Failed PMP Exam: 15 Cardinal Reasons For Flunking Certification Test

failed pmp exam

I feel very bad when I get messages saying “I have failed PMP exam now what should I do“. Sometimes professional fail twice or more also – 2-3 times or even more. Once I read experience of a person who had failed 4 times.

Do you know how many people flunk the PMP certification exam and what is the failure rate? No one really knows the failure rate except for folks at PMI. But that should not concern you. I have compiled top reasons for failing the PMP exam in this post so that you can avoid failure and pass the exam in your first try.

If you have already failed PMP Exam, you should not despair. It is true that a small percentage of aspirants do not succeed but it is not the end of the world. You might have failed the PMP Exam, but it does not mean that you are a failure. You must get up and study for the exam again. This post will provide you with right ingredients for passing the certification exam.

Why Aspirants Failed In The PMP Exam & How Can You Avoid It?

Over the years, I have trained thousands of students for the PMP certification exam. I feel happy when my students contact me and share the good news about passing the exam. They call or write just to share the news. Many of them go on to share their complete preparation experience with me. A few of them have published their preparation experience on this blog and/or on the Linkedin Group that I moderate.

It gives me a great pride to claim that most of my students succeed. But once in a while, I get to hear the bad news also. It is really painful when someone messages to tell me that she/he has failed the PMP Exam. But, one has accept her/his mistakes and learn something from them.

Over the years, I have developed a process on how to pass the PMP Exam in the first attempt. I made this process using my own teaching experience and the experiences collated from my students. Let me be frank here – my process does not guarantee success, but it certainly improves the chances of success in the exam. This post contains the gist of my process.

I believe, by avoiding the reasons for failure, you can taste success in your first attempt. So, here they are. Many aspirants:

1. do not read the PMBOK Guide or read it superficially

The exam is not entirely based on the PMBOK Guide, but the Guide is an important resource for passing the exam. You should read the PMBOK Guide at least once to increase the chances of your success. There are many good reference books and you can determine which one is the best for you. If you decide to study from a reference book, then you can either study it along with the PMBOK Guide or study the Guide after finishing the reference book. However, you should not skip the Guide. It is important to understand Guide’s terminology, concepts and language.

2. do not attend a formal training program

Some others attend a cheap training program for the sake of attaining 35 contact hours. By doing this, you can certainly save some money, but ultimately the cost of not attending a good training program could prove to be very high. I would recommend you to attend a formal classroom training course. A classroom course has many benefits over other type of courses.

Everyone may not be able to attend a formal classroom course. If the fee for a good classroom training is prohibitively high in your region or if a classroom course is not available in your region, then you should attend an online instructor-led training or an online self-learning course as you primary training course.

If you want to pursue an online course, then you should read my articles to find out the best instructor-led online training course and best self-learning online training course.

3. do not study in a focused manner

I have noticed that many people do not have study plan and/or schedule. They alternate between short study and long non-study periods for the reasons best known to them. You should not have gaps in-between your studies unless there is a genuine reason. Every time there is a gap, you would need to put in extra effort to re-ignite your motivation. I would suggest that you should prepare a time-table for yourself and study everyday without any breaks till the exam day. To achieve this, you should postpone your non-essential activities to a later date.

4. study mostly using free web-resources only

I am not against free web-resources. This blog is also free. However, not all free resources are equal – some free resources are good but many others have questionable information. Do not just google something and start studying from it. There are many resources on the Internet, which are not entirely correct.

You should study only from trustworthy sources. While studying, you can follow 2-3 independent blogs and do some free questions from reputed training companies. You can read my post on 3500+ free sample questions to access reliable free questions. I have reviewed some of these questions/sources but mostly these sources have been prescribed to me by my students.

5. do not solve enough practice exams

It is important that you solve many questions from reliable sources before you take the exam. As per my experience, you should practice at least 2000 questions before appearing for the PMP exam.

6. focus on ITTO more than the PMBOK Guide’s concepts

The PMP Exam is not about the Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs (ITTO) questions. Most of the Exam questions are situational questions. A pure memorization of ITTO is not helpful in passing the PMP Exam. You should not get overawed or unduly worried by the ITTO questions. If you feel jittery about them, then you can look at my post on 7 strategies to answer ITTO questions. You can also buy PMP ITTO Guide – it will help you in your exam preparation and boost your confidence. It is the most comprehensive guide that provides 55 helpful techniques to solve ITTO questions and solves a few example questions (taken from popular public sources) using these techniques.

You should definitely study the ITTOs, but do not get overawed by them. It is more important to use your study time judiciously and understand the PMBOK Guide’s concepts.

7. selectively read the questions or skip some important part of the question

I would suggest that you should read my article on how to answer the PMP questions to get a complete explanation for reasons VII-X.

8. interpret the question with some extraneous assumptions

9. do not read all the options as they believe that they know the right answer

10. do not recognize irrelevant or extraneous information in the question

11. do not do a full length 200 question test using a simulation software

It is important that you do a couple of full length tests and that too using a simulation software. By doing a full length test, you will get to know your concentration level, sitting capacity, speed, and accuracy over 4 long hours. In addition, you should try to replicate the exam center environment. You can achieve this by using a popular simulation software.

I would recommend that you look at PMP Exam Simulator by Cornelius Fichtner and PMP Practice Exams by Christopher Scordo, if you decide to invest in a paid PMP practice exam. For complete details about my recommendation you can look at my article that compares popular PMP exam simulators. You should also read my article on 13 reasons to invest in a paid practice exam, before you buy a paid simulator.

12. do not practice mathematical questions

You might get about 30-40 mathematical questions in the exam. These would include questions on Earned Value and Network Diagrams. To answer these question, you should have a complete understanding of the mathematical concepts and you must practice many questions. The key to success in mathematical questions is practice and more practice. You can use PMP Exam Formula Study Guide by Cornelius Fichtner to practice mathematical questions. It contains 49 formulas, concepts behind the formulas, 105 sample questions and a 14 day email course.

13. over-rely on personal experience

Personal experience usually does not help in answering the PMP questions. The PMBOK Guide is written in a certain way. You can use your personal experience to study and understand the Guide. But, you should avoid your personal experience while answering the questions – just stick to the words that are written in the Guide. You can read my post on Should I use my experience to answer the PMP questions for more details.

14. do not have English as their native language

All the PMI examinations are conducted in English. If English is not your native language, then you have a certain disadvantage. But this should not become your excuse for failing the PMP Exam. You should spend more time while preparing for the exam to overcome this disadvantage. You can read the reference material & the books one more time and practice extra questions. Only you can craft a strategy to overcome this disadvantage.

PMI does provide language aids (at no additional cost) to non-English speaking aspirants. You can request for your preferred language aid before the exam. These language aids translate English questions to your preferred language. Although they are available and you don’t have to pay anything extra, I would suggest that you should not use these aids. You may request them for the exam but try to avoid using them. During the exam you are in a crunch & stressful situation with a clock hanging above your head. You do not want to waste precious moments for translating an English question to your native language. It is better to be prepared upfront for the English exam.

15. take the exam even before they are ready

You should read my article Best way to determine PMP Exam passing score to check your readiness for the Exam. If you are not ready, then it is better to postpone your exam date (even if it means losing some money).

Final Thoughts

Even though the title of the post is a bit negative, I have not written this post to discourage you. I have written this post so that you can avoid the tag “failed PMP Exam”. As per my experience, if you study well and take care of the above reasons, no one can stop you to pass the PMP Exam in the first attempt. You should learn from others’ (who were not able to crack the Exam) mistakes and avoid them.

The key to success PMP Exam is 50% perspiration and 50% preparation.

You will have to perspire and you will have to prepare; no one else can do that for you. The PMP Exam is considered to be a difficult exam and it is. There is no easy way out. So, you need to study hard. But, at the same time, you must perspire & prepare in the right direction.

Bottom-line: A PMP aspirant should treat PMP exam as an “Opportunity” and “Enhance” the chances of success by doing the right things.

Over To You

Did this article help you in your exam prep? Would you change your prep process after reading this article? Which point do you think was most relevant? Please leave a comment.

Good luck to all the PMP aspirants.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links – it means that, if you buy from any of these links, then I will receive a small commission that would help me in maintaining this blog for free. However, for you, there is no extra cost. I recommend only those products that I believe will definitely help the certification aspirants.

Praveen Malik, PMP

​Praveen Malik ​is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) with a rich 23+ years of experience. He is a leading Project Management Instructor, Coach and ​Advisor. He ​has successfully trained thousands of aspirants for the PM certification exams.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Kristin Anderson Reply

I am impressed this blog for sharing this very important information. I hope some people will read this article.

    Praveen Malik, PMP Reply


Honey Young Reply

Thank you very much for sharing this very important information. This is totally helpful for those are planning to take PMP examination.

Sahil Reply

Thank you sir.

Daniel Reply

Really interesting what you posted here.More informative and very useful content.keep sharing

Syed Reply

going to write PMP exam next week.
As my application will expire on 01-Jun-16.

    Praveen Malik, PMP Reply

    Syed, All the best.

Sahana Reply

thanks Sir, this article is helpful!

Majid Reply

Sir what is your opinion about the new changes to the exam…any advice will be highly appreciated.

    Praveen Malik, PMP Reply

    There is a slight change in in the PMP pattern – the percentages for different domains have changed and Project Manager’s role is as per the new Role Delineation Study (RDS).

    You should look at following articles to understand the complete details.
    1. What are PMP Exam Changes for January 2016? (
    2. Frequently Asked Question on Change in PMP Exam (

    The pattern change happened in January 2016. But it should not bother an aspirant now. You just need to study the new study material and ignore the old material.

    However, even if you have old study material then also you should not worry. The changes are small. You can study the old material along with the new RDS. Other option is to attend a formal training again – 6 Reasons To Do A PMP Training Again (

    All the best

Latrice Reply

I failed twice. I stumbled on your post. Well written. I followed your points. I passed third time. Many thanks.

    Praveen Malik, PMP Reply

    Hi Latrice, Thanks for the appreciation. Good luck.

gaurav Reply

Sir ! In my last attempt, i lost it due to situation based (or scenario based) questions where more than one option seems to be correct. These questions are pretty subjective in nature. How to prepare for them ?


    Praveen Malik, PMP Reply

    Hi Gaurav,

    That is sad. But you will have better luck next time.

    Scenario based Q form the bulk of the exam. Did you read – how to answer the PMP questions? related to point VII-X above?

    Secondly, did you read – 7 strategies to answer ITTO questions related to point VI above? Scenario based Q cannot be answered without understanding the relationships between processes.

    Lastly, you should practice lot of Q. Don’t go for the exam unless you are ready for it. You should read Best way to determine PMP Exam passing score related to point XV above.

    Good luck.

Fleming Reply

Amazing content. Now this is what I call a full-on review. Thank you so much.
– From Tokyo

Marie-Claude Reply

I have followed 80% of what you have outlined.
And still failed the exam 3 times by a margin.

I have over 10 years experience in Project Management and still wonder what went wrong with my exam. I actually thought the questions were straight forward.

I’m not sure now. I’m really skeptical about all this.

My motivation for the PMP license is diminishing rapidly.

    Praveen Malik, PMP Reply

    Hi Marie, That’s sad. PMI want answers aligned to the PMBOK Guide. PMI does not want what you might have done in your projects. So you have to be very careful.

    You have change your prep strategy and study material if something is not working.

    Which 20% you did not follow? Were you able to identify RC of the failure? What did you do to improve the shortcomings in subsequent attempts?


Nidhi Reply


It’s a detailed blog with loads of info for anyone to grab & prepare. May I know if you have documented anything around the recent changes to PMP examination pattern? If yes do we need to change in the above strategies?


ammawilliam Reply

I think my confidence is boosted manifolds after reading this. I feel. I feel you can add PMP dumps to the list.

Praveen Lokesh Reply

Thanks for your valuable sharing,I hope this would be the best practices to pass PMP exam in first attempt.
Now, I am feeling positive.

Best regards,
Praveen Lokesh

Praveen Malik, PMP Reply

Good luck. Do share your experience when you pass the exam. BR, Praveen.

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