FAQ - How to Conquer the Wording of the PMP Exam Questions

Warning: I taped this just before Halloween. There is one scary scene.


The people who write PMP exam questions are kept in a cold, dark cave in the back woods of Pennsylvania. They are nearly starved. No Wi-Fi. No 4K TV. They are trained to write questions so difficult that no human can answer them correctly. Their goal is to make you fail your PMP exam. They cackle when you fail. (My membership in the Portland Storytellers Guild is paying off.)


PMI volunteers write the exam questions. They start out with a straightforward question and answer. Then, they start twisting the questions. 

The real challenge to finding the correct answer

It's easier than you think.

If you know what the question is really asking, then you know the correct answer. Your real challenge is to reverse the twists made by the authors of the questions.

trap #1: "not"

Sometimes, when we read a question, our brain skips over certain words. Here's an example:

Question: Mary lives in Vancouver, in Clark County, Washington. In which state does Mary not live?

A. Oregon

B. Washington

C. Utah

D. A and C

The correct answer is D.  If your brain skipped over the word "not" in the question, your answer would be B, and you would be wrong.

The Cure

Read every word of every question. Speed-reading kills.

trap #2: mis-reading words like "Project" and "Product" 

You are in the exam room. Stress is a little high. Your eyes read one word, but your brain swaps it out for another word. Here's an example:

Question: A product life cycle may include many __________ life cycles.

A. Product

B. Project

C. A and B

D. Neither A nor B

The correct answer is B. It comes right from the PMBOK. If your brain read the word "product" in the question, you might have chosen D as your answer. 

The Cure 

Words like "product" and "project" are easy to skim over. Thoroughly read each word in the question. 

Trap #3: Identifying the real question within the story problem

PMI's volunteers have been trained to write long, complex story problems whose real question is the first or last sentence. If you don't identify the real question, you won't easily identify the correct answer. Here's an example:

Question: Mary lived on a hill. It was a steep hill. It was near the town of Vernonia, halfway between Portland and the Oregon coast. Mary had a dog named Spot. Spot ran fast, all the way north to Alaska. When a stakeholder asks you to change the due date of your project, you should...

A. Have them fill out a Change Request Form.

B. Refer them to your project sponsor.

C. Plant trees in the forest near Vernonia.

D. Follow Spot to Alaska.

The correct answer is A, because the real question is the last sentence of the story problem. If you got hung up with Mary, Vernonia and Spot, at least two of the answers won't make sense. 

The Cure

Read every word of the story problem, to determine the real question. Don't be distracted by long, convoluted story problems.


These are three of the many traps you will find in the story-problem questions of the PMP exam. You can conquer them easily, by closely reading each question.