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PMP Boot Camp Training – Why Not?

by Josh

PMP Exam: Understanding Versus Need For Memorization

I am learning American Sign Language (ASL) right now.

My ASL II course final was last night. It was difficult, but I think I did OK.

You may not know this, but ASL is it’s own language. With learning any new language, there are standard things like sentence structure unique to the language, vocabulary, etc. And it brought to my mind the topic of understanding versus memorization on something that may be of interest to you, the PMP exam.

Memorization

There is a place for memorization of course. Especially with things like vocabulary, sometimes it really is just a matter of practicing and memorizing enough so your brain automatically knows what’s going on.

There’s a foundation that needs to be laid first in order to know a concept fully.

Although in many cases a deeper understanding of why, the origins of the item being learned, or connecting it in some way with a related item are better ways of retaining knowledge.

Are there things on the the PMP Exam is like vocabulary in a language, something that might be learned through memorization? Something people may want to try to memorize without bothering to deeply understand it?

Many people think the Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs (ITTO’s) can or should be learned this way.¬†Many people think formulas can or should be learned this way, and that’s good enough.

I disagree.

Understanding

I have no problem with flash cards or other tools to help as a basis for becoming familiar with things like ITTOs or formulas. The only thing I have a problem with it stopping there.

Here’s what happens when you stop at memorization and don’t seek a deeper understanding.

  1. You lose the knowledge almost immediately afterward. But maybe you’ve passed your test. Congratulations, but you’ve shorted yourself.
  2. Any opportunity for making yourself better as a project manager has been thwarted. Continuous improvement comes through improved understanding and knowledge, not memorization.

Boot Camps Are Bad

This is why I discourage people from PMP ‘boot camps’. In my opinion, these short-term cram sessions can only be focused on memorization, because deep understanding takes time.

If you really would like to be with a group of people in person to help you study, many PMI chapters have study groups that run over the course of months meeting weekly or more often. These are great, and give you the room and time you need to truly gain a deep understanding of the concepts involved with the body of knowledge. You are going to have to study hard outside of the meetings though, because otherwise you aren’t giving yourself enough time to deeply understand. A few hours outside of class for every hour in class is a good rule of thumb.

The same goes for if you purchase the online PMP study course I bought when I was studying for my PMP. It’s going to take months to go through it properly and give yourself enough time to develop a deep understanding.

And you need to be curious. When you don’t really grasp a concept fully, go online and do your own independent research on the topic. That curiousity and independent quest for knowledge is going to be the thing that really drives your own self-improvement and professional development.

Don’t do the minimum, and don’t look for an easy shortcut. Seek mastery.

Leave a Comment

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Chet Frame April 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Great post, Josh!

I teach frequently and this is a key point – people try to approach preparation for certification exams as the first step in gaining an education. They feel they don’t have time to “really” learn the material. I point out that the Certification means they have a specified level of knowledge, not just the recall of memorized pieces! They don’t hear that part of my class. :-(

Thank you yet again.

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Josh April 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Exactly Chet. You can either decide to go for mastery, or just try to get by. I know which one of those types of people get ahead in their careers, and I know which of them I like to hire.

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Adam Searcy April 14, 2012 at 11:18 am

Easier said than done, but you’re right. It seems like I am often a little behind the curve myself. Whether it wasn’t until Calculus III that I really finally UNDERSTOOD Calculus I, or whether it isn’t until year 10 of my career that I really understand some of the techniques that my old boss from years 3-5 used. It takes much more time than it does to understand than to memorize. That is why the short cut is so tempting.

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