Demystified: How the PMP exam is changing in 2021

pmp exam 2021 Jul 10, 2020


The Project Management Institute (PMI) has announced they are changing the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam effective January 2, 2021. Many people currently studying for the PMP exam or planning to do soon -- are concerned the changes to the PMP exam will dramatically alter the nature of the exam and significantly change the way people have to study to prepare to take the PMP exam. Many PMP exam candidates are working to take the PMP before the changes are instituted.

Basis for Exam Changes

Every three to five years, the project management Institute does assessments of the day-to-day responsibilities of project managers called the RDS or the “Role Delineation Study”.  During the last major assessment in 2015, PMI described it as a job task analysis. While the assessment processes were similar, PMI found the PMP exam in current form, did not discern accurately enough, if people who passed the PMP exam were qualified to become project managers. So, PMI decided to put a new exam in place.

How Will the New PMP Exam Be Different?

One major change to the PMP exam is it will reflect the new, more agile ways of working and how the project manager's role has evolved to encompass all of this. The new PMP exam will also change from having five knowledge domains to only three:

  1. People (42%) – A new domain that emphasizes effective project team leadership skills.
  2. Processes (50%) – Testing for mastery of the necessary technical PM skills.
  3. Business Environment (8%) – Linking the actual projects and the strategy chosen.

The new exam content will look dramatically different from the outline of the current exam content. In the past, the knowledge domains basically dealt with the project lifecycle. In the new PMP exam, each new domain consists of several tasks.

As previously stated, the new exam is based on role delineation studies or job task analysis which PMI performs periodically as stated in the new PMP exam content outline. The result of these studies utilized knowledge and task driven guidelines to assess the competence of the PM and try to determine how important and how often each of the knowledge, tasks and skills should be performed.

The exam domains have been modified to be more in relations to other PMI certifications, for example the People Domain.  The role of the project manager has transitioned from ‘large and in charge’ to that of a ‘servant leader’ and we see a large percentage of the exam is now focused on the soft skills related to not just our team but also the stakeholders who are such important resources to every project.

Each domain has a set of tasks and these are the underlying responsibilities of the project manager for each domain. The tasks also include sub ‘enablers’ that roll up into the tasks. 

New Question Types

In addition to the new exam content, PMP Candidates will also now face dramatically different styled PMP question types.  All PMP Exams in the past had only one type of question on them, Multiple choice.  The new exam will include new types such as;

  1. Drag and Drop
  2. Fill in the blank
  3. Multiple choice, single answer correct
  4. Multiple choice, multiple answers correct
  5. Multimedia video/audio followed by scenario question


Candidates who have invested money in the old study materials and are currently working to master the material related to the old PMP exam should quickly schedule a time to take the exam. Its recommended candidates studying the old material schedule their PMP exam by the end of October 2020. The last date to take the current PMP exam is December 30th, 2020, and there will be many people rushing to be able to schedule a PMP exam in November and December.

Okay so let’s summarize the key take aways related to the new exam coming in 2021.

  • The PMP Exam is no longer primarily only based on the PMBOK Guide.
  • The exam goes from nearly 100% waterfall to a 50/50 split (across all 3 domains) between Agile and Waterfall
  • Challenging new question types are being added and no longer will the PMP Exam be only multiple-choice questions.
  • People taking the current version of the exam should try to finish by November if possible

Some final good news!  I have created a free interactive training course that lets you analyze new ECO hierarchy.  Sign up right HERE.  Course becomes available 7/15/20.

For any questions about this article feel free to contact Dan Ryan

Dan Ryan

[email protected]

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