Preparing for the Professional Scrum Developer (PSD I) exam

Disclaimer 1: I got 81.3% on the exam (i.e. missed the pass mark by two questions ๐Ÿ˜ฉ). However, I'm still certain that this guide will be of value to anyone who needs it!

Disclaimer 2: My employer covered the cost of my exam attempt โ€” a privilege reflected in my relatively relaxed reaction to not passing, which I understand may not be the case for those who have to fund it themselves.

A couple of months into the job, my manager and I agreed that I should obtain my Professional Scrum Developer certification before 1st February 2021. This didn't seem like much time, but I found that putting in just a couple of hours of groundwork can set the scene for some effective studying.

Once I started, though, I was surprised to find that there isn't much explicit material on the internet on how to study for PSD I. Yeah, on the Scrum website there is a "reading list", but tell me honestly: who has the time to not only get their hands on these books, but also read them in a truly beneficial way? I actually care about having a life outside software development!

Good news: there is a more pragmatic way of going about things. Here are some things I did in the run-up to doing the PSD exam, and will hopefully help you, too.


Read the Scrum Guide and make notes

If you're new to Scrum โ€” and even if you're not โ€” start by downloading the latest edition of the Scrum Guide. This will be your bread and butter. Luckily, it's not very long, and there are quite a few official translations available. Bear in mind, though, that you can only do the exam in English, so it's probably best to only use the translations for initial comprehension.

Read the guide it a couple of times. You can boost your learning by downloading it as an .mp3 or searching for it on the streaming service of your choice.

I then invested a good couple of hours into rewriting the guide into a way that makes sense for me. This should not only help reinforce the key points of Scrum theory, but also give you a more personalised reference to look at that isn't just blankly staring at a PDF.

However, reading the Scrum Guide is just the foundation from which other Scrum paths branch off, e.g. Scrum Master and Product Owner. You'll be taking the Developer certification, so it's important you brush up on these subject areas โ€” read on for more specific info.

Bonus: Making notes means you will also have something to refer to while you do the exam, as I'll go on to explain!

Make a plan

For me, at least, it's tempting to dump a bunch of potentially helpful links into a Google Doc and then never look at them out of sheer intimidation, but there's a better way. Using an organisational app (I love Notion), make sections. Examples:

  1. Divide web resources into groups (e.g. stuff from the official Scrum website, other stuff โ€” I'll list a couple of these at the end of the post)

  2. Make a note of to-do's (doing some dedicated study of a concept that you keep running into during your studies, but you're not sure what it means). Really, whatever works for you โ€” I like this because it helps me feel less overwhelmed and I can just add the definition/answer when I have it.

Do the open assessments

When you've done a bit of studying, you can gauge your knowledge by doing mock exams (on the website they're called open assessments), and I think this is actually a really great way to learn.

The questions are multiple choice. For the ones where you can tick several answers: look first at how many answers they're asking for before you continue to the next question! Took me a while to figure that out. You should also get into the habit, when picking answers, of being able to explain your process of elimination.

After studying the Scrum Guide and absorbing its contents, you'll start to be able to answer the questions on the Scrum Open correctly โ€” not just because the same ones keep showing up, but because you will know intuitively. The Developer Open is trickier, as the questions are much more specific and unpredictable.

Once you've more or less got the hang of those, do them until you can get 100% three times in a row. Keep in mind, though, that these questions do not cover the full scope of content that will come up in the real exam.

Track your progress

Once I started doing the open assessments, I made another page in the "Scrum" section of my Notion for exam attempts, recording the date, duration, and score. You need 85% to pass, which does sound like a lot (considering 40% is a pass on uni assignments in England). The first few times I did the exams, I was getting 60s and 70s. The important thing to do is look at the feedback on the incorrect answers (and the correct ones!). This is one of the most effective teachers.

Scour the forums

There are forums on Scrum.org, where people post popular questions about the exam. However, I wouldn't say this is a particularly effective method of learning; it's easy to do whatever the forum equivalent of doomscrolling is called, and if anything, it might make you panic about how much there is you're supposed to know.

The exam itself

It is de facto "open book": you can look stuff up during the exam if you're not sure about it. However, don't let this lull you into a false sense of security. Bear in mind that you only get 45 seconds per question (one hour รท 80 questions). Googling stuff is going to cost you precious time.

That being said, I would say you should have structured your notes in such a way that a Ctrl+F or Cmd+F will take you to where you need to be if you need to double-check something. There are also a couple of resources that you could have open in a different tab โ€” the glossaries listed at the bottom of this post, for instance.

So, how to approach each question?

You will recognise a handful of questions from the open assessment; these are "easy marks", provided you got 100% a few times while practising. Do these quickly, and don't spend too much time lingering on the ones you're not sure about; make use of the bookmark feature in the top-right corner. I ended up reaching the end of the 80 questions in about 30 minutes, and then had around 25 bookmarks to sift through.

When you're ready to revisit your bookmarks, don't press the green "finish now" button! When I first did the open assessments, I thought that was how to get there, but instead, it ended the exam prematurely. Instead, go back to the list of questions in the top-left corner, where you can then see which ones are unanswered or bookmarked.

After the exam

If you passed: congrats! ๐Ÿฅณ

If not: try not to worry about it too much.

As I mentioned before, I did not pay for the exam myself, and my manager also made it clear that they considered it more important for me to absorb Scrum than to obtain the actual certification. I understand it will suck extra if you've coughed up the 200 bucks on your own. All the same, the main thing to remember is that just because you didn't receive a certificate, it doesn't actually mean you've failed. As long as you did your best, you've succeeded; you earnt the knowledge. Acquiring this knowledge, and practising it effectively within a Scrum Team, is what matters.

You will receive an email (to the address registered with your Scrum.org account) with your score out of 80, plus a summary of how you did on the various sections. Here they are, in case you want to break down your studies this way:

  1. Programming
  2. Testing
  3. Test-First Development
  4. Quality
  5. Documentation/Persistence
  6. Design & Architecture
  7. Cross-Functional, Self-Managed Development
  8. Analysis
  9. Scrum Framework
  10. Cross-Functional, Self-Managing Teams
  11. Scrum Theory and Principles

Design flaws

The questions are picked at random out of a pool of about 100 and they're not evenly distributed by topic. There were at least two different questions that came up twice, only they were worded slightly differently. So, the assessment is not even necessarily about the breadth of knowledge you possess.

Another problem is that although certain elements of Scrum purport to be immutable, in practice, your team may not actually follow all of them down to the letter. So when you're looking at the question, try not to fall into the trap of being like "ah yes, this is how we do this at work, therefore the answer must be this". I find it ironic that for an exam about a framework based on empiricism, using that empiricism is not necessarily going to work in your favour...

My general advice

  1. Do the two open assessments to 100% until you're blue in the face.

  2. Alongside that, focus on learning about foundational computer science topics and techniques. These were the questions that stumped me and, incidentally, that are unlikely to appear in the open assessments.

I still don't believe you need to read all the books on that list; if you have a deadline and full-time responsibilities then it's just not realistic (or, frankly, healthy). Having already learnt about Scrum really well, and then identifying my weak points, I know how to improve so that I can pass the exam in the future.

Official Scrum resources:

  1. 2020 Scrum Guide
  2. Scrum Glossary
  3. Professional Scrum Developer Glossary
  4. Official blog โ€” this has some worthwhile articles such as '25 Characteristics of a Great Development Team'

Other resources:

  1. Mikhail Lapshin's quiz
  2. Atlassian Scrum guide