How to pass PSM-1: Self Study: Thoughts & Tactics

Sanjeev Ramani
Feb 1, 2018 · 9 min read

Recently, I had cleared the Professional Scrum Master (PSM-1) assessment on my first attempt. I answered 77 questions correctly, securing 96.3% and I want to share my experience.

My Scrum Background

We have been using scrum recently in our workplace. However, as you will soon discover through the journey of learning scrum — the practical world either plays catch up, or attempts to break free at the first opportunity from the theoretical world!

A good sticky note for your workplace — “Scrum does not solve your problems, it exposes them!”

Assessment Preparation — Overview

Resources

1) As many other blogs emphasize, a thorough understanding of “The Scrum Guide” by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland is mandatory.

Treat the Scrum Guide like how you would treat your marriage vow — each and every line is worth its weight in gold!

The scrum guide can be downloaded from the following link: http://www.scrumguides.org/

Understand the depth of each sentence and prepare your own notes. Whenever you have doubts, remember the marriage vow analogy — a periodic revisit of the lines always helps!

A tactic that helped me: I prepared my own notes in a question-answer format on each section/topic. I found it easy to revise the essence of the scrum guide every day with these notes. I am happy to share them here : https://medium.com/@sanjeev.ramani/psm1-notes-from-the-scrum-guide-ed77a983aad0

2) Scrum.org provides free open assessments that test your basic understanding. Attempt these as many times as you can.

3) Do not get disheartened if you cannot get high scores in the first few attempts. If it helps, have the scrum guide open for reference till you build confidence. Then, try answering all questions in the open assessment as quickly as you can, without referring to any material during the assessment.

Try building your own question bank after each open assessment. The scrum.org open assessment question bank consists of roughly 45–50 questions, and repeated attempts can help you build your own question bank. The question bank that I built was extremely useful for me during revisions, since I had all the questions in one place.

4) Apart from the scrum open assessment, I would encourage you to attempt the other open assessments available for Product Owner, Nexus and Developer. This will enrich your overall understanding of scrum.

Link to all scrum open assessments: https://www.scrum.org/open-assessments

5) Mikhail Lapshin has prepared a wonderful quiz for PSM-1 aspirants.

There are 2 variants — “learning mode” and “real mode”

The “learning mode” is a compact technique to test your mastery of the scrum guide. Attempt the quiz once you are fairly confident. At this point, it will either re-inforce your understanding or expose the areas in which you need to focus. You can find the quizes here: http://mlapshin.com/index.php/scrum-quizzes/

6) There are a few topics that are not in scrum guide, in which you might be tested during the assessment. Some of these topics are

Scalable Scrum (Reference: Nexus Guide)

Burn Down Charts

Scrum Feedback Loop

Cone of Uncertainty

Sprint Zero

Velocity

Technical Debt

You can read about these topics on the internet.

7) Note: Some blogs highly recommend “Scrum: A Pocket Guide”. I did read the book before the exam, and you can finish this in a couple of hours. However, if someone were to ask me if reading this book is mandatory to clear the PSM-1 exam, I would be hesitant to answer in the affirmative.

There are also a couple of other training sites that offer sample exams for a significant fee, and you would find many people vouching for them online. I did not consume material from them and hence am not in a position to comment on their usefulness.

The only assessments I took up during preparation were the scrum.org open assessments and Mikhael Lapshin’s quiz.

PSM-1 Preparation Schedule

For fun, let us treat the PSM-1 preparation like a scrum project. Co-incidentally, I took roughly 4 working weeks for this exercise, and hence it is easy to join the dots!

I spent around two productive hours per day after work throughout the 4 weeks towards PSM-1 exam preparation.

The PSM-1 Preparation Sprint

Sprint Planning

Prepare a backlog of tasks that would help you face the exam with confidence. I have elaborated on this in the previous section.

Register with scrum.org to create your own profile and pay the fee for the PSM-1 assessment. This does not have any expiry date.

Daily Scrum + PSM-1 Assessment “Increment”

Use the daily scrum to organize what you want to do for the day. Begin each day by reading your notes from the scrum guide.

My preparation time-line

Week of Jan 1–5

I spent the first week in reading/re-reading the scrum guide multiple times to prepare my notes. Each time, I discovered that there was something new that caught my attention.

Week of Jan 8–12

I had gathered enough confidence to evaluate my preparation with an open assessment. My aim was to complete this quiz in minimal time without referring to any material.

My first open assessment was a good reality check. Although I scored 29/30, I ended up taking up almost 30 minutes, and found myself referring to the scrum guide multiple times during the test. It exposed the shortcomings of my preparation thoroughly, and also gave directions on how the scrum guide should be digested .

I spent more time re-reading the scrum guide, refining my notes (Backlog refinement!), attempting more open assessments, and preparing a question bank with my open assessments.

Quick tip — For your own question bank, save your open assessment as a PDF and convert it into a document. This would give you a head start, as you would not have to type them again. You would only need to collect the rest of the 15–20 questions to complete your question bank.

Week of Jan 15–19

By this point, you must have your own notes and open assessment question bank ready.

I spent this week reading more about scrum topics online and took up an open assessment each day. I attempted the “Mikhail Lapshin” quiz. I scored 84/88 in my first try, and was able to score 88/88 after a few trials.

By the end of this week, I was able to clear all open assessments easily, scoring a 100% in less than 3 minutes.

Week of Jan 22–26

Time to expand your knowledge base. Attempt the rest of the open assessments for product owner, nexus and developer.

I discovered that most of these questions were not in sync with my preparations so far, but I was able to get more than 90% each time by focusing on answering each question, based on the options available. This would go a long way in building your confidence towards handling surprises in the PSM-1 exam.

I read about the other topics mentioned in my exam preparation section and attempted Mikhail Laphshin’s quiz in real mode a couple of times, and scored 80/80 each time.

I also spent a couple of hours reading “Scrum: A Pocket Guide”. By the end of Friday on Jan 26, I gained enough confidence to consider attempting the PSM-1 exam over the weekend.

A few pointers for checking your readiness

1) Your notes should have covered the scrum guide in depth. This will ensure that you have read/re-read scrum guide multiple times.

2) You should feel confident about the completeness of your open assessment question bank. This will ensure that you have taken the test multiple times.

3) You should be consistently scoring 100% in your scrum master open assessment tests in less than 4 minutes.

4) You should be scoring 80/80 in Mikhail Laphshin’s quiz in less than 15 minutes.

5) You should be consistently scoring above 90% in all other open assessments.

1) The exam carries a lot of questions that require you to put on your thinking cap; a calm and fresh mind is your asset on the D-day. Have a good night’s rest before the exam.

2) Give yourself an hour on the day of the exam to revise the Scrum guide. If it helps, you can take a couple of open assessments to build your confidence, and get into assessment mode.

3) Have some refreshments by your side, since the exam has a 1 hour time-box, and you are required to take it in one sitting. Remember, you need to score 85% (answer at least 68 out of the 80 questions correctly) to clear the exam.

4) I want to elaborate on the exam interface, since I could not find information about in any blog. It is different from the open assessment, and there is a lag before each question is loaded. You will need to factor this in for time management.

5) Each question can be bookmarked for review. At the end of the 80th question, DO NOT hit the “SUBMIT” button. You will need to scroll down the page to open your book marks.

6) The bookmark interface also consumes your time. The entire list of questions is displayed for review, and the ones you have bookmarked have a green check mark adjacent to them. Each question has a hyperlink, and you have to navigate back to the parent page every time you want to move to a different question. Keep this in mind, when you plan your productive time during the exam.

7) I would recommend bookmarking not more than 20 questions for review due to time constraints. Also, ensure that you answer each and every question before you move ahead. Do not leave any question unanswered even if you have bookmarked them. You might not get time to revisit them later.

8) During the exam, I would advise against minimizing/moving out of the exam interface. If needed, have an additional laptop by your side for quick references. Even though the assessment is open book, the chances of you finding accurate resources during the exam for help is not something that you should bank on. Trust your understanding and instincts!

9) Do not panic if you encounter something for the first time during the exam. You are likely to be nervous, and the question patterns are different from what you have seen in your open assessments so far. Answer them to the best of your knowledge, and quickly move ahead. Do not spend more than a minute on any question. From my experience, I discovered that moving ahead, and answering more questions during the exam calmed me down, and I was able to revisit the tricky ones I had bookmarked in a much better frame of mind during review.

10) This is how I managed my time — I took around 32 minutes to answer all the 80 questions. This left me with 28 minutes to review the 24 questions I had bookmarked. When I revisited them, I knew at the back of my mind that I had gotten close to 56 of them right. This cleared my self-doubts, and I was able to focus on the bookmarked questions with confidence. I finished reviewing the bookmarked questions in 27 minutes.

11) With a minute to go, I clicked on the “SUBMIT” button. After a few heart stopping moments, where the interface again teased me with a delay, I was elated to discover that I had answered 77 out of 80 correctly!

Sprint Retrospective

Once you see the results, it is safe to exit the exam interface. I received a confirmation mail immediately from Scrum.org confirming the results, and my scrum.org profile was also updated with the certification very quickly.

The confirmation email also breaks down your performance in each of the scrum focus areas. You can feel happy about your results, and also identify areas in which you can improve.

Looking back, I think the most satisfying part of the entire journey was the process of preparation itself. A passing grade validates that you have been honest and thorough in your preparation, since there are no shortcuts to clear this exam. The entire process definitely enhances your understanding of scrum.

All the best to any one taking up the PSM-1 exam in the future! I hope this post aids you in your preparation. Keep calm, and SCRUM on!