So, You've Failed Your First Attempt at the PMP-What Now?

  • 24 August, 2022

If you are reading this article, chances are that you have failed your first attempt at the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam, and you are probably not feeling great about it. First and foremost, relax and take a deep breath. It's going to be alright. Though you may feel like this is the worst possible outcome, it's not. The PMP is a difficult exam, and although PMI does not disclose exactly what the failure rate is, we know that many fail on their first attempt. The good news is that it is more than possible to recover from a failed PMP exam attempt. This guide will show you how to do just that and prepare you to retake the exam with much more confidence.

So, You've Failed Your First Attempt at the PMP-What Now?

1. Facing the Practicalities of Failing the Exam

When faced with failure, no matter the context, it is valid to get emotional. It is perfectly fine to feel frustrated or disheartened after receiving a failure on the PMP exam. Even so, it is important to look at the practical costs of failing the exam so that you can determine what your next steps are.

  • PMI will allow you to retake the PMP Exam three times in a one-year period. That means that you have two more opportunities to retake the exam.
  • If you have failed three times, you must elapse a one-year waiting period before you can attempt the exam again. You will have to go through the application process again.
  • The cost of reattempting the PMP is $275 for members ($375 for non-members), which is lower than the first attempt exam fee.
  • If this is your first PMP exam failure, you may reschedule the exam at any time. That being said...

2. Give Yourself Time Before Rescheduling Your Exam

You should not attempt to retake the exam immediately after failing. In fact, I would even advise against resuming study immediately after you fail the exam. You may feel as though you need to study vigorously in order to keep everything fresh in your mind. This can quickly devolve into feeling like a form of punishment and may result in unproductive studying. Keep in mind that you will likely not see any of the questions that you saw on your first exam attempt during your second exam attempt. Instead of feeling like you need to hit the books right away, take a step back from the exam. Busy yourself with something else for a few days, clear your head, and destress. You have up to a year to retake the test - there is no need to rush into it.

That being said, you should not take time to "destress indefinitely" - you do not want to lose sight of your ultimate goal: passing the PMP. Set a date that you will pick yourself up again and resume studying for the exam, and stick to it. Do not prolong this "mourning period" - remember, it's just an exam, and you can recover from this! Hopefully, when it is time to jump back in, you will feel refreshed and ready to tackle the exam from a new angle.

3. Keep a Positive Mindset

When you are ready to come back to studying for the exam, do so with a positive mindset. Now that you have taken the exam, you know what to expect for next time. Visualize how proud of yourself you will be once you pass the exam, and have faith that you can bring that dream into reality. Remind yourself of what went well when you were studying the first time. Above all, trust that your raw exam scores are not an indicator of your competency and intelligence as a project manager. There are plenty of project managers who are great at their jobs and fail the PMP on their first attempt. Passing this exam is as much of a test of your exam taking strategy and ability as it is of your knowledge of project management. Let go of the idea that failing the PMP means that you are not a good project manager - it is simply not true. With this in mind, develop a new test taking strategy, and focus on exam preparation.

4. Review Your Exam Score Report, and Adjust Your Study Plan Appropriately

When you are ready to begin studying again, the first thing that you should do is review your exam score report. It is important that you understand where you were Above Target (AT), at Target (T), and Below Target (BT) in each domain of the exam. This will help you determine where you need to focus your study efforts. The exam is focused on People, Process, and Business Environment - it's likely that your exam preparation was lacking in one of these knowledge areas.

Note that you can tailor your Study Plan with the help of EduMind's Personalized Study Plan tool, which is included in the cost of your PMP Certification Class.

5. Focus on Taking Mock Exams and Understanding Complex Questions

Another reason that you may have failed the PMP Exam is that you knew the concepts that the exam tests on, but were unprepared for the question formatting. When studying to retake the exam, put special focus on taking simulated PMP exams. EduMind's PMP Certification Training offers comprehensive mock exams to help you prepare. In addition, consider trying to find free questions online to get a diversified view of the types of questions you might see on the exam. You will not find any full length PMP mock exams online for free, but you may be able to find quizzes or sample questions online.

When reviewing answers to PMP mock exam questions, take enough time to truly understand why your answers are wrong. When looking at a question that you have previously answered, your brain is likely to have memorized what the correct answer is. This teaches you very little and will not be helpful come real exam day. Rather than focusing on getting answers right on a retake, you should know:

  • Why the answer given as correct is better than the other answers provided
  • How to reword the question so that one of the other answers may be a better fit
  • How this question could be applied to other scenarios

If possible, try to answer mock exam questions that you have not answered before. As a general rule of thumb, aim to score at least 70% on these mock exams. Answering new questions is the only way to truly gauge your preparedness for the PMP exam.

Note that getting 70% or higher on a mock exam does not guarantee that you will pass the exam - this is just a guideline for preparedness. PMI does not disclose the percentage of questions you must get right to receive a passing score.

6. Consider Test Accommodations

If you think you may have failed the PMP exam due to the stress of being in the testing environment, it may be applicable to consider whether you need test accommodations. It is possible that you failed your first attempt at the PMP due to test stress, but disability, handicap, or other conditions could also impair your ability to take the exam. At no additional cost, you may request your testing center to accommodate your needs. Test accommodations are subject to the approval of PMI, but if you believe that this may be applicable to do, you are always welcome to ask.

Note that all special accommodations must be requested prior to scheduling the exam! Consult the PMP handbook for more information.

7. Prep for Exam Day

When it comes time to schedule your new exam date, follow these tips to ensure you are setting yourself up for success:

  • Use the same testing center as your first attempt, if possible. This way, you already know what to expect. You will know where to go, what to do at the front desk, and where to find parking. It's just one less thing to worry about on exam day.
  • Eat something before you take the test. Taking a test that lasts over three hours on an empty stomach is not a great idea! Fuel your body before you head into the exam.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Take breaks. The allotted PMP Exam breaks are optional, and you can opt out of them if you like. However, if you have already failed the test once, you should strongly consider taking the allotted breaks. You'll want to have a clear head for each section of the exam, and you should not feel as though you need to get through the test as quickly as possible. Choosing to skip the breaks will not give you more time on your exam to answer questions, so it can do nothing but benefit you to take a moment away from the computer screen to breathe and recollect yourself for the next section.

I hope you can see that failing the PMP does not have to indicate the end of your journey to the certification. Plenty of great project managers fail the PMP on their first attempt but go on to pass it later on. Have faith in yourself and do not lose hope. The PMP exam is difficult - give yourself the grace to acknowledge this, and then pick yourself back up even stronger than before. With enough determination, know that you can Pass the PMP!

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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