Top 10 Reasons for Failing the PMP Exam

The PMP is a very important certification to have in the United Arab Emirates, whether you are looking for a better opportunity or a more fulfilling responsibility at your workplace, this certification will definitely help you achieve the same. PMP exam is considered a difficult exam. Every year many people fail the exam. No one knows how many people apply for the exam or what the failure rate is PMI does not provide any statistics. Some experts estimate that failure rate could be as high as 40-50%.The reason for me to write about the reasons of failure for the exam is to help aspirants avoid the pitfalls when they do their preparation.

There is no intention to scare you away from your journey. I want you to understand the reasons behind the failure so that you can develop an approach for attaining PMP certification.In last few 10 years I have conducted many PMP workshops and have imparted 35 hours education to thousands of students. Most of my students, who take the exam, become PMP certified. However, a minuscule percentage of candidates do not get through. This has given me an opportunity to analyze the reasons that lead to failure. Let us discuss the top reasons.

Top 10 Reasons for Failing the PMP Exam

1) PMBOK Guide

Many aspirants dread reading the PMBOK Guide. They either read it casually or skip it altogether. You would find numerous study guides in the market but PMBOK Guide is the most important reference point of study. It is PMI’s publication and there is no substitute for it.  The format of the questions depends entirely on the language written in the Guide.

2) Ignoring the Exam Content Outline

Many aspirants have never opened the Exam Content Outline (ECO). They believe reading the PMBOK or any other study material is good enough to pass the exam. The exam outline has clearly stated that the PMP exam is an examination of your abilities to perform certain tasks per Domain (not process groups) as mentioned in the ECO. The PMBOK is divided into Knowledge Areas, not Domains. You should always analyze if you have the ability to perform these tasks mentioned in the ECO.

3) Selection of the Training Academy for the 35 Hours Mandatory Training

35 hours of formal education is mandatory to apply for the exam. Although there are options available online, the best way is to go for a PMP workshop. Many aspirants do not give important to this workshop as they think it is a formality towards the application process. I think you should think of it as an investment and not as cost. The selection of the training center is an important one. Reach out for those institutes that focus on PMI Certifications, have dedicated student support and more importantly a trainer/faculty who is a practitioner of the subject.

4) Attend a PMP Exam Course not Project Management Training

It is very important to understand the difference between the two. PMP Exam Prep course focuses on the exam content outline and helps you with tools and tricks to help clear the exam. The course should be build on knowledge required, understanding of domains, trips and tricks to help answer the questions and a clear road-map to pass the exam. Generic Project Management Training helps acquire a good understanding of the exam but may not necessarily help you pass the exam.

5) Customized Learning Plans

Every student is different and so are their abilities and constraints. One learning plan does not fit all. If one student works flexible hours the other student may get face a daily traffic situation for over 3 hours, so it becomes mandatory for the training institute or the faculty member to device a learning plan that is suited to that student. While this may seem hard work, it is what prep courses and counselling sessions are for. I firmly believe that many students who do not clear the exam fail due to wrong mentor ship and lack of confidence due to the missing learning plans.

6) Free Study Material

There is a lot of free study material available on the web. Many aspirants use this as a primary source of study. While some free material is good, but a lot of it is old and sub-standard also. Secondly free study material does not give you an upper hand as almost every other aspirant studies from it. You should complement the free material with some reliable paid material. I would recommend Oliver Lehman’s Prep Guide as one of the best ever written guides on PMP Exam. Rita Mulchaly comes next for me.

7) Mock Tests

How does one know that she/he is ready for the exam? By steadily scoring well in the mock tests. PMP is a tough exam and it requires deep study. The study should include book study as well as solving sufficient number of mock tests. Unfortunately many aspirants just read the book and do not do enough tests. Before taking the exam, you should do mock questions from 3-4 different sources. I would recommend Rita Mulcahy’s PM Fast-track Simulation Software. It’s the best that is out there.


Many people believe that learning PMBOK Guide’s ITTO is the most important part of the exam prep. They think that they will definitely pass the exam by cramming the ITTOs. The bulk of PMP exam has situational questions with an odd ITTO question thrown into the mix. You cannot pass the exam unless you conceptually understand the underlying project management concepts.

9) Personal Experience

The PMP exam is based on the PMBOK Guide. It is a test of project management concepts and theory as described in the Guide. Many experienced project managers fail to appreciate the concepts explained in the Guide. They think that their experience has taught them everything. They think that what worked in their real life would work in the exam as well. This doesn’t always work in the exam.

10) English Language

The PMP exam is administered in the English language. It is a handicap for many non-native English speakers especially in the UAE which is has a majority of Arabic speaking people. It is important to note that the PMBOK has been written in multiple languages including Arabic. It becomes important for you to read the PMBOK in the language of your choice as the exam questions will relate to the same vocabulary. Also make sure that you select the language support option during your application process.

This is my analysis of reasons of student failing the PMP Exam based on my 10 years of teaching on this subject.

I hope this blog will improve your chances of cracking the exam.

Good luck.

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