Tackling PMP®-style Exam Questions

30 March, 2015

The Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential is only available to experienced Project Managers and it provides practitioners with a recognized qualification that serves two purposes. In the first place, it gives the person who obtains the certification confidence that they are entitled to use the job-title “Project Manager” and secondly it provides a means of getting through the initial filtering processes carried out by personnel departments – useful if you want to change jobs.

But, while obtaining the PMP® certification is a good thing, it is not as easy as signing a cheque and receiving an impressive parchment. First you have to apply to sit an exam and demonstrate that you have the necessary experience. Then you have to do a four-hour exam where you answer 200 multiple-choice questions. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

I certainly never sat a four-hour exam before, so it is important to attempt a simulated exam or two before the real thing to give you an understanding of your own concentration levels. These exercises will help you to plan breaks during the real exam before your brain gets muddled. And it will get muddled because the PMP® exam is not simply a test of knowledge; it seeks to test out your experience and judgement as well.

To do this, many of the PMP® exam questions are “situational” questions. They want to know what you would do in a particular situation. For instance:

“You have just been notified that there is an issue with the product you are developing for a customer. The team has said that the change will result in the project being extended by three weeks. Although you think the work would be good for the customer you are worried about the time impact. What should you do NEXT?”

This really puts you on the spot. The team have suggested making a change. Straightaway, as the Project Manager, you need to ensure that appropriate change control procedures are followed. You also need to be aware of your stakeholders and you really should discuss things with the customer before making any decision. Also, read the question carefully: it wants to know what you should do next? Several of the given answers may be plausible. If that is the case, you need to prioritize them. In this case, the four options given are:

  1. Decide not to make the change because of the delay it would add to the project.
  2. Document information about the change’s impact and then begin the change control process.
  3. Meet with the project stakeholders and determine if they really want to make the change since it will delay the delivery of the product.
  4. Let the team know the change has been approved and to move forward with making the change.

Well the first option is definitely not right. You would not, unilaterally, make a decision like this. You would need to analyse the total impact of the decision and put it up to the customer, explaining the pros and cons of accepting the change. Similarly, Option 4 would come after Option 1 – you cannot communicate a decision until you have made it – so we can rule this out too. Option 3 is interesting because we should discuss this with the stakeholders. However, what do we discuss? How can we explain the proposed change unless we have studied and are in a position to answer questions and address concerns? So Option 2 emerges as the NEXT thing to do.

Let us look at another one:

“Your multi-phase project is heading into the home stretch. You have been very pleased with the work of a supplier located in Vietnam and all transactions have proceeded relatively well. However, during a recent audit it was uncovered that the offshore team was working 10-hour days versus the expected 8-hour days under the fixed-price with incentive fee contract. Going into the next phase what would be the BEST course of action?”

Earned Value Management enthusiasts will recognize this scenario as one where the project is on schedule, but over-budget if you measure time as money. Many customers ignore this sort of situation – if the supplier is over-working the staff and you are not paying for the extra effort, what is the problem? However, long-term this sort of practice will have consequences. People cannot sustain this level of unpaid overtime and their performance will drop over time. You, as Project Manager, should really do something. Again read the question carefully – the word “BEST” here suggests that all the options will make sense. Let’s see:

  1. Adjust the next phase procurement contract to accommodate the standard work schedule and costs
  2. Ensure the offshore team understands it needs to align to the on-shore project team’s 8-hour workday schedule
  3. Pay the supplier extra funds to cover the extra hours they worked
  4. Review the audit information but make no changes

Option 2 can be ruled out straightaway. We do not have details of the contract, so we cannot say if there is any obligation on the supplier to align work practices with the other team.  Option 1 might not be possible. Again, we are in the dark as to the exact details of the contract, but we might have signed up this supplier for all phases. Option 3 might not be possible either. Do we have the budget available to pay more for the work? Would our sponsors be happy if we did this? Unfortunately, the BEST option from this list is to do nothing. The contract is delivering satisfactorily. As a PMP® exam student, we have only the information in front of us and, on that basis, none of the courses of action may be possible.

The situational questions on the PMP® exam are difficult and require analysis. This is why Velopi developed its PMP® exam simulator. It is only through practice that you start getting a feel for these questions, with their “NEXT” and “BEST” options. They will also take it out of you, so you will need to take breaks during the four hour exam. When to take these breaks depends on your own concentration levels. No one got a PMP® by sleep-walking through the exam, that’s for certain!

Velopi’s PMP® exam preparation courses are scheduled regularly in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. For more details, please visit our training page, or contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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