Recently, the Scrum Alliance introduced a mandatory pass/fail test for prospective Certified Scrum Masters (CSM). In this article, I relate my experience of the CSM Test and the assessment process.
History of the CSM Award
Originally, CSM certificates were awarded for attendance at a Scrum Master course delivered by the Scrum Alliance. In the years since first being issued, a large number of articles have sprung up on the web attesting to the fact that attendance on a two-day course doesn’t certify anything, let alone that the holder is a ‘Master’ of Scrum. There seems little, if any, argument about this and yet the value of the certificate persists in that it is often a listed requirement for jobs that involve Scrum.
This continued until Ken Schwaber, one of the founders of Scrum, split from the Scrum Alliance and setup a new organisation called Scrum.org. One of the first acts of this new business was to create a formal assessment for Scrum that awarded a new certificate titled the Professional Scrum Master (PSM). At a stroke, this act divorced the need to attend a course from the ability to pass an assessment. Candidates could only earn a Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certificate by taking, and passing, this new assessment.
The Scrum Alliance responded by creating their own formal assessment. It went through a lengthy approval process, part of which required CSM candidates to sit the assessment. However, at this stage the assessment was itself being tested and candidates could not fail. Finally, on 1 Sep 12, the assessment became mandatory and now, anyone wishing to earn a CSM certificate is required to undergo both the official training course and the formal test.
CSM Test Logistics
Following a CSM course, the instructor emails the Scrum Alliance the attendance list. The Scrum Alliance then emails all attendees and offers them the chance to take the CSM Test. Passing this test is mandatory for anyone that wishes to earn the CSM certificate.
The test itself is an online test which can be taken anywhere. It is not proctored. The link for the test is unique to each candidate and is contained within their personal profile page at the Scrum Alliance. Each candidate has two chances to take the test within 90 days, free of charge. If a candidate needs further re-sits, they come at a cost of $25 per attempt. There is no limit on the number of attempts a candidate may make.
Taking the CSM Test
The test itself consists of 35 multiple choice questions. There is no time limit. Candidates can go back to prior answers and modify them if they wish. Candidates can also bookmark a question and return to it later during the assessment, if they wish to do so.
The questions are themed under the areas of General Knowledge, Scrum Roles, Scrum Meetings and Scrum Artifacts. I found all of the questions, bar one, to be straight forward. Some questions are simple to answer where others require interpretation and consideration of the information gained during the course.
The pass mark for the test is 66%. From my experience, I’d say that this is an easily achievable mark. The Certified Scrum Trainer for the course, Colin Bird of RippleRock, advises all his delegates that he’s only ever had one candidate fail and that’s because he was interrupted part way through the test and unable to complete it.
The CSM Test is a natural progression for earning the CSM certificate. The test itself is not stressful, primarily because it is not time boxed and the questions are straight forward. For those that need them, re-sits are cheap. In comparison with the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) assessment, I’d say that the CSM Test is far easier to pass. If you’d like more information, I’ve written an article that compares the CSM and PSM.