PMP Exam: Memorization vs Knowledge

Filed under PMP | Posted by PMStudent

I received an email yesterday asking about ITTOs (Inputs, Tools & Techniques, Outputs) in relation to preparing for the PMP exam.

They were asking a question I get all the time from people worried about having to memorize all of them.? Your own lessons learned may differ from mine, but here’s what I think about this topic.


Seeking Real Knowledge

Personally, I didn’t worry about memorizing.? In fact, I actively tried to avoid memorization because I feel it detracts from acquiring actual knowledge.

I avoided mnemonic devices in particular.

Think about the planets in our solar system and the mnemonic devices many teachers and students have used to try to memorize their order from our sun.? Does that impart real knowledge about our solar system?? What if students learned about each planet in more depth, and in context to the relationship to the solar system as a whole?? I’m talking about planet formation, moons, composition and density, atmosphere, temperatures, speed and axis of rotation, orbital cycle time, etc.? Then ask why was it formed this way?? Why does it have that many moons?? Did they come from impact ejecta, or are they a captured asteroid?? What makes the planet so hot – oh, it’s the distance from our sun and the level of CO2 and other compounds in the atmosphere?? Cool!? I wonder what it would be like to stand on the surface….

Does it take longer to really be educated about a topic this way?? Absolutely!? Can you say the students who learned a mnemonic device and so can recall the order of planets on demand like a Pavlovian response really know anything about our solar system?? Probably not.

This is a big reason why I’m against “boot camps” in the PMP study process.? All you can do in such a short period of time is create temporary memorization tactics, the human brain needs more time to really understand something like the PMBOK framework.

Perhaps trying to memorize works for some people, but I personally focused on internalizing concepts and didn’t worry about trying to be able to recall specific items by rote. I am terrible at trying to memorize anything by rote anyway. It’s a multiple-choice test and while it’s not easy, I think if you feel confident about the concepts and understand the framework as a whole you’ll probably do fine.

Seek to Understand Why

I think my main strategy was asking “why” with just about everything I listened to in the PMPrepcast. If I didn’t know the answer, I listened to it again and/or referenced the PMBOK guide with the mission to find the answer to “why”.

I disagree with many points in the PMBOK Guide and would do it differently if I were involved with the creation of it.? This disagreement with a focus on understanding instead of memorization actually strengthened my ability to recall subtle points.? Even if I didn’t agree with the answer I found when I asked “why is the PMBOK guide saying this?” I still understood it thoroughly.

Once I understood “why” everything started to make intuitive sense and I didn’t have to worry about memorization.? You could call it trying to know the minds of the team who created and updated the PMBOK Guide.

My $.02