PLAN. COMMUNICATE. LEAD.
Getting certified. Why even bother? 🤷♀️
During the last couple of years, I added management of software development projects to my portfolio of skills . This is where knowledge about Agile came in handy. What is more, I am lucky to have a diverse experience. During one of the projects, I had an exciting opportunity to lead a very mature software development team, who became a role model of trust, cross-functionality, maturity, and agility. During another project – I took up the responsibility of building, leading a development team, and coach them in scrum adoption almost from scratch. So when I decided to prepare for the Scrum Certification, the goal was to kill 3 birds with one shot:
1. Validate the knowledge and experience I already had ☝
2. Gain new knowledge by doing extensive reading and research on Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, etc 📚
3. Continuously improve, experiment in real-life projects, and see what works well and what does not 🛠
It was an amazing research and study journey, I would like to encourage you to take this exam as well and would like to share some useful tips.
Getting certified as Professional Scrum Master: 3 key considerations
If you decide to take a Scrum Master certification, you will have a choice of 2 organizations: Scrumalliance.com and Scrum.org. In short, Scrum Alliance requires you to take a course first, as a prerequisite before you can approach the exam itself (this is part of their offering). Scrum.org recommends a course but does not put it as a requirement. Scrum.org exam for PSM I (Professional Scrum Master level I) costs 150 USD, and Scrum Alliance CSM (Certified Scrum Master) both course and exam costs 880 EUR. What is more, the Scrum.org examination is said to be a bit more difficult – 80 questions, 60 minutes, to pass you need to score a minimum of 85%. Scrum Alliance – 50 questions, 60 minutes, and 74% passing score.
I opted for the option offered by Scrum.org and here is why:
- Cost considerations. I can prepare on my own, take as much time as I need, and dig as deep as I want. The amount of knowledge I need wight not be covered in any of the 2 days training course, however well explained.
- Goal to get certified. Some people just need a certificate fast. They might not have much time to invest in preparation, or they need a very high-level understanding of the concept. Which is absolutely OK. As for me, I knew I wanted to understand better and in detail.
- Complexity. Many people will tell you that the passing score of the Scrum.org exam is quite high, you have less than 1 minute to answer 1 question (80 questions for 60 minutes). I didn’t want an easy solution. If it is easy, why bother?
The structure which ensured me a success story
Now, if you still want to get certified, I will share some useful hints about what to start with and how to gather a significant amount of knowledge on your way. Moreover, I have prepared a cheatsheet for you with links and recommendations of useful videos, books and tests. You will be able to download it below in the artickle for free.
Here is my high level structure while preparing for any examination:
- Read the material. Understand and clarify the unknowns.
- Do a significant amount of testing. Identify your knowledge gaps and understand why you make mistakes.
- Read, research, and learn more.
- Repeat testing and re-testing.
- Take the exam and go celebrate🙂
- Start with the Scrum Guide. Download it here https://scrumguides.org, print it out, and read it attentively multiple times. In a few sources, you will see the recommendation to read the Scrum Guide couple of times – at least 4 or 5. In the beginning, I did not get it – why shall I read simple 19 pages so many times? I got the idea after doing the tests and also after I was implementing Scrum in practice and noticed some topics I could not find quick answers to. I used Scrum guide as a reference for help and Scrum Forum as a reference for my open questions (this one is really good if you know to use it😎). So yes, read the Scrum guide and make sure you make your notes/highlights of key elements.
- Ideally, while reading I recommend having a high-level picture in mind of what the Scrum framework is comprised of. Then decompose it into smaller elements and investigate each of them. Here is a link to the video: https://youtu.be/IAOTrBsJsoU. It gives a good overview structure and helps understand the major elements: Scrum roles, events, artifacts, and rules.
- How can we truly understand something if we don’t understand key terms and naming conventions? This is where you go to the scrum glossary and make sure you understand the terminology https://www.scrum.org/resources/scrum-glossary. What do you do if you still don’t get it? No problem – you can search for better explanations in the scrum forum, on Youtube, on the internet, or ask a colleague (NB: whatever questions you might have, feel free to reach out to me, I will be more than happy to help).
- If you are new to Scrum or want to get a little bit more knowledge of the concept and history, there are 2 books I’d like to recommend. I really enjoyed reading them and I believe they add value. “Scrum. The art of doing twice the work in half the time” written by the co-creator of Scrum Jeff Sutherland. “Scrum, A Smart Travel Companion. A pocket Guide” by Gunther Verheyen.
- The useful part of any tests is that they make you actively remember what you learn. One thing is to read and think you know it, another thing is to test how well and how much you remember of what you have read and learned. This is why I absolutely love tests and recommend them – this is your active learning part.
- Many sources, as well as on Scrum.org, keep underlining: you have to do open assessments. Start with them: https://www.scrum.org/open-assessments/scrum-open. Do at least the Scrum Open, Nexus Open (read the guide as well), Product Owner Open, and Agile Leadership Open. Do the tests as many times as you need until you continuously score 100%. After some time questions will be repeating because the pool of questions source is limited. Don’t just learn the answers by heart, understand them instead, find in the book why that answer is correct and if you are not sure – go to the scrum forum and search there.
- During my preparation and research, I have found some cool tests available for free and of good quality. I will share them below in a pdf file, which you can download for free. In general, be careful with the test sources since there are tests that provide answers that are not consistent with the Scrum guide🤔
- I have found an amazing Scrum exam preparation course at udemy.com. It has over 240 tests available. I definitely recommend it. A reliable source, good revision of material. It will be available in the pdf, which I will share.
- For your convenience, I have prepared a whole “cheatsheet” of useful reading, tests, and videos which I went through myself while preparing for the exam. You can download it for free below.
Reading and learning more
- While doing tests I bet you made mistakes. Don’t leave them alone. If you want to have a good understanding, you need to understand why you made those mistakes.
- For each mistake make a screenshot and store it in OneNote, Evernote, or whatever tool you use for making notes. Making mistakes is a great learning opportunity and shows where you lack knowledge or experience. You can revisit them later and cross-check again.
- Each mistake indicates where there is a gap in knowledge. Try doing some research on that, read some articles or books in addition to the recommended sources. it will broaden your perspective.
Testing and re-testing
- Keep doing the tests, keep marking, and reviewing your mistakes.
- The actual exam will take 60 minutes. You need to check if you can handle it. In the exam “cheat-sheet” I provided for download, you will find links where you can do full scope testing with timing.
Pass the Exam
- Take the exam with a fresh head. I did it on a beautiful Sunday morning. You probably already know that you can take the exam online and you can do it at any time convenient for you and at any place you like – from home, from the office, even from the seaside😉
- Registering for the exam is easy. All you need is your payment card. Here are your steps:
- Go to Scrum.org and make sure you are registered there, if not yet done – do so.
- Go to certification and select Professional Scrum Master.
- Choose PSM I assessment and click buy.
- Fill in all required details.
- It is said that you will be provided with a password within 1 business day. For me, Business day means a working day, so I was just about to be upset because I purchased it on Friday evening. Lucky me, I got the password in less than 1 hour on the same day. You will receive a password via e-mail.
- Now, select a day and time and prepare your computer (NB: if you can, it is better to use your private PC, because if you use your work PC, some firewall ports might block your connection to the website of scrum.org).
- Grab a coffee, make sure your phone is off and nobody interrupts you for the next 1h.
- Login to Scrum.org account and navigate to PSM I Start Assessment page.
- Click the Start Assessment button in the middle of the page.
- Enter the given password and GO. You have now 60 min to answer all 80 questions.
I hope this information was valuable for you and will help you in your journey for Scrum Master Certification. If you know someone who can benefit from this information, please share. If you have additional useful insights or questions for me – feel free to reach out, I’d love to hear about them. Let’s support each other in our continuous improvement. Sharing is caring!