The certification exam for the Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I) can be a challenging assessment, specially for beginners! It  tests your fundamental knowledge and understanding of s crum conce pts in the form of 80 questions in 60 minutes (85% required for certification).

I took the scrum certification on 11 th March, 2020 and passed it in the first attempt as a complete beginner to scrum! I would love to share my experience on the assessment and give some tips and tricks that helped me certify successfully.

This article should take about 8 minutes to read.

Firstly, let me first give you a quick introduction on how and why I took the assessment. As a Masters graduate in production management, I always had an inclination towards understanding agile methodologies. Therefore, having received an internship opportunity with smidig, I was thrilled to start my journey into agile.

At smidig , I had the opportunity to work and learn alongside leading consultants in the industry, who have been successfully coaching and facilitating the transition of complex rigid organizations into agile practices since the very conception of the term ’scrum‘. Also , I could experience the implementation of agile in teams , as self organization is the jargon at smidig and a key functionality of scrum! 

During the internship, I supported the team in their daily activities and workshop sessions. Well-established organizations in the healthcare and information technology industries were a part of these. During this experience, I developed a clear understanding of some of the underlying principles and guidelines of scrum. All these inputs helped me immensely during the professional scrum certification exam.

Preparing for the PSM I certification

How and what to prepare

The first question that comes to everyone’s mind is what to study and how much to study for the exam! The question of ‚how much‘ is really up to the individual. But when it comes to ‚what to‘ study, there is one clear answer – „the Scrum guide „. Remember, memorizing the scrum guide will not help! The scrum guide is a very well written and concise document. It gives you an overall understanding of all the entities involved in the scrum framework. Above all, only when you can interpret this guide clearly, you are ready for the exam.

The Scrum Guide

The language in the scrum guide is easy to understand. However, rather than focusing on memorizing the content, it’s essential that you understand how to interpret it. Before reading the scrum guide, I went through a short presentation made by Smidig. The presentation did wonders! Within 10 minutes, I could easily understand the entire framework as a complete beginner to scrum. In addition, the presentation depicts a simple visualization of the scrum roles that makes it easy to comprehend.

I read the scrum guide about 3 times. At the same time, I constantly cleared my doubts with my team members until I had no more questions to clarify. It helps extensively if you are in contact with industry experts. For instance, they can relate to real life experiences and application of the framework which helps a beginner tremendously.

During the exam, most of the questions were covered by the scrum guide with a few exceptions. Although the scrum guide introduces topics like burn-down charts, it does not elaborate on this. However, I remember facing 2 questions on burn-down charts in the PSM1 exam. If you know the definitions and their purpose, you should be able to tackle these questions.

Keep testing yourself

After I was thorough with the scrum guide, I undertook several open assessments that are available freely at scrum.org.

The scrum open is a short version of the actual test and contains 30 questions that are to be completed in 30 minutes. If you are well versed with the scrum guide, it shouldn’t be very difficult to score 100% in this open assessment. My recommendation would be to take this test until you are able to score a 100% result repeatedly. Therefore, boosting up your confidence and also help familiarize yourself with the structure of the questions.

In short, the scrum open should be enough for self-assessment if completed multiple times.

The key to doing well in these assessments is to clearly understand the framework. So, understanding how all the elements play an important role in the scrum framework is a key requirement for PSM I.

Tips and tricks that make all the difference

Watch out for keywords

The questions in the PSM I scrum certification seem quite straightforward. However, do not jump to the answers quickly. There are several cases of wordplay that can be very misleading or confusing. Therefore, no matter sure you are, give it a quick second reading, just to be sure. Let me give you a few examples:

  • Questions with ‚could‘ and ’should‘ be very carefully read before answering.
  • Many questions have more than one right answer and it is mentioned in the question.
  • Be aware of questions with ’not‘ and check the answers based on the requirement.
  • Do not exchange terminologies such as ’should‘ and ‚could‘. This changes the answer completely as mentioned in the scrum guide.
  • Certain questions with “best describes” will have similar answer options. Make sure that you select the best possible match according to the scrum guide.

A key tip that enabled me to assess the questions correctly is to have a clear definition of all the roles and responsibilities in a scrum team. For example, be clear of all the responsibilities of a product owner that he ’should‘ and ‚could‘ do.

Questions test your understanding of the correct application of scrum and false practices that are linked with the framework. Similarly, questions in my exam focused a lot on the concept of ’self-organization‘ as it is the underlying principle of the scrum framework. In other words, be clear on how the scrum team is self-organized and their respective functions.

What to do on the exam day

Keep calm and stay focused

I took the PSM I scrum certification on a Friday morning at my home in a very peaceful and quiet environment. As the exam demands you to answer 80 questions in 60 minutes, time is an important essence here. Similarly, make sure that there would be no disturbances or interruptions during the examination time. Select a quiet environment and switch off any electronic devices that are not necessary during this duration.

So, make sure that you have a stable internet connection. And most importantly, do not panic if there is a lag or shut-down during the exam. As you would be given a chance to restart from the point where you left, you could make up for the lost time.

If you have any pets, make sure that they do not cause any hindrance during the assessment, because every second counts.

In conclusion, start the exam with a fresh mindset, an energized stomach and a bottle of water by your side that keeps you going!

During the PSM I certification

To take the exam, a registration on scrum.org is required and it takes just a few minutes to complete this process. The PSM I certification costs $ 150 and a secure payment can be made by either PayPal or a credit card.

After completing the registration process, I received a key in my email to start the examination process. I felt the time given for the exam was sufficient. However, at certain places I did feel a bit hurried but there were other questions which were quite straightforward. For instance, some questions hardly took more than 10 seconds to answer. So do not panic if you are unfamiliar with a question.

In case you do not feel comfortable about a certain question, don’t stress. Just answer the question with your best knowledge and mark for reviewing later. I was able to finish the exam in 40 minutes, enabling me a 10 minute review window. This strategy helped me re-read these questions in a calm manner and asses my answers.

From my experience, I have listed a few tips that might come across as helpful for everyone taking the exam:

  • Be completely focused: Yes, this is an assessment. So there will be both familiar and unfamiliar questions that might get you a bit stressed. Nevertheless, trust us yourself and your preparation and keep on going with a positive mindset.
  • Do not forget to answer all the questions! There is no negative marking so answering a question that you are not completely sure of will not have any negative impact.
  • Keep a track of time: Try to have small time oriented goals. For instance, set a target of 40 questions in 30 minutes for good time management.
Focus is the key

In conclusion, do not panic at any point during the scrum certification! When giving the exam just focus on the exam and apply all the knowledge that you have gained about scrum until now. Do not think about the result during the assessment. A ll the answers are there in your head if you have understood the scrum guide. Stay focused, calm and positive.

As a beginner to the world of scrum, passing the scrum certification (PSM I) is my first step to display my understanding and grasp over scrum terminology and concepts. In order to call myself a scrum master, I believe that there is a continuous learning path and loads of experiences ahead of me, that I am ready to take on!

All the best!

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