Professional Scrum Master III (PSM III) Study
Congratulations! You’re about to embark on the world’s toughest Scrum assessment – it’s a very courageous step, and not one to be taken lightly. There isn’t that much information out there regarding the PSM III assessment, so the purpose of this post is to create some clarity about it.
Importantly, the reason that there isn’t much information about the PSM III is that so few people have ever passed it (987 certificate holders, July 2021)! This is a good thing – when you hopefully achieve it, you’ll have reached a milestone very few others have.
Why should you be interested in this certification?
Attaining the prestigious certification is a great feeling. Many people believe that taking a multiple choice test (like the PSM I or II) doesn’t really assess your knowledge, but rather your technique to pass a test. Irrespective of that, the PSM III is impossible without significant (years) worth of experience leveraging Scrum in the real world, therefore it is a mark that you have achieved a distinguished level of Scrum Mastery.
It’s also a challenge – a really tough challenge, that’s why it is mandatory if you ever want to become a trainer for scrum.org on their Professional Scrum Master track. You will join an experienced group of practitioners when you achieve it. In part, it’s also a challenge because there is no class for it. There are some versions out there that support your preparation journey, but at the time of writing, there are no accredited scrum.org classes to help with this assessment.
What does the assessment look like?
It is a 150-minute time-boxed, multiple-choice and essay question styled exam. Most people report having 24–26 essay questions and 4–5 multiple-choice questions. The essay questions range from simple, single questions to multi-part chunky ones, so don’t assume each question will take you the same amount of time.
Multiple-choice: these questions are mainly PSM II level questions and therefore quite easy, but there are still some very tricky ones. A tip would be not to agonise and justify the pros and cons. Go with your gut. Also, complete the multiple-choice questions first so you know how much time you have left for the tougher essay questions.
Essay questions: these questions contain a mixture of Scrum theory-based and scenario-based questions. Some of them may even look familiar from the PSM II multiple-choice questions but with a typed response required. The general advice here is to remember that being brief and to the point is a skill. Part of being a Scrum Master is coaching your teams using clear terminology and guidance. Ambiguity is not your friend in the PSM III, so don’t add more words that just re-hash a point you’ve already made. You can also use common abbreviations (I used DS, 5Vs, SP, Ds, PO etc) and there are no marks for punctuation or grammar (so bullet points are fine). Focus on correct terminology and unless specifically asked, avoid complementary practices. Expect some questions to prompt for your experiences to support an answer.
The passing grade, like all scrum.org assessments is 85%. If you’d like to become a Professional Scrum Trainer in the future (for PSM material) you will need 90% (you will still pass with 85%, but not enough to become a trainer).
How can you prepare? Top 10 tips that helped me.
- Practice questions – Learn by teaching your brain to use its muscle memory. Start by looking here: https://www.scrum.org/forum/scrum-forum/35525/psm-iii-sample-questions-review-and-feedback and practicing these questions. They aren’t really representative of the questions in the exam, but that doesn’t matter – it is practice for a reason! Try varying the time restriction, giving yourself shorter and short time-boxes to convey the information. Once you feel good with that, restrict yourself on word count too – the aim is to be precise and concise as fast as possible. We will share some practice questions at the end of this post, but if you want to create your own, just look at the Scrum Master Open assessment and turn the multiple-choice questions into essay response and you won’t be far wrong.
- Engage with the community – This will be a complete eye-opener. Using the scrum.org forum and posting a few questions that you need help with will generate a huge amount of support. The community are fantastic. They are willing to critique opinions and offer their understanding really promptly. Reach out to a few Scrum Trainers on LinkedIn and you’ll often find they’ll be generous with their time.
- Mic-drops – The PSM III contains quite a lot of questions about Scrum theory. Make short, one/two sentence descriptors of all key terms and complementary practices you can think of. The purpose is that you have some very precise starters when a topic comes up in the exam. For example, ‘The DS is an I+A opportunity, run by the Ds every 24h, to inspect the progress on their Sprint Backlog. It makes it more likely that the SG will be met’. It doesn’t contain everything, but the mic-drops you write need to convey all of the key information, not everything you know about a topic.
- Scrum glossary – There is a great resource called the Scrum Glossary produced by scrum.org here. It’s incredibly helpful to understand ‘their’ interpretation of the key terminology.
- Road to Mastery – R2M is a series of blog posts by Sjoerd Nijland. It is focused on explaining the Scrum framework in detail. It’s not aiming to be concise, however there are some incredible quotes in there that you can apply in your answers. Best of all, the blog posts are free and can be found here. Yes, it was written for the 2017 Scrum Guide, but nearly everything is still applicable.
- Read Mastering Professional Scrum by Stephanie Ockerman and Simon Reindl. It is concise and clear and will prepare you well. Pay attention to their use of language when explaining core concepts.
- Scrum Tapas videos – As part of their community support, scrum.org Professional Scrum Trainers occasionally produce short videos explaining Scrum. You can find them for free here.
- Don’t go it alone – Create a study group to create, complete and review answers together. That last part is important – get someone else to review your answers. Take a big black pen and put a line through everything that doesn’t add anything to the answer. Save all of the time you can by avoiding unnecessary words.
- Answer the full question – most questions will have multiple question marks, meaning multiple points you need to make. Practice separating your answer into distinct bullet points or paragraphs to make it easier for the markers to give you credit.
- Don’t over-study – Once you feel ready, go for it. It’s very easy for the assessment to become a huge, mental monster that prevents you from even trying it. Remember that Scrum is all about empiricism,. Inspect and adapt.
We want to share some completely new, created PSM III style questions that you can use as part of your preparation. They are representative of real questions, but are in no-way taken, or even slightly changed from the question bank. Feel free to post your answers below and receive feedback on them.
- A member of the organisation comes to you, the Scrum Master, asking for advice on how to organise the Scrum Teams for an upcoming project. He has the budget for approximately 15 developers and thinks this is too large for one team. What advice would you give him? What advice does Scrum have about Scrum Team size?
- The Product Owner on your Scrum Team says that he trusts the Developers completely. He empowers them to take ownership of stakeholder management, product backlog management and identifying a sprint goal. How do you, the Scrum Master, proceed?
- The Developers are regularly over-running the time-box for the Daily Scrum. Some of them appear actively bored. You notice that it is often one team member taking the majority of the time. How would you proceed?
- The Scrum Team you work with have missed their Sprint Goal for the last four Sprints. The Developers say this is because the Product Owner isn’t providing enough information on the Product Backlog Items. The Product Owner has heard about something called ‘Product Backlog Refinement’. How would you explain to him what Product Backlog Refinement is? What benefits are there if the Scrum Team start doing regular Product Backlog Refinement?
- One of the three pillars of Scrum is Transparency. One technique that improves the transparency is using a Definition of Done. What is a Definition of Done? How does it support transparency?
- The Scrum framework identifies three artifacts. What are they? When are they inspected?
So that’s it, hopefully everything you need to know about the PSM III. It can typically take 10-30 days to get your results back as they are graded by a real person, so be patient. If you still have questions, please comment below and I’ll address them in the post.
If you’d like a conversation about the assessment, please feel free to email us – email@example.com.
Hopefully soon you may get an email like this…