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PMP Exam Failure Rate

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PMP (Project Management Professional) is a globally recognized certification offered by PMI (Project Management Institute). The goal of the certification is to help current project managers develop their skills and enhance their knowledge.

However, the PMP exam isn’t that easy, and it can actually be quite hard to pass it from the first time. But hard to what extent? That’s the question. And that’s also what we’re going to find out as we uncover the PMP exam failure rates.


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What Are the PMP Exam Failure Rates?

Unfortunately, the PMP exam failure rates are pretty high. Based on statistical data, around 40-50% of PMP candidates fail in passing the PMP exam. Some even require more than two attempts to pass it, but that’s mostly a rare occurrence. 

Based on the data, it’s safe to conclude that the PMP exam failure rate can indeed be high. However, by knowing why people fail the PMP exam, you should be able to ace it from the first attempt, and we’ll discuss how you can do that in the following section.

Reasons Why PMP Candidates Fail the Exam

There are several reasons why many people don’t pass the PMP exam right away. By keeping those reasons in your mind, you’ll increase your chances of passing the PMP exam from the first try.

Unfamiliarity with the Exam Structure

This is probably one of the most common reasons that lead people to fail the PMP exam. PMP aspirants usually spend a tremendous amount of time studying their materials and PMI’s PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Guide but neglect preparing for the exam itself.

While ensuring that you’ve fully comprehended the materials is essential, it becomes irrelevant if you don’t invest time in familiarizing yourself with the nature of the exam. 

The easiest way to do this is to prepare with some mock tests. Mock tests have a similar structure to the real PMP exam and help you understand the types of questions you may come across, as well as identify your strong and weak points.

For best results, make sure that your mock tests are timed to develop an idea about how fast you can answer all the questions.

The Structure:

The PMP exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. 25 of those questions are unscored, which means that they’re not used in the final assessment. You won’t be able to distinguish these questions in the exam, though.

The exam’s time limit is 4 hours, which should be more than enough to answer all the questions according to previous PMP exam takers. However, you must reserve some time to go through the whole exam one more time to double-check your answers and resolve any questions that you’ve initially skipped.

Also, make sure that you answer all the questions, even those you don’t know. There’s no negative marking on the PMP exam, so don’t be afraid to just guess even if you’re unsure of the answers.

Not Reading All of the Answers in the Exam

This one is significantly related to the previous reason. If you have limited information about the PMP exam, you won’t be familiar with the questions. Most of the PMP exam questions are situation-based, which means that there could be more than one “correct” answer, but only one “best” answer.

If you have a proper understanding of project management principles, you should develop the intuition to select the most suitable answer to situation-based questions. However, you won’t be able to do that if you just pick the first answer that you put your eyes on just because it’s correct.

Insufficient Preparation

The second most common reason people fail the PMP exam is inadequate preparation. The PMP exam knowledge areas are quite extensive, and you should definitely invest an appropriate amount of time studying for the exam if you want to pass from the first attempt. 

It’s also worth noting that some people rely on only one study resource in their preparation journey, which can be quite disastrous. Relying on a single resource won’t help you understand the concepts 100%. 

You should at least have one or two more reference books along with the PMBOK Guide. It’s also a good idea to go to the library and research the topics on your own, especially those you think are the hardest.

Memorizing the ITTOs

Another common reason why PMP aspirants fail the exam is that they memorize the ITTOs (Inputs, Tools, Techniques, and Outputs), which is probably the best thing you can do if you want to fail the PMP exam. There are over 600 ITTOs, and it’s practically impossible for the human brain to memorize all of them.

The PMP exam indeed requires you to be familiar with all of the ITTOs, which may make people assume that they must memorize them. However, the real problem is in how people study them.

The right way to study the ITTOs is to understand the logical relationships that bind them with the 50 project management processes. This means that you must fully comprehend each process if you want to know its related ITTOs. 

One popular way to study the ITTOs is the ITTO spreadsheet. It’s basically a huge digital table of all the ITTOs in the project management body of knowledge that lists each process group with its related project management processes and ITTOs. This way, you can study two or three processes every day.

Another good technique is to write down each process and its ITTOs after you study them. This will help you learn faster and spot some patterns that can make it easier for you to understand the relations between the ITTOs and the processes. 

Over time, you’ll begin to notice that some ITTOs are used in most processes and other patterns that will help you develop a logical understanding of the ITTOs.

Studying Alone

While this isn’t quite a tangible reason, studying alone for the PMP exam may not be the best way to prepare. The better alternative is to join a study group with some fellow PMP candidates. 

By including yourself in a study group, you’ll benefit from the experience of your colleagues, and they will, in turn, benefit from yours. This way, you’ll be able to strengthen your weak points much faster than if you were studying by yourself.

Low English Proficiency

The PMP exam is only available in English, which means that if your English language skills aren’t that good, you may misconceive some questions. 

The PMP exam questions are very tricky, and most of them are full of keywords that completely change their meanings. Some of these words include:

  • Most Likely
  • Least Likely
  • Best
  • Not
  • Except
  • Excluding

These words can make things quite confusing, especially in long questions. The best way to avoid falling for these tricky questions is to underline these words and see how they influence the sentence/question’s meaning. So, even if a question is long, you won’t forget that these words are part of it.

Before taking the PMP exam preparation course, make sure that your English proficiency is at a decent level. You can do that simultaneously while preparing for the exam, but only if your schedule allows it.

Forgetting the Formulas

Formula-based questions make up about 20-30% of the PMP exam, which means that forgetting some of the formulas would be a disaster. This is probably the only part of the study materials that you’ll have to memorize perfectly.

Also, make sure that you write down the formulas at the beginning of the exam to avoid forgetting them because of the stress.

Other Factors

Some other factors usually have nothing to do with how well you prepare for the PMP exam. For example, a more experienced project manager may have a better chance of passing the exam than a less experienced one.

Moreover, if you’re already a Certified Associate of Project Management (CAPM), passing the PMP exam will be much easier for you since you’ve already studied the concepts before, even if not as extensively as you would with the PMP certification.

Final Thoughts

To summarize this article, the PMP exam failure rates might be high, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pass it from the first attempt. 

We’ve already discussed the reasons why most of the people who failed the PMP exam couldn’t secure a passing score, which is an excellent opportunity for you to learn from their mistakes and avoid them. 

All you have to do is prepare very well using multiple resources and practice with some mock tests. It’s also a good idea to avoid heavily relying on memorization, as this isn’t really a practical way to pass the exam. Just understand, make connections, and analyze – and you’ll be perfectly fine.

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