Which ScrumMaster certification should you go for – PSM vs. CSM?

There are now two major* ScrumMaster certifications available. I’m often asked which is ‘better’ – so I decided to do a comprehensive trawl and summarize my findings here.

Firstly, I should state that I am a Professional ScrumMaster (PSM), and offer training courses for PSM – so with that in mind….

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) from ScrumAlliance has been on the go for 14 years, since 2002. For its first 10 years there was no exam/assessment – once you attended a two day CSM course, whether you slept in the corner of the classroom or paid close attention, you graduated a ScrumMaster. It has always been expensive to attend CSM training, because there are a carefully limited number of trainers, and its very difficult and expensive to become a CSM trainer – you need to be ‘nominated’ by 5 existing trainers, pay $10K to register, etc. As a result, there are no trainers in Ireland, and the daily trainer fees charged are very high.

In 2010 the guys who created Scrum and founded ScrumAlliance left and set up an alternative body, scrum.org. Through scrum.org they offered a 60 minute online ScrumMaster assessment (85% to pass). Although they also offered ScrumMaster training, you didn’t have to attend one of their courses to qualify for the exam. This opened up the field to all training companies, thereby driving down costs. It also introduced a much more credible certification because to become a PSM you had to pass a rigorous exam. This didn’t reflect well on the ScrumAlliance certification, so they introduced an exam in 2012 – however their assessment is pretty half-hearted, allowing candidates up to 90 days (sic) to answer 25 of 36 multiple choice questions correctly (68%). And you still had to attend one of their expensive courses…

So although CSM has been 3 times as long in the market, PSM is rapidly gaining ground with about 60,000 PSMs globally today. Its a much more rigorous assessment, much cheaper to get, and is backed by Scrums creators, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber.

Here is a comparison table with more detail:

Certified Scrum Master / CSM  Professional Scrum Master / PSM Level 1
Attainment ✗ By attendance ✔ By assessment
Learning Materials ✗ Course outline only ✔ Free downloadable guide
Training Cost ✗ Typically €995-€1195 ✔ Typically €700-€900
Must Attend Approved Training ✗ Yes ✔ No
Training Materials ✗ Vary by instructor ✔ Standardized
Assessment ✗ superficial: 35 questions, 68% pass mark, 90 day time limit, as many sittings as you like ✔ Comprehensive: 80 questions, 85% pass mark, 60 min time limit, one sitting
Feedback ✗ Incorrect Answers are highlighted and can be resubmitted after further research. Answers to all questions (correct and incorrect) are shown after passing ✔ Only feedback is your assessment mark – there is no feedback on which questions you got correct, or what the right answers were.
 Advanced Certification Available ✗ No ✔ Yes: you can progress to the much more difficult PSM Level 2 exam for experienced ScrumMasters
Certificate Renewal ✗ Every 2 years ($150) ✔ Not required
Certificates Issued (Mar 2014) 230,000 60,000

* I haven’t considered more niche certifications such as BCS

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18 Responses to Which ScrumMaster certification should you go for – PSM vs. CSM?

  1. Prashant Kotian says:

    Excellent. This article helped clear a lot of things regarding PSM and CSM.

  2. Deepak says:

    Very nicely explained. Was confused between the two and this article had helped in deciding the right certification for me.

  3. Clarification, the CSM does require an exam. It was a new qualification as of 2010. And I find that people who take the PSM are Scrum Masters who have experience and are looking for a cheaper way to be certified. I find the CSM carries more weight, but have a colleague who recently went the PSM route due to cost issues.

    • coheocha says:

      Hi Karen, The article does mention that CSM does now include an exam (it didn’t always) but that the exam is nothing like as rigorous as PSM. Given that fact, and that you say experienced scrum masters tend to take PSM, I’m not sure why you think CSM would ‘carry more weight’ – seems to me the opposite should be true….but I agree CSM still has better market recognition, though PSM is catching up fast.

  4. Mark Andrews says:

    When contemplating certification in 2014, I looked at both as well. I am in complete agreement with coheocha, but would like to add that the PSM has TWO levels of certification, with the first being what is being compared most frequently to the original CSM.

    While there are currently ~41,000 people with PSM I certification, there are only ~250 people with PSM II certification. If you read the requirements for PSM II certification, it is certainly very rigorous, with both multiple choice, short answer and essay sections, the latter two sections being graded by hand. Achieving PSM II is almost as good as being trained, mentored and proctored by the founders of Scrum themselves.

    In addition, Scrum.org is offering certifications for PSD I (Professional Scrum Developer), PSPO I & II (Professional Scrum Product Owner) and SPS (Scaled Professional Scrum).

    I am sure there are many fine ScrumMasters holding the CSM certification. But going forward, my analysis tells me that the PSM certification from Scrum.org will become the one sought after by employers.

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  6. Jarred Guerra says:

    Very good info.
    CSM is more commercialized. Also, I have seen many Scrum Masters with CSM certificate possessing questionable foundation knowledge

    The only thing with PSM is – passing it requires some careful study of scrum guide. whereas getting CSM is guaranteed.

    if you prepare for PSM, get some good PSM Guide. I noticed couple of them on the net, Scum and PSM exam guide and Scrum Master Exam Questions

  7. Rafael Medina says:

    Jarred,

    I guess you were trying to point to “Scrum Narrative and PSM Exam Guide” by mohammed. Not Scum 🙂

    I definitely recommend it. It helped me to not only prepare for PSM but taught me many job related aspect of Scrum Master. The only pro was I would have liked an audio version of the book since I am more of listener than reader.

    As for PSM Vs CSM, people tend to think that CSM is more acknowledged. Yes, more people know about CSM because it was the early bird. That does not mean that CSM carries more weight. In professional circle, PSM is more respected for many reasons suggested in the article.

    In our organization, we encourage PSM due to its stringent scrum knowledge focus.

  8. Tatiana Weinbrecht says:

    By all comparison, PSM looks better than CSM. Is there a guidance somewhere that helps to prepare and pass PSM in first attempt? Thanks for the guidance.

    • admin says:

      Hi Tatiana,
      We offer a 2 day exam preparation course for PSM – its not a trivial exam so usually reading the Scrum guide and other recommended materials mentioned on scrum.org isn’t sufficient – but may be enough if you have strong ScrumMaster experience.

      Best regards, Colm

  9. Pingback: Scrum Master Certification. Which should I choose? - UnaiRoldan.com

  10. Alan says:

    Very helpful comparison, thank you! Just passed PSM I recently and am looking at the PSM II with less worries than before reading this.

  11. Megha says:

    I am a not an experienced SM but I am planning to switch careers.
    This article helped me to decide the certification perfect for me to move ahead.
    Thanks!

  12. Mahesh says:

    Excellent article, it helped me decide which certification I need to take.

  13. Technosnoop says:

    Very helpful comparison, thank you! preparing for Professional Scrum.

  14. Jason Hendrick says:

    Thanks for the comparison and more information in the comments as well.

    I decided to go with PSM. Spent three weeks and fully prepared using http://www.scrumguides.org/ (Scrum Guide), and the recommended book https://www.amazon.com/Scrum-Narrative-Exam-Guide-All-ebook/dp/B018JXYRNA (Scrum Narrative and PSM Exam Guide).

    Happy to share that I passed the test. This was very valuable learning experience too. Thanks again.

  15. Fazal Kareem says:

    @ Jason,

    Thanks for the clear direction. I only used Scrum Narrative and PSM Exam Guide book for one week rigorous preparation and passed the test yesterday.
    Yoohoo! Feels wonderful.

  16. Pooja Vermont says:

    Fazal,

    Thanks for the information on the book about the PSM Exam Guide. I just bought it.

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