Take the Test Already
I spent the spring preparing to take two exams.
I had been thinking for a while about becoming a Project Management Professional. To do this requires passing a difficult certification exam. But after stepping into a management role last fall, I began to see the PMP certification as an important vehicle to strengthen my program management knowledge and skills, which would in turn enable me to provide better guidance and advice to my team.
As the pandemic wound down, I decided to take the exam. I started by taking a course on IT project management. This course had previously been considered a preparation course for the PMP (before the test changed versions on January 1 of this year), but still contained relevant information related to the exam. The class was composed of lectures that spanned six booklets packed with hundreds of pages. I set out to learn the information, studying nearly every day for six weeks before scheduling the associated exam: my Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) Certified Project Manager (GCPM) exam.
I have never been confident in my test-taking abilities. I struggled with taking exams in high school, due to bouts of test anxiety. In college, my test-taking abilities improved—but my anxiety about tests remained. I didn’t know if I would be able to pass the GCPM exam. It is four hours long with 150 questions. The minimum passing score is 70 percent.
I channeled my doubts and negative self-talk into preparation for the exam. I was studying for two exams at once, both the GCPM and PMP, and doing my best to retain the information. I used every tool at my disposal. I made flashcards, read textbooks, studied the GCPM material, wrote out definitions, and took sample tests. I did whatever I could to be ready for both exams.
The day of the GCPM, I was nervous. I knew the material but was concerned that the questions would be complex. Thankfully, I passed with a score of 89 percent. The GCPM also served as excellent preparation for the PMP.
I spent a few more weeks studying for the PMP. Eventually, at the urging of my wife and members of my team, I scheduled the exam for the Friday before Memorial Day. My hope was to get the exam out of the way so that I could enjoy the holiday weekend.
When I talk about my book with audiences, I often speak about the concept of scars. Scars can be physical (like mine), but they can also be emotional. We all carry scars from our experiences. Oftentimes, we carry our scars with us even into professional settings. My lack of test-taking confidence affected my outlook on my exams. My scars (accumulated from previous test-taking experiences and reinforced during my academic years by the comments of others) made me doubt whether I could tackle this challenge. Taking a hard exam is challenging enough. Adding my scars into the equation made it even more daunting.
I was presented with a choice. Either I could shy away from the challenge, and allow the negative self-talk to win out; or I could face this challenge head-on, and channel my nerves into preparation. I chose the latter. Thankfully, that choice paid off. As I took the PMP exam, my confidence grew. I could hardly contain myself after finishing the exam and seeing the “Congratulations” screen. A few hours later, I received my score report. I passed the exam with “Above Target” in all three areas.
To any of you who may be struggling with a test (or another challenge), I hope my story encourages you. I graduated with a degree in Government and International Politics and knew little about project management at the beginning of my career. Yet I used that fact as motivation to keep going, to learn all I could so that I could achieve my professional goals. If I can do it, so can you, no matter how you feel about your abilities or past experiences. Don’t let your scars prevent you from becoming all that you can be.
Samuel Moore-Sobel is the author of “Can You See My Scars?” His book is available on Amazon. To read more of his work, visit www.samuelmoore-sobel.com