Since there are quite many people asking me about the scrum.org assessments, it's time to shed some light on how to prepare for them. What you find here is my personal experience from completing PSM I, PSM II, PSPO I and PSPO II all with more than 95%.
Before we talk about preparation, you should understand what those exams are all about. Certificates don't have much meaning when it comes to being a good Scrum Master (see this post and that post for more on the topic). However, some companies think there is some value to that paper. Some people feel proud for passing difficult exams.
The Professional Scrum Master (PSM) line of assessments tries to figure out if you understood the basic concepts (PSM I) of Scrum as described in the Scrum Guide and if you have some intermediate knowledge in being a Scrum Master (PSM II). The same is true for the Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO) line of assessments, but those focus on the Product Owner of course. More about pricing and how to obtain a key to give those assessments a shot can be found on the scrum.org website.
To prepare for the entry-level exams (PSM I and PSPO I), you should know the Scrumguide very well. You will be asked around 80 questions in 60 minutes, which is plenty of time. The questions are taken from a pool and vary, so don't believe all questions will be the same if you try it several times. This is pretty unnecessary as well: around 80% of my course participants pass this assessments on the first attempt. Due to language and understanding (of Scrum) issues, 20% fail on the first try. Those usually make it on the second one after studying some more.
So here is how you should prepare:
- Read the Scrumguide
- Understand the Scrumguide
- Gather some experience in a real Scrum Team
- Know something about Scrum Best Practices, which are not part of the Scrumguide. This covers burndowns, planning poker, test driven development and more. This is not strictly necessary to pass the test, it's good to know nevertheless.
- Visit a Scrum course, if you like. That's no prerequisite for the assessment but some people find it helpful.
- Try the Scrum Open assessment as often as you like on the Scrum.org website. If you don't achieve skyrocketing scores here, don't go for the real assessment.
To prepare for the intermediate-level exams (PSM II and PSPO II), you should know everything you did for the entry-level exams (They have to be passed before you try the difficult ones. The reason is mainly to make sure you have a basic understanding and don't get completely lost.). Most people fail the 2nd level assessments, so prepare well! You will need to have truely understood Scrum. Reading the Scrumguide alone will not help you here. You will get some multiple-choice questions again (different ones than in the first assessment), but the main part consists of essay questions. If you really nail it down, one or two sentences suffice to answer. Most people go to some length though. Time is tough on the intermediate assessments. Don't count on having time to look anything up (except some English words if your aren't a native speaker).
Here is what you should do to prepare:
- Do everything you did for the first level assessment
- Read every Scrum and leadership book you can lay your hands on. This won't help you directly but can broaden your horizon.
- Make yourself aware of what the job of a Scrum Master / Product Owner is. A PSM / PSPO course can definitely help you there.
- Acquire experience. I am not talking about visiting a Scrum Team for a week, I am talking about walking through the mud with them. Simply be a Scrum Master for a while. Especially difficult situations can help you acquire expertise. I usually recommend people to gather at least three years of experience before doing the 2nd level assessments. It's up to you of course, if you want to do it.
By the way: Trying to google the answers won't take you very far. A hand full can be found on the net, but the majority is not publicly available. They are changed from time to time as well. You will have to use the primary Scrum tool instead: The grey mass between your ears.
One last piece of advice: If you aren't sure about a question take a note during the test (during does not mean afterwards). Go to a local Scrum user group then and ask the folks there to discuss that question with you. This most often gives you some insight if you are on the right road or not.
Is some information missing? Let me know by commenting this blog post.