Breaking Down the Six Types of PMP Exam Questions

  • 27 July, 2022

In order to pass the PMP exam, you will need to be able to correctly interpret and answer a variety of exam question types. The PMP exam is much more than a test of rote memorization or basic knowledge. You will be expected to apply concepts to complex situations, apply mathematical formulas to project performance metrics, and even consider morally conflicting situations. When taking the exam, it is important to quickly recognize the type of question that you are being asked. Once you know this information, it will be much easier for you to recall the specific knowledge that you need in order to answer the question correctly. In this article, we will go through the different types of PMP questions that you will encounter on the exam and give you an understanding of how to approach each type.

Breaking Down the Six Types of PMP Exam Questions

1. Situational Questions

The majority of the questions that you will see on the exam (around 60%) will be situation-based questions. Situational questions will place you in the midst of a hypothetical project environment and ask you to determine what the best course of action is in a given scenario. These types of questions are considered to be the most complex and truly test your readiness as a project manager. Of course, that is why the majority of the exam focuses on these question types! Here are some tips to help you determine the correct answers to these types of questions:

  • Recall the project life cycle and determine the correct order of action. Often, the answer choices provided will all seem like appropriate answers to the question. You may find yourself thinking "all four of these things need to be done!" If this is the cause, ask yourself what should be done first or immediately, before any other actions are taken.
  • If any answers are obviously wrong, eliminate them. If you need to flag and come back to the question later, this will save you time.
  • Look for the most important information being asked for. Situational questions can sometimes be lengthy and will give extraneous information that is not needed to answer the question.
  • Identify what is missing in the process. Often you will find that a key project management activity identified in the PMBOK is missing; this can help guide you to the correct answer.

Simulate a wide variety of situational exam questions using EduMind's mock exams offered through the PMP Training course.

2. Formula-Based PMP Exam Questions

This portion of the exam is unique in the sense that you will be expected to rote memorize formulas in order to accurately recall which one to use. Generally, we do not recommend that you rote memorize information for the exam. Formulas are the exception, and there are almost 40 formulas identified in the PMBOK in total. That may seem overwhelming, but remember that many of the formulas overlap and not all are commonly seen on the exam. For help memorizing formulas and knowing which are the most important ones to know for the exam, make sure to look at our formula cheat sheet, which covers 25 of the most important formulas to know. You will need to do more than memorize the formulas, however. In order to correctly answer these types of PMP exam questions, you will need to know how the formulas can be applied to measure project performance.

Example Question

You have a project with a budget of 150,000 USD. To date, you have spent 20,000 USD and 15% of the work is completed. What is the Cost Performance Index (CPI)?

A) 5000
B) 0.833
C) -5000
D) 1.125


Cost Performance Index = (Earned Value) / (Actual Cost)
We must calculate earned value first. Actual cost is given.
Earned Value = 15% of 150,000 = 22,500
Actual Cost = 20,000
CPI = 25,000 / 30,000 = 1.125

Here, the answer is "D."

3. Definition-Based Questions

You will have at least a handful of questions on the exam that simply test your knowledge of the PMBOK and of basic project management concepts. Though there is no exact breakdown of how many questions are considered simple and how many are complex, these questions should stand out to you as relatively easy to answer. They test your knowledge of single concepts and will not ask you to apply them to real-life situations. When taking mock exams, you can use these questions as a benchmark to gauge whether you have the basics down on a particular topic or need to revisit a concept in the PMBOK.

Example Question

What is meant by RACI?

A) Responsible, Accountable, Confirm, Informed
B) Recommended, Accountable, Consulted, Informed
C) Responsible, Accountant, Consulted, Informed
D) Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed


The answer is "D" - Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed.

The RACI chart is an example of the Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM), which shows the relationship between activities and the team members.

4. PMBOK Knowledge Questions

These questions test your knowledge specifically on the project process. You will find questions on the exam that test your knowledge specific to the steps in the project lifecycle and/or certain procedures to follow during a process.

Example Question

There are 3 phases on your project. You just completed the first phase of your project and are ready for phase 2. Which process groups must you pass through before beginning the second phase?

A) Planning and Executing
B) Executing & Monitoring & Controlling
C) Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing
D) Planning, Executing, and Monitoring & Controlling


The answer here is "C," Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing.

A project may be broken out into multiple phases if it is complex enough to warrant. Formally, each phase of the project must perform activities in all process groups before passing into the next phase.

5. Interpretational PMP Exam Questions

These types of questions will require you to interpret a condition by applying multiple concepts to a problem. You may be given a performance metric, a graph, or a variety of data points in the question. You will then be asked to determine what these statistics mean in terms of project performance.

Example Question

If your project has a CPI of less than 1 and a SPI of greater than 1, how well is your project performing?

A) Under planned cost and ahead of schedule
B) Under planned cost and behind schedule
C) Over planned cost and ahead of schedule
D) Over planned cost and behind schedule


The answer here is "C," Over planned cost and ahead of schedule.

The Cost Performance Index (CPI) is a measure of cost efficiency. A CPI of less than 1 means that costs are over budget for the return of value on the project.

The Schedule Performance Index (SPI) is a measure of schedule efficiency. SPI over 1 means that the project is ahead of schedule for the amount of work completed.

6. Ethical & Professional Responsibility Questions

The Project Management Institute (PMI) is the organization that issues the PMP certification. According to PMI, "As practitioners of project management, we are committed to doing what is right and honorable. We set high standards for ourselves, and we aspire to meet these standards in all aspects of our lives; at work, at home, and in service to our profession." PMI expects you to follow a specific code of ethics and professional conduct as a professional project manager. Expect at least a few (3-6) ethics-based questions on the exam.

Example Question

You are the project manager of a project executing work under a contract signed with a buyer organization. Just after the project has started, you notice that the buyer organization had made a mistake in the financial terms and your organization stands to benefit considerably through this oversight. What should your stance be?

A) Do not take any action since a contract is a binding and legal document.
B) Discuss with your management on how you could gain a bonus due to the increased revenue your company stands to gain.
C) Informally check with your counterpart in the buyer organization to see if they have noticed this error.
D) Bring the error to the notice of the buyer organization and have an amendment made to the contract since this was in good faith.


D) Bring the error to the notice of the buyer organization and have an amendment made to the contract since this was in good faith.

Regardless of the type of question you are faced with on the exam, you can expect that you will be tested robustly on your knowledge of project management techniques and expertise in all areas of the PMBOK. The ability to quickly determine the type of question that the exam is asking you to solve for will help you narrow down the answers quickly and give you confidence in your answers. You should now have the tools that you need to answer questions correctly on PMP exam day.

About the Author: Madison Florian

Madison Florian is a content writer for EduMind, certified PMP and PMI-ACP. She received her BA in Economics from the University of Colorado and has experience as a project manager for a wide range of corporations, ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies. In her spare time, she enjoys reading novels by the fire, baking for her family and friends, and traveling to new places in her converted van.

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