I get to help people with all kinds of questions about their project management careers, and I absolutely love doing it.
I offer and recommend training to teach general project management knowledge, career coaching, and to help with things like PMP certification.
But what happens if you fail the PMP exam?
It’s Not All Puppy Dogs And Rainbows
I’ve noticed a higher number of people than usual contacting me who have failed the PMP exam, asking what to do next.
My guess is that more people rushed to take the exam before the August PMP exam changes, even though I advised not to.
And they weren’t ready for it.
It can be a devastating blow to your ego anytime you fail at something. So let me give some tips about dealing with it, and moving forward.
Step 1 – Mindset
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
First, stop beating yourself up about it. It’s probably a good idea to take a break from studying for a bit too and give yourself some space and time to get your head right.
I’m a big believer that we learn the most when we fail, if we have the right mindset about failure. If you failed at nothing, would you ever have succeed at anything?
“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
In fact, I think it’s healthy to view failure as something you should expect to do now and then. Sure, try to avoid it if you can.
But it’s no good beating yourself up about it once it’s happened.
Pick yourself up and move forward with your new insights.
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Focus on lessons learned and trying to objectively assess what you could have done better…more specifically, what you will do better next time.
This is where the next step comes in, assessment.
Step 2 – Assess
Once you are approaching this from the right perspective, it’s time to ask yourself some tough (but very useful) questions.
Memorization vs Understanding
Do you feel like you truly understand the concepts and find them easy to recall; or do you feel like what you are doing is mostly memorization?
When you were studying and listening to the PrepCast, etc. – did you find yourself asking questions like “but what does that really mean” or “I don’t understand, I need an example?” – I feel you should have these types of questions popping up all the time while studying…and then take the time to go answer those questions for yourself.
I think you’ll find that once you allow yourself to ask questions about anything and everything you are uncertain about, after you are finished answering them you’ll feel you REALLY know and fully understand the content.
When you get to that point, passing the exam is easy – because now you are pursuing mastery, not merely a passing score.
Did you struggle with particular areas, or in general?
Be honest. Did you just not get risk management at all, or need a better grasp on the concepts in general? What do you feel your primary areas to work on are?
Was your preparation sufficient?
Describe in detail what you have been doing so far to prepare….how have you been using the materials? How confident were you in your knowledge (true understanding of the concepts) and how did you ensure your confidence was warranted? Don’t make this a question about how much money you spent – I’ve seen people spend thousands and get nothing out of it, while others spent less than a few hundred and were fully prepared for mastery, not just passing.
Is English your native language?
I have heard that for people who have English as a second language, the test can be difficult even if you understand the content very well. If you feel that a language barrier was the primary reason why you struggled with the exam, try to explore what exactly was tripping you up about the language.
Are you just not good at taking tests?
Some people are just better at taking tests than others. It’s true. And the questions in the PMP exam can be confusing, even ‘trick’ questions. You can do things to get better at taking tests though. For example, during the exam get up and take short breaks often. Especially for those of us who get mondo-stressed about taking any kind of test, sitting still for hours is just not conducive to performing well.
Step 3 – Plan Your Comeback
Once you have forgiven yourself for failing and seen it as a way to learn and grow, and you’ve assessed what you can do better going forward it’s time to make a plan.
It’s going to depend completely on your assessment. Do you need more (or better) study materials? Do you need to focus on a particular area? Perhaps you just need to try again, with a focus on mastery instead of memorization.
Whatever it is, make a plan. Write it down in concrete terms. Schedule your new exam date, even if it’s far out in the future.
Step 4 – Execute
Now you are approaching the PMP exam with a whole new outlook.
If you don’t feel like something significant has changed in your approach and understanding of how to prepare for the exam, stop. You’ve done something wrong.
Don’t use the same approach and mindset you did last time. That’s the definition of insanity.
If your assessment didn’t come back with some actionable things you can do differently, you were not being honest with yourself. Go back to step 2, or even step 1 if you haven’t forgiven yourself yet.