Financial Project Management

Notes From the Field: About the PMP Certification Process

If you’re a professional consultant, there can be great value in earning your PMP certification. The certification becomes an asset to your company and your personal development as a project manager. Having recently completed the PMP certification process, I thought it would be helpful to offer some insights for others considering their PMP.

The Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, globally recognized through the Project Management Institute, tells employers, peers and the world that you have been trained in project management and its principles. The PMP recognizes your ability to manage projects—and the work it has taken to receive the designation. Even publications like CIO Magazine ranked the PMP as the top project management certification because it proves you have the specific skills and experience employers seek. In the business world, certified PMPs report salaries up to 25% more than non-certified project management professionals, as business understand the added value.

Step 1 of the PMP Certification Process: Completing Application Requirements

The first part of the PMP certification process is the application, which requires three years leading and directing projects. These projects must demonstrate five different stages and your role in either leading or facilitating the projects. The five stages are: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling & Monitoring and Closing projects.

All experiences need to be non-overlapping. You will need to complete the following information in as much detail as possible:

  • Project Information
  • Organizational Details
  • Organizational Contact
  • Hours per Domain Area
  • Project Experience Summary

The second part of the application process is a degree requirement. A four-year degree is one of the first requirements for the application process. If you do not have a four-year degree, it is possible to still qualify for application with an additional two years of experience of leading projects.

The third part of the PMP certification application is the project management education requirement. PMP certification requires 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM® certification. This project management training can be satisfied in multiple ways, including classroom face-to-face training or online training. Online courses and downloadable podcast training are also excepted means of satisfying this requirement. However, I would recommend the online course, as classroom face-to-face training isn’t feasible for most working professionals. An effective PM education course is an important factor in terms of getting familiar with the concepts in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guide, which we’ll cover in step three.

Step 2 of the PMP Certification Process: Application Review

The Project Management Institute will verify that you have satisfied all the requirements in step one. It will also confirm that your experience and/or education is valid and consistent with the guidelines stated in the certification handbook. The application review period will usually take five to ten days. Be aware that PMI conducts application audits to confirm the experience and/or education documented on applications. That means a specified percentage of applications are randomly selected for audit.

Once your application has been approved, you can submit payment for the PMP certification exam and schedule your test appointment. If you become a member of the Project Management Institute, you get a discounted price on your test (and re-tests, if necessary). For reference, the cost for the first exam with an annual PMI membership is about the same as the cost of the exam without a PMI membership.

Step 3 of the PMP Certification Process: Preparing for the Exam

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (or the “PMBOK guide”) will be your main reference material for studying for the exam. It is important that you read both Part 1 (i.e., the PMBOK guide) and Part 2 (i.e., “The Standard for Project Management”) cover to cover, page by page to learn each topic covered, even if it’s not highlighted. Every topic, definition and concept in the book is fair play for the exam.

The training requirement for the PMP certification exam is 35 hours of project management education/training, which is the best way to start preparing for the exam. Most quality courses will walk you through overall concepts, sample questions and the most important concepts to concentrate on in your study.

Coursework may also give you a few practice tests and hypothetical exam questions. But actual practice tests will be important to successful passing the PMP certification exam. It is important that you take practice exams for a few reasons:

Practice Test Length

200 questions in four hours. This test is just as much about endurance as it is mastery of concepts. You need to be physically prepared for the mental and physical toll the test has on you.

Wording of Test Questions

Only about 30% of test questions are your typical “pick out the correct definition” questions. The majority of questions present scenarios. So you will need to understand how to apply PM concepts to given situations and pick the “best” possible answer, not just the “correct” answer. This takes practice.

Focus for Studying

Incorrect answers will let you know what topics you may have overlooked and which chapters you should re-read or study again for more clarity.

Step 4 of the PMP Certification Process: Taking the Exam

The PMP certification exam tests individuals in the five areas of project management we noted above, in these proportions:

  • Initiating – 13% of Questions
  • Planning – 24%
  • Executing – 31%
  • Monitoring & Controlling – 25%
  • Closing – 7%

Each section is graded as “Above Target,” “Target,” “Below Target” and “Needs Improvement.” A candidate’s passing or failing the PMP exam is judged on the overall performance. There is no standard passing grade, and each test is evaluated separately. As the passing score of PMP exam is now based on “psychometric analysis,” candidates get higher scores for best answers of harder questions and lower scores for easier questions. So the minimum number of correct answers needed to pass the PMP exam is determined by the overall difficultly of the exam.

PMP Certification Exam Advice

Time needed: 4 hours.

Tips for passing the PMP certification exam:

  • You must answer 200 questions in four hours.

    That means 1.2 minutes per question, so manage your time accordingly.

  • Don’t linger on tough questions.

    Leave them for later review.

  • Flag questions you want to review.

    Then go back and quickly re-examine them together at the end of the test.

  • Don’t leave anything unanswered.

    Since there is no negative marking, guess if you don’t know.

  • Save time to review your answers.

    It’s a good idea to try to save 25 minutes at the end of your time to review the answers you marked for later.

Step 5: Next Steps

Retake Exam

It may be necessary to retake the PMP certification exam if you do not pass on the first try. It’s a difficult test; the most frequent estimation is about a 40–50% failure rate. If you do fail your exam, you will have two more attempts within your one-year eligibility.

If you do not pass the exam within one year of application approval, you will not be able to retake the exam for one year, and you will not be able to fill out the application again for a year. You will have to pay a reduced rate for second and/or third time you take the test. The fee is lower if you are a PMI member vs. a PMI non-member. Use the failed attempt for a self-audit:

  • Do I need to prepare better?
  • Do I need to invest in paid study resources?
  • Do I need to manage the pressure of the exam better?

Hopefully, you pass the PMP certification exam on the first try, or maybe in a subsequent try. Once you pass your exam, you officially receive your PMP certification. Certification is good for three years from the date you pass your exam.

The Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) Program is designed so you can grow and develop the skills that organizations are seeking — all the while maintaining your certification status. The PMP certification requires you to earn 60 PDUs over a three-year cycle. Professional Development Units (PDUs) are one-hour blocks of time that you spend learning, teaching others or volunteering.

Learn More

8020 Consulting’s team of accounting and finance professionals features many consultants who have earned their PMP certifications and have a breadth of experiences in financial project execution and management leading projects in such areas such as system implementation, process implementation, and other projects relating to accounting and finance.

To learn more about our range of knowledge and expertise, download our service sheet:

los angeles financial consulting firm

About the Author

Lester has more than 15 years of professional finance experience in strategic planning, forecasting and budgeting, financial analysis and business evaluation. Prior to joining 8020 Consulting, Lester was the Director of Business Planning and Analysis at Warner Bros. and had previously worked as a Senior Manager of Retail Analysis and Manager of Finance for The Walt Disney Company. Additionally, Lester has held positions at Thomson Reuters and Public Financial Management. In his career, Lester also operated as the Chief Financial Officer for a consumer goods start-up company, where he oversaw the Accounting, Finance, Operations and HR functions. Lester’s expertise centers around FP&A, budgeting and forecasting, financial modeling, cause of change analysis, consolidation, industry analysis and project management. Lester holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Stanford University, and an MBA in Corporate Strategy and Finance from The University of Michigan, Ross School of Business.

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