Failure is the price to pay for success

Reading time: 5 minutes

Three weeks ago I attempted my first try at the Professional Scrum Master III (PSM III) assessment. Today I got the results back, and I sadly did not pass.

I got a score of 68.8%, where 85% was required to pass. Although I am a bit disappointed, I am actually very happy that I undertook this attempt. And, with the feedback provided, I know where to focus on if I were to attempt this assessment anew. Let me take you through the journey I made, and the journey I am yet to make.

Fear and loathing

I’ve been thinking about this assessment since I passed my PSM II assessment. Other than the fact that it is on an expert level, this assessment sounded a bit enigmatic to me. At the time of writing, there were little more over a thousand people who had passed the PSM III assessment. Being a part of that small group of people seems quite exclusive. When preparing for the evaluation, I frequently wondered, “Am I a part of this group of people?”. The previous few years have been very educational, and I’ve established myself as a practice- and literaturedriven Scrum Master. One of my previous coworkers once called me “an oasis of stability, maturity and Scrum knowledge – an agile Obi-Wan Kenobi”. Incredibly flattering, but do I really, fully comprehend Scrum Mastership?

The exam’s hefty cost ($500) also played a significant role. Failure would necessitate retaking this quite costly assessment.

My emotions were conflicted. There was a lot of self-doubt, but also pride. That I am, with my current state of experience, at least worthy of trying. But what if I would not succeed? When I was younger, when I failed (in anything), it would leave me feeling very demotivated. Nowadays, I fear failure a lot less because I know it is a necessary part of the experimenting process. Yet with the stakes this high, I was filled with doubt – and frankly, a bit of fear as well.

So, how did I deal with this fear? Preparation. Reading. Google was my best friend and I devoured the majority of the literature and media recommended in forum postings and blogs. Then there was the difficult challenge of allocating dedicated time to this studying. It was university all over again, but this time with a full-time job.

I hoped to spend a lot of time learning over the summer of 2022, but work-related pressure and stress stopped me from doing anything else. I was absolutely exhausted. After changing employment in November, I was able to devote more time to my studies outside of work hours.

After finishing yet another book, I concluded that this never-ending preparation is not the way of empiricism.

If I failed, I would receive the feedback I needed to improve.

I was thinking to myself:Daddy, chill. Believe in your abilities to learn.”

And that’s when I thought, “I guess I’m ready.”

How did I find the assessment?

I am not kidding when I say that this was one of the most difficult tests I have ever taken. Nothing could have prepared me for the stress of this assessment.

These are the assessment statistics:

  • Time limit: 150 minutes
  • Number of questions: 30
  • Format: 80% essay, 20% multiple answer

So that makes 24 essay questions. That is quite a lot to process in 2,5 hours of time! The time went by incredibly fast as I was first trying to come up with answers and then had to write them down in a small textbox.

I am sadly not at freedom to share exam questions. To be honest, I had literally no time to write something substantially down. The pressure was immense!

I finished the exam with barely 33 seconds left on the clock. I miscalculated my time early in the assessment and went into all-out ‘stress mode’ the last 15 minutes of the assessment. I sadly had no time to review my previous answers. To prevent you (and me!) from making the same mistakes I did, here are some handy tips:

  • I had Google Translate at the ready if I had to translate from my native Dutch into English.
  • As I went I started to use abbreviations. Scrum Master became SM. Product Backlog Items became PBI’s, etc.
  • I also had to structure my answers because there were sometimes multiple questions per question. Carefully read each question to make sure your answer covers each point being asked. Look for question marks within the question to help you determine if multiple points are being asked.
  • I used a paper notebook to write down small notes and question numbers (that I wanted to review later) as I went.
  • Please, please track your time as you go through the assessment. Go faster if you think you are lagging behind, you do NOT want to get stuck with multiple essay questions in the final minutes! I noticed my answers were getting shorter and more to the point as I progressed through the exam. 
  • That being said: don’t write up entire stories. A few short sentences per answer should be sufficient.
  • Have your matrix with connections and explanations at the ready, this one could be very handy!
  • Budget for extra time at the end to review and polish your answers.

My most important suggestion: try a bit of timeboxing! For instance, spend five minutes per essay question and three minutes per multiple choice question. That leaves you with 12 minutes to polish up and review your answers.

The grading took about three weeks, a week shorter than the estimated four weeks. I received an e-mail with my results and an extensive list of feedback.

The road ahead

I named this article ‘failure is the price to pay for success’ for a reason. This is, if anything, a learning opportunity. This is empiricism manifest. I am grateful that I have received feedback, so I can work on improving my knowledge in places where it lacked.

Failure is the price to pay for success

To be honest, this failure made me… level-headed? I needed this. A lot of things have been going like sailing before the wind and this was a refreshing experience. I may not be ready now but I have the confidence that I will be.

My first reflex was to immediately pick up the feedback, study hard and reattempt as soon as possible. But, as last months were quite intense in terms of self-imposed pressure, I think I will take more time to prepare. Maybe take some practice exams while I am at it. I’ll get there, eventually.

Inspect. Adapt.

1 thought on “Failure is the price to pay for success”

  1. Thanks for sharing Bas! I’ll definitely revisit this post when I’m preparing for PSM III. And totally agree that it’s better to try and fail then to keep on preparing and never try at all. Keep it up! You’ll get there.

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