A trend can be easily observed when reviewing Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification materials (articles, blogs, notes, discussions, etc.): The quantity and quality of study and reference material decrease significantly when preparing for the PSM II.
Thus, it’s way more difficult to find valuable information, guidance and clarification on how to pass the PSM II compared to the PSM I. That can be partially explained by the fact that there are 138,104 PSM I holders and only 1,473 certified PSM II holders (as of March 31, 2018).
In this article, we’ll focus our attention on PSM II and answer the most critical questions that come up during the preparation for the assessment. I assume the reader has already passed the PSM I and is familiar with the information provided in the article “Art of Scrum Learning: Professional Scrum Master I.” So, let’s get started.
The reality is you can have no experience at all and pass the assessment with 90% or above. There are no specific questions in PSM II that can be learned only in the “real world.” Moreover, experience that many Scrum Masters gain in their day-to-day activities sometimes can be harmful. That happens when the Scrum used in companies differs from Scrum in its purest form.
For example, John has two years of experience as a Scrum Master. In the organization where he works, every sprint review starts with a demo, and John has received clear understanding there can’t be a sprint review without a demo.
If John sees questions during his assessment that state, “Sprint review is a demo where development team shows an increment to stakeholders,” he might give a wrong answer. The correct response here will be, “It is when the Scrum team and stakeholders inspect the outcome of a sprint and figure out what to do next.”
I’m not saying that experience is bad, but it’s better to focus your attention on the idea of the assessment. The idea here is to understand Scrum the way Ken Schwaber sees it. Your experience can help you find the way around the scenario provided in the question, but the response should be given in accordance with Scrum theory.
Coming back to the years of experience, it’s common for professionals with at least one year of involvement in the role of Scrum Master to try to obtain their PSM II certification.
I wouldn’t say there’s a significant difference between PSM I and PSM II questions in terms of the knowledge you need to answer them correctly. The difference is more structural. The PSM I assessment is more oriented to junior Scrum Masters and professionals who are just starting to learn Scrum.
For that reason, questions in PSM I mostly challenge your understanding of Scrum as described in the Scrum Guide and the concepts of applying Scrum. That’s why in PSM I you see questions such as:
The structure and format of these questions mostly checks your ability to quickly recall material contained in the Scrum Guide and apply your understanding of Scrum at a high level.
The PSM II assessment is slightly different. You won’t find straightforward questions there as the assessment is much more behavioral/situational. It requires a deeper level of understanding to apply Scrum to various scenarios. Let’s review an example of a possible PSM II question:
“Development team had some difficulties during sprint planning trying to select the work for the sprint backlog and estimate it. It took too long, and when the time-box for sprint planning expired, around 60% of cards in the sprint backlog weren’t refined to the appropriate level for team granularity. The team admitted they have a clear understanding of the selected cards, and they’ll be able to deliver an increment by the end of the sprint and reach the sprint goal. At the same time, the development team emphasized that refinement of those cards can take more that 10% of their capacity in the current sprint. You’re a Scrum Master for this team. What will you suggest the team do in this situation (choose one correct answer):
As you can see, questions in PSM II are more scenario-based, where you need to understand the case and apply each of the responses to the defined scenario. Basically, the PSM II assessment forces you to read through each response and determine which details within each option don’t adhere to the underlying values of Scrum.
It’s not likely you can read a book, learn something by heart and find it in your PSM II assessment (as you can for PSM I). PSM II focuses on your overall understanding of Scrum and your ability to apply your knowledge (the way we just did) to real-world situations. That’s why many people say having real-world Scrum Master experience may help you pass this test.
There are many areas that should be taken into consideration and, among them, I suggest paying attention to the following:
You’ll have 90 minutes to complete 30 questions (that’s more than enough time). Questions are multiple choice (only one answer is correct), multiple answer (the number of correct answers will be specified — i.e., two, three, four, etc.) and true/false. You’ll be able to bookmark questions and refer to them whenever you need to. Below are the main subject areas and their descriptions.
Another important aspect you need to know is the way the responses are evaluated. For many (not all) of the multiple answer questions, correct answers are partially graded. That means if you have two out of three correct responses, you may receive a partial amount of points for the question (not 0 as with PSM I).
One attempt costs $250, but if you take PSM class, you’ll be given a $100 discount for the PSM II. Once you’re ready to take the assessment (or even immediately following your passing score on the PSM I … the codes no longer expire), you’ll need to contact Scrum.org directly to receive the $100 discount (firstname.lastname@example.org).
You can take the PSM II assessment anytime, but you won’t be given a second chance if you fail the first attempt (even if you take it in the first two weeks or later … as with the PSM I).
All in all, the PSM II is a great opportunity to distinguish yourself. But remember, your knowledge and skills are more valuable than the certification itself.