Multiple choice, open book - easy, right? Nope. Wrong. Dead wrong.
Over the years, I've done a bunch of technical certifications with online examinations - I've done Red Hat, Microsoft, Apple and other exams, all of which have been fairly similar. Sure, you need to go in to each with a pretty solid understanding of the subject matter and you're on your own given they are all proctored and closed book, but they have been similarly matched in terms of difficulty, and the amount of time allocated to complete the questions. They each felt like they had some breathing space. This one is different.
Agile experience to date
I've been developing my Agile experience over the last 18 months and have been collecting some certifications along the way. I've completed a few of the ICAgile courses and certifications (ICAgile Certified Professional, ICAgile Certified Professional - Business Value Analysis and ICAgile Certified Professional - Agile Team Facilitation), but I was missing something to give me some Scrum chops.
Scrum Master certification
While the ICP-ATF covers team facilitation practices for some of the Scrum ceremonies, it wasn't deep enough into Scrum for my liking, so I decided to pursue one of the Scrum Master certifications too.
I went with the PSM I (Professional Scrum Master - I) over the better known Certified Scrum Master (CSM) from the Scrum Alliance for a few reasons:
- It's an exam - you're tested on your knowledge and so it *should* have a little more value. It's not just a 'certificate of attendance', like some of the other certifications I've collected. It's a real test of knowledge of the Scrum Guide
- It's from Scrum.org...the people who wrote the Scrum Guide, so it kinda comes from the horses mouth when it comes to pure Scrum.
- You can just sit the exam WITHOUT having to do the course, so that saves a bunch of time and money.
BTW Nothing against the CSM cert at all. If I could just sit a CSM exam, without doing the course, I think I would have.
The exam costs USD150 to sit, or a little under AUD200 at the time of posting. That's for one attempt of the exam, so there's a little bit of cash riding on it so I did some decent prep.
For me, it mainly involved poring over the Scrum Guide countless times, writing plenty of flash cards and doing plenty of the Scrum Open samples tests. You get slightly different questions each time you do a sample test, so do plenty of them. These tests are really worth doing repeatedly. I got a small selection of questions I had seen before but the vast majority were new.
I downloaded the audio version of the Scrum Guide (recorded by Michael Vizdos) which was excellent, and really handy in the car and when doing chores around the house. I also bought Jeff Sutherland's : Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time - this was an interesting audio book, and provided some good context and history, and I'm sure some bits helped, but the exam is all about your comprehension of the Scrum Guide itself.
The test is organised through Scrum.org. I was prepared to sit the exam on a Saturday evening, but part way through registration learned that the password code would be emailed within 1 business day. Luckily, within seconds of submitting my payment, the password came through with other registration details and so I could sit the exam straight away
80 questions in 60 minutes means you get just 45 seconds per question. And that's not very long. The pace is frenetic. At 8 minutes to go I still had 20 questions left, AND 9 questions bookmarked to review (I only managed to review 4 of them in the end - I ran out of time).
Pass rate is 85%, which means you can't get any more than 12 questions wrong.
The open book nature of this exam, may make it sound easy. After all, the Scrum Guide is only 17 pages long so how difficult could it be to look up all the answers? Most of the questions are phrased in such a way that would make that hard to do. You need to know your stuff to get through this - double-checking the Scrum Guide is only going to take up precious time. Be warned.
All in all, this was absolutely one of the least comfortable online exams I have ever completed. And I felt I was pretty well prepared for it.
The result. Well, I passed, and I was very pleased (and relieved!) with my result - 93.8% or 75 out of 80 questions. But this is far from easy, and so makes it feel like more of an accomplishment to get through it.
Be very well prepared for this exam and get to know the Scrum Guide like the back of your hand before having a crack.