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Situational Questions

For many the idea of committing all or most of the PMBOK® Third Edition (or Fourth Edition) to memory seems a daunting task. Unfortunately, just committing this information to memory will not be sufficient to get you past the PMP® examination.

PMI have scientifically set the examination to test the candidates ability to use their project management knowledge to solve a project related problem or situation. The PMI calls these "situational” questions. The difference between these and questions that test your memory is one of depth, not breadth of knowledge. It’s not enough to know the various inputs to a process; you also need to be able to identify the best source of information to suit a specific situation.

Here’s a specific example to illustrate what we mean. Keep in mind that the question we pose here isn’t taken from the actual exam; we’re creating it here to demonstrate our point. "You’re managing a software development project using Java to enhance an existing system. The system was created by your organization and has gone through many releases. You’re planning the project work and need to create your risk register. What would your best source (documented) of risks be?”

a) The PM Network magazine

b) Your project’s Lessons Learned library

c) The project’s Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

d) The risk register from the last project done to enhance the system

Now you can toss the answer a) out immediately. The PM Network magazine has nothing to do with your project and won’t help you. Answer c) is also not appropriate: the question asks for documentation and Subject Matter Experts are not documents. Answer b) is documentation and is a valid input to the Risk Identification process (it’s a type of Organizational Process Asset); so is answer d) (and it’s also a type of Organizational Process Asset). So how do you tell which one is the correct answer?

Notice that the question specifically asks for the best answer to the problem. That’s your indication that there could be more than one correct answer. So let’s compare the 2 correct answers. Your project may have gathered some Lessons Learned during the initiation and planning phases but it’s unlikely they’ll be of much assistance to identifying the risks of your project. Lessons Learned are gathered after work has been completed, not before. On the other hand the question tells you that there are risk registers from previous projects which are very similar to the one you’re doing now. This would be a much better source of risk information. The best answer to this question is d), the risk register from the last project done to enhance the system.

We’ve made the hints very obvious in this question ("What would your best source of risks be?”) to better illustrate our point. You need to read the question carefully to understand the context it’s asked in, which includes identifying the project phase (again we’ve made the phase obvious to illustrate our point). Understanding how the information is used in Risk Identification is the key to identifying the correct answer. In this case you’re looking to create a list of risks as opposed to updating an existing list. Obviously if there were a list that would be appropriate for your project available you’d be better off starting with it than creating it from scratch, and in this case there is.

There will also be questions on the exam which will simply test your memory. For those questions, it’s enough to remember process inputs, outputs, tools, and techniques so make sure you become very familiar with the PMBOK® (or AceIt© manual) before taking the exam.

We’ve attempted to provide the same mix of memory based and "situational” questions in our PMP® Exam Preparation software, AceIt©. Our test questions, which accompany each module in the training manual and our exams, have a mix of these and we feel that mix will help you pass the exam on the first try. To find out more about AceIt©, just click here. AceIt PMP Exam Preparation Tool