A pretty good PSM II study guide!

Yeah, that’s right: a pretty good guide! Not ultimate, amazing, perfect, complete, nope… pretty... pretty... pretty good! All jokes aside, the tips and resources in this article will give you a good preparation for taking the PSM II Scrum Master assessment. It’s impossible to read every book and article on Scrum and Agile, so the ones listed here are the most high impact ones in my view. The advice in this article is loosely ranked from most important to ‘would be nice’. Of course, this also depends on the experience and knowledge you already have. In any case, good luck to you!

Pretty good study guide!

What is the PSM II assessment about?

Let’s start off by quickly defining what the PSM II is about. Scrum.org describes this assessment and certification as being aimed at people with ‘advanced’ knowledge of Scrum. As of August 25th 2022, a total of 21,493 people worldwide hold this certification. Compared to the 499,227(!) people holding PSM I at this time, it’s clear to see the PSM II allows Scrum practitioners to really distinguish themselves.

What are the PSM II questions like?

Like the PSM I, the PSM II consists of multiple choice, multiple answer and true/false questions. You have 90 minutes to answer around 30 questions. This is a lot more time to answer less questions than the PSM I. However, the questions are more difficult. This is mainly due to these reasons:

  1. There are less questions about things that are straight up in the guide. Having passed PSM I, it’s expected you for example know that the Daily Scrum timebox is 15 minutes.
  2. Questions more often describe real-life situations. Something happens, what do you as a Scrum Master recommend? What action do you take?
  3. There are fewer ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers and more ‘better’ or ‘less optimal’ answers.
    Quick note: it does still pay to eliminate some obviously wrong answers first. The catch with the PSM II is that they will be less obvious than in the PSM I. There's often answers that sound plausible, but have something "off" about them. For example: mixing up the sprint backlog for the product backlog, or calling the Daily Scrum a 'standup', etc. Read every word carefully!

The combination of these factors makes that you have to know how to interpret the Scrum Guide. You have to know what is more and less desirable when looking through the lens of Professional Scrum as Scrum.org defines it. This means going beyond the rules and knowing what the rules mean, what they imply, why they are there and what consequences they have. You have to really feel Scrum. The following paragraphs will dive deeper into how you get that level of knowledge and experience into your system.

Read the Scrum Guide over, and over ... and over

Obviously, the Scrum Guide remains the predominant source of truth. The PSM II will cover some topics not mentioned in the Scrum Guide, but the bulk of questions will revolve around applying the Scrum Guide to described situations. For PSM II preparation, read it frequently. Actually print the pdf version and carefully read it sentence by sentence. Ask yourself ‘why is it written precisely *this* way?’ after every sentence. What would change if it was different? Pay attention to anything that stands out, use a highlight marker and make notes.

Also pay attention to the exact wording. For instance: does it say ‘must’, or ‘may’? Does it say ‘attend’ or ‘participate’? The Scrum Guide is extremely concise, nearly every word on the ~13 pages has been thoroughly scrutinized and is there for a reason.

Perhaps obvious, but important: you'll need to use the English version of the Scrum Guide for your studies. The translated Scrum Guides are helpful to people with limited English proficiency that want to understand Scrum. They are not suited for preparing for the PSM assessments, which are always in English. Having read the Dutch version (I'm a native Dutch speaker), it doesn't transfer well. Some key terms are translated that really shouldn't have been. For example: translating framework to 'raamwerk'. TL;DR; use the English Scrum Guide.

Scrum glossaries

In the last few years, Scrum.org has broadened its view a little. Where before their material was almost solely about the Scrum Guide, and not on complementary Agile practices, this has changed a bit. The change is most apparent in the Scrum Glossary, where Scrum.org describes a number of concepts that are not part of the Scrum Guide, but deemed important nonetheless. Scrum is considered a framework that intentionally leaves room for additional concepts and practices, as long as they are in harmony with Scrum. For instance: burn-down charts, velocity, and technical debt are on the glossary. Some of these can pop up during the PSM II assessment, so make sure you know them. Less likely, but still important to know and study are the terms from the Scrum.org developer glossary. Here you’ll find agile software development terms such as TDD, clean code and cyclomatic complexity to name but a few.

Product Ownership / PSPO material

A Scrum Master should be able to teach and coach a fresh Product Owner. You therefore must be familiar with the intricacies of successfully fulfilling the Product Owner role. At the least:

  1. Take the PSPO I open assessment a number of times until you hit 100% right consistently.
  2. Read the Scrum Evidence Based Management guide.

That's about it. Materials on Product Ownership and product management techniques can be quite the rabbit hole. For PSM II preparation though, knowing the fundamentals is enough. Expect one to three questions about PSPO related subjects.

SPS Scaled Professional Scrum / Nexus material

You can also expect one to three questions about Scaled Professional Scrum using Nexus. Scrum.org's Nexus framework approach to scaling Scrum is described in the Nexus guide, so you should read it carefully. Make notes of the core concepts and interactions. After that, take the Nexus open assessment at least five times. Make sure you get to a consistent scoring of 100%. Nexus is not at the core of PSM II, but if you get three questions about it, that's 10% of the 15% you're allowed to get wrong. You really need that 15% for the harder questions, so make sure not to spend it on not knowing Nexus.

Read Scrum.org’s preparation advice

On the page where you can buy entry to the PSM II assessment, some advice is given on how to prepare. It’s one paragraph but links to a lot of resources and a rather large reading list. Absolutely go through the list and read all their advice, but probably don’t read *all* the books. Well, you absolutely can, but it’s going to take you quite some time as there’s around fifteen books on there and they’re rather large. Actually, do read them all because they are great books, but not necessarily to prepare for PSM II. Keep it to the essentials, of which the undeniable number one book is...

Scrum Pocket Guide

If there’s only one book you read about Scrum, the Scrum Pocket Guide by Gunter Verheyen should be it. It’s basically the Scrum Guide, but with added explanations about the ‘why’ behind everything. This makes it the perfect book for those wanting to understand Scrum better and go beyond following the rules by knowing why the rules are there. It’s a small, precisely written book that contains ‘just enough’, as is to be expected from a Scrum Grandmaster. As a non-native English reader, I was able to finish the book at a leisurely pace in two evenings. Gunther has worked for Scrum.org for many years and has been involved in making content for the PSM II exams. So you know you’re getting information from the right source.

Scrum literature

There are a lot of books about Scrum, perhaps too many. I’ve come across too many books that are unclear, take some liberty with the Scrum Guide or are simply wrong. Therefore, it’s best to stick to books by authors close to Scrum, or recommended by Scrum.org themselves on the PSM II reading list. Two stand-out choices are:

  1. Software in 30 days - written by the creators of Scrum, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland.
  2. Mastery - written by Geoff Watts, a standard work recommended by Scrum.org

These books are considered staples by most Scrum practitioners. They are written by people very close to Scrum and won’t lead you to dubious interpretations or “added flavour” that will only confuse you during the assessment. One thing to look out for, is getting a recent edition of these books. With the Scrum guide evolving over time, older books may reference practices or use terms that have been phased out.

Join a Scrum or Agile community

Training on your own can be hard. You might be lucky to have a workplace that offers a lot of learning and mentoring, but even then a fresh perspective can be helpful. There are excellent communities both on and offline:

  • The Scrum.org forum; close to ‘the source’ and an active community.
  • Hands on Agile Slack; a Slack group with a large number of passionate agile professionals.
  • Serious Scrum Slack; a Slack group that’s Serious about Scrum, seriously!
  • Meetup.org likely has a group of Scrum professionals meeting in your area. Or if not, start one yourself! Scrum.org also keeps a curated list of Scrum meetups.

These are communities I personally like and recommend, but there are a million other options. Meeting up and having real-life conversations is something I'd very much recommend. In any case, go connect with other Scrum Masters and help each other level up!

Work experience as a Scrum Master

This should actually be at the top, but since you currently will either have experience or not, it’s a bit lower down. Nothing will teach you Scrum like doing it. In doing Scrum you will learn more about why it’s the way it is, than any book can convey. I read the Scrum Guide a few times every year, and every time I can connect something new I experienced, to something in there.

For the PSM II, two to three years experience working as a Scrum Master is advisable. Not having any experience will make the test really hard, because you are asked to respond to real-life situations. Experience from working as a Developer, Product Owner or other role close to a Scrum Team, could also work. But remember, almost all questions will be asked from the perspective of a Scrum-Guide-adhering Scrum Master.

Training by Scrum.org

Probably one of the best ways to prepare is to attend a course by Scrum.org. There’s a specific PSM II training that gives you great insights and knowledge and also prepares you for the assessment. Scrum.org has excellent trainers, and you know you’re getting the information from the source. They can be somewhat expensive, though I guess that’s all relative. If you have the budget though, or an employer that does, absolutely go for it.

ScrumPractice exam

So we’re almost at the end and I haven’t even promoted my PSM II practice exam on this very website. If you want to get a feel of what the PSM II exam is like, I made this exam to have the same amount of questions and time limit. It does its best to ask questions comparable in difficulty and style. This way, you can get some insight in what is expected of you and have an idea of what the exam will feel like.

Creating this practice exam was honestly harder than I expected. Writing the questions has given me a new respect for the people behind the official Scrum.org exams. Making multiple choice difficult, while also making the right answers undeniably the best, that’s tricky. I've done my best to match that balance in the practice questions, but I'm clearly not exactly there yet. Getting better though! : ) If you have any feedback or spot possible improvements, let me know, I greatly appreciate it.

Best of luck during your studies, you can do it!