Tips from project management best practice. Grow your odds of passing PRINCE2 exams in 2021


Granted, project management best practice covers a lot of territory. So, let’s narrow it down a bit.

PRINCE2 is project management best practice in its own right.

Then there is also best practice how to learn this PM best practice.

And then there is best practice how to use what you have learned to pass the certification exams.

In this post I am going to share with you a technique that can increase your odds of passing PRINCE2 exams. I teach this and some other techniques in my training. You can book a place on a scheduled training course here. 

I call it the “Gumshoe Technique”.

And I’m going to show you exactly how to benefit from its use, step-by-step.

But that’s not all.

I’ll also share with you some of my own tips on how to remember the PRINCE2 concepts that, well, you just need to remember.

And if you´re looking for PRINCE2 training, don´t look any further. Book a place on one of our scheduled courses here. 

My “GUMSHOE TECHNIQUE” is based  on project management best practice.

So, HOW DOES IT WORK for you?

Passing certification exams is a major objective of PRINCE2 training. Here is information abut our course prices that will surprise you.

Sure thing, completing a training course won’t make you a project management professional. That’s a qualification that comes only with experience. But what if you haven’t got any, yet?

Suppose you are chasing after your first job upon graduating from a university. Or intend to change careers. That’s why many job descriptions offer a trade-off between experience and certification. For employers, these are the two sides of a coin.

If you can’t claim experience, at any rate get certified. A certificate can be regarded as an acceptable substitute for the lack of specific experience. It offers your prospective employer at least something to judge you by.

Everyone in the project management business knows that PRINCE2 exams are tough to pass. Your Practitioner badge proves you’ve got something in you, be it brains or sheer guts.

Sometimes, the decision to opt for using guts is taken out of your hands. Because completing the requisite pre-course reading AND attending a PRINCE2 course takes a heavy toll on candidates’ time. Distractions abound. And the learning curve is steep.

As a result, it is not unusual that candidates risk taking exams with only a piecemeal knowledge of PRINCE2. In this situation, the “Gumshoe Technique” can grow your odds of passing.


Gumshoes were private detectives in North America. And they lived in an era when investigations hinged on first-hand collection of evidence. And that required endless hours on tour.

Essential for the job were good and lasting walking shoes that on occasion could also provide a degree of stealth.

And a key skill was fluency in abductive reasoning.

Abductive reasoning aims to reveal plausible outcomes.

Incidentally, the term comes from to ABDUCE (take away) and not ABDUCT (escape with something or somebody). Sherlock Holmes was an expert abducer. Holmes also left us a succinct and clear summary of the method:

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” (The Sign of the Four, 1890)

Holmes was probably a scholar of the Scottish philosopher David Hume. A century and a half earlier that gentleman had made the disconfirmation method a cornerstone of hypothesis testing.

That’s precisely the gist of the “Gumshoe Technique” – disconfirmation.


PRINCE2 exams are made up of multiple-choice questions. Trying to find the RIGHT ONE can be a daunting task.

The method of PRINCE2 is pretty deep. Exam questions exploit this depth to the hilt. And answer options can be confusing. They are as English as it gets. If you get what I mean.

Most of my course goers are non-native English speakers. True, many of them have a perfect command of colloquial and often times also of business English.

But when it comes to passing PRINCE2 exams, somehow it often proves to be not quite the same thing as being a native speaker. (Not that natives have it all laid out for them. They have to sweat it out, too.)

Getting from zero to guru in five days of PRINCE2 training is a difficult feat to achieve. It’s not unusual that candidates have to play a guessing game at the exams.

One benefit of the “Gumshoe Technique” is that it gives this game a bit of a footing. The best chance of picking the right answer is by discarding – disconfirming – alternatives.

That turns out to be a tad easier, too. While the correct answer may be written in code, wrong ones tend to be relatively easy to disprove.

By the way, disconfirmation isn’t only useful when taking an exam. The concept is broadly applicable to project management as such. As a matter of fact, I consider it a part of project management best practice.


Which is an objective of the “managing a stage boundary process”?

A. To enable the project board to commit resources and expenditure required for the initiation stage. The reason for discarding this option lies in the fact that initiation stage plan (and budget) are approved in the “directing a project” process, and not in the “managing a stage boundary” one.

B. To review and, if necessary, update the project initiation documentation – no obvious reasons for discarding it. But on we go.

C. To act as a break between those managing the project and those creating products – wrong, because the link between the project manager and team managers (who deliver products by means of work packages) is controlled in the “managing product delivery” process. On a more general note, PRINCE2 processes tend to serve as a link, rather than a break, between different roles.

D. To ensure a periodic review is carried out to approve the products created within the completed stage – on the face of it, seems to be making sense, right? Wrong on two counts. First, products are created in a different process – “managing product delivery”- and second, products are approved when they are completed.

So, our winner through disconfirmation is Answer B.


Which is a purpose of the “controlling a stage process”?

A. To agree, perform and deliver product work – wrong, that would rather be a purpose of the “managing product delivery process”.

B. To draft a plan for the next stage – wrong again, that is a purpose of the “managing a stage boundary process”.

C. To agree tolerances for the stage – wrong, tolerances for a stage will be set in the “directing a project” process during approval of a stage plan.

D. Since we had no difficulty in refuting the three first options, whatever is the forth, it must be the right one. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to run a quick check on it. “To take action so that the stage remains within tolerance” makes perfect sense.

For most questions on the Foundation exam this approach will work marvels. But there are some exceptions.

A typical Foundation exam includes two-three questions about PRINCE2 themes-related minimal requirements. About the same number focus on themes-related responsibilities of different roles.

These questions may resist the blunt use of the “Gumshoe Technique”.

According to my trainer experience, delegates often find it difficult to memorize minimal requirements. In my courses I use a separate technique that  is very simple. But it has also proven to be quite powerful. As it involves the use of copyrighted material, I can only share it with my course goers. 


  • The Foundation exam tests candidates on their understanding of the method’s theory.  And, well, the ability for abductive reasoning.
  • The Practitioner exam involves a considerably more taxing experience. It tests the candidates’ ability to APPLY their newly gained knowledge TO A LIFELIKE SCENARIO.

Even natural-born project managers shouldn’t be kidding themselves into believing that is easy. It is not.

The “Gumshoe Technique” can be of a great help here as well. But its application requires some advance preparation.

It involves delving into PRINCE2 linguistics.

Yes, that’s correct. PRINCE2 uses its very own vocabulary, semantics and grammar conventions. Getting a good grasp of these can make the subsequent use of the “Gumshoe Technique” easier. And more successful.

Below is my summary of the main PRINCE2 linguistics canons.

Some are less well-known than the others. Several are based on my own observations.


  1. For a sentence included in an exam question to be true, every statement contained in it must be true.
  2. An incorrect phrase in a statement negates all correct phrases before and after.
  3. The introduction to an exam question may include a mention that ‘the following are true statements’.
    • Beware that statements may be true but not necessarily relevant for the question context.
    • Or that a statement may provide a true answer to a different question.


  1. An answer option is nearly always wrong if when combined with the question it results in a nonsense.
  2. If wording from the question is repeated in an answer, the option is worth considering.
  3. Phrases such asavoid’, ‘pass-by’ or ‘circumvent’ are a warning sign to not choose that option. A cardinal strength of PRINCE2 as a method lies precisely in not allowing to cut corners.
  4. Words like – relevant, sometimes, often, frequently, ordinarily or generally – usually point to correct answers.
  5. Absolute words – should, must, no, never, none, always, every, all, entirely and only – usually point to false answers. Statements that under all circumstances are presented to be 100% correct are not compatible with a real or lifelike project scenario.
  6. Words like – may, could and might – suggest uncertainty, i.e. risk. Words like – will, should and have -indicate current or certain events. Therefore they are more likely to describe issues, not risks.


The project is in the initiation stage. The Vice President requests that management products (meaning the business case, other components of the Project Initiation Documentation, different reports, etc.) be produced in the form of slides, to be presented at project board meetings. This is in line with company policy. Is this an appropriate application of the “tailor to suit the project” principle, and why?

A. Yes, because the controls applied need to be appropriate to the organisation’s governance.

B. Yes, because this provides control points during the project for decisions to be made.

C. No, because producing slides takes more effort than producing written documents.

D. No, because applying the “manage by exception principle” removes the need for meetings.

This is a fair example of a question that can be simplified by the application of a “50-50” filter.

Our move is to discard “yes” or “no” options. But instead of attempting to refute each option separately, we aim to refute a whole category.

Tailoring means aligning the project management method with organization’s policies and procedures. In consequence, the right answer will (in all probability) start with a “yes”. Now our task is reduced to identifying the refutable option among the two that start with a “yes” – and discarding it.

A – seems to make sense. At least, no obvious disproving arguments come to mind.

B – includes two statements. “Yes” is one, and an explanation for it is the other. The second statement is true, but it corresponds to the “managing by stages” principle. It means that the second statement contradicts the first one thus making the option as such wrong.

Which leaves option A as the right answer.

To stay on the safe side it always remains a good idea to quickly check out also the two discarded “no” options. Just in case we erred when making the 50-50 decision.

C – is wrong. From the perspective of the PRINCE2 method, effective project management requires producing information in a format that suites an organisation’s culture. Full stop. In particular, investment of effort is not addressed by PRINCE2 since it is not one of six performance targets (cost, time, quality, scope, benefit, risk).

D – once again, this option includes two statements, “No” and its explanation. The second statement answers a question that corresponds to the “manage by exception” principle and not the “tailor to suit the project” principle. Besides, the “manage by exception” principle does not remove the need for meetings, it just provides for efficient use of senior management time. The second statement thus contradicts the first one making the option as such wrong.

The use of the “Gumshoe technique” is, of course, not limited to helping you pass PRINCE2 exams.

As I mentioned above, disconfirmation belongs to broader project management best practice. And the world beyond.

Feel free to apply abductive reasoning and the disconfirmation method also in both your professional and private life.

Results may surprise you no end.

The “Managing successful projects with PRINCE2” guidance is a great book to read. An provides an excellent basis for exam preparation. Still, the PRINCE2 method is so rich and so intricate that when teaching, I keep discovering new facets to the detail it provides. Here are some bits and pieces that might help you to complete your picture of PRINCE2 as project management best practice.

For a starter, here is how principles link to themes.

project management best practice prince2 themes and principles

“MR” stands here for “minimum requirements”.

I find benefits management a particularly interesting topic with lots of depth to it.

project management best practice prince2 benefits management

Here is a simple guide to telling outputs from outcomes from benefits.

prince2 outputs outcomes benefits

The Plans theme describes the product-based approach to planning. I personally find it a real project management best practice.

Several exam questions aim to throw you by mixing apples and oranges – I mean, steps and tasks. Then they ask you to pick a task hidden among steps or map a task to a step.

So, when sudying the plans theme, the first thing to do is to memorize the SEVEN STEPS involved. But that´s not enough. Go a bit further and map TASKS to STEPS.

This slide can serve you as a visual memory aid.

project management best practice prince2 steps and tasks in product-based planning

Be aware, that the PRESENCE of dependencies is identified in Step 2 ‘Defiing and analyzing the products’. Or to be more precise, in the product flow diagram that is created in this step.

Step 3 ‘Identifying activities and dependencies’ involves producing the work breakdown structure that visualizes the CONTENT and the DIRECTION of dependencies identified in PFD.

I kind of expect that by now I am preaching to the converted. Still, to dispel any last doubts about the utility of PRINCE2 that may still be lingering in the more sceptical minds, here are my final arguments.

prince2 benefits for individuals


prince2 benefits for organisations


Here is some more useful stuff. Keep on reading.

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