Saturday, December 09, 2023

Understanding PMI Exam Score Reports

While preparing for Project Management Institute (PMI) related exams, it’s highly important to know how the scoring happens and what basis the scoring happens. It’s equally crucial to know when and why you will be considered to have passed or failed the exam. 

PMI provides a number of certification exams. Some of them are:

In this article, we will know the importance of ECO, how the exam rates your performance and dissect the PMI Exam Reports. Going forward, I’ll be using scores from varieties of PMI exams, including PMPs because I’ve seen hundreds of them personally. This is also important to know for you as an exam taker. 

In all my PMI exam related books and/or courses, includiing Agile, I’ve consistently emphasized on the Exam Content Outline (ECO), on which every PMI exam is based upon. For example, the PMP Exam contract to popular belief is not based on the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, but on the ECO! The RMP Exam is also not based on the Standard for Risk Management in Portfolios, Programs and Projects, but again on the ECO for the RMP Exam. Similarly, it’s applicable to all other exams.

Importance of the ECO

The ECO is important because you will be evaluated on the domains of the ECO. For example, in the PMP Exam, there are 3 domains:

  • Domain I - People
  • Domain II – Process
  • Domain III – Business Environment

You will be evaluated on these domains, the associated tasks and enablers. 

For the RMP exam, there are 5 domains:

  • Domain I – Risk Strategy and Planning
  • Domain II – Risk Identification
  • Domain III – Risk Analysis 
  • Domain IV – Risk Response
  • Domain V – Monitor and Close and Risks

Again, each of the above domains will have tasks and enablers. You will be evaluated on each domain. 

Now you might be thinking, how do you know you have passed or will pass the exam?

For that, you have to understand the performance rating categories. 

Performance Rating Categories

There are four performance rating categories:

  • Above Target (AT): Your performance exceeds the minimum requirements for this exam.
  • Target (T): Your performance meets the minimum requirements for this exam.
  • Below Target (BT): Your performance is slightly below target and fails to meet the minimum requirements for this exam. Additional preparation is recommended before re-examination.
  • Needs Improvement (NI): Your performance is far below target and fails to meet the minimum requirements for this exam. Additional preparation is strongly recommended before re-examination. 

The targets are expressed in ranges. It helps you to see how you scored in the exam with respect to the performance domains. It’s overall performance across all the exam domains. 

A sample exam report has been shown below, where the candidate has passed the exam.  

As you’d noticed in the above figure, it’s clearly written on top: PASS. It means the candidate has passed the exam. 

But then there are multiple zones (ranges) mentioned for the performance categories with multiple color coding. What are they?

Let’s take a real exam report to understand.

Some Real PMI Exam Reports

The below snippet is from a real PMP exam. Here the candidate PMP has successfully cleared the exam and is a certified PMP. You can read the PMP Success Story.


As shown above:

  • The exam report is divided into two zones: Failing Zone and Passing Zone.
  • The final score pointer (the black vertical line with the marker 'YOU' on top) is showing the final result. 
  • If the pointer is falling in the failing zone, then you have failed. If the pointer is falling in the passing zone, you have passed the exam. 
  • Sometimes the pointer is exactly in the middle! But again, it will still be in the passing or failing zone. 

For the above one, the pointer is in the AT zone (Above Target) and obviously the candidate has scored AT in all PMP exam domains. 

I just informed you that the pointer can be exactly in the middle. Did you read that line? If you have, again note that scoring will still happen! 

The below score report is from a real PMI exam. The candidate was very unlucky here. Just one or two questions correctly answered and the candidate would have been a certified RMP. Sigh! I felt very sad to see this report. 

In the above figure, you can see the pointer is exactly in the middle, but it’s touching the far-end border of the Below Target (BT) zone! If it would have been the near-end border of Target zone, then the candidate would have passed the exam. 

There are others like the two shown below. Again, these are from real PMI exams. As seen, candidates mostly fail because they follow the wrong providers or coaches. Your provider and coach matter. Both will be instrumental for your successes in the exams.

Another one is shown below from a PMI exam.

Again, notice the statement in the above figure with a pointer in BT zone: The performance is slightly below target. With additional preparation, you have a high chance to clear the exam. 

Now, while for the first one, the pointer is in the Needs Improvement (NI), for the second one the pointer is in the Below Target (BT) zone. 

Also, did you notice the color coding?

If not, re-look at them again. This is typical Red-Orange(Yellow)-Green color coding. 

  • If it’s in the NI zone, the color coding will be red.
  • If it’s in the BT zone, then the color coding will be orange/yellowish.
  • If it’s in the T zone, then the color coding is blue
  • If it’s in the AT zone, then the color coding will become deep blue

At this stage, another question comes-up:

How does this overall performance rating category relate to individual domain related rating categories? 

Let’s take an example to understand. 

This the expected segregation of questions as per the ECO.

Domain Based Segregation

In this case, I’ll take the Risk Management Professional (RMP) Exam. In this case we have five domains and any of the above four performance categories can come for these five domains. 

Let’s say a candidate has scored the following: 

  • Risk Strategy and Planning: T 
  • Risk Identification: AT
  • Risk Analysis: BT
  • Risk Response: AT
  • Monitor and Close Risks: AT

In this case as the candidate has scored AT and T in most of the domains, except one. Obviously the candidate has passed the exam. And of course, the score pointer will be under the passing range. 

The individual domain related scoring for the above case is shown below. 

As shown above, each domain has a performance rating category and they are color coded. This comes with a pie chart, whereas the overall performance rating category will be in the bar chart.

Various Possibilities 

Now, one of the most important parts is to know if you have passed or failed the exam. In other words, what are the possible combinations in which one can definitely say to pass or fail the PMI exams. 

With absolute certainty, one can say the following:

  • If you are scoring Above Target (AT) and/or Target (T) in all exam domains, then you’re definitely going to the exam. Mark the word ‘definitely’. 
  • If you are scoring Below Target (BT) and/or Needs Improvement (NI) in all exam domains, then you will definitely fail the exam! Again, mark the word ‘definitely’. 
  • If you can score AT in the vast majority of the domains (4 out of 5) and not fall under NI for any domain, then you will pass the exam.


Other than the above ones, nothing can be conclusively said, except the following.

  • Never ever fall into the Needs Improvement zone. It will pull your overall score down and highly likely that you will fail the exam. 
  • Considering 5 domains, if you have 2 or more NI ratings, then you’d definitely fail the exam!

In other words, don’t leave any domain unprepared (not underprepared). Go through each domain, learn as much as you can, practice as many questions as you can before you appear for the exam. 

I hope you understood the importance of ECO, related domains and how you should target to prepare for PMI related exams.

I wish you all the very best for your PMP, RMP, ACP, PfMP and/or other PMI related exams.


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