It’s been a year and a half since I wrote my most successful blog article Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I) Exam Preparation. Since then, hundreds of people have subscribed to the site, many of whom have gone on to earn their PSM I certificate. The most frequent question I get asked now is “When will you write an article on passing the PSM III”? Well, here it is.
About the PSM III Assessment
The PSM III assessment is the follow-on assessment from the PSM II from Scrum.org. According to Scrum.org, the PSM III demonstrates an intermediate knowledge of Scrum roles, events, artefacts and the rules that bind them together into Scrum. Cost for the PSM III assessment is $500.
(nb: The cost of the PSM III is reduced by $200 if you take a Scrum.org PSM course first)
Format of the PSM III Assessment
The PSM III assessment is two hours long and is part multiple-choice and part essay-style questions. The number of multiple-choice questions varies. The assessment is not proctored. You can take it from anywhere where you have access to the Internet.
The result of the multiple-choice section of the assessment is given immediately at the end. The remainder of the questions are assessed by hand and the final result can take up to two weeks to arrive.
All of the questions are in English and, bizarrely, it seems that native English speakers have the greatest difficulty in understanding some of them. They see nuance in the phrasing of some of the questions that non-native English speakers do not. The absolute best advice I can give to native English speakers is this: None of the questions are trick questions. There is no nuance. There is no finesse. As a friend put it: “Don’t over-think it”.
How Hard is the PSM III?
Very. The PSM III assessment from Scrum.org has a fierce, and well deserved, reputation for being the toughest Scrum assessment available anywhere. Here is an interesting stat:
PSM I Certificates Issued : 14,564
PSM III Certificates Issued : 146*
Only 1% of PSM I certificate holders go on to earn a PSM III certificate. I cannot be sure why this is but I do know that the $500 fee is a bar to some. There are those that see it as a gamble because the format of the assessment is not well-known or understood.
*Accurate at time of writing. PSM III certificates include reduction for duplicate certificates
From personal experience, I can tell you that I found the assessment hard for a number of reasons:
- As a native English speaker, I misunderstood some of the questions. I read too much in to them
- The time allowed is very short and I felt rushed on some questions
- My exam technique is poor. I didn’t fully read some of the questions and my answers suffered
- Some of the questions used phraseology I hadn’t come across before and it took time for me to shift gears and apply Scrum, which slowed me down
Here’s another interesting stat:
By examining the public list of PSM III certificates issued, I can see that one person has done the test three times and a further six people have sat it twice.
All but two of these went on to become Professional Scrum Trainers so it’s reasonable to assume that they originally scored between 85% (pass mark for PSM III) and 95% (pass mark required for Professional Scrum Trainer candidates). To me, this indicates that the PSM III is difficult even for those that have gone on to become trainers.
Final thought: The PSM III is hard. You need to prepare well for it. Don’t gamble your $500.
Why Take the PSM III?
So, why should you consider taking it? Because it shows that you’ve gone beyond the basics. That you have a deeper understanding of Scrum. Why this is important to you, is a question that only you can answer. Reasons might include:
- To stretch yourself and improve your knowledge of Scrum
- For recognition amongst your peers
- As part of earning Professional Scrum Trainer status
- To prove your knowledge of Scrum to potential employers
How do I pass the PSM III?
- Take the PSM courses by Scrum.org. Check my public course schedule for both PSM I and PSM II
- Revise the course material and go over the Scrum Guide again (and again)
- Your course trainer will probably give you a list of additional reading. Use it
- If you attend a PSM course, you’ll get a free go at the PSM I. Take it
- If you attend the PSM II course, you’ll get a free go at the PSM II assessment. Take that, too
- Do the Scrum.org Open Assessments again (and again). It helps to form Scrum muscle memory
- Create a study group with other PSM III candidates and help each other to revise and study
- Don’t leave it too long after the PSM courses before taking the PSM III assessment. You will start to forget things you learned in the course
- Read the question. I know, this sounds obvious and yet I, and a colleague, both lost marks because we failed to do this
- Don’t over-think the question
- Brush up your exam-techniques. Don’t lose points for silly things
- Don’t worry about the low score you receive at the end of the assessment,this is normal, as only your multiple-choice questions have been marked (Anecdotal information indicates that a score of between 11% and 18% is normal but it will depend on the number of multiple choice questions you have)
- Questions do not carry the same number of points, so don’t make any predictions based on the score you got at the end of the assessment
- If you fail, do NOT give up. Scrum.org will feedback to you on where you can improve. Take time to review this thoroughly then draw up a plan to revise and re-sit the assessment
In November 2013, I earned my PSM III certificate. It was difficult and gave me a great sense of achievement. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot more about Scrum and the people that are passionate about it. I heartily recommend it to anyone wanting to increase their understanding of Scrum.
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Illya Pavlichenko says
Great article, Derek!
PSMII is really a tough exam and it was extremely (yes, that’s the right word) to pass it.
Thanks for this post. Are you able to recommend readings that can help to prepare to this exam? What is worth to consider?
I’d recommend the following books:
1. Software in 30 Days by Ken Schwaber
2. Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter
3. Scrum – A Pocket Guide by Gunther Verheyen
Be wary of books on Scrum that are older than a few years. Scrum evolves so quickly that it supersedes advice given in older publications. I wish you the very best of luck and, should you need a PSM course, do check my schedule of public Scrum courses.
You have said it is part essay. Can you please give me an example of that. Thanks
I mean that the questions require you to write a short answer rather than simply check an option on a prepared list. All PSM II assessments are marked by hand by an assessor.
Patralekh Satyam says
Is the PSM course a mandatory prerequisite for PSM II certification exam? I would love to go for this course, but this course is being conducted at only one place in my country which is too far from my place and I cannot afford to go for those classes.
Thanks & Regards,
How much cost will be the second attempt
Check out the scrum.org site. They’ve just announced a major re-vamp of the Professional Scrum series
Hi , Could you kindly post the Format of the PSM II exam , that will help us to prepare better .
I had 34 questions, most of which were multiple choice. About seven of the questions required a written essay answer.
Hi, I failed my PSM II test. I had 81%… too bad.
I had 34 questions, most of them were essays (about twenties).
Maurizio Arnaud says
Hi Benn,you were actually close to get the 85% score! Could you share one or two examples about the PSM III exam?
Thanks so much,