Tag Archives: PMI Credentials

The Psychology of Effective Learning

We are always looking at the best options for our course design to help people learn the masses of material needed for the PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP examinations in particular.  A report published on the 9th January by the Association for Psychological Science, written by Professors John Dunlosky, Katherine Rawson, Elizabeth Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan and  Daniel Willingham, suggest most of what we do in our PMI courses aids effective learning (read the report).

Teaching and learning are interrelated – a successful examination outcome requires good materials, good teaching techniques and effective learning on the part of the exam candidate;  but people lean in a variety of ways and have different learning preferences. This post and the referenced reports highlight the most effective learning options.

Learning styles

The term learning styles refers to the concept that individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study is most effective for them. Whilst there are many different models of ‘learning styles’, they all basically include variations on these three modes:

  • Visual learners have a preference for images, they ‘think in pictures’ and like visual aids that represent ideas such as graphs, charts, diagrams, symbols, etc.;
  • Auditory learners learn best through listening to lectures, discussions, tapes, etc.;
  • Kinesthetic or tactile learners prefer to learn via experience – moving, touching, and doing things to ‘build experience’.

These styles are overlaid with a person’s preference for learning is a social or solitary environment and how they absorb and process the information through reflection or other options to create a complex web of possibilities:

Learning styles

There is plenty of evidence that, if asked, people will express preferences about how they prefer information to be presented to them. There is also plentiful evidence arguing that people differ in the degree to which they have some fairly specific aptitudes for different kinds of thinking and for processing different types of information. Derived from this starting point, the most common hypothesis about the instructional relevance of learning styles is the meshing hypothesis, according to which instruction is best provided in a format that matches the preferences of the learner

However, there is very little evidence to suggest this ‘meshing hypothesis’ is valid. Whilst we try to include elements of all three styles in our courses, a person’s preferred ‘learning style’ is not a measure of effective instructional design: see: Learning Styles Concepts and Evidence http://psi.sagepub.com/content/9/3/105.short.

Learning techniques

Techniques are partly instructional design and partly student behaviour. However, unlike ‘learning styles’, there is a significant body of literature evaluating the effectiveness of learning techniques. From this large resource, the Dunlosky report examines ten of the most popular learning techniques to assess whether the technique’s benefits generalise across four dimensions:

  • learning conditions (e.g., studying alone vs. studying in a group),
  • student qualities (e.g., age or ability),
  • materials (e.g., scientific concepts, historical facts, mathematical problems), and
  • the criterion tasks on which learning is measured (e.g., essay tests that require transfer of learning, multiple-choice tests).

The report’s conclusions rate each technique from high to low utility on the basis of the evidence the author’s amassed:

Study options

The least effective techniques

Highlighting, underlining, rereading and summarizing were all rated by the authors as being of ‘low utility’:

  • Highlighting and underlining led the authors’ list of ineffective learning strategies. Although they are common practices, studies show they offer no benefit beyond simply reading the text. Some research even indicates that highlighting can get in the way of learning because it draws attention to individual facts, which may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences.
  • The practice of rereading is common (and to a degree essential) but it is much less effective than some of the better techniques you can use.
  • Summarising, or writing down the main points contained in a text, can be helpful for those who are skilled in the practice, but again, there are far better ways to spend your study time.

More effective techniques

Techniques in the middle ground are better, but not especially effective and were rated of “moderate” to “low” utility by Dunlosky et al because either there isn’t enough evidence to be able to recommend them or in other cases, the strategy has been shown to work in some situations but not in others. These include:

  • Mental imagery, or coming up with pictures that help you remember text. This practice is time-consuming and only works with text that lends itself to images (eg, for McGregor’s Theory X, Theory Y imagine a lazy person laying on the X axis of a chart);
  • Mnemonic, using words, phrases or images to link more complex ideas. A mnemonic aims to translate information into a form that the brain can retain better than its original form; for example:
    –  Learning the French word for key, la clef, by imagining a key on top of a cliff;
    –  Using the letters of a word to spell out the first letters of a process; SMART = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-framed (applied to objectives or delegations).
    –  Using a phrase to remember a sequence. For example, to memorise the colours of the rainbow, use the phrase Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain – each of the initial letters matches the colours of the rainbow in order: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.
  • Self-explanation and elaborative interrogation were shown to be reasonably effective in experimental studies. Elaborative interrogation involves students ask themselves why the information they are reading is true; and self-explanation is where students explain some procedure or process to themselves. But, the effectiveness of the techniques depends on how complete and accurate your explanations are;

The Best
Learning strategies with the most evidence to support them, rated as having “high utility” by the authors, include distributed practice, and practice tests.

  • Distributed practice and interleaved practice. This tactic involves spreading out your study sessions. Learning can occur quickly under massed-practice conditions and is an efficient way to teach, but hundreds of studies have shown that distributed practice leads to more durable learning. Certainly cramming information at the last minute may allow you to get through a test, but the material will quickly disappear from memory. It’s much more effective to dip into the material at intervals over time and mix up different types of problems and learning. This is core to our course design – topics are taught in blocks (unavoidable for intensive courses) but each test and revision element always covers a range of subjects covered to ‘this point’. Interleaved practice (in which bouts of study for one topic are interleaved among study for other topics), seems promising in some situations, but lacked the general utility of distributed practice and retrieval practice via testing.
  • Testing – but not for a grade. Research shows that the act of recalling information strengthens that knowledge and aids in future retrieval. Again, practice testing is central to our course design and there is robust evidence supporting its value!
  • Flash cards are a good option for implementing distributed learning and testing. We offer a free ‘daily flash’ via Twitter, see: https://twitter.com/PMPQuestions; and our PM final on-line simulator can be used in a similar way and possibly the best option – make your own. We are exploring the concept of ‘electronic flash cards’ – watch this space.

So in summary, the authors recommend you spread out your learning, ditch your highlighter and get busy with your tests and flash cards.  And you do need to practice!

We all know we have to practice a skill to get better at it, but the improvement we’re aware of making is only part of what’s going on. Well past the point when we think we’ve ‘got it’, continued practice allows our brain and our muscles to become more accurate and efficient in carrying out the task, using less energy to do so. As decathlete Daley Thompson said “An amateur practices until they get it right, a professional practices until they cannot get it wrong!”  And lastly, the easiest way of all to improve implicit learning is sleep. Research has shown that during sleep, the brain identifies meaningful patterns in our memories from the preceding day and makes them stronger and more permanent.

A final thoughts: studies from 1901 onwards have shown that learning is context specific. Practicing memorizing one type of material (eg, lists of words) may improve performance on memorizing similar lists (the phenomenon of learning to learn), but the benefits of such practice will not generalise to learning other materials. If you want to study for a multi-choice project management exam, your training and study needs to be focused on that challenge. For more thoughts and ideas on learning see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1028_The_Art_of_Learning.pdf

PMBOK Health Warning

Health Warning:  Do not attempt to read the PMBOK and drive!

Animal tests undertaken by Mosaic show that reading a single chapter of the PMBOK can induce a state ranging from drowsiness to deep sleep; with the effect on younger animals being significant.

PMBOK-Health-2

Similar effects have been observed from exposure to PMP training materials in the office……

PMBOK-Health-3

As a result of these and other ‘real world’ observations, we recommend any prolonged exposure to the PMBOK and any associated training materials be restricted to either the safety of your own home, or a carefully controlled classroom environment under the supervision of a qualified trainer.

Notes:

  1. No cats were injured during this study.
  2. We have designed our courses to minimise the effects identified in this study.
    1. For more on our classroom training see:  http://www.mosaicproject.com.au/
    2. For more on our Mentored email training see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Training-Mentored.html
  3. Apart from Note 2, this post is simply a gratuitous excuse to publish some really cute cat pictures sourced from: http://pulptastic.com/29-photos-cats-sleeping-weirdest-places-positions/  we hope you enjoy the other 26 pictures.

PMP and CAPM Certifications now accepted as a route to PRINCE2 Practitioner

From 1st July 2014, AXELOS, the joint venture company that has taken over responsibility for the PRINCE2 credential, will recognise the PMP and CAPM qualifications as acceptable alternatives to the PRINCE2 Foundation qualification.

Previously, passing the PRINCE2 Foundation qualification was a mandatory requirement for sitting the Practitioner level exam (although most people did both exams on the same day). From July AXELOS will recognise qualifications awarded to Practitioner candidates by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the International Project Management Association (IPMA).

The Foundation qualification is a relatively straightforward 75 question multi-choice exam with a 50% pass mark so whilst welcome, this concession by AXELOS does not in any way suggest equivalence between the qualifications.
For more on the various project management certifications available see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF_Papers/P138_PM_Credentials_Aus.pdf

Our Mad March sale is over

IMG_9605Our Mad March sale is finally over but our world-beating prices remain for 2014 with our guarantee to beat any comparable price by $50.

Our fully catered, 4 and 5 day classroom courses for PMP and CAPM  are $1397, no more to pay (GST included).  See: http://www.mosaicproject.com.au/

Prices for our Mentored Email™ self-paced distance learning courses for PMI-SP, CAPM and PMP depend on your location and your selected options.

  • PMP Mentored Email courses – available world-wide from $680: see more
  • CAPM Mentored Email courses – available world-wide from $600: see more
  • PMI-SP Mentored Email courses – available world-wide from $520: see more

 

Understanding your PMP Score

– Updated –

PMP, CAPM  and PMI-SP scores are all based on how well you answer multi-choice questions in your exam.

Unfortunately, the information provided to candidates at the end of their PMI exam is minimal. You are told if you have passed or failed based on the number of questions correctly answered (but the passing score is a secret) and you are told if your score is below average, average or above average against a limited number of ‘domains’ or PMBOK® Guide chapters in the case of CAPM. But you are not told what average represents, how it relates to the passing score, or how wide the average band is. In reality the only option is to be happy if you are in the 70% to 80% who pass and talk to your training provider if you have failed. You cannot get anything additional out of PMI.

During your training the situation is (or should be) very different!

Almost every training organisation offers its PMI exam candidates sets of questions to help consolidate their learning – we build our courses around lots of regular tests.  If the tests are well designed they use the standard 4-option multi-choice question format used by PMI and provide feedback to the trainee on the number of questions correctly answered and detailed information about the answers to all of the questions. We do, and so does everyone else I talk to.

However, what many people don’t fully appreciate is the effect of the four options in the PMI multi-choice format and why a score of 55% is definitely in the ‘fail’ category! The cause is the fact that one of the options will always be correct, therefore a set of random guesses will score 25% on average, and the more questions you answer the more the 25% will come into play. The challenge is working out what proportion of the 55% can be attributed to ‘knowing the right answer’ and what proportion is likely to be consequence of the ‘lucky 25%’.

As a starting point, any score you achieve will have a certain number of questions answered correctly because you knew the correct answer and a certain number of questions that you answered incorrectly but fluked the right answer for the wrong reason (the ‘lucky 25%’ effect). One way to assess how many of each are included in your score is to assume a known number of answers are correct because you ‘know the right answer’ and then add 25% of the rest as likely to be correct based on the ‘lucky 25%’ factor. Therefore in a set of 100 questions, if you ‘know the right answers’ to 40 questions and add 25% of the remainder (60 / 4) = 15 you get a score of 55 (or 55%). So whilst superficially a score 55% may seem to be ‘not too bad’ knowing this represents a real score of around 40% gives a very different picture. And the reason increasing your score is quite hard work is because as you real score increases, the remaining number of questions subject to the ‘25% luck’ factor decreases

This chart is one way of assessing what you really know from any score achieved in a 4-option multi-choice question exam. If you don’t know the answer to any question and guess the lot, should still score around 25%. Conversely if you know the correct answer to every question, there are none left to be affected by the ‘25% luck’ factor.

PMI%

In the chart, your total score is represented by the Pale Blue line and the questions you can assume you ‘know the correct answer to’ is represented by the Dark Blue line.

Between these two lines, there are a steadily decreasing number of questions that you did not know the right answer to but got a correct answer to based on the ‘25% luck’ factor. This 25% factor is represented by the Green Line.

To use the chart

See what your score is and convert it to a percentage. This is your ‘Total Score’ on the vertical axis, and is represented by the Light Blue line. Look down the chart to see your real score on the horizontal axis, and the Dark Blue and Green lines will give you an approximate split. For example, if you scored 62.5% in total, you probably know the answer to around 50% of the questions and the random factor added another 12.5%.

Taking into account the possible distribution of results, the ‘luck factor’ is probably somewhere between 10% and 15% (at ± 1SD) meaning there is a 65% probability you actually scored somewhere between 47.5% and 52.5% (but the effect in any specific test may be greater).

Limitations & Observations

This chart explains why PMI has set a passing score above 60% in the past (when we knew this information) and seem to have maintained this policy into the present time. A score of around 65% would assure PMI the candidate probably achieved a score of 50% or better from knowledge. But there are a number of issues with the chart.

  • The first major problem is that on average there will be a ‘25% luck’ factor affecting the questions you don’t know the right answer to, but some people will be luckier than others.  Based on a series of Monte Carlo analyses by Jesus Carrillo we can assume 1 Standard Deviation is a bit less than 5 (at the starting point), therefore the ‘luck factor’ in around 65% of all tests will fall somewhere within the two dotted green lines (see comments below).
  • The number of questions subject to the 25% luck factor decreases as the number of questions you answer correctly increases and because we are dealing with whole numbers this introduced some distortions (skew) into the assessment, as does the 3:1 ratio between wrong and right answers.  The chart is a simplification of quite complex data which hopefully does not limit its usefulness.
  • The next major problem is very few questions will be answered randomly. Most trainers tell there candidates to make sure you answer every question, but the majority of questions will have a considered answer, some considered correctly and other considered incorrectly. This factor is impossible to graph.
  • There is no way of knowing which specific questions were answered correctly for the ‘right reason’ and which were in the lucky 25%. You need to check the answers from you training organisation to see if you were ‘right for the right reason’.
  • The last consideration is the potential to remove some variability by correctly deleting ‘obviously wrong’ answers. If you can remove one option the probability of your guess being correct rises to 33%, if you can knock out two options it is up to 50%. This shifts the odds into your favour but reduces the ‘known to be correct for the right reason’ value. Again impossible to graph.

Summary

Next time you test you take a practice test use this chart to asses your real level of knowledge but make sure you check all of the answers you got right so you can identify the questions you got right for the wrong reason, the ‘25% luck’ factor.

One of the reasons we set our trainees a benchmark score of 75% in our coursework is to help overcome the factors discussed in this post. By the time you are scoring around 75% the effect of the 25% random variability has reduced well below 10% and we know you know enough to score around 65% in the exam without the luck factor. This means most people will pass most of the time; score below 75% and you are starting to rely on the 25% luck factor and there is always a chance you may not have an average amount of luck on exam day.

To help you practice your PMPCAPM  and PMI-SP answering skills we Tweet a new question every day, for today’s see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Training-PMP-Q-Today.html

PMI Promotes the PMI-SP Credential

 

PMI-SP

And we agree!

Don’t wait to validate your skills and take you career to the next level

Apply Now

To help prepare of the examination and meet the PMI-SP training requirements, our PMI-SP courses are available world-wide via Mentored Email™ to see http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Training-Planning_One-on-One.html

2014 PMP and CAPM Training Program launched

Mosaic’s classroom training schedule for PMI’s  PMP and CAPM credentials has been published including a new 4 day super intensive Bootcamp!

–  Last courses for 2013 start November 11th – still places available.
–  First Mosaic Bootcamp starts 20th January 2014

See all of our courses at: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Training-Schedule.html

Classroom courses are offered in our home town, Melbourne, Australia – worldwide we are still delivering our uniquely effective Mentored Email™ course for the PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP credentials.  For more on the Mentored Email™ option see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Training-Mentored.html

And of course, all of our courses are backed by our training guarantees.