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Art of Scrum Learning: Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I)

All right, today you decided to become a certified scrum master. Good for you! Now you need to choose one of the many certifications that the market offers. After thorough review, we narrowed the search down to two well-known organizations that focus primarily on the role of scrum master rather than on agile practices in general. Those are Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I) from Scrum.org and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) from ScrumAlliance.org. ScrumAlliance has been on the market since 2001, while Scrum.org (founded by the creators of Scrum: Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber) was set up in 2010. The main differences between two certifications are provided below:

   PSM I  CSM
Attainment   Assessment Attendance
Cost of Test  $150 N/A
Cost of Training  $1200-1500 (test included) $1200-1500 (test included)
Training Material  Standardized Varies by instructor
Assessment 80 questions, 85% pass mark, 60 min time limit, one sitting 35 questions, 68% pass mark, 90 days time limit, as many sittings as you like
Certificate Renewal No Every 2 years ($100)

Even though CSM has been on the market longer, PSM I is becoming more popular and more well-respected across the board. This can be explained in part by the fact that the PSM I assessment is much more challenging than the one for CSM and therefore yields a more recognized certification (harder assessment means more studying and preparation; which equals a greater understanding of the Scrum framework). Thus, Microsoft uses the PSM I assessment to validate knowledge as part of its Silver and Gold Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) competencies. As a result, many companies that work with Microsoft try to have 100% of their employees certified with PSM I. All in all, PSM I seems to be more attractive in the current market, and we are going to talk about this certification in detail.

How to apply for the exam?

The application process is straightforward. Go to Scrum.org and register. After that you can easily navigate to the PSM I Assessment Page and click ‘Buy PSM I Assessment’. Once you have bought the assessment you will receive an email with instructions and a password, that will look close to this d3705379durl3tr7a9xp378wzb973421-FBT2189 (the password does not expire). Click the link in the email, enter the password, and pass the test.

How to prepare for the exam?

All right, now let’s talk business. An important thing in preparation for the exam is that it shouldn’t be a rush. In general, 2-4 weeks of studying is more than enough, but it completely depends on everybody’s experience, willingness and commitment. Below you can see the suggested steps which can be modified anyway you wish, as far as it works for you:

  • Read the Scrum Guide
    • Start with the basics, read this document 2-3 times, trying to understand the whole concept. Don’t try to remember every detail, just an overview. Do this iteratively. As you read it again and again try to emphasize your attention on something new. Overall it is good to read the document at least 20 times before taking the test.

  • Take Professional Scrum Foundations Class
    • I would highly consider taking this course as you begin building your foundational knowledge of the Scrum framework. It is very helpful, and you will be exposed to the original Scrum.org training with standardized training materials. What you need to consider, that behind your certification is your knowledge, and I can say that I learned way more from this 2-day training than from all the tests and books I’ve read. You also need to consider that PSF training is not oriented on teaching how to pass the test, but rather on explaining the many values of the Scrum framework and how it is applied in the real world. A pleasant bonus is receiving 14 PDUs (Professional Development Units, necessary for maintaining Project Management Institute (PMI)-certified credentials) for taking this class. Cardinal offers public courses in all of their locations and also offers group discounts and private classes.
  • Take Scrum Open Assessment
    • Take this assessment every day, 4-5 times a day, until you remember and understand all the questions. Many of those will appear on your real test. You will be given 30 minutes to answer 30 questions for each attempt. The whole pool of questions is around 40, so it is important to take the test many times. The perfect result is to answer all 30 questions under 5 minutes.
  • Read "Software in 30 Days: How Agile Managers Beat the Odds, Delight Their Customers, and Leave Competitors in the Dust"
    • I suggest this book, because it provides an extensive overview of Scrum and allows you to see the bigger picture. You might understand the Scrum Guide, but you need to start thinking broader. This book helps expand the boundaries of your thought process.
  • Take Mikhail Lapshin’s Assessment in Learning Mode
    • This test is helpful since it is mostly based on the Scrum Guide. In Learning Mode you can find responses to the questions that are taken directly from the Scrum Guide. Take this test 1-2 times a day until you make no mistakes. Once you are done with Learning Mode, try the Real Mode exam.

  • Take Simon Kneafsey’s Assessment
    • You will find this assessment to be very different. And that is good. Try to understand how the questions are formed, and what is asked. As with previous assessments, you need to take this one at least 2-3 times a day until you completely understand each response and can complete it under 3 minutes.

What will be on the test?

The test includes 80 randomly selected questions, each assigned to one of 4 sections: Scrum Framework, Scrum Theory and Principles, Cross-Functional and Self-Organizing Teams, and Coaching & Facilitation. Questions are randomly chosen, so you won’t know which section they refer to. At the end of the test a high-level overview of questions correctly answered will be provided (see below). In order to pass the test, it is necessary to answer at least 68 questions correctly (85%). During the test, you will be able to bookmark questions and refer to them any time you need to. That allows you to pass on tough questions and have a better track of time. You will have 60 minutes total to complete the test, which is 45 seconds per question. This is an open book test, so you can refer to any materials you want to…but be careful…the clock is ticking!

What else to read?

There are many more additional resources you can use to prepare for the PSM I. Among all of them, I would recommend the following:

The Scrum Framework:

Scrum Theory and Principles:

Cross-functional, Self-organizing Teams:

Coaching and Facilitation

Scrum.org Resources

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About The Author

Project Services Consultant

Artsem is a Consultant with Cardinal Solutions in Columbus, Ohio. He has broad experience working as a Business Analyst, Project Coordinator, and Scrum Master to successfully deliver projects of different complexity. His passion is educating organizations and teams about Scrum with the special emphasis on Scaling Practices. Artsem is also a certified Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Scaled Scrum Professional.