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Helping you earn and maintain your PMI certification. Passing the PMP Exam is tough, but keeping your PMP Certification alive is just as challenging. Preparing for the exam requires an in-depth study of the PMBOK Guide and dedicated study discipline. And once you are PMP certified, then you are required to earn 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) every 3 years to keep your certification alive. Let me help you make this journey easier with tips and tricks on how to prepare for and pass the exam as well as efficiently earning your PDUs once you are certified.
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What is Opportunity Cost and Why Do You Need to Understand It

How to Find a Great PMP Mock Exam Online

How to Get Your PMP Certification Using Four Study Techniques

The 7 Questions Every PMP Student SHOULD Ask Their Coach

The Project Manager's Dirty Little Secret (Hint: It's Made by Microsoft but it's not MS Project...)

What is Opportunity Cost and Why Do You Need to Understand It

If you are in the middle of preparing to take the Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam you have undoubtedly read through A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition at least once and possibly even more. If you are just starting to prepare to take the PMP Exam, then you should be planning to read through the PMBOK® Guide at least a couple of times. The PMBOK® Guide should be your primary resource when studying for the PMP Exam as it is the globally recognized standard and guide for the project management profession; however as you probably already know, it does not cover every possible topic that the PMP Exam may touch on.

One of those topics not covered by the PMBOK® Guide is Opportunity Cost. There is no guarantee that you will see it during your PMP Exam, but there is also no guarantee that you will not. Here we will explain why as a project manager you need to understand Opportunity Cost, beyond that it may be on the PMP Exam, and what exactly Opportunity Cost is. We will also go through a couple of examples of Opportunity Cost questions.

Why does a Project Manager need to understand Opportunity Cost? It is very possible as a Project Manager you will be charged with project selection at some point in your career. You will need to make sure you evaluate and select projects based on your organization’s goals and needs to ensure returns are maximized as well as opportunity costs are minimized. As part of the project selection process you will need to evaluate where to best utilize valuable resources such as specific skill sets, time, and of course money. Allocating these resources to a specific project prevents their use for other projects at the same time, after all an organization only has so many resources and needs to take on projects with the highest potential for success and the greatest return.

What is Opportunity Cost? Opportunity cost is the loss of potential future return from the second best unselected project. In other words, it is the opportunity (potential return) that will not be realized when one project is selected over another. For example if Project X has a potential return of $25,000 and Project Y has a potential return of $20,000, then selecting Project X for completion over Project Y will result in an opportunity cost of $20,000. That is the “loss” of not completing Project Y.

Let’s take a look at a couple of PMP Exam sample questions around Opportunity Cost:
PMP Exam Sample Question 1: “Which definition best fits Opportunity Cost?”
a)    The sum of all of the potential returns of projects not selected.
b)    The potential return of the second best project that was not selected.
c)    The difference between the potential return of the project selected and the potential return of the second best option that was not selected.
d)    The difference between the present value of cash inflows and the present value of cash outflows.

The correct answer is B. Opportunity Cost is the potential return of the second best option that was not selected. It is not the sum of all potential returns that were selected or the difference between the potential return of the project selected and the second best option. It is also not the difference between the present value of cash inflows and the present value of cash outflows as that is the definition of net present value.

PMP Exam Sample Question 2: “You are part of a project selection team evaluating three proposed projects and you need to select the project that would bring the best return for the organization. Project A has an NPV of $25,000 and an IRR of 1.5, Project B has a NPV of $30,000 and an IRR of 1.25, and Project C has an NPV of $15,000 and an IRR of 1.5. What would be the opportunity cost of selecting Project B over Project A?”
a)    $15,000
b)    $5,000
c)    $25,000
d)    $30,000

The correct answer is C. Opportunity Cost is the potential return of the project not selected. In this case we did not select Project A, so it is $25,000. There is extra unrelated information in this question; IRR is not relevant when evaluating opportunity cost. Once all of the unnecessary information is filtered out the questions is simply asking what is the dollar value associated with Project A.

Opportunity Cost simply comes down to the benefits or returns that are passed up when one project is selected over another. Understanding what Opportunity Cost is may or may not be necessary when taking the PMP Exam. Even if questions about Opportunity Cost are not on your PMP Exam it is still important for you as a Project Manager to understand Opportunity Cost as it is a method for selecting one project over another especially when valuable resources are limited.

About the author: Cornelius Fichtner, PMP is a noted PMP expert. He has helped over 34,000 students prepare for the PMP Exam with The Project Management PrepCast at http://www.pm-prepcast.com and The PMP Exam Simulator at http://www.pm-exam-simulator.com

Posted on: August 05, 2015 04:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

How to Find a Great PMP Mock Exam Online

If you are working towards or just considering taking the Project Management Professional (PMP®) exam it is certain you have concerns about taking the exam itself. Concerns that can only be answered by practicing, or what types of questions are on the exam, or do I understand the material enough to pass, and can I answer 200 questions in four hours. You can discover the answers to these concerns and others like them through taking mock exams or answering mock online exam questions before you even register for an official exam date.

Online Mock PMP Exams are the way to go if you want to see where you are knowledge wise, to find out if you can answer 200 questions in four hours, or if you just want to kick a case of the nerves. Therefore, this article explains what a mock exam is, how an online mock test helps you, where you would find such a test, and how good these tests can actually be. My goal is to give you the information you need to both locate a free online mock PMP test and how to identify a quality exam that will help you to be on your way to become a certified PMP.

What are PMP Mock Tests?
A mock test is one that is taken prior to the official exam for practice. A mock test can be taken to help you learn the types of questions that may be on an exam, to test your knowledge, or to simply practice taking the test.
Knowing what kinds of questions may be on the exam, that you can answer 200 questions in four hours, and that you can pass a mock exam can help settle your nerves for the official exam. There are several quality full-length online mock PMP tests on the market, but you don’t always need a full-length exam to test your knowledge. There are also quality options for shorter mock practice tests and also single questions that can be used as part of your successful study plan.

How does a PMP Online Mock Test help me?
It helps, because it allows you to practice taking the PMP exam in the most realistic manner possible, which can be fundamental to you successfully passing the PMP exam.

A good full-length mock practice test will be very much like the official exam. It will consist of 200 questions, be limited to four hours, and will also have questions that are similar in difficulty, style and format as the official exam. It also covers the same topics. An online mock exam for the PMP exam is a good simulation of the actual exam process since the PMP exam is typically computerized. You should find a quiet location, block out four hours, log onto the mock test, and practice taking the exam in the most realistic way possible.

Shorter mock exams or single mock exam questions are also a good method for testing yourself. These questions will be similar in difficulty and in a similar format as the official exam and allow you to practice based on the time you have. If you have an hour or two maybe a shorter mock test is best for you. If you have ten minutes maybe a few practice questions are your best option. Many of the websites that offer single mock test questions offer a mobile option that can be used anywhere.

Where do I find a PMP Mock Exam Online Free?
Online mock tests that are both good and free are hard to come by. After all, you want to make sure you find quality free online practice exams and questions so your time is well spent.

The best one I know comes from Oliver Lehmann at www.oliverlehmann.com. Here you will find some of the most difficult questions around. Consider it a success if you can answer more than half correctly. This site offers questions in a variety of formats along with a free 90-minute, 75-question simulated exam. It is not a full-length exam, but it is definitely worth your time since it is so difficult. The website also has links to 4000 additional practice questions.

Another free online PMP mock test is the PM Exam Simulator located at http://free.pm-exam-simulator.com. This simulator provides several shorter exams and allows you to practice taking the PMP Exam in a manner that mimics the official exam. The questions are formatted using the same difficulty and style that are used for the actual exam. It also provides questions in the same process group proportions to best simulate the exam. It offers three modes to best fit your current learning needs: Learning Mode where you can receive hints and there is no time limit; Timed Mode where you can receive hints, but are held to the time limit; and Real Exam Mode where you can get the real PMP Exam experience.

The final recommended option for free mock PMP questions is at www.free-pm-exam-questions.com. Here you can sign up to have questions delivered directly to your inbox a well as the Weekly PMP Exam Tips Newsletter.

There are many good products on the market that may fit your needs. For some additional recommendations please read my article My Top Recommended Web Sites for Free PMP Exam Sample Questions. And in the interest of disclosure, the PM Exam Simulator and free mock PMP questions mailing list mentioned above are my own products.

How good can a PMP Mock Exam Free Actually be?
It depends! Sometimes you truly get what you pay for, but there are several, high-quality and free online PMP mock exams on the market.

One assumption that we can make is this: free mock exams provided by PMI Registered Education Provider will likely be quite good. Especially if this provider also offers their own online simulator. The reason for this is simple: The free questions they give you will be of a high quality because they want to showcase them to you in the hope that you like them and sign up for the paid products.

How do I spot a GREAT Online PMP Mock Test?
Consider both the source and also the questions themselves:
•    As we have just seen, it is a good sign if the provider of the free questions is a PMI Registered Education Provider because it is in their own interest to give you excellent free materials.
•    Then you have to consider the questions themselves. Here you have to primarily ensure that they are updated to the most recent PMBOK® Guide and that they follow the latest exam specifications.

Questions with explanations that reference the PMBOK Guide or other quality current project management reference materials are also a good sign of great PMP mock questions.

So if you would like to jump right into answering some great online PMP questions just go to www.free-pm-exam-questions.com to have questions delivered directly to you inbox or go to http://free.pm-exam-simulator.com to access a free exam simulator.

 

Posted on: July 07, 2015 08:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

How to Get Your PMP Certification Using Four Study Techniques

If you are just beginning or are in the middle of studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Exam, you probably already know that in order to pass, you need to fully understand both A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013 and the Project Management Institute (PMI) Code of Ethics. You have probably spent some time thinking about the many study techniques available to you. In this article, I examine four PMP Exam study techniques, their effectiveness, and some possible alternatives, you may not have considered.

Technique 1 – Reading and Highlighting / Underlining the PMBOK Guide and PMI Code of Ethics

Reading text and highlighting or underlining as we go is a technique many of us learned and used during our high school or college days, so it is a familiar technique.

Verdict:

Studies have found that although 84% of students at elite colleges use this technique, they have also found it to be ineffective. It is kind of a security blanket, in that it makes the student feel that they are learning, but the student is actually more focused on highlighting or underlining rather than learning the concept.

Passively reading is a great first step, so don’t discount the need to read the PMBOK Guide and PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct; however, highlighting or underlining likely adds very little to your learning.
It does little to enhance understanding of the material and long term recall of the material, which makes this technique ineffective overall.

Alternatives:

Try to find other methods to learn about PMP concepts other than just reading, highlighting, or underlining them such as:

Be more active while reading. For example, ask yourself “why” a concept is relevant, or try to relate the concept to a real world example you can recall when it comes up on the PMP Exam.

Attend a PMP Exam Prep Course so you can hear about the concepts from an instructor and learn from others in the class.

Use other tools to learn PMP concepts such as the PM Prepcast™ or another PMP Exam prep book such as “Achieve PMP Exam Success, 5th Edition: A Concise Study Guide for the Busy Project Manager.”

Technique 2 – Using PMP Flashcards

Flashcards are a compact quick use study aid that typically covers one question, formula, or tidbit of information per card. This is another technique you may be familiar with from your high school or college days.

Verdict:

Spreading study sessions out over time, also known as distributed practice, has been found to enhance student performance. Flashcards provide a great method to be able to spread out learning and use the distributed practice method in a controlled and flexible way. You can easily breakdown PMP concepts into smaller “bite-sized” chunks to ensure you review and master the material one concept at a time.

PMP Exam Flashcards have been found to be a very effective learning technique. You can pace yourself and easily use the flashcards as many times as you need in order to solidify the concepts in your mind. You can create your own from taking information out of the PMBOK Guide or other exam prep material, or purchase premade flash cards such as PMP eFlashcards.

Technique 3 – Taking Notes on the PMBOK Guide and PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

Taking notes is the act of write down important information while reading the material to be learned. This is another technique many of us have learned while in school.

Verdict:

Taking notes is a better technique than highlighting or underlining, but can be very time consuming. If you use this technique wisely then it can be very effective to use while reading the PMBOK Guide and PMI Code of Ethics. Be careful not to take notes that simply regurgitate information or your learning will be adversely affected and taking notes would be similarly ineffective as highlighting or underlining.

Alternative 1 – Use Notes to Create PMP Flashcards:

When taking notes, do it in a manner where you can hide terms and definitions easily. For example, create two columns on a single page where the left column contains the terms and the right column contains the definitions. Writing it out this way allows you to hide the definitions with one hand as you try to repeat them to yourself. Or you can leave a lot of extra white space that you can use to rewrite the concept later to “test” yourself. Then you can compare what you wrote verses the note you took. Using a notebook is not as flexible as using flashcards, but you can use any notes you take as a basis for creating your own flashcards.

Alternative 2 – Use a PMP Brain Dump:

Create a brain dump. After reading about a concept, take a sheet of paper and write down all of the details you can recall about that topic. Don’t forget to verify that the details in your brain dump are correctly recalled and that you did not miss anything. This is an effective technique for learning a concept since you are actively filtering for the most essential information. You also end up with a way of actively recalling the information over time and most importantly you can recreate the brain dump on the day of your PMP Exam.

Technique 4 – Taking a PMP Practice Exam

Taking practice tests can include anything from testing yourself one question at a time or sitting in a quiet location and taking a full length four hour two hundred question simulated PMP practice test.

You can self-test while reading PMP related material. For example, if student A was re-reading a PMBOK Guide chapter straight through and student B hid some text from themselves purposely as they read in order to recall the information prior to revealing the text (taking a self-imposed practice test) then student B would be more likely to recall the information long-term. As student B was going through the self-imposed testing, when he failed to recall information, he simply went back to re-study the concept.

Flashcards are also a form of practice test as each card poses a test question. Flashcards are not ideal in the sense that the format of the PMP Exam is not necessarily the same as flashcards, but are still effective. If you are looking for a PMP Exam practice test that is close to the PMP Exam, look into using the PMP Exam Simulator.

Verdict:

Practice tests are definitely recommended and studies have shown that taking practice tests is a very effective learning technique in a wide array of situations. Self-testing as you read PMP related study material and using flashcards are both effective methods, but most effective method is taking full-length timed practice PMP Exams.

PMP Study Technique Conclusion:

Not all study techniques are equally effective. For your PMP Exam preparation spend your time wisely by knowing the best study techniques. Understanding the PMBOK Guide and the test itself is fundamental to preparing for the PMP Exam. Read each chapter as actively as possible and learn the concepts from a variety of resources. Practice tests and distributive practice have been found to be highly effective study techniques, so consider using flashcards and exam simulators when studying for the PMP Exam. The more you are able to connect concept with example in your learning the better. Create meaningful and intelligent notes, and figure out your brain dump before you decide to do any highlighting. Finally learn from others who have prepared and passed the test by visiting online forums.

Posted on: June 18, 2015 08:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

The 7 Questions Every PMP Student SHOULD Ask Their Coach

In our previous article we discussed the 7 questions that most of our PMP Exam coaching students ask us as they start out their journey. However, over the years we have identified a second set of 7 questions - the questions students SHOULD be asking us but they don’t. Here they are:

1. What’s the most important brain dump or diagram to learn?

This is an easy question! It’s Table 3-1 in the PMBOK® Guide. This covers the Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping. It’s a complicated matrix and a very important visual representation of Project Management Body of Knowledge and Project Management framework. It is very much a guiding tool for approaching the PMP exam and one of the most important brain dumps that you could have in the testing center to help you.

2. What formulas do I need to know for the PMP exam?

There are many formulas in the PMBOK® Guide; upwards of 20 or 30 that could be referenced in the PMP exam. A PMP exam coach would tell you that you will probably only see somewhere in a range of around 15 formulas on the exam itself.
If time is short and you want to focus your learning on what will really make a difference to your success in the exam, identify the formulas that are most likely to come up and make sure you fully understand those. A formulas study guide, coach or PMP exam tutor will be able to pinpoint the most important formulas for you. Start by memorizing those to maximize your learning time.

3. What are these Inputs, Outputs, Tools and Techniques (ITTOs)?

ITTOs tend to scare a lot of PMP students and some exam candidates have confided that they didn’t understand or know about them before they took the exam! They are very important for understanding how project management concepts and processes fit together, both for the exam and also for managing projects in ‘real life’ after the exam.

Make sure you spend enough time learning about their structure, and how you are likely to encounter them on the PMP exam. You can do this through studying the PMBOK® Guide, and using other study guides and flashcards. Taking practice PMP exams is another good way of testing your knowledge of ITTOs as you will get to see how the questions are framed on the exam and learn how best to respond to them.

4. What are some tricks to answering these long scenario-based questions on the PMP exam?

This is an excellent question that PMP exam coaches don’t hear often enough! The best students want to know how to deal with the long paragraphs that they see on the PMP exam.

These long questions are often a source of great difficulty for many students. The content of the question is often in a strange order and there are facts that are added in simply to distract you. The answers are also often longer than normal, so scanning through and making a quick judgment about how to answer is tricky. So how can you deal with these scenario-based questions?

Something that works well for many exam candidates is to read the last part of the question first. You can also use a process of elimination on certain answers by referring to your brain dump of Table 3-1, the Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping, or your formula sheet.

Practicing with an exam simulator and talking to your colleagues and coaches will help you understand and practice these long scenario-based questions.

5. How can I manage my time on the exam day?

Four hours seems like a very long time and in the past students were often able to complete the exam comfortably within this time. Now PMP exam tutors learn from their students that the test seems to be taking longer. You can still complete it within the 4 hour window allocated, but students are reporting that it is taking the full allocation of time so they don’t have the opportunity to leave early.
This could be for any number of reasons, including that students are now better prepared and are marking more questions for review. It could also be that earned value calculations are playing a great part in the exam and for many students, they add additional time. Whatever the reasons, you do need to manage your time carefully on the day to ensure that you have enough time to finish without being rushed.

Once you get on top of your time management you have a much better chance of passing the PMP exam.

6. What’s the best approach for learning all the content?

The best approach for learning all the content (and there is a lot of it!) depends on your learning style. Some people learn best by reading and absorbing information in their own time. This allows them to make notes and create their own flashcards, for example. If that sounds like you, a PMP study guide would be a good starting point.

Other people learn best through visual means, and if that sounds like your preferred learning style then the best approach that you could possibly take would be to find yourself a world class set of video learning lessons which will provide you with all of the content on all of the processes, the framework, and the body of knowledge in a visual way.

Others learn best in an environment with other people. A classroom course or PMP exam tutoring in a group can be a good solution if you prefer to learn in the company of others. Of course, you also have the option to learn one-on-one with a study buddy (a peer who is studying for the PMP exam at the same time as you), a mentor or PMP coach. Don’t limit yourself to having to meet in person as there are online options that also give you the personal touch without physically having to be in the same location, such as coaching via Skype.

You may want to use a combined approach to suit your situation so mix and match your learning options until you feel comfortable that you have a study plan that meets your personal needs and preferences.

7. How many practice exams should I take and what score should I score?

How many exams you take depends on how much time you have! It’s more important to make sure that you have access to practice exams that provide you with questions that are known to be almost exactly like the ones on the real test. Try to find a source of questions that are highly regarded to be very realistic. When you get to a point where you are repeatedly doing simulated exams at scores of 80% or better you know you are ready go in and pass that exam.

Do you feel better prepared for your PMP exam knowing the answers to these questions? We hope so! As you can see, it’s very difficult to give definitive answers in some cases as every student is different. The main message is to ensure you dovetail all of this advice together, making sure that you are studying in the right way, learning on the right timeline, taking the test questions right, and getting ready for the exam. Good luck!
 

Posted on: May 05, 2015 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

The Project Manager's Dirty Little Secret (Hint: It's Made by Microsoft but it's not MS Project...)

Categories: PM PrepCast

Here’s a little secret for you -- everybody does it. At one point or another during their careers, every project manager will use Microsoft Excel to manage one of their projects!

That in itself is not surprising. After all, budgets are often tight and companies may not want to invest into full blown project management software. And if they have such a software there are only a limited number of licenses available, which means many stakeholders cannot access the tool. So we project managers make due with what we have. And practically everyone has Microsoft Office.

But what is surprising is the fact that we just improvise. We will simply use Excel to the best of our often mediocre knowledge in order to somehow force a project schedule into those cells.

Well... enter Doug Hong (http://www.linkedin.com/in/doughong/en) and his series of seven free Microsoft Excel tutorials, that you can find at http://www.exceltraining101.com/excel-project-management/. In these seven short videos Doug shows you how to use MS Excel and create professional Gantt charts, work breakdown structures, checklists, pareto charts and more. All for free.

And because I liked the free approach I decided to invite Doug and ask him when and how we should use MS Excel, what Excel features we should learn about to better use it for our projects, and how we can identify the moment in our projects when Excel is really no longer the right tool and we have to upgrade to something more solid.

Until Next Time,

Cornelius Firchtner, PMP, CSM

Posted on: March 30, 2015 05:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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