Do you have trouble memorizing things? You know that you need to have a number of formulas, acronyms, process flows, and definitions memorized before you take your PMP® or CAPM® Certification exam but your brain just doesn’t work that way. It would be great if you were allowed to bring in a “cheat sheet” which has all those things listed on it so you can reference it during the exam but that is forbidden. So what can you do? You can learn how to make a “legal” cheat sheet.
Although you can bring nothing with you into the testing room that doesn’t fit into your brain, that doesn’t mean you can’t create the cheat sheet once you are seated at the workstation. As you enter the room, you are handed a few sheets of blank paper and some pencils. If not, ask for them. PMI permits you to have these things. Then, once you are comfortable in the chair, pull out the paper and start doing a brain dump. Dump everything onto those pieces of paper that you have trouble remembering: formulas, definitions of acronyms, whatever. I had a student tell me she dumped the entire contents of page 61 (of the 5th edition of the PMBOK Guide®) onto one of her study sheet. She found it very helpful to be able to look at the names of each process and see what process group and knowledge area each belongs to during the exam.
Is there really any value in creating this cheat sheet? Yes, it takes away some of the pressure. You will most likely be stressed about taking this exam when you walk in. The brain cells you are using to stress-out are then not available to help you remember these details. That brings on more stress. It’s a vicious cycle. Also, your brain will become tired of thinking at some point during that four hour testing period. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to know you can refer to your notes so you don’t have to remember so much? Trust me, this works!
Great but if I am having trouble memorizing these things in the first place, how am I going to be able to produce this cheat sheet so quickly? The answer – practice. Then practice some more. You can start with someone’s “list of things you should memorize before you take the exam”. You can find them everywhere. Almost all PMP® exam study guides publish one. The problem with a pre-printed list is that it will not help you during the exam because you can’t bring it into the room with you. So, look at the list and try to memorize as much as you can. Put it away in a drawer, walk around the room a couple of times, pull out a blank sheet of paper, and then write down as much as you can remember. Compare your results to the original. You won’t do very well at first but the more you practice, the better you will get. Always give yourself a couple of minutes between studying the original sheet and reproducing it. That will more closely emulate the real exam experience.
Better yet, don’t start with someone else’s list – create your own! As you go through the PMBOK Guide®, write down the formulas, acronyms, and process flows that you are having trouble remembering. There may be some items that you know so well that it may be a waste of your time to write them down. Once you know them, you know them and won’t forget them during the exam. However, only you know what you are struggling with. Write those things down. Then once you have your perfect list put together, use that as your basis for your on-the-fly cheat sheet. This method has the added benefit of making your book reading time more productive. You might actually learn something new while you are doing it! Just remember to keep practicing this until you spend no more than five minutes producing this cheat sheet. That might be all the time you have before you need to start your exam and you don’t want to spend any precious examination time on this effort.
In closing, don’t just read the PMBOK Guide® and take practice exams when studying for your test. Incorporate the repeated creation of this cheat sheet. Keep doing it – even after you have it correct. It will increase your confidence and reduce your stress level when you sit down to take the real exam. And that will be worth the extra effort now.
Your comments or questions about this article are welcome, as are suggestions for future articles. Feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author: Ms. Barbara J Zimmerman started working in the Information Technology industry over 30 years ago and has project management and training experience in a variety of fields. She is PMI certified as Project Management Professional (PMP®), Schedule Management Professional (PMI-SP®), and Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP®). Ms. Zimmerman develops and instructs Project Management courses for Key Performance LLC. For a more detailed biography, please refer to www.keyperformance.com