“Why do smart people fail PMP?”, and more, in PMP Lessons Learned with Nick Korwin, PMP

"Why do smart people fail PMP?", and more, in PMP Lessons Learned with Nick Korwin, PMPThis is a little bit different kind of PMP Exam Lessons Learned interview.

I spoke to Nick Korwin last week and tried to keep it as much in-the-moment as I can.

Nick shared some of the real nuggets from his own experience.

I recommend you try what resonates with you, see if it works for you, and then imbibe it in your study strategy.

Let’s get started!

Btw, if you are in a hurry, watch this video!

You can see I’m such a novice in interviewing on camera, so my apologies for the awkwardness. 🙂

And at the end, you can also see that this interview didn’t end with the last question, the conversation was so awesome! 😃

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Welcome, Nick! Thank you for taking the time and talking to us.

Congratulations on your PMP success! All 3 Above Target score is impressive. It’s massive!

You wear multiple hats. You work as a project manager and you also help people on the side. Basically, help them get ahead in their career, and probably get the dream job that they’ve always been hoping for.

pmp-nick-korwinThat’s fantastic work apart from the day job. I don’t know how you manage multiple things, but that is fantastic! And then on top of that, you found time to study for the PMP exam and passed it.

You are into manufacturing, right, if I understand correctly.


Yeah, I recently transitioned into Tech, but my background is heavily into Manufacturing.

Okay, so why PMP and why not any other certification exam out there?


I’ve been wanting to get my PMP for quite a while, for many years.

I’d say for my career I was looking at probably two main training. Coming from the manufacturing space, I really wanted to get at Six Sigma Training, Green Belt, and Black Belt training, and I’m working on those.

And then the PMP was the other side of it.

Because as I started growing my career, I really found that I liked Project Management and I wanted to put a nice capstone on my effort so far in my career.

You know the PMP is the best well-known project management certification out there and so it gives you kind of that stamp of authenticity and approval for your work.

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Do you see the benefits of PMP already?

Yeah, I think the biggest thing for me, especially because I was transitioning into tech and I’ve been in tech now for about six months as the agile side of the exam.

Coming from manufacturing, a lot of waterfalls, a lot of traditional project management, and then moving into tech, it’s the opposite.

It’s all the Agile framework.

I understand that at a deep level, it was very important for me because I want to take that methodology and the different frameworks with an Agile and apply that to my role here in tech. And apply it in a way that makes sense for my company.

I think going forward I can provide a lot of benefits to my current company in that space.

Has there been any change in your Agile approach before and after the exam?

Yeah, for sure. You know. I had come across agile methodologies in different times and experiences, but I was really into it only for a few months before the exam, when I got into the role.

It’s like any new role you’re learning a ton. You’re trying to just see what’s what the company does currently. And so now I have more of the understanding and knowledge of Agile. I see myself developing and iterating what we’ve been doing in our ways.

We go about it making sure that you know our sprints are planned for the right duration and our retrospectives are effective. And different things that can kind of get lost over time in an organization, just refining those.

What’s the one thing you’d advise a PMP student?

I don’t know if this is unique or not, but my company set up a training course with an outside company that trained us. And we did not get a copy of the PMBOK at all.

We did not read it and I have never even looked at the PMBOK guide.

I think it has a ton of value, but it does not do a great job of leading you to succeed in the test, in my opinion.

One thing that I would tell people is to understand somehow either from a trainer or from resources, understand the types of questions you’re going to face on the exam.

Because they are based on a very common sense approach and they’re very much like, “hey, here’s a problem. what should you do”.

And if you can just get in that mindset continually and not think, don’t think like what the PMBOK says, think about what you would actually do.

That’s my greatest advice. The exam is very logical when you start to get into it you’ll do better.

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What was your study approach?

I haven’t actually read the PMBOK and tried that route.

It sounds like mine was more of a method-based approach and teaching myself the foundations of Waterfall and Agile. But then relying on a lot of the experience that you have as a Project Manager, you know.

You need three years of work experience for the exam, and most of us come in with five or ten, so just rely on what you already know to apply to those those those specific situations.

Apart from in-house training, what resources did you use?

The training company supplied a good amount of resources for us.

So when we had the group coaching calls, they had personalized videos where they would go through each of the main sections of the PMBOK.

And so we did cover each of the Process Groups and everything like that in detail.

But then the biggest resource for me that I found effective was doing the practice tests.

They had several questions and allowed us to take full-length practice tests.

I didn’t take many of them, but I found that the most effective route.

Before we even got to that point, we were doing that in the group coaching sessions. Of course, and kind of getting our strategy lined out for each of those questions.

So for me, it was a lot of practice taking the questions just over and over and over and over.

That’s what I found most effective for me.

How many mock test questions you might have taken?

I would have taken probably about 500 or so mock questions.

I know I did a full-length. I did probably one and a half the equivalent of one and a half PMI tests on my own and then I did probably in the equipment of that in the group coaching.

Did you follow any specific study strategy?

No, I didn’t.

I really followed along with the videos that the training gave out.

For me the way the best way I learn is to write down some keynotes along the way.

I usually don’t actually review those notes, but it helps me internalize them!

And then again, what I found really just the approach to those questions.

So the more I practice the mock questions, I find some that I got wrong. That’s the advantage of doing the practice ones and then revealing those gaps. And then retake them and try them again.

How long did it actually take you to decide about PMP and finally pass the exam?

The training was about eight weeks long, I might say.

And each week we met twice for about an hour and a half each. So three hours of group coaching sessions.

So like I said, a lot of it was practice questions as a group and working through those.

And then there were probably anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a week on my own going through videos and content that were provided. Going through those process groups.

So, you know, on the whole, you’re probably looking at 7 hours on average a week for eight weeks, so. yeah, it is.

Then mock tests and analysis of wrong answers. Overall about, close to 100 hrs of study, I’d say.

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Did you face any issues, or any blockers along the way?

Yeah, you know, impostor syndrome is a real thing with the PMP exam.

You hear so many horror stories and such. “I took it three times and I failed it” and like, these are really smart people, you know.

For me it was constantly reminding myself that if I just stayed focussed on study and practice tests, I could overcome the imposter syndrome.

That was my biggest thing, just continuing on and never allowing myself to back out.

Yeah. Why do you think smart people fail PMP?

I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that it’s an intimidating exam setup.

You know you have one hundred eighty questions to be attempted under 4 hrs. I probably haven’t taken that many questions since my college entrance. For me, that was 10 – 15 years ago.

You truly have to kind of like a strategy for taking the test just alone.

So i think if you’re going in like, with just studying PMBOK and thinking “I’m a smart guy. I’ll figure it out”, it wouldn’t work out.

But if I had gone and taken a couple of practice tests on my own, I would have fallen on my face um and realized it’s more than remembering the PMBOK. It’s all about the application of knowledge, to thinking like a project manager.

That’s what the test is all about, not just the knowledge.

How did you study in the week before your exam?

I procrastinated a lot.

I was traveling for work the week before the exam and then so I didn’t do any major studying.

But the night before the exam I took a full-length practice test.

It was split up similarly into three sections of sixty questions each and the first sixty questions I took, I did terrible!

I got like 55% percent or something like that and I was just like, “oh, man”! 😃

This is the night before and I’m thinking, I don’t want to be screwed up. And so I reviewed those questions. I got some wrong, took a deep breath, got focused again on my methods and my strategies for answering the questions.

And then I got back to it with the other two sections and did really well.

So I did that the night before to get me back in the mode of just going through the same sort of questions over and over and then the morning before the exam.

I just reviewed the ones I got wrong again as a refresher to get me back in that mindset.

And passed the exam!

Those must be some nervous moments they denied it! How is your exam experience itself?

I took it online remotely, and I didn’t have any like, technical issues at all.

My wifi on the internet was good. The app didn’t crash on me, you know, or anything like that.

They tell you to log in fifteen or thirty minutes earlier to go through. I would recommend doing the system check a day or two before like they allow you to and make sure you don’t have any issues.

You got to download an app, so if you’re having technical difficulties, you don’t want to be doing that last minute.

I was able to just log in right away in the morning.

They’re pretty picky about your work environment. So, I had to remove a bunch of things from my desk, get them out of the way, put them out of arms reach showing my office.

So it was kind of interesting from there.

So make sure you have a webcam that you could spin around, I guess.

But you know the exam experience itself was pretty good once I got in there into it and then no technical issues at all. And cool.

There is a word that PMI  has begun to introduce PMBOK-7 based questions on exam. did you get any?

I’m not too sure I saw such questions, but I wasn’t because I did refuse the PMBOK.

I’m not quite sure if I saw them or not.

I didn’t notice any questions like a surprise. there might have been one question where I was really like, “I don’t know what they’re saying here” or I forgot a Process Group or something. 😃

But in general, I either like knew what I was looking at or I read or I remembered as I was reading in question.

Would you have any specific study tips for PMP students?

It’s good to have that core base of the Process Groups understanding.

Also the history and the intent behind the Agile methodologies.

You know if you haven’t done the waterfall side of it, I think you might be in for a little bit of a disadvantage.

Because the depth of that side of the exam is pretty deep and they have you know honestly, they have kind of weird names and redundant names for a lot of the process groups, you know like in Planning like fifteen or twenty of them.

But again, you don’t need to really know that. You just need to kind of understand it.

So, my tip is that if you haven’t had a lot of waterfall experience, spend a little extra time on the process groups there.

The agile side I think is pretty easy to pick up for people.

It makes a lot of sense if you’ve done traditional work.

And then like I talked about before, really understand the types of questions that you’re going to face and it’s I guess that if you just you know ninety percent of them, maybe more.

You’ll have questions about the situations in them – like, what will the project be, what should the project manager do next?

If you just remember that and don’t try to get in the mind of PMI.

I found myself doing that and it’s just you start to second guess yourself and you’re going to get it wrong and I saw that on the practice test.

I saw that on the group coaching. And our coach would always hammer that in and says, “well, just stop and think what causes it” If you think what PMI would want you to do, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Awesome, Nick! Where can people find your career-related service details?

Yeah, appreciate that. The best way to reach me is to reach me on my LinkedIn profile, and start a conversation (click here).

Reach out, send a connection request, or whatever makes you most comfortable.

I love having conversations with people and learning about their situations.

I take free clarity calls with people as well, to get to know them and give them a path forward and some action tips even if they don’t want to work with me. Or if I can’t help them, I try to lead them in the right direction.


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