How to practice for the PSM III (and PSM II) assessment.
So about a year ago, I decided I wanted to get PSM III certified. Having done PSM II it was a logical step, and one I really wanted to take. To me the PSM III is somewhat magical. Where there are almost 300.000 people certified as PSM I, at the time of writing around 800 people hold a PSM III. To me it’s truly a mark of distinguished Scrum Mastery.
The first attempt...
The PSM III is known to be a difficult assessment. It has 28 questions over 2 hours, most of which are open, essay style questions. You’re asked to state your view as a Scrum Master, and someone from Scrum.org decides if you understand and apply Professional Scrum the way it’s supposed to. Knowing that, I studied intensely. Reading all the articles I could, going through Scrum.org with a fine comb, rereading the Scrum Pocket Guide and Software in 30 days, exchanging study notes with other Scrum Master, et cetera. All to feel as confident as possible about the exam.
So then came the magical day. I was tired of studying and decided to take the plunge. I logged in with my password and had two very intense hours of thinking, typing, being at my Scrum best. Suddenly, I was in the last five minutes and still had four questions to go. Spoiler: this ruined my attempt. I did my best to answer all of them, but the last two were answered with barely a sentence and just a few seconds on the clock. I actually stretched the time until the assessment automatically submitted.
It takes some time to get the assessment graded, but after a few days I received my result: 79%. That was a bummer. I had expected it, but still. Being not that far away from the 85% made me realize that not really answering those last questions killed me. Time to regroup, reflect and think of what to do now.
After reevaluating my result and all of my other life choices, I came to the following conclusions regarding what I learned from doing the PSM III assessment:
- The time limit is key. You have to answer in a short but complete fashion. This is hard, but also what makes the certification valuable.
- Some questions will seduce you into writing long answers. As a Scrum enthusiast, it can be easy to get carried away and write about all the nuances and different contexts you can come up with. Don’t do this. Keep it simple and be concise.
- Writing a basic answer and bookmarking it, so you can expand on it when time allows, is probably best.
The problem is that this is hard to train. You can take another attempt at the assessment, but that will get expensive real fast. Every attempt you make is also made public on your Scrum.org profile, so even if I had the money, I wouldn’t really want ten attempts on there. All in all, not a good option. But for sure someone’s made a practice exam right? Going through the internet, I would have to say ‘no’. There are some example questions to be found, some pdf’s you can buy with practice questions, resources to quiz yourself, et cetera. All useful, but no real online test that compares well. Until now!
Let's build it then!
I’ve built web applications for many years. I’m no John Carmack type programming god, but I can build something. So, I set about making my own practice exam. This would allow me to train as much as I liked, mostly getting used to the time limit. After having a really basic version done, I realized I could do a bit better and share it with the world. After all, I couldn’t be the only one in need of this. After a few evenings of tinkering, I have put it on ScrumPractice.org. In an act of voluntary scope creep, I added a PSM II test as well (which is also hard to find). Go on, give it a go! It’s free, fun and you’ll learn something!
One thing I will say is that writing the questions was much harder than coding the quiz itself. Both the PSM II and PSM III questions are meant to have ‘no wrong answers, but some are better than others’. Keeping this balance is hard. You don’t want the wrong answers to be obvious, but you also want to make them wrong or worse without a doubt. I therefore welcome feedback on both the assessment and the questions. There’s an email address on the ScrumPractice website on which I’d love to hear from you. I really hope this will help out other Scrum Masters wanting to advance their mastery. Best of luck!