3 critical skills for managing multiple projects

How The PMP Exam is Changing in 2021

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Updated: July 2020

It’s widely known that the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam is changing in January 2021, but what exactly is going to be different?

Whoah, the exam is changing? I didn’t know. How did that happen?

OK, so maybe it’s not that widely known.

Every so often PMI carry out an assessment of what a project manager does all day. In the past these have been Role Delineation Studies (RDS). This time, they are talking about a Job Task Analysis, but from what I can tell it’s basically the same thing.

In other words, PMI (or more specifically, the agency contracted to do this work) look at what a project manager actually does day-to-day and link this back to the qualification.

If they didn’t, you’d find that the PMP exam was still based on the ways of working we had back when the certification was first introduced.

This latest analysis from PMI has shown, as is to be expected, that the project manager’s role has evolved. Plus PMI want to put more emphasis on Agile ways of working. The exam is being updated to reflect that.

When is the PMP® exam changing?

It was going to change at the end of 2019, then 1 July 2020. That was to give all the training and e-learning providers time to prepare for the change, plus notice for candidates who would rather take the exam under the current arrangements.

Then a global health pandemic struck.

Now the date for your diary is 2 January 2021.

31 December 2020 is the last day to take the test under the current version so if you are currently studying and you don’t want to have to think about these changes, crack on and book your exam before then.

What is changing?

There are currently 5 knowledge domains. This is changing and in the new exam content outline, there are only three. These are:

  • People – this new domain is going to emphasis the skills to do with effectively leading a project team
  • Processes – this is where all the technical PM skills will sit
  • Business Environment – this domain joins the dots between projects and strategy, which is something I have been talking about for a loooong time… so it’s great to see that the exam is finally catching up with what we all know is important for our roles.

As you can see, the exam content looks very different to the current exam content outline, where the knowledge domains are basically the project lifecycle.

Each new domain is made up of a number of tasks (in the same way the old exam content outline was).

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How questions are split on the new exam

Questions across the domains are going to be split like this:

PMP exam content outline domains

OK. Anything else changing?


PMI states that today’s project managers work across projects taking place in a variety of environments. As such, the exam needs to reflect the “value spectrum” (whatever that is) encompassing predictive, agile and hybrid approaches.

In other words, expect to see situational questions on the exam that are set in each of those types of environment. Questions on each environment will be included in the three exam domains.

It is not a case of the process domain having all the agile questions, for example. How I understand it is that each domain will have questions drawing from predictive, agile and hybrid approaches.

Sounds fun.

How much agile is in the exam?

PMI says we should expect to see:

More approaches to delivering outcomes. The exam will cover both predictive (approximately 50%) and agile/hybrid (approximately 50%) approaches to project management.

So, quite a lot of agile.

Do you need agile experience to take the exam?

Not technically, no. The exam eligibility requirements are not changing.

But I expect you’ll find the agile and hybrid questions a lot easier if you have experience working on agile projects.

What do I need to do?

First, don’t panic. It sounds very different but your reference materials are still the same. The PMBOK Guide – Sixth Edition has never been the only book you need to get through the exam and that stays the same. You’ve got the Agile Practice Guide too.

If you are clear about the concepts described in there, you have covered a lot of the material.

Second, get yourself a copy of the exam outline. This is the document that outlines exactly what is going to be in the exam. If you are comfortable with the topics in here, then you’ll be fine with the questions.

Third, if you can (and want to), schedule the exam as soon as you can. If you can study and pass the exam before 31 December 2020, none of this new stuff needs to matter to you. You’ve still got time. Get a PMP prep course and start learning how to pass the exam right now!

Of course, you might want to wait for the agile-improved version of the PMP certification, especially if your employer values agile and it’s a way to demonstrate you have skills in that domain.

(Having said that, does your employer really know what the exam tests you on??)

Finally, if you are planning on taking the new exam, make sure you use updated materials. At the time of writing (July 2020) new exam course materials are not available from any vendor, so watch out for when they become available next year.

Meanwhile, practicing with an exam simulator is still my preferred option for getting exam ready, whether you are taking the exam before or after January 2021.

I imagine it’s going to take PMI an incredibly long time to update the full bank of questions used for exams, so my guess is that some of the current questions will also appear on exams after January 2021, at least for some time (I haven’t asked PMI about that, it’s just my thoughts).

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Should I be worried about PMP exam changes?


People have been studying for and passing this exam for years. 2021 might bring a few tweaks, but ultimately if you study, use good PMP prep materials (like this course), take practice exams and feel ready, you’ll be fine.

The changes might feel like a big shock at the moment, but hopefully in time they will feel like a natural evolution of the role. Take some practice exams to build your confidence and then go for it! Good luck!

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She helps managers juggle their projects and ditch the overwhelm, making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including Engaging Stakeholders on Projects: How to harness people power.


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