellent advice for future test takers.

Finally, to quote Louis: “Do not underestimate the difficulty of this exam. Approach it as a project.” As instructional designers at Velociteach, we know that people learn in different ways, and we’ve tried to assimilate each of those different ways of learning into our training to help project managers confidently prepare for the exam.

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Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"...and I found time to study. I would take my lunch break, and I would pop up my book, and ...go through the material and just practice that, and that was my lunch. ...I would eat and study, eat and study. And just taking it a step forward got me to where I was ready for the exam. ... But I was able to pass. If you’re struggling for time, you can find time. You’ve just got to be creative with where you’re going to get that time."

- Samuel Mills

"... as the test-taker prepares it would be very beneficial to be very familiar with the tasks that are listed in the Exam Content Outline because the test-taker will be much more readily identifying the scenario and... understanding, why is PMI even putting this on the exam? What is it they want me to show that I know?"

- Louis Alderman

"...it’s a scenario-based exam. So many of the questions are going to present a scenario. We’ll see less of the calculations and more of the analysis of the data. We’ll see less about ITTOs, the Inputs, Tools, Outputs, and more about the actions of project managers to have a successful project."

- Bill Yates

Share With Others

The podcast by project managers for project managers. Do you want to learn about the PMP Exam changes? Louis Alderman and Bill Yates discuss the 2021 PMP Exam created by the Project Management Institute (PMI). We also hear from Samuel Mills, PMP, who recently passed the PMP Exam. He shares his exam experience with us.

Table of Contents

02:58 … Why Change the PMP Exam?
04:23 … The ECO and the PMP Exam Changes
06:18 … What’s in the ECO?
08:27 … ECO Content: 35 Tasks
11:41 … Predictive, Agile, Hybrid
13:36 … Why is Agile Added to the PMP Exam?
15:29 … PMP Exam Specifics
19:54 … Are There Many Calculations?
20:47 … Pass/Fail and Format of the PMP Exam
23:59 … “Immediate” Exam Feedback
26:24 … The 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide
27:05 … Velociteach Approach to the PMP Exam Changes
32:26 … Not Our First Rodeo
33:35 … PMP Examinee: Samuel Mills
34:15 … Online or Test Center
36:00 … Application Process
36:14 … Managing Time
38:04 … Best Prep Tools and Practice Tests
40:32 … Advice for Test Takers
42:39 … Advice from Louis and Bill
44:13 … Closing

SAMUEL MILLS: …and I found time to study. I would take my lunch break, and I would pop up my book, and then I would just go through the material and just practice that, and that was my lunch.  You know, I would eat and study, eat and study.  And just taking it a step forward got me to where I was ready for the exam.  And even when I was taking the exam, I was like, oh, you know, I’m not sure.  But I was able to pass.  If you’re struggling for time, you can find time.  You’ve just got to be creative with where you’re going to get that time.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  We want to say thank you to our listeners who reach out to us and leave comments on our website and on social media.  We love hearing from you, and we always appreciate your positive ratings on Apple Podcasts or whichever podcast listening app you use.  You can also leave us a comment on our website, Velociteach.com.  We know you’re looking for opportunities to acquire Professional Development Units towards recertifications, and you can still claim PDUs for all our podcast episodes.  Listen up at the end of the show for information on how to claim your PDUs.

We’re doing something a little different today.  We’re actually going to be talking about the PMP exam, and we’re going to be talking a little bit about Velociteach and our approach to this exam.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  The exam changed January 2nd, 2021.  We’ve got several months under our belt now.  We made a lot of updates prior to that exam change.  And we’ve been able to see how well our updates are working.  Primarily, are our students passing?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Right.  We’re going to hear from a student, as well.  We have a student who has recently passed the exam.  He’s going to be giving us a little bit of insight into his exam process.

BILL YATES:  For our listeners who are thinking about pursuing the PMP, this is a great episode for them.  They’re going to learn a lot about the current exam, and really looking deeply into it so they’ll know what to study, what kind of content to expect.  And then for those who have already earned their PMP, but are curious about changes to the PMP exam or to the certification itself, this will be interesting, as well.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah.  And we want to give a big welcome to Louis.  Louis Alderman manages the instructional design process at Velociteach.  He’s responsible for curriculum development of our live class offerings, as well as the development of our courses delivered on InSite.  Louis is the expert on all things PMP exam, and we are very grateful for his time.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Now, that’s a strong claim.  I tend to not classify myself as an “expert,” an ex being a has-been, and a spurt being a drip under pressure.  But I thank you for those accolades, and it’s more than my pleasure to be here today.

Why Change the PMP Exam?

WENDY GROUNDS:  It’s good to talk to you, Louis.  We’re going to enjoy this.  So, Bill, let’s start with a bit of context and background.  Why exactly was there a change to the exam?

BILL YATES:  The main reason for the change to the PMP exam, okay, there are two reasons that it changes:  either a new PMBOK Guide, or there’s a new role delineation study.  Because it’s an ANSI standard, the PMP exam has to be updated every four to six years to align with the ISO and ANSI standards for certification industry best practices.  Because of this, PMI has to do a global survey – they call it a Role Delineation Study, an RDS – every four to six years.  In this case they did a global practice analysis, which resulted in a job/task analysis.  But what’s the big question, Louis?  Why do they do this? 

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Well, they want to keep the profession of project management and their certification of that project management professional, they want to keep it current.  And so let’s survey a representative sample of project managers today to find out, what do you do every day?  What are the tasks you do?  What are your responsibilities?  How accountable are you in your organization for the role of project manager?  And what falls out of that survey are a list of tasks that PMI will categorize and understand where does that task belong in our overall view of project management.

BILL YATES:  Which brings us to our next question.

The ECO and The Exam Changes

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yes.  What exactly changed in this exam?  And there is something called an ECO.  If you could give us some clarification on that?

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  So the ECO is the Exam Content Outline.  And let me just introduce a character here.  Sierra Hampton-Simmons is someone I know, a friend of mine at PMI.  She is the Director and Portfolio Leader of Certification Products at the Project Management Institute.  Bottom line, Sierra is in charge of the PMP exam.  So when she describes the ECO, she calls it the “blueprint” for the exam.  It lines out what’s in the exam, what kind of questions are going to be asked, what’s the format, that type of thing.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  You know, Bill, that should clear up a very common misconception because traditionally people have felt that the PMP exam was based on the Guide to the PMBOK or the Project Management Body of Knowledge that is also published by PMI and incorporates that ANSI standard of project management.  So a lot of thinking is, if I read the Project Management Body of Knowledge, this guidebook to this body of knowledge, that I will be prepared to take the exam.  Not so.

BILL YATES:  No, that’s not true.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Because this Exam Content Outline, as Sierra said, is the blueprint for the exam.  And so it’s presented a lot differently than the Guide to the PMBOK.

BILL YATES:  Right.  And the PMBOK Guide, it’s interesting, the PMBOK Guide is one of maybe 20 books that are referenced?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Mm-hmm.

BILL YATES:  And when the exam writers, and we’ll get into that in a little more detail, but it’s only one of 20-plus resources that they have to reference when they write a question, per the ECO that’s going to go into the exam bank for the PMP exam.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  So there’s not just one place to go source information and knowledge about project management in preparation for the exam, in that way of thinking.

What’s in the ECO?

BILL YATES:  Right.  So the Exam Content Outline is not that big.  It’s maybe, what, 15, 20 pages?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Yeah, something like that.

BILL YATES:  It’s such an important document.  It’s short, but it’s very important.  I’m going to quote from the Exam Content Outline.  This is from page 1.  It says the following:  “All the questions on the examination have been written and extensively reviewed by qualified PMP certification holders and tracked to at least two academic references.  These questions are mapped against the PMP Exam Content Outline to ensure that an appropriate number of questions are in place for a valid exam.”

To me, there’s two big takeaways there.  The questions that are written by PMP volunteers, they have to have two references, and they have to map to the ECO.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Well, the previous Exam Content Outline detailed an entirely different structure of “domains” and “tasks.”  And from domains, let’s talk about areas of interest.  For example, the previous ECO had five domains, and it was based on the process view of project management from PMI’s Guide to the PMBOK.  And it talked about initiating and planning and executing and monitoring and controlling and closing, you know, a very process focus.  The biggest change in the new Exam Content Outline is that it’s moved from those five domains to three domains.  And they’re not aligned per se with processes, but more of practices and tasks.  So the three domains now are process is one, people, and the business environment which projects are performed.

BILL YATES:  And in the ECO, those three are given percentages in terms of the number of questions that are going to be dedicated to each one.  So people, that domain is 42%; process is 50%; and business environment is 8%.  So people, process, business environment.  That makes up the 100% of the entire test.  But those domains are broken down further to help us get clarity on what those are.

ECO Content: 35 Tasks

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Yeah, each domain is broken down first into discrete tasks.  And with those three domains there are actually a total of 35 different tasks that are broken out, that are associated with each of those domains.  And I think it’s important for a person preparing for the PMP exam to be very familiar with those tasks.

You know, Bill, people always talk about the PMP exam is a scenario-based exam.  They’re not going to ask what is two plus two.  They may ask: you run into a situation where you have two of these and two of those, and what do you really need to do with four of the total?  You know, so it’s going to be a scenario. 

And I think as the test-taker prepares that it would be very beneficial to be very familiar with the tasks that are listed in the Exam Content Outline because the test-taker will be much more readily identifying the scenario and sort of understanding, why is PMI even putting this on the exam?  What is it they want me to show that I know?  Well, you need to know that you have to perform one of these tasks.  Bill, tell me, how do we know more about these tasks?  Because the ECO gives us even more detail.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  So under each task there are bullet points.  And those bullet points are called “enablers.”  And these are described as “illustrative examples.”

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Sort of illustrations.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  And let me just give an example.  So under the domain of people, so we said people is one of the three domains.  It has a task called Manage Conflict; right?  So project managers, part of their job is going to involve managing conflict on a project.  So that task of managed conflict has three enablers.  Those enablers are Interpret the Source and Stage of the Conflict; the second one is Analyze the Context for the Conflict, understand what’s going on; and then, third, Evaluate, Recommend, or Reconcile the Appropriate Conflict Resolution Solution.  So those three enablers help us understand, okay, by manage conflict, what are the enablers?  What are the things that are expected of me as a project manager?  And then very tactically, on the PMP exam, what kind of questions should I expect related to managing conflict?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  So in that scenario, you maybe posted a scenario for a particular conflict example.  And maybe your task on the exam is to choose the best method of conflict resolution.  And, you know, that’s not a new question for the PMP exam.  Those have been there, it seems like, under Leadership and under Direct and Manage Project execution.  But now we’re just pitching it a little bit differently as how to deal with people and how to resolve conflict – conflict within your project team, conflict with stakeholders, conflict with customers, conflict with your finance department.  Well, we won’t go into that. 

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  So just to summarize, we have three domains.  We talked about people, process, and business environment.  The Exam Content Outline breaks out those domains into 35 tasks, and then there are 133 enablers that describe those tasks further. 

Predictive, Agile, Hybrid

Now there’s another cut on this, as well.  And I love the visual that you created in our Quick Reference Guide, Louis.  There is the cut of, okay, there’s 42% people, 50% process, 8% is business environment.  But then there’s another cut of Predictive, Agile, and Hybrid.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Right.  I mean, if you slice on a different angle, I think of the Veg-O-Matic.  You slice one way, then slice the other way, and you get crinkle fries.  So some of the crinkles in the exam, definitely the domains is listed in the ECO, but in the ECO it also mentions that about half of the questions are going to be Predictive, sort of the traditional Waterfall type of sequential project management that a lot of us cut our teeth on. 

But the remaining half of the exam would be a mix between pure Agile types of questions – adaptive, incremental delivery, iterative delivery – and then another term called “Hybrid.”  Which might look like an Agile question to the test-taker because Hybrid would involve some Agile, as well.  There’s a big message here, I think, for test-takers.  And that is better learn some Agile if that’s not in your tool bag today.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, absolutely.  That is so true.  Back in 2019 at the PMI Global event, Sierra, who I mentioned before, and some others had presented information to PMI volunteers and REPs as we were back at that time.  And that information was 50% would be Predictive, 23% would be Agile, 27% Hybrid.  But the reality is we know in the Exam Content Outline it says about 50% Predictive and 50% for the other.  But when you look at Agile and Hybrid, it’s hard to tell those apart.  So for the exam-taker, I wouldn’t obsess over that.  Just know that it’s about half and half, Predictive versus adaptive or Agile, and plan accordingly.

Why is Agile Added to the PMP Exam?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah.  I’ve been waiting for you to get into talking about Agile.  PMI has the PMI ACP exam.  So why do they add the Agile questions to the PMP exam?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  You know, they’re a little bit different.  The ACP stands for the Agile Certified Practitioner.  And this is a person who is certified in sort of their day-to-day work.  They’re familiar with Agile methodologies.  You know, there’s Scrum.  There is Extreme Programming.  There’s Lean.  There’s unified processes that we can discuss.  And those are their day-to-day methodologies.  But the PMP exam is looking more at a higher level, if you will, principles and the values of Agile and how that guides project management.  And it doesn’t seem to highlight or focus as much on specific methodologies of Agile.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, it doesn’t go as deep.  That’s a great point, Louis.  And it’s funny, too.  It kind of goes back to that global survey and the job task analysis.  When they did the survey, PMI found that project managers were using a number of different project management approaches, and Agile is one of those that was quite popular and in a lot of use.  So PMI decided, okay, for the PMP we need to add more Agile content to the exam.  And of course this was addressed back in – there’s even an article in PMI Today, back in July 2019, that points to this.

But here’s the problem that poses.  It’s like, if I walk into this PMP exam, and let’s say all I’ve done is Agile, so I don’t really know anything about Predictive, I’ve got some studying to do.  So for the Agile practitioner they’ve really got to study Predictive.  And then flip that.  If I’ve done Predictive projects in the past, let’s say I’m an engineer or an architect, I really have had no reason to apply Agile practices.  Now I’ve got to study Agile if I want to pass the PMP exam.

Exam Specifics

WENDY GROUNDS:  Could you get a little bit more specific, a little bit more in the weeds?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, okay.  So we can.  Obviously we can’t talk about specifics of the exam.  But we’ve given you a lot of details about the Exam Content Outline.  But here’s some stuff that we recommend in class.  You’ve got to get in the mindset of PMI.  You have to think, okay, everything from the Exam Content Outline, looking through those enablers, to looking at the code of ethics and professional responsibility, and just being in the mindset of PMI.  Because many times – this is one of the things we have to stress in class – many times it’s not what I do in my job, my 8:00 to 5:00 in the company that I’m working for, or those that I’ve worked for in the past.  It’s what’s the proper approach?  What’s the mindset that I need to have for PMI as I’m looking at these questions?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  You know, I’ve had some students that had many, many years of experience in the project management arena.  Their hardest challenge was not relying on their experience to pass the exam, but understanding the PMI approach.  Putting on the mind of PMI sometimes is a very overt type of an activity.  You have to almost force yourself not to trust what has made you successful thus far, but learn how PMI wants you to approach their certification with their exam and their choice of the correct answers.

BILL YATES:  Wendy, one of the other tips is just to simply know the framework for Predictive.  There are 10 different knowledge areas in the PMBOK Guide.  There are a number of processes related to those.  So knowing the framework for Predictive is a great place to be, especially for those who don’t have experience with it, that are Agile-based.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  I agree.  You have to know what you know, and trust it on the exam.  But the additional content for those who are familiar with Waterfall Predictive, is to beef up their knowledge base in the Agile approach.  Half the exam will be Agile and/or Hybrid approaches.  And there you need to be familiar with the Agile principles and the values that fall out of the Agile Manifesto. 

And then this whole concept of Hybrid, don’t be afraid of it.  There are two personalities of it.  One is a composite where maybe part of your project is really very predictive, but maybe it has an Agile component over here.  Maybe a part of your WBS has an Agile outsourced component or whatever.  That’s composite.  And maybe you’ve got an overall Agile project, but it has a component over here that’s being managed predictively.  It’s pretty clear cut, and you can take a structured Waterfall approach to achieving that portion.

The other personality of Hybrid is – I don’t call it “composite.”  I call it “blended.”  And that’s where you don’t have identifiable pockets of Predictive or Agile.  What you have is sort of the best of both worlds.  You adopt and go with the processes that are successful for your project, maybe drawing some from a predictive approach, maybe some from an Agile approach.  Some of the principles apply. 

And the guidance for when to use this type of a Hybrid, maybe for when you have very unclear requirements.  Maybe you’re doing a research project, and you really don’t know what the end game is.  Or maybe you’re trying to look at a new technology and understand, hey, is this something that we can productize in our organization?  So you don’t really know the conclusion.  You don’t have a clear target.  A Hybrid approach may be the best choice in that situation.

BILL YATES:  You know, another piece of advice that we share in class is, as a leader of a Predictive project that’s using a Predictive approach, versus a leader of an Agile team, it’s very different.  It’s just a different approach.  So one of the keys is to look at the question and diagnose it and see, okay, what’s being described here?  Is this scenario an Agile environment, an Agile project?  Or is this more of a Predictive or Waterfall project?  Because then I put the correct hat on when I look at the answers to see, okay, what’s the appropriate response for me to take as a leader?  Because it’s different, if it’s Agile, than if it’s Predictive.  So you’ve got to diagnose that question first.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  One of the biggest differences are the roles of a project manager versus a team facilitator  So understanding the differences in those roles will help you interpret the question so that you can guide your response appropriately.

Are There Many Calculations?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Are there lots of calculations required, and memorizing formulas?  Those would be the worst for me.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  I can give you some tough calculation questions that will frustrate you to no end.  But that really will not prepare you for the PMP exam.  There can be some deep science and technology related to Predictive project management.  But that’s not the main thrust in this updated ECO.  I think you need to understand how to interpret, what does this metric mean?  But you don’t necessarily have to calculate the metric.

BILL YATES:  Right, right.  CPI’s a great quick example, Cost Performance Index.  We used to really dive deep into how to calculate it.  Now it’s more like, okay, if you’re given a CPI of 1.2, is that good or bad?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  And what should you do in that scenario?  So how to interpret the situation and move forward.

Pass/Fail and Format of the PMP Exam

WENDY GROUNDS: The exam itself, is it still a pass/fail scenario?

BILL YATES:  Yes, it is.  But a few…

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Mostly pass, though.

BILL YATES:  I like it.  Yes.  And on PMI’s website some of this content comes from the Exam Content Outline.  Some of it comes from PMI’s website.  But yes, the exam has changed.  It used to be four hours.  Now it’s 230 minutes, so it’s three hours and 50 minutes.  There are two 10-minute breaks that you get.  So you take your first 60 questions, then you have an opportunity to review those questions, then you take a 10-minute break.  After you’ve taken that break, you don’t get to go back on those 60 questions.  They’re in the book; right?  Those are done.  Then you take questions 61 through 120, so you’ve got that next set of 60, and then you take another 10-minute break.  And then you come back and take the remaining 60 questions, and you’re done.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  So what you’re saying is there are 180 questions.

BILL YATES:  Yes.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  In three sessions of 60 questions each.  Okay.  Do all 180 of those questions count, Bill?

BILL YATES:  175 count.  Even when they had the 200 questions on the exam, only 175 counted.  And Sierra calls those other five “unscored.”  They use those to see how they’re going to perform if they decide to put them in the test bank.  Let’s talk a minute about the question formats, Louis.  I know we’ve simulated this in InSite, our self-paced practice test.  So talk to me about how you built those out.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Well, the traditional question type was what I laughingly call “multiple guess.”  But it’s really called multiple choice, where only one answer applies.  And you typically would see a radio button if one applies.  There’s a newer question type called “multiple select,” so you would see maybe a checkbox so that you could choose more than one.  So there might be four or five, maybe six choices, and you choose all that apply to the question.  And then there’s one that we’ve called a “hot spot,” or I like to say “pick the right spot,” and that’s a graph or some type of an image, and you’re asked a question about some characteristic.  And you should choose which location on that graph is the correct answer to the question.

BILL YATES:  Okay.  So I could see something like with earned value or with even a schedule, having to interpret a milestone or pick up point of risk.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Or even a quality control chart or a cost baseline or any type of visual, you know.

BILL YATES:  Got to pick the spot.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  And then there’s also matching type of a question.  I like to call it “drag and drop,” where maybe you’ve got four choices on the left to match with four choices on the right, and you drag maybe the right hand over to the left-hand side to line them up correctly.  You know, Bill, the thing that I ask is, when you have these types of answers that could be partially correct and partially incorrect, people might say, hey, do I get partial credit?

BILL YATES:  Sorry.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Yeah.  You get the point or you don’t get the point.

BILL YATES:  Right.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  So you’ve got to get all of those matching correct to win the entire point.

BILL YATES:  To quote Sierra, the person in charge of the exam, it’s all or nothing.  So you’ve got to get it right.  If you don’t get the entire thing right, then yeah, you don’t get the point.

“Immediate” Exam Feedback

Louis, you get an “immediate score.”  And I’m using air quotes, which I’m sure everybody can see on this podcast.  You get an immediate score or feedback on your exam.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Yeah, immediate is relative.  If you’re thinking it’s going to be an instantaneous response, then don’t be shocked, don’t think that you’ve broken the system because it’s taking a little while to grade your exam.  It’s going through and doing a good job for accuracy.  And it may report to you in 30 seconds, or sometimes 60 seconds.  And I remember in my own experience I felt I had broken the machine, and I was about to raise my hand and ask the proctor for some help because it wasn’t giving me a result.  But I decided just to keep sitting there, and it came back and said I passed.  It may have even used the word “Congratulations.”  So I felt happy about that.

BILL YATES:  Now, describe the score summary.  What should the student expect when they get that good news?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Well, you will get an exam report from your testing center or from PMI, depending on your testing mode.  And you will be rated on your exam.  Of course it’s pass/fail.  But you’re given some relative idea of how well you passed.  There are four ratings.  “Above target” means you’ve more than satisfactorily answered the bulk of the questions in different categories.  And you’ll get an overall score for the exam.  The highest level is “above target.”  The step down from that, “to target.”  And both of these are considered passing, in my understanding.  And then if you’re not satisfactory, you may get a rating of “below target,” where you’ve got a little more work to do in those subjects.  And then there’s “needs improvement,” which means, wow, you need to shed some wood on that subject and try again harder.

But the nice thing is you’re given some guidance in each domain – the people, the process domain, and the business environment domain.  You’re given those same four ratings in each of those domains so that you can get a little feedback about where you excelled.  Our students love to tell us, “I got above target in every category.”  And we pat ourselves on the back and congratulate them.  But if you didn’t get above target in every category, you can at least see where you were maybe a little bit weaker.  So it’s a good report.  It gives you a little bit of guidance.  But it’s not going to tell you that you scored 150 out of 180 or any percentage score.  You won’t get that level of guidance.

The 7th Edition PMBOK Guide and the Exam

WENDY GROUNDS:  Another question which I think our listeners are going to want to ask is PMI released the 7th Edition PMBOK Guide in July.  Is this going to affect an exam change?

BILL YATES:  Eventually, yes.  It will eventually.  The exam, the PMP exam gets updated for two reasons, either a new study, a role delineation study, or a new PMBOK Guide edition.  So eventually it will, but not now.  PMI stated that the PMP exam will not change when the 7th Edition is released.  Again, to quote Sierra Hampton-Simmons back in May of 2021, she said nothing will change.  There’s no change.  The PMP test is based on the Exam Content Outline.

Velociteach Approach to PMP Exam Changes

WENDY GROUNDS:  We’re going to change the conversation just a little bit and talk about Velociteach and how these exam changes have impacted us as a company.  We don’t usually talk much about ourselves and what we do.  But I think it’s really relevant here with the discussion of the exam because that’s what we do as a company.  Andy founded Velociteach to help people achieve their goal of passing certification exams and to be better at their jobs.  So I want to know from you guys if you could explain what’s our approach to these exam changes?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, sure.  Well, we updated everything.  We have so much content.  It’s like, Louis, you and I have been working with the company since 2005.  And it’s like every year we think of another way to help people prepare for the exam.  So let’s create a flashcard app.  Let’s record conversations.  Let’s have a textbook.  We basically had to update everything.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  As instructional designers, we’ve learned that people learn in different ways.  And so we’ve tried to assimilate each of those different ways of learning into some other type of a learning or study aid.  And when you accumulate a deep bench of things, different players for the game, then when it’s time to retool you’ve got to retool every one of those approaches.

BILL YATES:  It all started with a book.  So Andy started first by updating the book.  Of course Louis and I helped with some of the questions and other content in that.  But I can’t remember the final page count.  There were 80 to 100 pages that we added to the book.  I think about the flashcards.  I think the final number on that flashcard app we added maybe 200 more?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Way over 600 at this point as far as different flashcards.  And then our Quick Reference Guide of course is a quick view into the textbook.  So that had to be updated, as well.  There’s an interesting learning tool, the Conversations on the PMP exam.  It has grown.  It originally was about five hours of audio, way back when we first began to create this.  And I think now we’re over eight hours of Conversations now.  We’ve added content.  We added a lot of Agile content, about an hour.  And then there’s our eLearning component, InSite.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, right, the eLearning component.  We’ve got the main flagship course that prepares people and provides those 35 contact hours.  We added substantial Agile content to that.  We also, I think we added kind of the Agile perspective into each one of those knowledge areas to give additional content there.  And then we got into the practice tests.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Well, that’s fun.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Because we get to put on the mind of PMI and think, what types of questions might be asked?  And, you know, I followed a particular strategy as we began to inventory the questions that we had that were perfectly adequate, and then the ones that we needed to add to cover the new content.  And we took a different approach.  We looked at that list of 133 enablers across the new Exam Content Outline, and we very diligently and systematically went through and made sure that we had practice test questions that covered each of those 133 enablers.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  And I think “systematic” is the right word.  We were able to map all 133 enablers to specific questions in our practice test.  So we have, I think it’s four sets of practice tests?  Is it A, B, C, and D?  Is that right?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  A, B, and C as standalone practice tests.  But then we have a practice test database tied to the flagship course.  And that’s got over 500 practice questions in it.  And those are all in addition to the hundreds of practice test questions that are in the textbook.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s true.  You work diligently with the IT team to simulate the formats in our practice tests and our testing lab that they’re actually going to see on the exam.  So we’ve got the matching, the multi-selects, the hotspot, so that it’s simulated the actual experience.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  My philosophy in preparing someone to take the PMP exam is to minimize the new experiences that happen in the exam itself because I believe that new experiences increase stress and anxiety during the test, and I believe that correlates to a loss of points on the exam.  It’s all about points, putting them in the bank.  So if we can expose our students to the experiences that they will have during the exam, then nothing should be new on the exam.  They go through and perform as instructed and get that PMP, order new business cards, celebrate.

BILL YATES:  That’s right. 

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  And that dark cloud that was following them all around, thinking, oh, no I have to take this PMP exam, that dark cloud disappears.

BILL YATES:  There you go.  One more thing to say about those practice test questions.  One of the approaches or strategies that we took, again it kind of goes back to comments that Sierra made back in an interview in May of 2021.  As you said, it’s a scenario-based exam.  So many of the questions are going to present a scenario.  We’ll see less of the calculations and more of the analysis of the data.  We’ll see less about ITTOs, the Inputs, Tools, Outputs, and more about the actions of project managers to have a successful project.  So that’s the approach that we took.  That was the mindset we took into that ECO as we wrote those questions.

Not our First Rodeo

WENDY GROUNDS:  This has been a huge task, to make these changes.  How difficult has this effort been?

BILL YATES:  Well, it’s not our first rodeo.  This is what we do, and we have done this before.  Louis, I’m thinking, six or eight exam changes?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  At least half a dozen times we have gone through our entire repertoire of learning aids and study aids and tuned them up for the current ECO or the current Guide to the PMBOK edition.  You know, it’s been rewarding because that has benefitted hundreds of thousands of PMP candidates and helped bring them to a successful certification.

BILL YATES:  You know, I think an advantage that we had, too, Louis, was Agile is easy for us.  We had a lot of content that we’d already written.  Andy wrote a book, “How to Pass the PMI ACP On Your First Try.”  You’ve written course content.  You know, we’ve got fundamentals on Agile.

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  You know, it’s not just an academic view of Agile.  It’s also a reflection of our own use.  We use Agile concepts and principles and values internally as we develop and incrementally deliver these additional study aids for our students.

PMP Examinee: Samuel Mills

WENDY GROUNDS:  Well, folks, we’re very excited today to have with us Samuel Mills.  He is just outside of San Antonio, Texas.  And we are going to be asking him a couple of questions, or more than a couple of questions, about the PMP exam, which he recently passed.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, congratulations, Samuel.  That is awesome that you passed.

SAMUEL MILLS:  Oh, thank you so much.  It was a lot of work, you know, going through the whole process and having it finished and completed and passed.  I’m happy to be done.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s such a good feeling when you, you know, you set out for it and then pass it.  So tell us how did you do?  What were your scores?

SAMUEL MILLS:  So I was above target on all the areas.

BILL YATES:  That is awesome.

Online or Test Center?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Well done.  So first question I’m going to ask you about the exam taking.  Did you do it online, or did you go to a testing center?  Which did you decide to do?

SAMUEL MILLS:  I opted to take it at home online through the Pearson VUE Online Application.  You know, I didn’t want to have to deal with the stress of driving to the testing center, or having to fill out paperwork, deal with anybody.  I just wanted to sit home, hop up at my computer, and take the exam.

BILL YATES:  Was it, like, I’ve heard people talk about having to get like butcher paper and cover up everything in the room and hold your laptop up and kind of move the camera around to show people.  Did everything work out okay as far as that went?

SAMUEL MILLS:  So I took that – I read through the instructions that Pearson VUE has.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

SAMUEL MILLS:  And I really set out, I was like, well, my office is full of computer screens and books.  So I decided I’m going to go out to the kitchen table.  I can set up my laptop there.  And Pearson VUE has a really simple process for going through setting your computer up.  They say a couple days before the exam make sure that your computer can run the application software.  They have steps for that online.  So I did that.  Even the day of the exam I made sure that my computer was still ready to go, operating.  You know, sometimes you’ll have to take out a firewall or anything like that so that the application can run properly. 

And then 15 minutes before your exam, when you go to sign in, they’re going to ask you to use your smartphone.  They ask can you use your smartphone or your laptop.  And so I told them I can use my smartphone.  And so you take a picture of in front of your computer, behind your computer.

BILL YATES:  Okay.

SAMUEL MILLS:  And then a picture of your ID.  And, you know, it was a really simple process to get set up.

Application Process

WENDY GROUNDS:  Could you tell us a little bit about your application process?  There’s a streamlined application process for the exam.  How did you find that?

SAMUEL MILLS:  I know initially when I was preparing to get all the application materials, you know, get everything submitted, it took me a little while to get my motivation to just go do it.  But what I found is that PMI is really streamlining the application process.  So you go in, they ask you one question, you answer it, and then you type in your experience.  I had a spreadsheet on the side where I documented all my experience so that it was there, and I could reference it if I needed it, in case of that audit.  Thankfully, I wasn’t audited.

Managing Time

BILL YATES:  Samuel, I wanted to ask you about managing your time during the exam.  So you have the 230 minutes.  You have the clock running down.  But then did you have, you know, take 60 questions, take a 10-minute break, take another 60, take a break?  Is that how it took place for you?

SAMUEL MILLS:  So yes.  When I was looking at everything on Pearson VUE about an hour before the exam, I noticed they said in one of the notes that, yes, you’re going to take 60 questions, and then they have a 10-minute break built in; 60 questions, and then a 10-minute break built in; and then the final 60 for 180 questions.  I was really happy to hear that and read that because that’s been one of my areas where I was struggling in my preparation was the time management.  And going through the exam, those first 60 questions just knocked the snot out of you.

It was a problem, you know, I was pressed for time on that one.  I felt like that first section I took a little bit longer than I needed to.  But once I got through that first section and I got to that first 10-minute break, it was like, okay.  Take a breath.  Let all the nerves out.  Refocus.  And then I went through the rest of the exam.  It was tough.  I was pressed for time for those last two sections.  But I was able to get through the exam.  And, you know I passed.  So I’m happy about that.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, above target all the way.  I’d say you definitely passed.

Best Prep Tools and Practice Tests

WENDY GROUNDS:  Now, you took some classes through Velociteach when you were preparing for your test.  What tools did you find that really worked best for you in your preparation?

SAMUEL MILLS:  Yeah, I took the Prep PMP class with Velociteach.  And what I liked about that whole course was the learning styles that are implemented in the training, whether that be for auditory learners or kinetic learners or visual learners.  They have exercises and tools to help everyone who’s studying for the exam.  For me, I’m an auditory learner.  So the audio Conversations were really helpful. 

But knowing how this exam is fabled and brought up as a tough exam, I embraced the mind maps.  I embraced reading the textbook.  I went through it several times.  And even though maybe that wasn’t my strongest point for learning, I embraced it because I knew that if I could immerse myself in the material and understand how PMI is going to ask these questions and their approach to project management, then I would be ready to go for it. The whole course really set me up for success.

BILL YATES:  Samuel, I get that.  I think all of us have a little bit of the different learning styles in us.  You know, there’s usually one stronger one for a person.  In your case it’s auditory.  But then the visual helps a bit, too.  The practice test, the repetition helps, as well.  I wanted to ask you a question.  I know when I was preparing for the PMP, it had been years since I’d taken a standardized test.  So I was, like really nervous about taking a standardized test.  And the practice tests really helped me a lot.  Did you make use of the practice tests much in InSite when you were preparing?

SAMUEL MILLS:  Absolutely.  So the practice tests and the practice questions were very key.  And what I liked about them was once you completed those practice tests, you could set how many questions you wanted to work on.  Then at the end of that practice exam, it gave you explanations and walked you through how to approach the different questions you may face on an exam.  I really liked that because it allowed me to test, do I really know the material?  Can I put myself in a situation and apply what I’ve learned?  I thought that was really key.  That’s the strategy, you know, for approaching this exam, though.  I think a lot of people can get wrapped up in just memorization, memorization, memorization.  And that’s good, but it’s being able to apply the material that you’re learning.  I found that to be very, very key and helpful.

Advice to Test Takers

WENDY GROUNDS:  So we are probably going to have a lot of listeners listening in who are considering taking the exam.  What words of advice would you give to them?

SAMUEL MILLS:  Well, one thing is I want to give a word of encouragement to everyone that, you know, you’re going to be looking at this.  And when you’re first starting, it looks like a huge mountain to climb.  But you just have to take one step  forward, and then just take another step.  And you’re going to get to your PMP.  A lot of people will ask, you know, oh, there’s just not enough time in the world to study and prepare.  I have four young kids at home.  They’re all under the age of five, five or younger.  And I found time to study.

I set out several weeks before my exam, I would take my lunch break, and I would pop up my book, and then I would just go through the material and just practice that, and that was my lunch.  You know, I would eat and study, eat and study.  And just taking it a step forward got me to where I was ready for the exam.  And even when I was taking the exam, I was like, oh, you know, I’m not sure.  But I was able to pass.  If you’re struggling for time, you can find time.  You’ve just got to be creative with where you’re going to get that time.

BILL YATES:  Coming from the father of so many young kids, you were definitely being creative with your studying.  That’s awesome.  Eat and study, eat and study.

SAMUEL MILLS:  Yes.  And then another thing I would like to share is that, you know, when I was practicing at home or studying at home, I would go out to my kitchen table where I knew I was going to take the exam.  And I had the exact chair where I was going to take it.  I had my laptop up, I had my book out, I had my materials.  And when I sat in that chair I was focused on the PMP.  I was focused on the material.  And any time I would study, I would try to make it in that same spot.  So when I came in for the exam, my whole mind, my whole focus was on the PMP.

BILL YATES:  Coming from the voice of reality, and somebody who’s fresh taking it and overcame the challenge of four little kids, that’s impressive, yeah.

SAMUEL MILLS:  Thank you.

BILL YATES:  Thank you so much.

Advice from Louis and Bill

WENDY GROUNDS:  Louis, looking ahead, what advice do you guys have for those future test-takers?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  Do not underestimate the difficulty of this exam.  Approach it as a project.  Plan how you’re going to prepare, target your goal, and do what you’ve been instructed to do.  Follow through with the proper study, and you will show yourself prepared when it’s exam time.

BILL YATES:  I think one of the keys, too, it’s just like anything else.  You’ve got to pick that date; right?  You’ve got to schedule it.  You’ve got to commit to it.  And commitment means you have scheduled a day for the exam.  Then you can go, all right, what’s the best approach for me to take, given my learning style.  Am I a visual learner?  An auditory learner?  A kinesthetic learner?  We’ve developed content at Velociteach to help everybody, regardless of your style for learning. 

And also knowing, am I disciplined enough, and do I have the freedom in my schedule where I’m a do-it-yourselfer.  I can approach this on my own.  I can start with a book.  And I can add some practice tests, or maybe take some online learning stuff.  Or do I really need to carve out from my busy schedule these are the days that I can really go deep in this?  I need a boot camp.  I need an instructor.  It’s kind of a “know thyself,” you know, what’s the best approach for me?

LOUIS ALDERMAN:  You know, the biggest advice I can give is don’t drag this out.  Set your goal.  Put your mind to doing the work.  Do the study and then go take the exam.  Don’t let that  dark cloud follow you around for six months or a year because it’ll bring you down.  Look for that sunny day of, hey, I’ve passed the exam, and I can get on with my PMP life.

Closing

WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  Thank you for joining us.  You can visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can also subscribe to this podcast and see a complete transcript of the show.  And you just earned those Professional Development Units by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com, choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page, and click the button that says Claim PDUs, and follow through the steps.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

One response to “Episode 136 – A Deep Dive into the 2021 PMP Exam”

  1. Kelly J. Long says:

    Good overview of some of the differences in the new test, as opposed to the previous version.

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