My Journey to the PMP Certification: lessons learned and some tips

After my Ph.D. defense, I started to manage R&D projects while keeping preparing and submitting new ones to companies and funding agencies. Without proper PM training at the beginning, it was hard to cope with all the issues, conflicts, and responsibilities that the role requires. Also, during my Post-Doctoral fellowship position, I had to deal with multiculturalism as the R&D team came from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Then, as a Principal Investigator, I had to deal with the costs and procurement processes, in addition to keeping scope, team morale, risk, and schedule well monitored and controlled.

Looking back at this short professional history, and after managing and participating in ~20 projects, I genuinely felt that I was prepared to face the PMI's1 Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. It took me about six weeks (between April and May 2018) to be fully prepared for the exam. I answered more than 4,000 simulated questions and put hundreds of hours of study. I managed (no pun intended) to pass the exam at first try. The number of correct questions in most process groups reached the 'Above Target' level.

Tips and Lessons Learned:

  1. If you are initiating your journey to project management, start with the CAPM, then get enough experience to follow the PMP certification path. The CAPM is the entry-level certification and does not require previous experience to take the exam. That's the step I missed in my journey.
  2. After your grace period in the CAPM realm (or if you already have practical experience), give yourself enough time for proper training and studies. From studying to practicing to taking the actual exam, it might take you somewhere between two to eight months. The choice of the preparation period is definitely a trade-off. A shorter one requires you to be extremely organized so you can save four to six hours a day. A longer one is a smooth ride, but you may need to revise the initial concepts very often since they vanish from your working memory. Make sure you use proper learning techniques, such as spaced repetition. For periods shorter than two months or longer than eight months, things start to be less efficient, but it is still feasible.
  3. Save two weeks before the exam date to practice like crazy (literally). Take advantage of several good simulators out there. Some of them have questions harder than the actual exam, while others seem to be at the same level. If you have an option, choose the harder one.
  4. Manage your stress level. Mine went to the roof. Fortunately, I practice mindful meditation so I could keep my cortisol levels in check.

1 - PMI stands for Project Management Institute