Scrum certification PSM1 demystified
It is well known for being quite challenging: 85% score is required for passing it, which is unusually quite high. Also, time is limited: you have 60 minutes for answering 80 single answers, multiple answers, and true/false questions.
I would like to share my experience hereby, listing a number of tips and tricks about how to prepare for the exam, and how to tackle its challenges. I hope it will help you in getting certificated without hassles.
Disclaimer: passing the PSM certification is one thing, acting as a successful Scrum Master is another thing. Passing the first may surely help, but is also definitely not sufficient for the second. The content of this blog post will help you to get the certification, however additional reading and experiencing would be welcomed for practicing Scrum.
How to study
Read, read, read and then read again the Scrum Guide: it is a very concise and easy booklet containing the essential you must know for passing the exam.
Reading the Guide is not difficult, nor understanding it: the challenge is interpreting it. The questions of the final exam may be very subtle, and thus you are required not only to fully understand the Guide, but also to get the reasoning that lies behind some concepts. Taking notes on the guide helps, but do not exaggerate: too many notes just confuse a source that is otherwise quite simple.
Get the English version of the Guide, as the exam is going to be in that language, and print it. Bring it always with you, and squeeze the juice out of it. Make it your Gospel. During your study, do not answer any question from anyone neither your partner unless the answer is in the Guide.
I do not recommend any other source but the Guide. I tried alternatives, and I found most of them to be confusing in the best case, and faulty in the worst. Stick to the Guide, as it contains whatever you need, with two exceptions:
– Scaled Scrum: although the exam is about Scrum, it may feature some questions about Scaled Scrum. I suggest you to read the Nexus Guide to get familiar with the basic concepts.
-Â Burn-down charts: burn-down charts are not an actual concept in Scrum, thus you won’t find any information in the Guide. However, the final exam usually features a fair number of questions about them: they are easy to understand, even the Wikipedia definition will suffice for getting familiar with this concept.
Scrum.org provides a variety of open assessments, which you can undergo for preparing to the actual exam:
– Scrum Open: it is a 30-questions quiz to be completed in 30 minutes, and it is the recommended assessment for preparing the PSM1 certification. I suggest trying it repeatedly until you score 100% several times in a row. At the end of the quiz, you can examine the result of each question, which will be very helpful in understanding what you did wrong. Be warned that the 30 questions come from a pool of 40, thus the more you repeat it, the less significant the outcome will be (questions will be the same over and over again): in order to get the best value out of it, you should go for it only once you feel confident with the Guide.
– Product Owner and Developer Open are also interesting, although to a minor extent. They feature some questions and concepts that will end up in the final exam, thus they are anyway worth of consideration. Before going for the final exam, you should manage to get several perfect scores here as well.
– Nexus Open: this quiz is aimed to assess your knowledge of the Nexus Framework, which goes beyond our needs. Anyway, it contains several questions about Scaled Scrum: I suggest running though it at least a couple of times.
Beside these assessments, there are some others you can try online:
Choose the right environment
Do the exam at home: workplaces are not recommended as they usually have firewall rules that may interfere with the exam’s website.
Also, limit any possible disturbance as much as possible. I had the exam on a Sunday morning when normal people usually sleep or do more recreational activities: this should nullify the odds to have an unwelcomed guest ringing at your doorstep in the middle of the exam. Also, take care to switch off phones and/or any other ring-prone device.
Finally, check your connection: a speed test is recommended right before the exam. Do not panic if the Internet drops during the exam: usually you can restart from where you left off. And if things really go south, I know about people that managed to have the exam reimbursed.
Of course these measures do not guarantee a bulletproof environment (my cat started jumping around in the middle of the exam), but they should be enough to minimize bothers.
Prepare your gears
The exam is open book: this means that you can use whatever resource you like during the exam. But go electronic: it’s useless to have the paper version of the Scrum Guide at hand, as you will not have enough time to search for anything.
Rather, keep a PDF reader in background with the following resources open:
– The Scrum Guide.
– The results of all the open assessments performed during preparation.
– Any other resource you may have judged reliable.
This will allow you to quickly search for answers should you have doubts regarding some questions. This strategy helped me twice during the exam.
You can also consider getting help from the Internet, so have a browser ready to use. But do it only as last resort: time is limited for googling, you won’t find very much help and what you find won’t be necessarily correct. In any case, I suggest limiting your search to the Scrum.organisations forums, which is the most reliable source.
Have a light but sugary breakfast a couple of hours before the exam (sucrose will boost your brain up) and keep a bottle of water within reach: you will be thirsty during the 60 minutes.
The exam is taken online through a form that allows you to flag the questions whose answer you are not sure about. This is a very convenient feature that allows you not to stress too much on a question, and park it for better times. Do not hesitate to use it, even for questions you are almost sure about: re-reading them after a while may clear your mind. The form also features a progress bar that shows the ticking of time.
Read carefully the question before looking at the answers. I found myself to fail some questions of the open assessments just because a “not” went unnoticed. Then, read the answers as much as carefully. Don’t be too hard on them: Scrum is no science and sometimes there is no correct answer, but just the most appropriate. For example, a question from the exam might be:
The Product Backlog is ordered by:
a) Importance, where most important items are at the top and less important are at the bottom
b) Size, where small items are at the top and large items are at the bottom
c) Risk,where safer items are at the top, and riskier items are at the bottom
d) Least valuable items at the top to most valuable at the bottom
e) Items are randomly arranged.
Answers “d” and “e” are immediately ruled out for obvious reasons. Both “b” and “c” may seem correct, but they can’t be considered as the sole base for Product Backlog ordering. Also, this is a “single-choice” question. Thus, the best bet is “a”, which – although generic looking – is the correct one.
Some of the questions of the exam are taken directly from the open assessments (I would say ~15%), some other are rephrased (~15%), the rest will be new to you. However, they are more or less of the same degree of difficulty as in the open assessments.
Be aware that questions may be subtle. Very subtle. Here are some examples:
Who can attend the Daily Scrum?
b) Only the Development Team members
c) Only the Development Team members and the Product Owner
d) Only the Development Team members and the Scrum Master
e) Only the Scrum Team.
The subtlety here lies is the term attend, which has a different meaning than participate: the former implies a passive attendance (no talk, just listen), while the latter denotes an active participation. Only the Development Team is required to participate to the Daily Scrum, but anyone can attend. Thus, correct answer is “a”.
When multiple teams are working on the same project, how many Definitions are Done should they use?
a) There can be multiple definitions, as long as they are capable of creating a potentially releasable Increment
b) There can be multiple definitions, as long as they are well communicated and understood among teams and with the customer
c) Each team defines its own Definition of Done independently of others
d) There should be only one Definition of Done for all teams.
The Scrum Guide says:
If there are multiple Scrum Teams working on the system or product release, the Development Teams on all of the Scrum Teams must mutually define the definition of “Done”.
Even thou it may seem, it doesn’t state that there’s one single DoD. Instead, the DoD may come from the organization, to which the teams must “mutually” adapt; in case there is no DoD from the organization, the teams create – mutually again – their own DoD. Anyhow, it is important to understand that there may be different DoDs – one per team – as long as they are compatible and can create a potentially releasable Increment. Thus, correct answer is “a”.
You have 45 seconds per question, but surprisingly I didn’t find time to be a big deal. Even though you are stuck for 2 or 3 minutes to a question, there will be others simple enough to be answered in a matter of seconds (especially considering that some are taken from the open assessments). Needless to say, being stuck for more than 3 minutes means you have no answer at all: just have your guess, and may the force be with you.
And even in the case you are late in the schedule, don’t let time stressing you: stress plays against you, and makes you lose even more time. I know, easier said than done, but that’s a fact.
Last but not least…
Good luck! (and beware your cat if you have one)
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