PMP Lessons Learned – by Master Sergeant Matt D. Durbin, PMP

Apply what you learn to everyday projects and see the processes in action.Master Sergeant Matt D. Durbin took his PMP exam and passed on his first attempt. In this article you will know his approach, study philosophy, study resources, and insights.

Matt D. Durbin is the Superintendent of the 21st Contracting Squadron, Detachment 1, Copenhagen, Denmark. He leads military and civilian personnel and provides over $470 million in contract support for Thule Air Base, Greenland. Additionally, he manages evaluations, awards and decorations, manpower, and recognition programs.He is a former business owner and has obtained Lean Six Sigma and Project Management Professional certifications.

He has served in the military for over 19 years and his background includes numerous leadership roles as communications manager, contingency contracting officer, team lead, and director. Before assuming his current position, he served as Construction Flight Team Lead and Director of the 375th Contracting Squadron at Scott Air Force Base.

How did you decide on PMP?

PMP matt durbinAs a Contracting Officer, I found myself becoming involved in complex projects from beginning to end and working with other project managers in the process. PMP certification seemed like a natural progression and a way to add a set of skills to my tool set that would benefit my professional career.

I didn’t consider any other certifications, the PMP was my sole focus.

Now that I have the PMP I may look into other certifications from PMI.

How do you think PMP certification will help you?

matt-durbin PMP certificationIn addition to learning the real methodology for project management, the certification adds to my marketability when pursuing other jobs after my military career.

I have realized the benefits of learning the project management methodology – and I have applied that to some projects I’m managing overseas right now.

The risk management skill has aided me with some very important decisions.

These skills will also assist my future projects both in and outside the military.

Also read: PMP discount codes, offers, and bonuses this week you can use to fast track your PMP prep.

Can you share the study resources you used?

I used a combination of books, course, and mock tests.

I also used numerous free PMP mock exams online (find a bunch here).

What was your study approach?

I took this exam very seriously and allotted plenty of study time.

I studied for eight months before the exam, but not every day.

In terms of duration, I studied around 10 hours per week and bumped it up to 15 hours per week when I was one month out from the exam.

That’s a neat way to ramp up. Any blockers?

I was worried that I wouldn’t have a testing center nearby since the test administrating company changed midway through 2019. But they still had one close to me. I’m stationed in Copenhagen, Denmark and I was able to find a test center within a few miles.

You can’t make much sense of the order of how the project management processes are to be employed just by reading the PMBOK. That’s when I sought out the other studying methods to assist with that, and they helped immensely.

Also read: Use this 4-fold strategy Deepak found for your own preparation.

The week before the exam is crucial. What was your approach to study during this week?

I didn’t worry so much since I’d been studying for many months prior.

If I didn’t know all that is there to be studied for the exam by now, then I wasn’t going to know it in a week.

I probably studied 2-3 hours per day the week prior to the exam.

What was your real exam experience like?

The test center was excellent, it was in an isolated location and I was the only one in the room the day of my exam. They provided earplugs so I could drown out the sporadic background noise in the hallway.

The questions were difficult, not many had a simple objective answer, but rather an analysis needed to be done in order to get it right.

Most, if not all, were scenario-based questions but they weren’t written with extra wording – only 2-3 sentences each.

I just sat there and focused for the entire time, I used 3.5 hours out of the allotted 4-hour window.

I probably flagged 25 questions for review, some I answered before flagging and some I left blank to come back to.


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What would you advise those preparing for their PMP exam?

  1. Cramming doesn’t work, but I think most people know that. Understand the process table, and internalize how ITTOs flow across the processes. This approach helps you answer many ITTO based questions as well.
  2. Go through the PMBOK once and then use a book (I used Rita (#ad)) and a video course (I used Joseph’s (#ad)) to bring it all together and make logical sense of it all. Then re-read/listen to all of them over and over while cross-referencing everything among them.
  3. Apply what you learn to everyday projects and see the processes in action.
  4. I would study for at least three months before the exam, just to get the knowledge into long-term memory.
  5. Find a place to study that’s away from distractions because that’s how the test environment is going to be.


Matt D. Durbin, PMP


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