PMP From a Non-Traditional PM Environment: Karen Kinsman, PMP

pmp-lessons learned karen kinsmanHi Shiv! Just wanted to send a note to let you know I passed my PMP exam on the 1st try. Below are a few nuggets from my exam prep experience in case they might help anyone else!

pmp karen kinsmanI am a nonprofit organization director (small K-12 STEM-H education outreach) within a University setting, so definitely a very non-traditional PM environment. So, my approach may be pretty different than that of folks working in a very traditional PM environment on IT, industrial/manufacturing, construction kinds of projects.

I really had to suspend my own experience of PM in my environment and focus on what PMI wanted to hear for the exam…meant putting myself in a headspace a world away from that in which I typically operate, but I am proof this CAN be done!!

If you have access to a really good quality face-to-face PMP Exam Prep Course…TAKE IT!

I took a great 6 week course at UNM Continuing Education that utilized Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep book. Instructor offered great tidbits that were very helpful as I worked toward taking my exam…things like PMI’isms to keep in mind (many covered in the Mulcahy book), etc.

The PM PrepCast and PM Exam Simulator were invaluable!

I tend to be an auditory/visual person, so having the PrepCast video modules to go to either before or after my weekly face to face class was an awesome way to reinforce my own learning…and I could back and repeat any modules with which I had difficulty.

My study schedule

I spent about 14 hours in the 2-3 weeks leading up to my exam just taking simulated quizzes especially in the areas I had some weaknesses in.

I took them over and over until I scored 80% or higher consistently. Then a few days out from the exam, I took two full length, timed simulated exams to get the hang of what the real thing would be like. ABSOLUTELY worth the investment (…Luckily, I applied for and got a PMI-EF scholarship for the PMP PrepCast and Exam Simulator!).

When I got to the exam, I felt like I knew what to expect and I was not disappointed. The exam questions were constructed so similarly, for the most part, to what I had experienced in the exam simulator that I settled into the “real” exam pretty quickly and relaxed through it.

I could not, for the life of me, memorize the ITTO’s.

Trust me, I tried. I think that whole memorization thing, for me, is age related…I simply don’t have that skill in my wheel house like I did when I was 25 or 30! So, I relied on lots of review of them as well as really utilizing the exam simulator to help me understand the ITTO’s in the context of what would be asked on the exam.

I did memorize 21 formulas

..and put them in a purposeful order because there are so many that rely on each other for inputs.

I created a color coded “cheat sheet” of formulas and some other critical information I thought I should commit to memory. I copied that sheet over probably at least a dozen times until I could do it from memory. That became my “brain dump” when I got into the exam. I used a piece of scratch paper and recreated that “cheat sheet” before I’d gotten more than a couple questions into the exam. It was SO helpful!

Alternating between Rita and PMBOK.

I went back and forth between the Mulcahy book and the PMBOK 5th Edition to reference material I had questions about or areas I had trouble with on the exam simulator to be sure I understood how PMI was looking at those areas.


Look for words that will trip you up if you miss them…”not”, “best”, “next”, etc.

There were a number of questions that were looking for things like “what is the NEXT thing you would do?” or “what is the BEST option in this situation?” Take your time to be 100% sure you understand what you’re being asked.

Answer every question you can the first time through the exam.

Mark anything you’re unsure of…go back and answer all of the marked questions AFTER you’ve answered all the ones you can answer without getting stuck on them for several minutes. After I went back and answered the 8-10 questions I had skipped & marked the first pass through, I stopped and took a 5 minute break…used the restroom, ate a banana, etc. Then, I sat back down and went through each question from start to end one more time just to be sure I had not missed something, read something incorrectly, etc.

When you’re done, you’re done! Don’t start second guessing yourself.

When you have that button in front of you “Submit Exam” (or something like that), if you’re anything like me, you’ll stare at that button for a minute or two contemplating if you’re REALLY ready to click it! I had to laugh at myself later about that! Click that button with confidence!!!

Trust yourself.

Be confident in your knowledge & understanding (assuming you’ve prepared to the best of YOUR ability). Remember to breathe and relax. Tell yourself “I know this. I can do this.” Then, take that exam on with a vengeance!

The worst part was waiting…

..having to take a survey about the testing site while your exam is being scored in the background! The BEST part…seeing the “PASSED” message on the screen!! Get your score report and go CELEBRATE!!!

It doesn’t matter if your college days are well behind you.

If you’ve been out of school for a long time (…for me over 25 years now…), recognize that you’ll likely have to spend some time figuring out exactly HOW to best study for your PMP exam. Take that time…what worked for me 25 years ago, did not necessarily work the same way this time.

Not to mention, I simply had not done this kind of intensive studying in nearly 25 years, so initially, it freaked me out a bit! RELAX…dive in…you’ll figure it out…AND believe that you very likely know a lot more than you think you do already.


Karen Kinsman, PMP


like the post

<-- Liked this post? Help your friends by sharing this using social network buttons. Thanks for being awesome!

OSP sidebar

PMP Study Books

Help Run This Blog At No Cost To You.. Use this box to search and purchase your stuff on Amazon. Thanks!

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Avinash Bajaj April 1, 2016, 4:36 pm

    Hi Shiv,
    Just want to inform you that Yesterday i have cleared PMP exam in first attempt with 3MP & 2LP. I am very very happy and thankful to you for your guidance, TRUST me your SMARTNOTES which helped me in quick revision, your BLOGS, testimonials has helped me a lot in making strategies for studying. While you are working, it is difficult to manage time but ultimately if you want to succeed, you have to take out some time. I studied for around 2 or 2.5 months. I have gone first through Rita then head first & then at last a quick view of PMBOK 5th edition. I have smartphone & i have taken full use of it, i have installed various free PMP applications & downloaded many videos ,while travelling in train i make full use of these things. It is difficult to sit for 4 hours on test, so you should practice by giving many mock test as possible. I have given 4 MOCK test .I must say please read the exam questions very carefully Shiv thanks once again & i appreciate you for your excellent work.

    • Shiv Shenoy April 3, 2016, 9:11 pm

      Awesome, Avinash! Congratulations on your success!
      Thanks so much for your kind words. I am very happy to know PMESN helped you in your prep and thank you for including PMESN as part of your study resources.

      Good luck,