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PSM Advice, Tips, Pain Points

Last post 12:43 pm February 3, 2015 by Ryan Quellhorst
16 replies
11:28 am January 14, 2015

Hi Everyone

I am working to put together a 2 hour course at work for passing the PSM. I've looked through most of the posts that deal with PSM strategies for being successful on the exam.

I just want to ask the community is there any additional advice for passing the exam (other than study the Scrum guide, take the Scrum open multiple times, etc.) such as areas that you struggled with. Any tips that were given by someone who took the exam that were helpful. Exam questions that stick out in your mind.

I just wanted to get some fresh new thoughts.


11:44 am January 14, 2015

Just as an example of something that I wish I would have seen beforehand is the exam format. So, how the "Question" and "Bookmarked" screen looked.

The "Question" screen looks very similar to the Open Assessment except for the bookmark check box and the bookmark button which takes you to a separated screen where you can review the questions you bookmarked and questions you answered.

In the "Bookmarked" screen, I struggled for a moment with getting back to a specific question until I realized that I could click the question number and it would take me back to the screen.

**Question and Bookmarked are in quotations because I don't know what those screens are officially called. (An old BA habit)

08:01 am January 15, 2015

Hi Ryan,
it is a good thing to spread your knowledge and experience among colleagues. I have been doing the same thing, and there are some thoughts I would like to share with you.
- I had the 2day PSM course, studied the Scrum Guide and course material, and passed on first attempt
- I provided several 2day courses for about 30 colleagues, of which 80% passed PSM on first attempt
- Given a very short timebox of 2 hours, I guess your colleagues must already be very experienced in Scrum. From my training experience, I see no way to deliver the knowledge and understanding necessary for the assessment in 2 hours. Maybe if they all have the CSM already and profound experience as a Scrum Master, but not if they are the average "have heard and read about and maybe did some Scrum" participants.

It seems to me like an attempt to train some monkeys to hit the right key in the assessment.

02:49 pm January 15, 2015

I wasn't entirely transparent in my description of the course.

There are 5 classes that are 2 hours long each that walks through the Scrum framework before the class I was describing. These classes will cover everything from, Scrum Theory
starting a new project, The Scrum Team, Scrum Events, Scrum Artifacts, Scrum Tools (playing poker, burn up/down charts, etc.). This will culminate with the students actually walking through a few short sprints.

My class is focused on the PSM exam itself. What they should be studying, what they should be reading, and generally what is going help them be successful on the exam. I included some questions in my presentation with the intention of reviewing them in class and walking them through the thought process behind Scrum.

I would just like some input from the community as to what they would've liked to know before the exam or any tips that helped them with studying.

09:21 am January 16, 2015

I don't think I can tell you on a blog how much I regret how you spend your time. We at spend our time working to improve the profession of software development.
You, to the contrary, are spending your time trying to make money helping people look like they know how to use Scrum with as little effort as possible.
Everyone must eat, but can you try to do something more productive?
Ken Schwaber

09:06 am January 18, 2015

Hi Ryan,

Several Scrum enthusiasts, including me, have connected with people who find themselves wanting to take the PSM 1 & 2 assessment. We've also connected with people who want to take the PSPO or PSD.

While I've had conversations, written on the forums, responded in LinkedIn forums, presented free classes on scrum, itself, here's the key thing I would suggest --
If you're struggling with the Scrum Open assessment, or the PSM 1 take an actual class with a PST.

While your actions appear to be well meaning, I'm hesitant to think a 10hour contact course over 5 days will be meaningful. I could be wrong and don't mean to come across as being critical.

Instead here's a seed I would plant --
Consider completing the PSM II, with a 95% pass. Thereafter, considering being a Trainer with Scrum.Org.

P.S. Scrum is a framework, not a methodology. I noticed this on your LinkedIn profile...

09:55 am January 18, 2015

Ryan's profile indicates that he has already passed PSM I. My reading of the situation is that he's trying to put together an internal company course which would help fellow employees to do the same.

The problem is the emphasis that is apparently being placed on teaching-to-test rather than on improving the implementation of Scrum in its organizational context. Ryan's company won't get much value out of exam crammers, but would get value out of people who understand the rules of the Scrum framework and who can apply them. That after all is the crucible in which good Scrum Masters are forged, and not the company classroom. However I agree with Nitin that there is no evidence of ill-intent.

03:03 am January 19, 2015


Perhaps you can share with us why you want to help your colleague how to 'crack' the exam?

03:54 pm January 21, 2015

I feel a little attacked right now by the forum, and I want to make it clear that my intentions were not malice. I would like to make a few things clear.

I am not making any money from this. Our organization might be a bit different than other organizations in that we create after-hours training that cover a variety of different subjects. Over the last year my colleagues have put together a course on Scrum as I defined above. I was studying for the PSM at the time, and I was diligent in writing down the strategies that I was using in studying for the exam. So, when I passed the exam I put together a short presentation on what to focus on in order to keep people from some of the pitfalls I've seen while reading the forum (e.g. reading outside material, taking tests other than the Scrum Open).

I don't believe that the PSM can be quickly studied. I spent 2 months of 2 hours a night studying before I took the exam. Having not worked on an Agile project before and being new to the framework, It took a lot of reading and heads down studying to accomplish. My two hour session is not designed for someone to go take the PSM afterward and be successful. What I wanted to do was to make my colleagues hungry to learn more.

I want my colleagues to be interested in the Scrum, because I think it's a great framework delivering solutions.

When you are posting online remember than there is a person on the other side of the keyboard. I think it's important to remember that we are all human, and humans make mistakes, but hopefully learn in the process. I forgive everyone that attacked my character is this discussion, and I hope we can all learn from this experience.

04:01 pm January 21, 2015

"Our organization might be a bit different than other organizations in that we create after-hours training that cover a variety of different subjects."

I just want to clarify my post above, my organization does not profit from this training. It is strictly a knowledge share between employees.

09:21 am January 23, 2015

In order to get this discussion back on track here's another tip that I can give to someone learning Scrum.

Early in my studies I was having a hard time trying to understand what the Scrum Master's role was. In my mind I had a picture of the role closer to that of the role a Project Manger plays in an Iterative or Waterfall approach. I had an aha moment when I realized that the Scrum Master manages the Scrum framework, but doesn't manage the team.

I narrowed down the Scrum Master's role to 3 main responsibilities:
- Lead and coach the Product Owner, Development Team, and organization on how to implement Scrum.
- Make sure that the Scrum Team and organization follows the Scrum theory, practices, and rules and coaches when there are deviations from the framework.
- Remove impediments to the Development Team’s progress.

In reading some of the other discussions in this message board, I think a lot of teams have trouble coming to this realization, and their implementation of Scrum suffers in the process.

Any other examples would be greatly appreciated.

06:59 am January 28, 2015

thank you for your openness about your feelings. I can understand that the posts of Ken and me might have come across to you like personal criticism, but (I can only speak for myself) my intention was to respectfully help you.
The point is: What purpose does your course have? Just to pass the exam? Is this title really worth spending so much free time?
Try to find a better purpose, for example "help people understand how and why Scrum works to improve their success in software development". The certificate can be a nice-to-have extra, but if it becomes the focus, you are not improving anything.
Does your presentation of study tips include a course by Because, in my personal opinion, this is the best preparation for both purposes.

01:46 pm January 30, 2015


I understand your concerns. Many of my colleagues are already a part of Scrum teams and are practicing the framework. There is a lot of interest already in the course that I'm putting together, and I think it's because they want the industry recognition that they understand the framework. In the eyes of my colleagues, being industry recognized that they understand Scrum is worth their time.

I couldn't help but notice that you've received quite a few certifications from What was your reason for spending your time and money on these certifications? I'm not trying to be malicious, it just seems odd that you are questioning why someone else would want the accreditation when you have received the same accreditation yourself.

I'm disappointed how off topic this discussion has become.

03:58 pm January 30, 2015

Hi Ryan,

Scrum is a great framework, certainly in my book it is.
I can sense your passion for Scrum, but wonder if you too are missing a trick on value?
Perhaps your post is worded wrongly as it suggests that the goal is cracking the exam only.
There is more value to PSM than just passing an exam, its more of an actual journey your embarking on.
This is what people I think are driving at with the last sentence summing it up for me, how to pass the exam.

My class is focused on the PSM exam itself.
What they should be studying, what they should be reading, and generally what is going help them be successful on the exam.

My background and my reasons, and it wasn't an easy ride for me
I chose PSM as I researched the two areas CSM vs PSM and found PSM suited my needs based on in depth study
for my PSPO I studied self study vs CSPO as that journey was incredible, its safe to say for me learned I so much.
It wasn't easy, then I went off to study APMG Agile PM and again learned a different way of managing Agility.
My journey is still in progress as it will always be, not just for the qualification its the journey of knowledge.
Scrum is all about value not just a certification, perhaps that's what your post is lacking in its wording?
I'm willing to wager that if your post had said "value" and really go into what makes teams successful and why you want people to take up PSM. Rather than an exam pass that you seem to be offering as that alone without value adds nothing to scrum, or people embarking on what can be a pretty tough ride as a scrum master, or even a product owner. Thats my thoughts as a PSM PSPO that wanted more than just a ticket on the bus.

What has more value if you think about it?
Generally what is going to help them be successful on the exam.
Generally what is going to help them be successful as a practicing scrum master in the trenches adding value.

You will see this is you look at the study area's for each role to see what can add value.
This cannot be taught in two days or ten hours, its much wider than an exam.……

05:53 am February 3, 2015

What was your reason for spending your time and money on these certifications? I'm not trying to be malicious, it just seems odd that you are questioning why someone else would want the accreditation when you have received the same accreditation yourself.

You misunderstood me. I don't question why someone would want the accreditation. Everyone has his own reasons. For example, I needed it, because it opens the doors for specific customers and for the application to become a Scrum Trainer. But if you want to delight customers with your knowledge or to be a good trainer, the certificate doesn't help you.
So if it becomes the focus, you will fail. <- This is my key message for you.
By the way, it was not my money, but my company's ;)

12:39 pm February 3, 2015


I understand your viewpoint, but I respectively disagree. I believe in the economic theory that individuals respond to incentives. In this case the incentive is the PSM accreditation, and I'm hoping the response is the person expands their knowledge of the Scrum framework.

Now, do I think that the person will continue their education or advance the framework once they pass the PSM? It's hard saying. Some might find a their calling, and others might not advance any further. The point is that they advanced their understanding of Scrum from where it was, and that is my goal with all of this.

Based on the interest we are receiving as compared to the last courses, people are responding to the incentive that we've placed. I'm hoping that the response will be a greater understanding of Scrum, but if it's not it'll be an opportunity to inspect and adapt. :)

12:43 pm February 3, 2015

For those interested, I've posted my presentation on another thread.

I hope this helps those that are struggling to learn the framework.

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