Applying for the PMP Exam

How to Prepare for the PMP Exam Day

For some people, the fact that obtaining Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification involves doing an exam is enough to put them off. However, many potential PMPs® never get beyond the application process. This is a pity because, with a bit of forethought, the application process can be reasonably painless.

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Reflecting on Real-World Project Management Experience

Realizing that those on our PMP® courses need help here, Velopi has added extensive PMP® exam application support to its Blended Learning Solution. Essentially, before anyone applies for the PMP® exam, they need to reflect on their real-world project management experience. In the first instance, you need to have sufficient experience to be considered for the PMP® exam. The Project Management Institute determines this in two ways: (1) it asks for dates and (2) it asks for descriptions. Both of these can cause all sorts of problems.

To be considered for the PMP® exam, you need to have at least 36 months of project management experience if you have a primary degree. This has also to add up to over 4,500 hours’ worth of project management work. Things get more complicated if you do not have a primary degree. Then you need 60 months (5 years) of project management experience, which needs to total 7,500 hours. So one calendar year adds up to 1,500 hours. If you take the standard “man month” value of 20 working days per month, the Project Management Institute wants you to have worked 6.25 hours a day as a project manager.

Breaking Down Your Project Experience

Giving the requirement in months, as well as hours, means that citing intense projects where 4,500 hours are clocked up in, say, 28 months will not do. So the first step before applying for the PMP® exam is calculating your project management experience. Use the start and end dates to get the monthly total. If these projects do not give you a total of 36 (or 60) months, then you will need to hold off on applying until you have built up that experience.

Once you can establish the monthly requirement, then the hours should follow on easily from that. If you work a standard 8 hour day that adds up to 1,920 hours (using a 20-day month). Even subtracting 20 days’ vacation from this, leaves a total of 1,760 hours. In other words, get the months right and the hours will look after themselves.

Many of us have had the experience of wrapping up one project and ramping up another at the same time. While this is legitimate experience, be careful with your accounting. Note the overlap and only allocate half the hours to either project during this time. An easier approach is to adjust the start and finish dates so one project finishes halfway through the overlap period, then the next one starts. Whatever approach you take, do not count the same days twice.

Sadly, start and finish dates and totals of hours and months are not enough. The Project Management Institute wants you to break down your experience in terms of process groups. How many hours have you spent initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling and closing? They will ask this for each project. Velopi’s experience calculator is a great help here.

Crafting Effective Project Descriptions

Once you have worked out your months and hours, then you have to describe the projects you have worked on. To make this more difficult, you are only allowed 550 characters (including spaces) to do this. Having helped hundreds of students through the PMP® application process, Velopi has recognized a few common mistakes:

Describing the project. The Project Management Institute is not interested in the project per se. It only wants to determine if your contribution to it constitutes good experience. Launch straight into what you did and leave the nature of the project out. You can indicate the size and complexity of the project by including items such as: “I recruited fifty new engineers” or “I signed ten time and materials contracts with suppliers”.

Modesty! There is a tendency for PMP® exam candidates to use the passive voice in their descriptions – “A team was assembled and set to work on project activities”. What happened on the project is not relevant. What is important is what you contributed. Changing the above example to “The team was pre-assigned and I allocated the project activities on the basis of experience and interest” shows that you managed the work but not the recruitment. Using the passive voice suggests that you had no part to play.

Success! “The project was a huge success!” or “This was a major project that the company depended on” crop up regularly. However, to impress the PMP® exam application reviewers, you need to relate success to project management. Use phrases like: “I managed to bring the project in on budget and only two days late” or “I supervised the site acceptance tests and I got the customer to sign off on all deliverables”. Show how you contributed to the project’s success.

Simplifying the Application Process

Do all this work prior to applying online at Have your project dates and hours to hand (with their process group breakdowns), as well as your project descriptions. Then the application process is simply a matter of cutting and pasting. Even better, if you take one of Velopi’s PMP® exam preparation courses, you can have one of their experienced PMPs® review your descriptions and avail of Velopi’s experience calculator to work out your hours.

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