January 21, 2017

How to Pass the Professional Scrum Master Level I (PSM I)

Post by: Core's Strategic Services Team

The Professional Scrum Master Level I is the foundation level scrum master certification available through Scrum.org.  The PSM I is positioned similarly to the CSM (Certified Scrum Master) offered by Scrum Alliance.  No certification can prove effectiveness in a role (too many other factors to consider there), but the PSM I does do a good job of validating knowledge of the scrum framework which is foundational to success in any role on a scrum team.  I gained a lot of knowledge through the CSM I took as well, but didn’t feel like the test did a good job of really validating knowledge as it was much shorter, un-timed, and only requires a 66% score to pass. 

To pass the PSM I you have to get a 85% score or higher on an 80 question time test in 60 minutes.  This means you need to know the scrum framework very well and have experience as a scrum master and/or understanding of how to be effective in the role.  I passed the PSM I with a 100% score on my first attempt, but I had several years of experience as a scrum master and product owner, had attended several training courses (through Scrum Alliance up to that point).  Moreover, I had studied and read extensively before taking the test.  If you are looking to take the test, I would suggest the following to help pass on the first attempt. 

  1. The PSM I test is based very heavily on the official scrum guide. Studying the official scrum guide is critical to passing the test.  Read through this several times! 
  2. Participating in a Professional Scrum Foundations (PSF), or the in-depth Professional Scrum Master (PSM) courses (especially if you are fairly new to scrum) is highly recommended and will set you up very well to pass the PSM I  but this is not required to take the test. 
  3. Take the open assessments as practices tests multiple times before taking the PSM test itself.  I took it enough times that I could get 100% in right about 5 min. Knowing some of these questions very well will help buy you a couple extra minutes as you are taking the actual test.  If you miss a question go back and look at the scrum guide, or visit the Scrum.org forums to make sure you understand it.  Remember that the PSM I assessment is a good bit harder than the open assessment. 
  4. Understand some of the complementary practices that many scrum teams use including
  5. Some excellent books and articles can be found on the scrum.org resources page if you are looking for more.  I have read most of these and would recommend “Scrum A Pocket Guide” by Gunther Verheyen if you are looking for the best bang for your buck here.  Many of the other books would be very helpful to hone your ability as a scrum master but probably aren’t as necessary in preparing for the PSM I assessment. 
  6. Unlearn what you have learned. Here are a couple key concepts to remember that might be different from what you may have learned or heard elsewhere. 
    • The scrum guide does not define a pre-planning stage (iteration 0), and the goal of the first sprint is a potentially releasable product.  Many agile teams across industry include these but they are not part of the official scrum framework. 
    • Understand the underlying empirical control process that is the basis for all Agile processes.  Empiricism exercises control through focusing on Transparency, Inspection, and Adaption in a similar model to the Scientific method. 
    • Some of the ceremony length and team size (3-9) recommendations are slightly different then you may have heard explained before.  Ceremony length is required to be timeboxed, but team size is a recommendation.   
    • Scrum Guide defines a Sprint Goal and only allows canceling the sprint if the goal becomes obsolete.  A Sprint never fails, it just can return less then desired ROI. 
    • The Scrum Guide includes heavy emphasis on structured autonomy of the scrum team as the people doing the development understand best what is involved in needing to build a quality, potentially releasable product every sprint. 
    • Scrum Master as defined in the Scrum Guide is a servant leader responsible for team health, understanding and adherence to scrum principals, and working with the organization to best support and enable the scrum team.  Much of the facilitation and “leading” is encouraged to be ultimately transferred to the team itself. 
  7. A couple of suggestions when taking the test itself:
    • Read each question and answers fully before selecting an answer because the questions usually are asking for the best answer not a partially correct one or the “perfect” answer. 
    • Some of the questions will ask that you select the best “two” or “three” answers.  So watch for this and make sure you select enough answers on these questions. 
    • If you spend more than a couple minutes on any one question, pick your best guess and then bookmark the question so you can come back to it after you have gone through the rest of the questions.  Better to have an answer in for all of the questions and time to go back and double check hard questions then to run out of time part way through the test. 
    • Remember to go back and check questions you bookmarked.    
  8. Some other sites with very good suggestions:

Now that you know what it takes, what are you waiting for? Start your path to the PSM I by taking the open assessment, signing up for a training class, and asking questions on the forum.

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