I recently passed my PSM 1 certification and I thought I would go through my study techniques for anyone interested.
Now, these study techniques are how I learn, and not necessarily how you may learn, but my thinking is that it doesn’t hurt.
I should mention, too, that I completed my CSM certification a little over 18 months ago, so I’m not a complete newbie. I’ve also been reading quite a lot about Lean, TPS, Agile Methods, and taken quite a number of courses online. I follow podcasts, recorded conferences, and follow blogs such as DZone’s Agile Zone, and the Scrum Alliance blog. I have even written several articles for both. I have had experience with Agile “Projects” both as a member of the Development Team and as a Scrum Master.
I should also mention that getting your certification(s) does not make you an expert in Scrum or even Agile. It only confirms your knowledge of Scrum. But saying that, once you learn the techniques it should go a long way towards understanding. I think of the certifications as a step along my Agile journey. Not the destination.
I don’t want to debate the merits of certification here, I will leave it as a personal choice, which I think it should be.
The exam itself is an 80 question multiple choice exam with a time limit of 1 hour. In order to pass, you need to get 85%. The exam itself covers what is in the Scrum Guide, some scaling of Scrum questions, and some situational questions that are not covered in the guide, but require an understanding of Scrum to answer.
The Scrum Guide
The first obvious thing I think someone should do is read the Scrum Guide. The exam itself is on the Scrum Guide. So read it.
Now, the next thing I decided to do was deconstruct the Scrum Guide. How did I do that? Well, I wrote out by hand (Yes! By hand!) each paragraph of the Scrum Guide and after the paragraph, I wrote down my understanding of what was being said. I even went another step further and started writing out from a skeptic's point of view (as best I could) why certain practices would not work. I based these on what I have heard from other skeptics and I also tried to put my mindset in that mode. This, I must admit, was difficult at times as some of my skepticism didn’t really make sense. But I think the mere voicing of it was a benefit. I would then counteract if I found it was needed.
Now I only got halfway through the Scrum Guide before I decided to take the test, but this did help with understanding. The “writing” actually allowed my reading to slow down rather than typing and my thoughts could gather around what was being said.
Another thing I did was to listen to Jeff Sutherland's book “Scrum, do twice the work in half the time.” The book goes through, from Jeff’s perspective, how he developed Scrum. More importantly, the reasons behind the practices. This I found important as it gives a basis as to why certain things in Scrum are done that way.
Another book I read was “Scrum And XP From The Trenches” written by Henrik Kniberg. This is a free book that goes through Henrik’s experiences in implementing Scrum and XP. This can give a practical perspective.
The last thing I did was do a lot of practice exams.
I started with the Open Assessment provided by Scrum.org. This is about 30 questions to be done in 30 minutes.
The first time I did this practice test, I think I got 60 something percent. A failure, but as you learn, keep re-doing the test. Soon you get 100% each time.
The problem is that the questions get repetitive and you start knowing the answers without knowing the actual context. This should be avoided. When you get a question right or wrong, understand why.
The other practice exam I did was Mikhail Lapshin’s practice exam. This practice exam has 2 modes. The first is the Learning Mode where, as you answer the questions, you get told if you were correct or not straight away. Then the reasons for the answer.
The second mode is the actual exam mode where you answer 80 questions in an hour.
A few days before I started doing the PSM exam, I would do this practice test on the train on the way to and from work.
Now, these 2 practice assessments, I would repeat to the point where I could do the Open Assessment in 5 minutes with a 100% pass mark, and Mikhail’s practice exam within 15 minutes with a pass mark of 100% also. Any question I would get wrong, I would try to understand why. Even if it was a silly mistake. Go back to the Scrum Guide and find the section where the topic is covered and re-read.
The final practice exam I did was the TestAhoy exam. I left this exam for the last week before taking the test. That way the questions would be kind of a surprise. I actually did this exam the afternoon before I was going to take the test. I took the test that evening around 9 pm when all was quiet.
Finally, a few days before you plan on taking the test, read and re-read the Scrum Guide.
Now, when I decided I was actually going to take the test, I had it in my mind that it would not matter if I failed. I would say to myself that it would not matter, it’s no big deal. Just try again. I was trying to calm my nerves. I think it helped a little, but I was still nervous, and then got a little careless. Once I completed the test (in a little over 30 minutes) I didn’t bother reviewing my answers. I just hit submit and let what will be, be. Thinking back, I’m not sure if this was a good or bad thing to do. If I start reviewing, would I change my answers? Would I second guess myself? Would I have got more correct answers? I will never know, but I did pass with a score in the low 90s. The frustrating thing is that you only get told the sections you did not do well in. You do not find out what questions you got wrong, or their correct answers. Why would you, it is an exam. But it is still frustrating. At least for me.
So, if you decide to go and do your PSM 1 Certification, good luck and I hope this guide was helpful.