AXELOS ProPath, the world's most powerful project, programme and portfolio best practice certifications

Good PMP questions are hard to find

Patrick Weaver
September 10, 2015

Most people, when faced with a painful decision such as having a leg amputated, seek a valid second opinion. Sitting for the PMP (Project Management Professional) exam is no different. Regardless of whose course you have completed, testing your knowledge against a different set of reputable questions developed by another person is always a good idea.

Course developers tend to write questions that are answered by their course materials. It is very difficult to change your thinking between updating course materials and updating questions. The Project Management Institute (PMI), on the other hand, has literally had hundreds of people, mainly volunteers, writing questions over the years. They come from every region, industry and project management sub-discipline so there is no common train of thought in your PMP exam! While the knowledge framework is defined, how different people think about setting questions can be quite different.

Added to this, you can only pass a PMI examination by effectively answering the questions—it’s not what you know that matters so much as how you interpret that knowledge to answer questions you’ve never seen before. In short, answering multi-choice questions effectively is an acquired skill that is essential for passing the PMP, CAPM, PMI-SP and other similar exams, and you can only acquire this skill through practice.

Paradoxically, while answering good practice questions is an effective measure of how exam ready you are, you cannot get exam ready simply by practising answering questions, as the diagram below demonstrates.

PMP question pattern

The grey area above represents the overall potential spread of knowledge questions in the exam, the circles ‘core knowledge’ and ‘important knowledge’—as you would expect most questions focus on the core, but a few wander off into less significant areas.

How much do you really know?

Course developers know this and focus most of their materials on the areas of knowledge most likely to be tested and match this with the questions they include in their coursework. They test how well you have absorbed the knowledge by firing an appropriate ‘scatter’ of questions: if you answer them well there’s a reasonable probability your understanding of the material is adequate to answer these and other questions that are focused slightly differently.

The reverse is not true, however. If you simply focus on learning the answers to the questions, you don’t have knowledge of all of the other ‘grey areas’ to allow you to deal with different questions on the same topics. With any set of questions the points of knowledge tested (the black dots) are only a small part of the overall knowledge framework.

Another exam with a different set of questions will form a similar, but different, pattern which will test slightly different aspects of the knowledge framework and validate your overall understanding of the topics covered by the questions. We deliberately use a third party supplier for the online exam simulator used in all of our PMP and CAPM courses to start this process but most people still want a ‘third opinion’.

The value of an additional opinion comes in two parts. Firstly, it will validate your exam readiness from a different thinking perspective (or confirm there’s more work to do) as the question author has not been involved in developing the course you have just finished and neither have the PMI question setters. Secondly, it helps build confidence. If you’ve done well in the ‘second opinion’ you will probably do well in the exam. This prompts the question: where can you get a good second opinion?

One option is to invest in books published by reputable PMI Registered Education Providers such as Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep (and there are others). The trouble is the good books are expensive (most over $100) and you tend to pay for what you get. Find the books in the PMI ‘marketplace’ web shop and then buy locally or from Amazon to save on the shipping.

The other alternative is to go online and look for ‘free’ questions. The freely available question sets are almost exclusively PMP; this means they are around 80% compatible with CAPM (the CAPM knowledge test is a large sub-set of PMP) and also cover part of the knowledge needed for the PMI-SP exam. Unfortunately, while there are lots of free questions available on the internet, the quality is all over the place!

To help you overcome the challenge of finding good questions from reputable sources, we have developed a recommended list of free questions (with descriptions of the various offerings).

Author avatar
Patrick Weaver
Patrick Weaver is the managing director of Mosaic Project Services and the business manager of Stakeholder Management Pty Ltd. He has been a member of both PMI and AIPM since 1986 and is a member of the Asia Pacific Forum of the Chartered Institute of Building. In addition to his work on ISO 21500, he has contributed to a range of standards developments with PMI, CIOB and AIPM.
Read more