5 Myths (Busted!) About the New PMP® Exam Changes

by Sara Gallagher, PMP | July 25, 2019

These changes are big…but misunderstood by many.

Even before the new exam content outline was released in June, myths and misunderstandings abounded related to the PMP® exam changes. In our years of working with PMP® credential seekers, we often hear things like:

  • “I was told you only need a 61% to pass.”
  • “You can’t score Below Target in a domain and pass the exam.”
  • “My test prep book said passing the test requires memorizing the Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs.”

As expected, this new exam content outline release has brought with it a whole new crop of questions and misconceptions. But first, the BLUF (bottom line up front):

These changes are big! We know this much: the new exam will look substantially different from the old, including way more questions situated in an agile (vs. traditional/predictive) context.

One of the toughest aspects of any exam change is that PMI provides limited information, even to Registered Education Providers (R.E.P.’s). For example, for many years now PMI has chosen not to publish a “passing score” for the exam. (This is partly because PMI no longer uses a single pass rate across exams; rather, it uses psychometric analysis to determine a passing score for your exam, given the difficulty of questions drawn from the database.)

When you have questions about the exam or how it is administered, you can verify the facts by checking:

In the meantime, here are a few myths about the new PMP® exam changes worth addressing now:

Myth #1: The new exam is based on the PMBOK® Guide, 6th edition.

The PMBOK® Guide is a key source for the exam, but PMI exams are not specifically based on it or any other PMI standard. While the PMBOK® Guide is a key reference for the exam, it is not the only one. This exam outline, in particular, seems to depart from the structure and form from the PMBOK® Guide in a way we didn’t see in the last one. Check out this verbiage from the newly released exam content outline:

“Finally, there are noticeable differences between this updated PMP® Examination Content Outline and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition. While there are some commonalities, it is important to note that the volunteer task force involved in the study described previously were not bound by the PMBOK® Guide. The task force members were charged with outlining critical job tasks of individuals who lead and direct projects based on their experience and pertinent resources.” (pg. 1)

So, if the questions aren’t directly taken from the PMBOK® Guide, where do they come from?

I love this explanation provided to R.E.P.’s by PMI in their September 2018 newsletter, via Klas Skogmar (R.E.P. Advisory Group):

“All PMI certification exams change in one of two ways: when the standard or practice guide used as a resource for the credentialed exam comes out with a new edition (lexicon only change), or when a role delineation study takes place (exam content outline change).

Questions on the examination are not written by PMI. Instead, they have been written and extensively reviewed by qualified PMP® certification-holder volunteers and tracked to at least two academic references. These questions are mapped against the PMP® Examination Content Outline to ensure that an appropriate number of questions are in place for a valid examination.

… A set of questions is selected [for a given exam] from a large database of questions that have been approved overtime. Questions in the database are being constantly tracked, measured, and evaluated to ensure that they have proper difficulty and relevance for the certification. Over time as questions are delivered more times and their difficulty decreases, old questions are phased out, and new ones enter the certification exam.”

So, while it’s true that the PMBOK® Guide, 6th edition is a valuable resource (and the correct version to study), do not make the mistake of believing that reading it cover to cover will prepare you for the exam.

Myth #2: The process groups are going away.

In the previous (current until December 15, 2019) exam content outline, the exam domains (i.e. subject areas) had the same names as the five process groups covered in the PMBOK® Guide: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing.

In the new exam content outline, the domains were adjusted so that they align more closely with The PMI Talent Triangle® (which is used as a professional development guide for PMP® credential-holders) rather than the Process Groups. The new exam domains are: People (42%), Process (50%), and Business Environment (8%).

This is a significant change, but a long overdue one. It acknowledges that we should evaluate aspiring PMP® credential-holders along the same domains that we seek to develop after certification.

That said, it is important to internalize that the process groups are not going away. They are still important to know for the 50% of the exam that is tied to Process, and they are still a key part of the PMBOK® Guide (the main exam reference.)

Myth #3: 50% of the exam will be questions about agile methodologies.

Strictly speaking, this is not what the new exam content outline says. The difference is subtle but incredibly important. Here are the exact words from the outline:

“The research conducted through the Job Task Analysis validated that today’s project management practitioners work in a variety of project environments and utilize different project approaches. Accordingly, the PMP® certification will be reflective of this and will incorporate approaches across the value delivery spectrum. About half of the examination will represent predictive project management approaches and the other half will represent agile or hybrid approaches. Predictive, agile, and hybrid approaches will be found throughout the three-domain areas listed above and are not isolated to any particular domain or task.” (pg. 2)

This verbiage does not say that 50% of the questions will be about agile or hybrid approaches; it says they will represent agile or hybrid approaches. 

This means that the question could be a scenario which takes place in an agile environment, but which is actually about your ability to determine an appropriate feedback approach (People – Task 3). This is still a huge change from the old exam, but it is important to recognize this distinction because it influences how you should study, and how instructors should create their prep courses.

Myth #4: Since the exam introduces the Business Environment as a domain, you need to read PMI’s Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide.

This falls under the category of “may be true,” but likely not. It certainly doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with these concepts, both on an exam preparation and professional development level. That said, many of the relevant tasks and “enablers” from this section are also addressed in the PMBOK® Guide- Sixth Edition. Additionally, this domain represents only 8% of the exam.

Bottom line? It’s probably more worth your time to peruse the Agile Practice Guide, and/or take an exam prep course to help you integrate content from all three sources (and the general Body of Knowledge not captured in these three sources.)

Myth #5: The new exam will contain substantially fewer questions about process than the old exam.

There is little solid evidence that this is true, so be careful if you hear someone suggest it is. While we know that 50% of the new exam will cover process, we don’t know how many of the questions on the old exam were considered “process” questions.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that questions directly testing ITTO knowledge have seemed to decrease steadily year over year, in favor of questions that blend the “people” and “process” elements using a situation or scenario.

Therefore, it seems just as likely to me that this “change” simply reflects what was already a reality on the exam, and what is already reflected in the tone and content of the PMBOK® Guide- Sixth Edition.

Are you having trouble debunking fact from fiction with the new PMP® exam changes? Let us know your questions. If there’s an answer to be found, we’ll chase it down for you!

Do you want to prepare to take the test before it changes? Enrollment is open for our PMP® Exam Prep classes on September 9-13thOctober 28th – November 1st.

The Project Management Professional (PMP), The PMI Registered Education Provider logo, and PMBOK are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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