Marking the PMP® Exam

Marking the PMP® Exam

The Project Management Professional (PMP)® is probably the project management certification that is most widely recognized worldwide. Anyone who obtains PMP® certification has demonstrated a track record in managing projects, has attended at least 35 hours’ worth of project management training (Velopi’s Blended Learning Solution satisfies this requirement, including a 4-day PMP® course, unlimited PMP® exam simulator access and telephone/e-mail support until the day of the PMP® exam), agreed to abide by the Project Management Institute’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and passed a 200-question, multiple-choice exam.

It is this PMP® exam that causes so many sleepless nights. A question we are often asked is: how is the PMP® exam marked? Another is: what score do I need to pass? In schools or universities, an exam is set to confirm that the student understands a given syllabus. However, the PMP® exam is trying to establish that the person who passes it is proficient as a project manager. To achieve this, the Project Management Institute employs a technique called a “Role Delineation Study”.

This begins by trying to tie down what exactly are the responsibilities of a project manager. Once these performance domains are established, the next step is to judge their relative importance. The domains that are considered more important get more questions in the PMP® exam.

The process of defining the project manager role is done in two steps: (1) practicing project managers are asked to define their responsibilities and then (2) these definitions are collated and reviewed statistically to arrive at a global definition.

The Project Management Institute commissioned its first Role Delineation Study for the PMP® certification in 2009. The project managers surveyed were from every part of the world and worked in different industries, had different job titles and varying levels of experience. The study also investigated companies that employ project management, academics and Registered Education Providers (such as Velopi).

In the end, the Project Management Institute had a clear picture of the duties and responsibilities that define the project manager’s role and the knowledge/skills needed to perform the identified project management tasks.

The result of the Role Delineation Study was that the PMP® exam was broken down into domains (or Process Groups, as PMPs® will recognize them) and the questions are distributed as follows:


% of Items / Domain

1. Initiating the Project


2. Planning the Project


3. Executing the Project


4. Monitoring and Controlling the Project


5. Closing the Project


Total Number of Scored Questions


Total Number of Unscored (Pretest) Questions


Total Number of Questions


An obvious question arises from this table: what are the 25 unscored questions for? This is how the Project Management Institute gauges the quality of new questions. Many of the PMP® exam questions are scenario-based. That means that a situation must be described in a few sentences. While this description makes perfect sense to the author, the PMP® exam candidates may find it confusing or ambiguous. If a larger number than expected gets a question wrong, it will need to be revised before it can be included as a marked question.

Now we know how the questions came about, how many do we need to get right to pass the PMP® exam? Unfortunately, we do not know for sure. For many years it was 61% (106 or the 175 questions), but the grade can fluctuate! The Project Management Institute uses a modified Angoff Method to decide what the pass mark should be.

This method uses empirical data to determine the passing percentage for a test. So experienced PMPs® are asked to assess each PMP® exam question and then predict how many minimally-qualified candidates would answer the question correctly. The average of these PMP® assessors’ predictions for a question becomes its predicted difficulty. The sum of the predicted difficulty values for all the questions is the recommended Angoff cut score. The Project Management Institute does this on a regular basis which explains why the pass mark can vary.

The advice we give to our PMP® exam students is to aim for a 75% pass rate on our simulated PMP® exams, just to be safe.

As a Project Management Institute approved Registered Education Provider, Velopi provides the best PMP® exam preparation support available. Our Blended Learning Solution provides instruction, realistic simulated PMP® exams and one-on-one support to put you in an ideal position to pass your PMP® exam on your first attempt. For your convenience, we run our project management courses in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. If you cannot find the information you need on our web-site then please contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins


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