PSM 1 Study Guide: How to Fully Prepare for the Assessment

The journey to becoming a Scrum Master sucks. At best, it’s challenging and stimulating. From persuading skeptical stakeholders to inspiring cultural change; advancing to a more flexible delivery system requires a deep understanding of the underlying Scrum philosophy.

For many Scrum proponents, the Professional Scrum Master (PSM-1) exam is the certification of choice, requiring intimate knowledge of the Scrum framework in both theory and practice. But it’s not going to be a walk in a park with a jelly filled donut in hand. 

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Consisting of 80 questions and constrained to just 1 hour, aspiring Scrum Masters will be forced to quickly assess a broad spectrum of subjects, from basic role definitions to detailed “what if” scenarios. While helpful, attending an in-person course is optional. Assessment is offered online and individuals that achieve a passing score of 85 percent are granted Professional Scrum Master status for life, no need to pay a fee for annual renewal

So… this one goes out to all of the future Scrum Masters trying to avoid the hair-pulling experience the PSM 1 assessment can be: read through our PSM 1 study guide to set yourself up for success.

Objectives Covered

From basic Scrum principles to navigating advanced situations like a boss, the assessment explores Scrum beyond the textbook to test your real-world knowledge. Although every one’s actual test will be different to discourage unethical behavior, in the PSM 1 study guide we provide an overview of important topics that any PSM 1 test-taker worth their salt should know.

The Scrum Framework

The Scrum Framework is multi-faceted. Its engine is an empirical process control system leveraging transparency, inspection and adaptation. It has core elements that consist of roles, artifacts and events. Every element of Scrum supports empiricism in one way or another. 

Each of these concepts is critical to the function of the framework and thus aspiring Scrum Masters should understand how Scrum is applied in real world scenarios. In the words of the official Scrum Guide: “changing the core design or ideas of Scrum, leaving out elements, or not following the rules of Scrum, covers up problems and limits the benefits of Scrum, potentially even rendering it useless.” 

Essentially, Scrum is designed a certain way for a reason: Stay within the boundaries of the framework, pay close attention to which elements of the framework are non-prescriptive, and which are non-negotiable.

Scrum Theory and Principles

Scrum is founded on empiricism and lean thinking. 

  • Empiricism, which emphasizes the role of experience in decision-making, serves to help optimize predictability and control risk. 
  • Lean thinking, which focuses on reducing waste and maximizing the amount of unnecessary work not done.

Become VERY familiar with these 3 main principles— transparency, inspection, and adaptation. By collecting facts, looking at the facts, and adapting based on the facts, Scrum teams can maintain a cadence of continuous improvement and deliver maximum value. You must know this to pass the assessment, and you must understand this for Scrum to work in the real-world. 

Protecting self-organization

The Scrum Master is not a new version of a Project Manager. They do not solve the developers problems, they don’t get anyone coffee, they don’t take notes or write all the user stories.  And they definitely don’t manage your Outlook calendar for you. They are not a Scrum Nanny.

Scrum Masters support the developer’s ability to self-organize to solve problems themselves. The step in to remove impediments the team cannot remove themselves. There are usually many questions on the exam testing your ability to understand the subtle difference between facilitating the solutioning process and solving it yourself. If the answer to a question looks like something a project manager would do then it’s probably the wrong answer.

Read The Scrum Guide

You must read the Scrum Guide carefully and thoroughly. Sometimes the weirdly worded statements in the Scrum Guide will be answers to questions on the assessment. Highlight those sections in the Scrum Guide for quick reference while taking the assessment. 

If you took a Professional Scrum Master course, read through the slide deck used in class. There are a lot of summarized nuggets of knowledge that will help to answer some of the questions related to the timing of the Events, the accountabilities of the various roles, etc. 

Know the Scrum Values. Roles, Artifacts, Events. Understand how the artifacts create transparency, know how the Events support inspection and adaptation. Understand the Definition of Done as this is a common source of confusion. Done reflects releasable, not when all the features are finished. The whole point of Scrum is to create Done (releasable) increments every Sprint. Understand how Done increments reduce risk when doing complex work.

General tips on the questions

  • Watch out for answers that are absolutes. Scrum is just a framework, not a prescriptive process to follow
  • The assessment is open notes, open internet, so prepare your resources ahead of time
  • Look out for questions that require more than one answer. It’s easy to overlook this if you’re moving fast under pressure
  • Create a cheat sheet with all basic facts listed
    • How long is each event for a 30 day Sprint
    • What are the roles? What is the accountability of each?
    • What are the artifacts?
    • What are the Events (there are five!)
  • Know what is Scrum and what is a complementary practice. Burn-down charts, user stories, Epics, Planning poker, story points, are all examples of practices commonly used with Scrum that are not part of Scrum.
  • Use the bookmark feature to mark a question you would like to review if you have extra time.

Preparation Tips 

Without practice or time management, even skilled Scrum Masters may raise an eyebrow and make an educated(ish) guess. To ensure they’re successful, test-takers should keep a number of tips and best practices in mind:

  • Don’t delay! After your PSM or PSF class you will be given 2 attempts. Take the assessment while the information is fresh. Your first attempt will expire within 14 days so don’t waste it!
  • Manage your time. With 80 questions and only 1 hour total for the test, you’ll be limited to less than a minute per question. Don’t waste time on a single topic. If you don’t know it, take your best guess and move on. You can always go back to questions before the time-box expires so make note of the ones you need to revisit
  • Take practice tests. There are a few resources online that allow students to familiarize themselves with the test content and mechanics. Responsive Advisors, for example, offers a Scrum 101 quiz to help you brush up on the fundamentals of Scrum. Scrum.org has several practice assessments that provide test-takers with in-depth exposure to the exam question stylization and format.
  • Answer all questions. There’s no penalty or deduction for answering incorrectly on the practice assessments, so if all else fails, give a question an educated guess.
  • Scrum.org Learning Pathways. Expand your learning with Scrum.org pathways.
  • Learn from other test-takers.  Browse Scrum forums and discussion boards, and ask those who have taken the test in the past about their experiences and advice.
    • The Scrum.org website is home to an active PSM 1 discussion board, allowing test-takers to share strategies for mastering the framework and obtaining the certification.
  • Get help from experts. When it comes to mastering the ins and outs of Scrum, there’s no substitute for experience. Whether you’re a project manager looking to adopt a better process, or you’re a c-suite executive seeking organization-wide transformation, learning the ropes from a seasoned Scrum Master will help accelerate your education. 

By partnering with Responsive Advisors, business leaders will have access to a full spectrum of Scrum training offerings, from in-person workshops to remote learning seminars. It’s time to begin your journey towards Professional Scrum Master status— and Responsive Advisors will be there to help at every step.

Robert Pieper

I like Metalcore, and cupcakes.
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