January 9, 2018

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

The Professional Scrum Master Level III is the highest level of Scrum Master certification available through Scrum.org and is described as a way to demonstrate “a distinguished level of scrum mastery”. Originally this was called the PSM II but was rebranded as the PSM III with the introduction of an intermediate level PSM II assessment. 

This test is an extremely challenging essay-based test designed to gauge effectiveness as a trainer and coach of Scrum. Passing at a 95% level or higher is one of the qualifications to becoming a Professional Scrum Trainer (PST). As a comparison, Scrum Alliance offers a couple of certifications that are similarly positioned but not equivalently comparable due to no test requirements. The Certified Scrum Professional – Scrum Master (CSP-SM) (which I also hold) is similarly positioned but does not require any test, only experience and education credits. The Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) or Certified Team Coach (CTC) are also advanced leadership certifications but are experience- and peer review-based only. You can view the total count of PSM III certifications here. As of authoring this article, there were only 500 in the world. 

What’s in the PSM III Test?

To pass the PSM III, you have to get a 85% score or higher on 34 questions (combination of essay and multiple choice) within 120 minutes. The PSM I test covered Scrum framework, rules, and values while the PSM II test primarily asked challenging situational questions where you evaluate what is going on in a situation and determine the best options. The PSM III questions are a combination of both, but it’s in an open-ended essay form designed to gauge how well you understand Scrum, empiricism, self-organization, team dynamics, leadership issues, effective communication, problem resolution, and how well you can communicate and teach each of these topics.

Ken Schwaber used to personally grade all the PSM III tests but has handed this off to some of the other staff trainers at Scrum.org. However, what has remained is Ken’s direction to grade for clear, concise, exact, and complete answers. If you do the math, you have just about 3 minutes for each question (giving you 30 seconds to read and comprehend the questions). 

Experience Needed to Pass the Test

To pass the PSM III, you not only need to know the Scrum framework like the back of your hand, but you also need significant experience as a Scrum Master and coach or trainer. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to take it unless they have had 3 years’ experience as a Scrum Master, taken a PSM class to make sure they are spot-on with their understanding/terminology, and had a lot of experience creating and conducting training on Scrum and agile topics.

I took the PSM III after attending a PSM Train-the-Trainer class, having 13 years’ experience in software development and project management, and having 5 years’ experience as a Scrum Master, product owner, agile coach and trainer. I had created and given multiple training classes while at Boeing, including creating and co-training our own version of the Scrum Master class. I had passed the PSM I several years earlier with a 100% score, and had scored 90% on the PSM II before taking the PSM III class (during its pilot phase where there were several poor questions).

Practical Tips to Help You Pass the PSM III on Your First Try

  1. Review our PSM I study suggestions and PSM II study suggestions.
  2. Participate in the in-depth Professional Scrum Master (PSM) courses. Though it’s not technically required, I don’t see how you would be able to pass without it because the grading is very particular on terminology and perspective to Scrum.org. So, I would say this is pretty much mandatory. If you want to become a trainer with Scrum.org, you must attend one of the Train-the-Trainer courses.  
  3. Review all the examples from the PSM class material and practice writing out short paragraph answers for the best way to solve the situations. I found this to be invaluable when taking the PSM III test. 
  4. Review your notes from the PSM I & PSM II tests, especially any areas you had trouble with. You need to be extremely confident with the PSM I & PSM II material.
  5. If you haven’t read extensively on scrum and agile already you probably haven’t made it this far. The only book that I re-read ahead of the test was “Scrum A Pocket Guide” by Gunther Verheyen. I made extensive notes and practiced writing my own explanations of the concepts in this excellent book.
  6. Follow these suggestions when taking the test:
    1. Use a 3-minute timer to keep yourself on task so you can at least get some answer in for each question. 
    2. Re-read each question twice as they are complex.
    3. Identify the core issue(s) present and type up as concise of an answer to these as you can while being very clear on terminology.
    4. I don’t have exact notes, but I only remember a couple of my answers being longer than 2 paragraphs.   
    5. Bookmark or note any questions you are unsure how to answer or didn’t feel like your answer flowed well. When you are done with an initial answer to all the questions, go back and spend any remaining time polishing your answers. I am usually an extremely efficient test taker, but I ran out of time and did not make it back through all the answers I wanted to polish.     

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