From my perspective, a credential such as the PMP has tangible benefits that can be divided in two main categories: the recognition of knowledge that comes from passing the exam and the process of becoming a better project manager by learning for the exam.
The PMP credential means that one's experience and knowledge of project management is recognized by the standardizing body (the PMI), giving the owner international credibility.
On the other hand, learning for the exam itself has a strong transformational power. It forces the student to mentally walk through a series of scenarios and relive past projects to understand what went right and what went wrong then. It takes all the previous experience and knowledge and benchmarks it against standardized best practices, recognized across all industries - The PMBOK. I've mentioned experience: to qualify for the exam itself, one needs at least three full years of project management practice*.
How does the exam look like?
It is a computer based, 4 hours / 200 questions exam, which is taken at a Prometric site. There is no official break. To get a flavor of how it goes, one can check many resources online that provide test samples. Here is an example:
The exam is not very difficult yet it is not easy either. Beside a good understanding of project management philosophy, it requires concentration to correctly identify the problem, then to identify the right project management process that the problem is part of. Besides that,
- Some questions are very long and difficult to read.
- Some questions have very similar answers.
- Some questions have may seem to have all the choices correct.
- Some questions have unnecessary information.
- Some questions may pose more problems and the student is asked to identify what is the most critical to be solved next.
During my learning, I realized that it was a very thin balance between answering the questions correctly and wrongly. A mere interruption as small as going to drink a glass water for 5 minutes resulted in a higher probability of mistake that spanned across roughly 10-15 questions (10-15 minutes). I made this measurement over many tests by identifying clusters of wrong answers around the same time I had an interruption.
How did I study?
1. I picked a less professionally demanding period (after the first patch of Assassin's Creed Revelations PC was released) - November - December last year 2011.
2. I enrolled in a PMP class here. Fortunately, they had a session in December. The course itself was based on the Rita Mulcahy method, which I warmly recommend.
3. Roughly 3 weeks before class, I started reading the materials (The PMP Exam Prep book, by Rita Mulcahy).
4. I took 4 working days off of work just before the class started, to finish the book and the exercises it contained.
5. I went for 4 days in class.
6. After the class, 1 week - no learning. During this period I paid my PMI membership, completed my application, submitted it and then, after it was approved, scheduled the exam.
7. After that, for one week, I did 50 questions a day from each knowledge area. At the end of the week I took a 100 questions sample PMP exam. For all these, I used the PMP Fast Track software, also from Rita Mulcahy. This was between Christmas and New Year's Eve.
8. For 4 days after the New Year's Eve party - nothing.
9. 3 days before the exam, I passed through the PMP Hot Topics Exam Flashcards. It took 2 days.
10. 1 day before the exam I took a full 200 questions PMP Exam to see where I stood.
11. On the 8th of January 2012 I passed the exam.
Suggestions for taking the exam:
1. Reading the materials prior to class was of extreme importance. That way, I was able to solidify my knowledge and identify gaps by asking the teacher all sorts of questions.
2. Exam questions are asked from the perspective of a large (100+ people, 1 year+, 1 million+ EUR) international project. Having experience managing this kind of project helps.
3. It helps a lot being in a less demanding period at work.
4. Overstudying does not help, nor does taking the exam lightly.
Good luck! :)
One insight I had while studying for the exam was that project management knowledge alone was not enough for one to succeed. Strong industry experience is also required to become an accomplished project manager.