CSP Exam Preparation

To earn a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) credential from the Scrum Alliance, you need to take an exam. Here’s what I did to prepare for, and pass, that exam.

There’s little doubt that the most recognized name in Scrum certification is the Scrum Alliance. Their Certified Scrum Master certificate is well recognized and accepted by many Agile organizations looking to add experienced Scrum members to their Scrum teams. It’s not without it’s problems, as I mention in a separate article where I provide a review of the CSM Test but, it’s certainly the best known.

The instructor on the CSM course I attended was equally clear on the value of the certificate. He advised delegates that if they wanted to hire a Scrum Master, the minimum qualification that they should look for is the Certified Scrum Professional (CSP). It’s a sentiment that I understand and so I decided to formalise my knowledge and earn the qualification.

At the time of writing, the eligibility criteria for applying for the CSP credential were:

  • Hold a current Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), or Certified Scrum Developer (CSD) credential
  • Have a minimum of 2000 hours of Scrum-related work in the past two years
  • Hold a current Scrum Alliance membership

Booking Your Test

Once you apply, the Scrum Alliance will check the details and invite you to pay to take the CSP Exam. The cost is $300. Once you have paid, the company that administer the exam (Castle Worldwide) contact you and ask you to select a location, date and time to sit your exam. The exam is proctored so you have to travel to the site to sit the exam. The Scrum Alliance strongly encourage candidates to take the exam within 90 days of booking it.

CAUTION. I checked the Castle Worldwide site and noted that there was a test site available about 90 miles from my home. However, booking anything close to my home proved problematic. The site nearest to my home was removed from the list of available sites (because they were unable to provide the necessary facilities) and the second closest site was unable to accommodate my request for an exam date without “at least a few weeks notice”.  I ended up travelling to London, 250 miles from my home, to take the test.

Study Material

So much for the administration. But what about the knowledge that is being tested? The Scrum Alliance sends all candidates a document titled “Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) Certification Examination Candidate Handbook”. This document contains a lot of valuable information including five sample examination questions. Upon reading these, it’s evident that a CSP candidate will be expected to have knowledge of Extreme Programming (XP) and Refactoring as well as Scrum.

The Scrum Alliance also provides exam information for CSP delegates on their website. It includes information on how to access a list of 35 sample questions at a cost is $20. I highly recommend taking this test to assess your level of knowledge.

Research shows that a number of prospective candidates have taken this test and been put off by the difficulty of the questions. Commentary on one blog shows users reporting scores on the CSP Practice test of 40% and 52%. One respondent on this blog reports achieving a score of 40%.

As well as giving you an overall score, the CSP Practice test also shows you how you scored on each question and on each section. The great thing about this is that it helps to direct your learning effort and, given the large list of recommended reading material, this is hugely useful.

The Scrum Alliance supplies applicants a list of suggested reading material. This consists of 25 publications, many of which are mighty tomes in their own right. There’s no way that I could hold all that much information in my head and so, using guidance from the practice test, I decided to concentrate on just a few of them and trust that the newly found knowledge, and my own experience, would be sufficient to earn the credential.

These are the books I bought especially to prepare for the exam:

  • Succeeding with Agile. Software Development Using Scrum, by Mike Cohn
  • Agile Estimating and Planning, by Mike Cohn
  • Agile Product Management with Scrum. Creating Products that Customers Love, by Roman Pichler

These are the books I already have in my library, knowledge of which proved useful:

  • User Stories Applied for Agile Software Development, by Mike Cohn
  • Coaching Agile Teams, by Lyssa Adkins
  • Refactoring. Improving the Design of Existing Code, by Martin Fowler
  • Test-Driven Development by Example, by Kent Beck

These are the books that I wish I had read:

  • Agile Retrospectives. Making Good Teams Great, by Esther Derby, Diana Larsen and Ken Schwaber
  • An as yet unidentified publication that addresses the ‘Sharing the Product’ element of the test

I also read (daily, during my exam prep phase) the Scrum Guide, by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland.

My years of experience with both XP and Scrum proved very useful, especially for the technical questions.

 Taking the CSP Exam

The instructions that you receive from Castle Worldwide are clear and explicit. Note that you won’t be able to take anything in to your exam room (including the obvious items like books, phones, cameras etc and also the not-so-obvious things like paper and pens) so do plan for this. I left my phone and revision material at my hotel before going to the test centre though they had a locker available that I could have used, free of charge. You may wish to contact your test centre to see what facilities they have.

The exam consists of 150 multiple-choice and a 3-hour time limit. I used every available minute. I think that the greater majority of the questions are intelligently phrased and presented. As opposed to asking a question and giving four options, only one of which is right, you’ll often be presented with a question that has multiple correct answers and you’ll be invited to select the ‘best’ answer.

This caused me to really think through my answers. I have little doubt that some of the questions will give rise to fierce debate on what the ‘best’ answer is. But, for a multiple choice question exam, I think it’s a job well done.

Summary

In the end, I was delighted to pass the exam and I feel I’ve truly earned my Certified Scrum Professional credential. On considering the preparation I did for the exam, the reading material I selected was hugely useful but, I’m in no doubt that my years of experience with XP / Scrum (including time as a software developer) and recent work as a contract Agile Coach were greatly beneficial.

Please note that since this article was written, the Scrum Alliance have announced a change in the way that candidates can apply to become CSP’s. The final date by which candidates can apply to sit the CSP examination is 15 Feb 2013. For more information, visit the Scrum Alliance page on How to Become a CSP.

Have you taken the CSP Exam? Have any comments or tips? I’d love to hear from you. Why not write a comment below?

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Derek,

    thank you for the update you have been giving on your preparation. I am wishing you the best as you write the CSP exam today?

    • admin says

      Hi Dele

      Thanks for the kind thoughts but my exam date has been pushed back because, once again, the testing company (Castle Worldwide) are unable to accommodate me.

      Each time you try and book the exam, you have to provide three different location / date / time options. I’ve now done this two times (so six different variants now) and still the testing company have been unable to help. They have told me that they can accommodate me at one of their three main sites but the closest is 250 miles from my home, adding (considerably) to the cost of taking the test.

      I’ve yet to hear back from Castle Worldwide on whether another option that I have asked for is available. I’ll update the blog when I hear more.

  2. Stein says

    Hi Derek

    Good reading and looking forward to hear more from the exam itself. I have moved to a small country in Asia where there are hardly any books to get hold of – have 3 of the recommended books on the list from previously and have today ordered another 7 from Amazone. When they arrive, I have to pay even extra to get the books into the country or they will be at the import bureaucracy without any apparent reason. The shipment was actually more than the value of the books itself. Digital books for the Apple Store would be good for us living at the edge of the worlds end:-)

    I also took the test and failed totally with 40%. I’m a CMP twice practicing scrum since 2008 but using iterative development long before that. I find the language barrier maybe the most problematic. Not growing up with English as the primary language and not starting to use it until adult age, it’s often difficult to grasp the core of the question and I find myself reading it out load several times in order to get the wording right. Well, that is the drawback of speaking a language practiced by less than 5 million people. I know the content of Scrum, but have to learn to use the correct words :-)

    I think I might have to travel to India to take the exam itself, but I will not ask for the time and place just yet as I would like to prepare a few more weeks before I get the location from Castle Worldwide

    • Derek says

      Hi Stein

      Judging by your written word, your English is excellent. I am certain I wouldn’t have a hope of taking any exam in your first language, whatever it may be! I also think that students who don’t speak English as a first language are disadvantaged in these type of tests as so much emphasis is on reading the questions correctly. You have my respect.

      I understand your preference for wanting to prepare for the exam but please take note that applications for this test will not be accepted after 15 February 2013. This is because the Scrum Alliance are changing the way in which applicants can earn the CSP.

      I strongly urge you to review it and see whether or not the exam is the right way for you to go. If it is, I suggest you pay for the exam prior to 15 Feb and work to take it before the 31 March (end of first quarter).

      One final piece of advice I would offer is this: Having taken the practice exam, look at the report that it gives and concentrate your study on your weak areas. There’s almost no chance that you’ll be able to cover all of the recommended reading in time, so you need to ficus your learning efforts.

      Hope that helps and do let us know which way you decide to go.

      • Savita Pahuja says

        Hi Derek ..

        I just applied for CSP as the pattern going to be change from 15 feb. But its not madatory to take it before 31st march,

        When I applied last week the information was same but now they are continuing the old process parallely with new pilot process.

        So I am getting 90 days of time … I also confirmed the same information from the Scrum Alliance by sending the query.

        Whosoever wants to apply before 15th feb will get enough time to prepare for CSP.

        ALL the best all CSP aspirants !!!

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