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How to Answer Project Management Formula Questions

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Project management formulas are definitely going to show up on your PMP exam. These questions are quick wins for easy points on your exam. If you know the PMP formulas, working out the answer is straightforward. there is only one right answer.

However, we know from talking to many, many students, that it’s hard to remember formulas. They are often the questions students get wrong when taking mock exams in their PMP exam simulator. Maybe you haven’t had to study math since your school days. There are a lot of calculations to recall and if you don’t have to use them routinely at work, many of them will be new to you.

We’re here to tell you that there are strategies you can use to improve your recall and knowledge of the formulas.

In this article we’ll share top tips for learning the formulas and also techniques for improving your chances of success in the exam itself.

Tips for Answering Formula Questions in the PMP Certification Exam

Here are the tips:
  1. Study the right PMP exam formulas
  2. Make a learning plan
  3. Make a formula sheet
  4. Make a PMP formulas cheat sheet
  5. Make your own flashcards
  6. Know how to apply them
  7. Practice using them at work
There are lots of types of PMP exam questions and formulas are just one type you need to prepare for. Let’s dive into the tips first and then we’ll share some bonus strategies for answering formula questions on your exam day.

Study the Right PMP Exam Formulas

Over the years, PMI has updated the formulas required for the exam. Make sure the resources you are using reflect the most recent version of the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) so you are studying the correct information.

Make a Learning Plan

It might feel like you’ll never get to a point where you know and understand each and every formula, as well as the variations, concepts, terminology, use and value.

But with a learning plan, you can take just one small step every day and practice, practice, practice. You'll soon find that the calculations start to come naturally.

The best way to get confident using project management math formulas is to use them regularly. Review them and do sample calculations or questions every other day for two weeks. Take a week off as a break and then repeat for the following fortnight.

As you get closer to your exam date, be sure to answer at least one formula-based question every day. Spaced practice is better than mass practice. The more you repeat this practice, the easier you will find it to use the formulas.

Make a Formula Sheet

One part of your learning plan should be to make a formula sheet. This is simply a list of all the relevant formulas.

Write down the calculations (try to keep them on a single page). Use this page as part of your regular studies.

Make a PMP Formulas Cheat Sheet

The next study resource you can create is a cheat sheet. This is more than simply a list of the formulas. A cheat sheet includes details about what the formula is for and what the outcomes represent. It’s a more detailed set of notes about the calculations. You can use it to jog your memory if you can’t remember what formula to use in what scenario or how to interpret the results.

Make Your Own Flashcards

The third study resource we recommend is creating flashcards. You can buy them, but many students prefer to make their own as the process of making flashcards helps you to remember and recall the information on them.

Use small notecards or cut some cardboard into a convenient size. Write the formula on the front of the card. Write your explanation and notes on the back. Ask your family to hold up a card and you will tell them what the formula is and when it is used -- or test yourself!

Know How to Apply Them

The best PMP students know that exam success relies on more than simply being able to recall the formulas. You also have to know how to apply them in a given situational question. That could include:
  • Apply two formulas: you might have to do this if data you need is missing from the scenario and you have to work it out as an interim step to the ‘real’ answer
  • Interpreting the output of a formula and commenting on the result
  • Choosing which formula is most appropriate to use in the scenario: for example, there are multiple ways of calculating Estimate At Completion (EAC) so you have to spot keywords in the question to choose the right approach
  • Choosing the relevant data to apply in the formula (and ignoring irrelevant data in the scenario)
Make sure that you know all the earned value management formulas backwards, forwards, inside and out. PMI loves to ask earned value questions!

Practice Using Them at Work

The formulas can seem very theoretical unless you have practiced using them in real life. Even if your job doesn’t require it, why don’t you try to work out the Planned Value, or use TCPI to calculate the cost performance?

Put your new knowledge to use and you’ll soon see the benefit of the calculations. This can really help with understanding why you would choose to use one formula over another and can help you select the right data to use as inputs

Tips for During the Exam

Finally, here are some quick tips to help you use the formulas for project management during the PMP exam.

Use the on-screen calculator

When you’ve practiced the calculations often as part of your studies, you may be able to do the math in your head. However, take a cautious approach and make use of the on-screen calculator that is available in the exam system. Avoid any “silly” errors by checking your calculations.

Calculate your answer first

Read the question carefully and then work out your answer from the data given. Then -- and only then -- check the answer choices and see if your response is on the list. If it is, great! Choose that answer. If it isn’t, go back and make sure you have properly understood what the question is asking. Review what you did and see if you can spot where you went wrong. Then try to work out the answer again and choose the correct response.

Tip: During your PMP sample exams, the mock test should give you the answer as well as the explanation for each correct and incorrect response. Why use a PMP exam simulator? Knowing why an answer is right is just as important as knowing what you got wrong! This is one of the top benefits of exam simulation software as it really helps students understand the theory behind each response.

Substitute words for the correct terminology

Exam questions will sometimes use common or generic terms instead of the “official” name of the formula. Even questions for the earned value management formulas may not use the terminology you are used to seeing. However, use your project management knowledge to infer what the question is asking for. Think about what is being asked, and look for the key data points. Then you can more easily choose which formula to apply.

The format of the answer choices will help you too: if all the answer choices are a financial value, then you know the question is not asking you to calculate SPI or CPI, for example.

If in doubt, guess!

Let’s say you come across a really tricky question. You can’t see what formula is being asked for and you can’t deduce anything from the answer choices. What should you do?

Just guess!

It’s a multiple choice question. If you truly have nothing to go on and can’t come to a calculated answer, eliminate any response that is obviously wrong and make an educated guess between the selection that remains.

The exam does not penalize you for incorrect answers, so you will not lose anything by guessing -- and you might get it right!

PMP Formulas PDF: Download Sample Questions

The easiest way to find enough formula-based, professionally-written exam questions is to sign up for an exam simulator.

Why not check out the PM Exam Simulator and practice with some of the free questions? You can download 21 formula-based free PMP sample questions.

Click to download this PDF document with a good number of formula-based questions. Test your knowledge right now!

The PDF download document has two sections:

Section 1 - Self-Assessment Questions: The difficulty level of these questions is easy to medium. They are intended to measure general understanding of formula concepts.

Section 2 - Answers and Explanations: In this section we repeat the question and then give you the answer, explanation and a reference where you can read up on the topic.

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