Some Tips and Tricks for PMP Studies

I recently finished studying for my PMP, and I wanted to share a couple of lessons learned to help those of you who are thinking about taking a shot at the exam.  If you end up taking a prep course, probably the first thing your instructor will tell you is that you’ll need to memorize the 47 project management processes in the process matrix.  I made the mistake of deciding to learn this after the class.  BIG MISTAKE.  After going through the entire prep course, I never had that moment where I felt that it all came together.  As I began to prepare for the exam, I knew I would have to start with the matrix (because that is where I needed the most work).  As I really dedicated myself to learning the matrix, I found the concepts I was reading back through in the book were given more of a context, and it finally started to feel like things were making sense.  Please don’t make the mistake I did.  BEFORE any course (or individual study program) do yourself the favor and memorize the matrix.

Before I take you through how to memorize the matrix, I would like to share with you a couple of thoughts on your general preparation for the exam:

  • Don’t get overly involved in memorizing lots of terms and technical detail.  This is a PROCESS exam.  Concentrate your time on the process, and where the term or concept you are learning about fits into the big picture.
  • Do your best to be familiar with inputs, tools, and outputs for each process.  You’d have to have a crazy memory to memorize all of them, but without a doubt, the more you can connect with, the easier time you will have on the exam.  Look for trends as a lot of the information tends to repeat.
  • As you work through the material, continually ask yourself the question “what do I do now”.  If there is a document that answers that question, know that document PLUS concentrate on how the content of each document compares to other similar documents.
  • Give yourself the easy unambiguous points – ie. know the equations.  There will be a good number of “squishy” questions on the exam (questions where several answers are technically correct).  Make it easy on yourself by making sure you get full credit on the questions that have a clear-cut answer.

Ok, on to the main event: memorizing the process matrix.  What worked for me was breaking this down into four phases.  To do this, you will need a legal pad.  The end goal is to memorize the matrix (Table A1-1 in Annex A1 of the PMBOK Fifth Edition).  I found a blog that has what the final product looks like here (in case you don’t have access to the PMBOK right this second).

Phase 1 – just the five process groups and ten project management knowledge areas.  Take your legal pad and start with the first line and on the far left, write the first of the ten project management knowledge areas (KAs).  Skip a line, and then write the next KA on the far left.  Continue until all of the KAs are written.  When all of the KAs are complete, write each of the five process groups as column headers.  Without trying to memorize anything, just write your 10 and 5, using Table A1-1 from your PMBOK, and then rip off the page.  Everyone is different, but I recommend going through this about 3 – 5 times.

Phase 2 – you are going to do the same thing we did in Phase 1, but you are going to do it from memory now AND you are going to write down how many values are present in each row and column.  I didn’t have any problem memorizing the five process groups Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing.  The numbers were not too bad either.  The book ends (Initiating and Closing) each have 2 processes.  Planning has 24, Executing has 8, and Monitoring and Controlling has 11.  These values came easily to me, but I committed them to firm memory by writing them EVERY SINGLE TIME from this point on that I worked the matrix.  The top of my paper looked like this:

Init (2) Plan (24) Exec (8) Mon and Cont (11) Close (2)

While the above info came really easy, I struggled pretty bad with the Knowledge Areas.  It was bad enough to where I needed a nemonic to remember.  Here is what I came up with:

Sometimes Try to Count Quarters, However Can Real People Save

The memorizing is not easy, but going through it enough times will get you there.  Here is how I memorized the numbers.  The top KA has something written in each of the 5 columns, the bottom 2 have something in 4 columns, then from the bottom up, I just filled in 2, 3, 2, 3, and then filled all remaining values with 2s.  It looked like this:

Integrate (5)

Scope (2)

Time (2)

Cost (2)

Quality (3)

Human Resources (2)

Communications (3)

Risk (2)

Procurement (4)

Stake Holder (4)

To close out Phase 2, I wrote this on a sheet of paper about 5 times when I woke up, and 5 times before I started studying in the evening.  The first day was a bit rough, the second day was a lot better but still a bit off, then by the third day, I had the KAs and Process Groups down cold.

Phase 3 is where I finally started to actually add some of the project management processes.  I found that all of the processes under every Process Group EXCEPT the Planning Process Group reasonably easy to memorize.  Phase 3 starts out with your product from Phase 2, and adds in all of the processes except those from the Planning Process Group.  Every time I fill these in, I start with the two processes in the Initiating Process Group.  “Develop Project Charter” goes in the square for Project Integration Management KA (top left square), and “Identify Stakeholders” goes in the Project Stakeholder Management square (bottom left).  After those two, I go to the far right part of the matrix and fill in the two squares in the Closing Process Group.  The top right square is “Close Project or Phase” and the 2nd square from the bottom is “Close Procurements”.

Next, I moved over to the next closest column, the Monitor and Control Process Group.  I made sure to note that in this column, the first two blocks have two processes each.  Starting from the top, you have “Mon and Cont Proj Work” and “Perf ICC” (Integrated Change Control).  Next block down, I was able to key in on that before you can “Control Scope”, you need to “Validate the Scope”, so I always wrote in that block “Val Scope, Cont Scope”.  The rest of the activities in this Process Group all start with “Control”.  I always went down the column writing “Control, Control, Control …” and always stopped on HR and remarked to myself “there’s no controlling people”, which was my cue not to write Control in the HR block.

After the Monitor and Control Process Group, I just kept moving left and went to the Executing Process Group.  To start this one off, I shot down to the HR square and write A – D – M, which as an IT nerd, you associate with admin privileges.  This stands for Acquire, Develop, and Manage, and it knocks out 3 of your 8 activities right off the bat.  From there, I did not have any real tricks, I just memorized the final 5 activities.

Again, because my memory is not the best, I needed to write this all quite a bit.  I did this about 3-5 times every morning, and then 3-5 times before I started studying in the evening, and then another 3-5 times as I finished up my studies.

The last part of the memorization was Phase 4, which just adds in the Planning Process Group.  This is where I hit a mental block.  I’m not sure if it was because 24 is just a lot of activities to memorize, but this was the toughest part for me.  I couldn’t finish memorizing this until I further broke it down to numbers.  When I started writing in the respective blocks that Scope Management has 4 activities, Time Management has 6, Cost 3, and Risk 5 was the first time I started making any sort of progress.  Risk Management was actually pretty easy, because the Marine Corps had taught me ORM, and for Security+ and CISSP I had to teach about Risk Management.  After I put the numbers in there, I really started to make progress, but there really isn’t a trick.  I just had to struggle through looking at the book and writing it a couple of times looking at the answer sheet, trying to hone in and try to make sense of it.  From there it was just, write down what I could from memory and then keep filling it in from the answer sheet until I could finally do the whole thing from memory.

After you can complete Phase 4 without looking at the answer sheet, I would recommend you begin and end every one of your study sessions by writing out the matrix.  Even if you have it memorized, you want to get as efficient as possible with writing this thing down.  You should use your 15 minutes of “tutorial” time to write the matrix and whatever formulas you can remember.  The more efficient you are with the matrix, the less you will stress right before your 4 very painful hours of questioning.  Hope this helps, and good luck!


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