Earning the PMP certification means you must qualify for the requirements in addition to studying for and passing the PMP exam. Although the PMP is not the right certification for every project manager, the following information will help you determine if it’s in your best interest to get certified in this field.
This article can also help you prepare for the application, give you an idea about what you will have to study, and ultimately help you decide if you should pursue the PMP.
What is the PMP?
The PMP or Project Management Professional certification is the industry standard for Project Managers worldwide. Established in 1984 by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the PMP has since become the de facto standard in the field. Today, more than 500,000 project managers hold this certification and many companies look for the PMP when hiring project managers.
The exam has also earned the ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024 Accreditation from the International Organization for Standardization, making it universally relevant. PMP qualified instructors oversee the exam, and examinations are built around roles that employ both knowledge and task-driven guidelines that test your proficiency in every area.
Candidates must meet several requirements to obtain PMP certification and sit for the exam. The education requirements are relatively flexible: you will need either a secondary or primary degree, or a diploma with the right training and work experience. Your main options include the following:
Secondary Degree – You can qualify for the PMP with a secondary degree, including a high school diploma or associates degree, or the global equivalent of 35 hours of certified or accredited project management education, five years of project management experience, and a minimum of 7,500 hours of experience.
Primary Degree – If you have a bachelor’s degree or higher, you can qualify for the PMP certification with three years of work experience, a minimum of 4,500 hours of leading and directing projects, and 35 hours of certified or accredited project management education.
The PMP Exam consists of five parts or domains, each of which test your competence in more than 20 skill areas. The exam also tests your ability, understanding, and knowledge of each of the skills that are required of industry standard project managers. Because exam questions are frequently reviewed and revised, the content is highly relevant to actual project management, and therefore also changes every few years. The exam contains 175 scored questions and 25 unscored questions. Unanswered questions are scored as incorrect, so you should try to answer all questions.
How Hard is the PMP Exam?
The fail rate for the PMP exam is actually quite high at an estimated 40-50% for first-time test-takers. There is no specific number of questions that must be answered correctly in order to pass the PMP exam. Each question is graded based on its relative difficulty, meaning that if you get all of the easy questions right but get all of the hard ones wrong, you could still fail the exam.
There is no way to distinguish the questions that are scored from those that are not, which means you will have to do your best to answer all questions correctly. The best plan to prepare yourself for success is to study as much as possible with quality materials, make sure that you’re familiar with the type of content and questions that are likely to appear on the exam, and take several practice exams.
A PMP Exam prep course is a good idea if you need additional guidance of what to study and to keep you on track and increase the odds that you will pass the exam on your first try. Many prep courses offer practice questions and explanations, one-on-one time with live tutors or instructors, and multiple full-length exams. Experts suggest scoring a minimum of 80% on practice exams, because the minimum pass rate on the actual exam hovers around 65%.
You can also look for a prep course that offers a money back guarantee or “pass or re-enroll” plan, so that if you fail the exam, you will have access to additional help. If you fail the exam, you can take it again, up to three times in one year. If you fail three times within a year, you must wait for a year to re-take your exam.
PMP Exam Sections
The five sections or domains of the PMP exam include a selection of tasks and questions aimed at gauging your skill and knowledge of more than 20 different areas. These include:
Initiating the Project – 13% of the test involves this knowledge area, and includes an average of 6 tasks, plus a knowledge and skills section. Tasks might require analyzing documents, developing a project charter, obtaining approval for a project, and so on.
Planning the Project – 24% of the test is based on planning the project, meaning you’ll get about 12 tasks in this section. These might include setting up and planning a project, creating project plans, handling meetings and stakeholders, and other real-world tasks. The section ends with a knowledge and skills test that measures your techniques and planning skills.
Executing the Project – This comprises one of the largest and most important sections of the test. Execution accounts for 30% of the entire test, but consists of only 6 tasks. These take longer to complete than the previous tasks, as they include making changes, obtaining resources, and following plans. The knowledge and skills section covers tools, techniques, quality control, budgeting, scheduling, and more.
Monitoring and Controlling the Project – Monitoring and controlling the project makes up 25% of the test and includes 6 tasks plus the skills section. This section typically covers quality control, project performance, assessing actions and risks, and taking steps to ensure that deliverables are finished and handed in on time. The questions section checks your ability to monitor, use analysis, and management techniques.
Closing the Project – Comprising approximately 8% of the total exam, the last section is the shortest, although it includes 7 tasks. These revolve around obtaining deliverables and acceptance, transferring ownership, obtaining financial and legal closure, archiving, distributing projects, and customer relationships. The knowledge and skills section tests feedback, techniques, close-out procedures, and compliance.
PMP Exam Length
In previous years, the PMP exam took an average of 7 hours to complete; today, the test is much shorter and typically takes about 4 hours to finish.
Scheduling the PMP
You can schedule the PMP online or by phone. It is offered in various locations throughout the year. Depending on your qualifications, you might have to take a paper or a computer test. There is a $70 fee for rescheduling your PMP exam within 30 days of the exam, but you can reschedule the exam for free if you do so more than 30 days before your originally scheduled exam date. If you want to reschedule your exam within two days, you will have to cancel and forfeit the entire exam fee.
On the day of the exam, you must arrive at least 30 minutes before the exam is scheduled to begin, and preferably earlier in case there is a line. You must sign in, present your identification, and provide your PMI code a minimum of 30 minutes in advance of the exam. In some cases, you might also be asked for your confirmation notice. Your ID should be in English or have an English translation, and feature your signature and your photograph.
You will have access to a built-in calculator on the exam, but you may ask for a handheld calculator, and either scratch paper or a marker board to make notes. You will also be asked to take an optional 15-minute survey and questionnaire before the exam. The exam is four hours long, and there is no scheduled break.
You may take short breaks when you choose, although you will have to sign in and out again, and the exam clock will not stop (if you take a 10 minute break, this time will be subtracted from the time you have to complete the test). You will only have just over one minute to answer each question, so breaks are not advisable unless you are a quick worker and you are ahead on the test. For this reason, you should plan ahead, bring water, and try to limit any bathroom breaks.
PMP Exam Scoring
Until 2005, in order to pass the PMP a minimum of 61% correct answers was required. However, this is no longer the case. Unfortunately, PMI no longer publishes their minimum required passing score. Instead, questions are graded and scored based on their difficulty, which makes it difficult to pass simply by answering a certain number of questions correctly. In addition, only 87.5% of questions are actually scored.
PMI states on their website that passing scores on the exam are determined based on a psychometric analysis of candidates’ answers that show their ability to perform well in their job. This means that one person might pass with 60% while another might fail with 65%. In other words, each exam is scored individually based on the difficulty of the questions that are answered correctly.
The PMP exam costs $555 for non-PMI members or $405 for PMI members. PMI membership costs $129 a year plus a $10 yearly renewal fee. You will also need to purchase the PMBOK Guide in order to study for the test, which costs $65.95 for non-members and $49.50 for members. Should you choose to take a preparatory class or program, you should factor that into the costs as well and consider that some prep courses include the PMBOK Guide in their study materials.
The PMP is one of the most well-recognized project management certifications in the world, and is certainly one of the most valuable. Some companies do not consider applicants without a PMP certification for specific positions, so having the certification can help you in the hiring process for higher paying jobs.
Best PMP Careers
PMP certification demonstrates that you have specific experience and dedication to your field, which makes you eligible for more senior positions, often with better pay. However, the following types of positions may be held with or without PMP certification:
Salary Range: $71,000-$144,000. Program Managers typically manage short, consecutive projects, hiring and outsourcing tasks and work as needed, manage quality control, budgets and timelines. Most program managers interact with all individuals involved in a project, including stakeholders, and may create plans and schedules, and often make plans for distribution, revenue, and visibility.
Project Manager in Engineering
Salary Range: $71,000-$139,000. These managers oversee engineering projects on and off the field. Tasks typically include ensuring safety compliance, promoting a culture of best practices, preparing cost proposals, maintaining financial records, creating product strategies, and creating product development plans.
IT Project Manager
Salary Range: $66,000-$124,000. IT Project Managers oversee technical teams in design, development, and maintenance/repair tasks. Tasks usually include coordinating deliverables, quality assurance, resource allocation, project plans, and schedules.
IT Program Manager
Salary Range: $91,000-$152,000. IT Program Managers typically have technical IT skills. Their tasks often include working with developers and testers to ensure product viability, planning projects, assigning duties, outsourcing or finding skilled labor as needed, as well as developing and maintaining long-term plans and strategies.
Senior Project Manager
Salary Range: $88,000-$135,000. This job may include overseeing large teams in a large industry or company, usually with the help of other managers. Tasks typically include budgeting, project planning, customer relations, conducting meetings with stakeholders, and creating detailed project plans.
The most significant benefit of PMP certification is that it is globally recognized and internationally accredited. This means that as long as you maintain your certification by completing a minimum of 60 hours of continuing education every three years and continue working in the field, you can use your certification to find work anywhere in the world.
Preparing for and taking the PMP is a challenging process, but earning your certification will open up job opportunities around the world. We hope the above information was useful in helping you determine whether to pursue PMP certification to advance in your industry.