Taking the PMP exam : now … or later ? - Written by Didier Estibals - Blog

Taking the PMP exam : now … or later ? - Written by Didier Estibals

The PMP® exam format will be changing drastically on the 2nd of January 2021. It was originally scheduled to change this month (June 2020), but PMI® took the decision to extend the current format until the 31st of December 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is changing?

From next year, the 200 multiple choice questions will be grouped in three domains, namely:

  • People (42 % of the questions)
  • Process (50 % of the questions)
    • Business environment (8 % of the questions)

    At present, these 200 questions are grouped in five domains, namely the five process groups described in the PMBOK®:

  • Initiating (13 % of the questions)
  • Planning (24 % of the questions)
  • Executing (31 % of the questions)
  • Monitoring & Controlling (25 % of the questions)
  • Closing (7 % of the questions)

  • I suspect that the current grouping is somehow useful to exam takers: if you can figure out which process group a question is referring to, you are more likely to select the correct answer as a result. As far as I now though, PMI® is not planning to publish a new version of the PMBOK® reflecting the structure of the new exam at any time in the future, leaving aspiring PMP® candidates with a gap to fill.

    To be fair, I have to recognise that, over the years, the PMP® exam questions seem to have evolved away from pure 'PMBOK® knowledge', i.e. knowledge of the book content (such as process inputs, outputs and tools & techniques) to more 'real-life', situational questions. A bit of caution at this point though: this is only a personal opinion, it is only based on feedback from people who have taken the PMP® Exam over the last 20 years. But it seems to me that the importance of the intimate knowledge of the PMBOK content in the PMP® Certification process is slowly fading away. Please do not take this as an official PMI® policy, it certainly is not … even though I sometimes wish PMI® had a clear, documented policy on this matter!

    My point is: the PMP® Exam in its current format has been around since 1996, and although the PMBOK® has evolved during this time, the structure of the exam has remained the same. So there is a huge amount of knowledge and resources available out there to prepare you for the exam in its current form. There is no comparable knowledge or resources available to prepare you for the new, upcoming exam yet. With the new exam, there is an increased probability you will be walking into the unknown.

    Don't get me wrong: walking into the unknown is sometimes necessary, and may yield great benefits: I somehow understand why PMI® is changing the PMP® Exam structure: to reflect the fact that the world in general, and the Project Management world in particular is changing fast, always heading towards more agility. I may not like it, because it forces me out of my comfort zone, but I don't have a choice in this matter. So I would rather embrace it sooner rather than later.

    But in the case of the PMP® Exam, if you are not fully ready to embrace these changes right now, you have an opportunity to take the 'old' exam until the end of this year. You just need to keep a couple of things in mind though:

  • Do not underestimate the effort required to complete the enrolment process : some people sometimes describe the enrolment process itself as 'a big project', due to the amount of information you have to provide. So if you really want to take the exam before the end of this year, go to to the PMI® web site and start the enrolment process now !
  • Seats at exam centres may be limited as a result of the combination of the 'last minute rush' effect (other people may rush to take the exam before the changeover deadline too), and the business lockdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. PMI® has somehow mitigated this by offering the PMP® exam online recently though. But in my view, it may not eliminate the last minute rush completely, so beware!

  • What is not changing?

    Other exam characteristics remain the same :

  • the exam is time limited : 4 hours, not a second more;
  • the exam is still made of 200 multiple choice questions;
  • for each question, there are four possible answers, and candidates must select one answer and one answer only;
  • choosing a wrong answer does not result in a negative score.

  • For those of you who wish to learn more about the exam, check the PMP® Exam Content outline documents (Current1 and Updated2) on the PMI® web site. The links are provided at the bottom of this document.


    If you find yourself locked down at home, with a bit of time on your hands, now may be a good time to go for the PMP® Exam : go to the PMI® website, create an account if you don't already have one, start the enrolment process by filling the corresponding application, submit it, schedule the exam, study, and go for it. Personally, I take the view that if you have experience in Project Management, and you study properly for an entire week (5 full working days), there is no reason why you would not pass. And remember, once you are enrolled, you are entitled to three attempts at the exam anyway !

    If, on the other hand, lockdown is already over for you, and life is back to its normal busy self, you may consider postponing taking the PMP® exam for now. Just ask yourself though : is life likely to be less busy next year ?

    1 - https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/certifications/pmp-examinationcontent-outline.pdf?v=149cfab8-bd04-4b7b-bacf-c4b1c5e2d164

    2 - https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/certifications/project-managementprofessional-exam-outline.pdf?v=6c1b35af-231d-481f-9522-efe6c46e2636 

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    Mr. Andrew Peters, PMP
    Sunday, 25 February 2024