I just took -- and passed -- the Acquia Certification Exam

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 11:03 -- darryl
Acquia Certified Developer 2014 logoI am at DrupalCon Austin, and on Wednesday, I noticed a room off to the side of the hubbub with a sign out front that read "Acquia Certification".  I had heard about the program and had a certain amount of trepidation about it.  Being a mostly homegrown industry, it can be difficult to have a feel for how sharp your skills are in comparison to others around you.  And, especially for a freelancer like myself, plunking down $250 for a test that few have taken and no one seems willing to talk about in great detail is more than a bit of a risk.
OTOH, with Dries mentioning in his keynote that D8 would not likely release before the middle of next year, and the inevitable delay of contrib catching up to it for a further 6-9 months, a D7 certificate probably still has some legs.
I looked in and had a nice chat with Peter Manijak, who runs the program.  He mentioned that they were offering a special deal at the 'con:  if you don't pass, you get a voucher for a free retake within 90 days.  That put my mind at ease and I signed up for it.  After the test, I mentioned this to Peter, and he said that he had heard the same from many others;  maybe they will add this to the package.
They had 6 or 8 laptops set up for the exam, and there was basically no waiting.  I signed up online and Peter sat me down in front one of them immediately.  At this point, about 11am on Thursday, he said they had had 23 people take the test and he thought he'd get another 10.  For something that wasn't advertised -- I never saw it in the program or anywhere else -- that's not bad.  
I don't mind saying that the test was pretty intense.  I finished the last of the 60 questions with 2 minutes left of the allotted 90.  There's a timer that shows and I was watchful of not falling off the necessary pace of answering each question within 1.5 minutes. 
Immediately after submitting the test, I got my results.  Results... but no specifics about particular questions I wrestled with.  Just how I did in the 4 broad categories they lay out and an overall score.  While I can tell you what I got, the only thing that Acquia will verify to others is whether you passed or failed.  A passing score is 65%.
For the record, I got:
  • Fundamental Web Development Concepts: 100%
  • Site Building: 87%
  • Front End Development (Theming): 57%
  • Back End Development (Coding): 90%
  • Overall:  83%
  • Result:  Pass
As a site builder and back end developer, the results certainly match my own perceived strengths and weaknesses.  
I would say that the exam was pretty tough and pretty fair.  I will say that, in my opinion, a top front end developer who had not otherwise done work site building and at least finding things in the code, probably would not pass this exam.    Front end development is a critical specialty, but the specifics of that task are diluted by the other areas that the test tries to cover.  I think I heard Peter say on a DrupalEasy podcast that they were considering more specialized tests, and in at least this particular case, I think it is warranted.  
There were very few questions that I answered immediately and without a second thought.  And I would also agree with what I've read in that this is a test that would be very difficult to cram for.  Obviously, it covers a broad swath of technologies and how they interact.  The best way to study for the exam is to build some real world websites with Drupal, and thereby get to grips with common issues and problems encountered in building sites with Drupal.  The people who wrote the test questions are familiar with these and you need to be as well.
The questions are not asked in groups, so it seems a bit scattershot as you progress through the test.  You can go back and forth through the test and view an overview page to see what's left.  You can also mark questions you know you want to go back and review.  
I'm sure by now you are dying to know about the questions they asked.  They are scenario based and the multiple choice answers are detailed.  You have to read them closely to tease out the specifics of the answer.  Sometimes this allows you to eliminate one or more of the answers because you know that a function name or a UI element is wrong.  But surprisingly often, the wrong answers are valid, but not the best ideas.  This is why you need to have built sites with Drupal, in order to understand what are the best practices and why.
The questions and answers are pretty low level.  You will see snippets of PHP, CSS, Javascript and HTML.  For front end questions, you will need to know about tipple-phips and how Phptemplate operates.  For back end questions, you will need to know about hooks, specific hooks and how/when/why to use them, and some common data structure items.  Site building questions require you to know the admin interface pretty well and have a good idea of how to put the pieces -- content types, fields, taxonomy and more -- together to build a site.
The only contrib module that my exam included was Views, which I think is pretty fair.  I can't recall building a site that didn't use Views, but I could say that about several other contrib modules, too.  
None of the questions struck me as a trick question.  They seemed to be drawn from real world experience and represented valid issues that front end/back end/site builder will face on a daily basis while working with Drupal.  
The bottom line is this:  if you are a successful and reasonably experienced Drupalero, I think you will pass the exam.  And while it isn't a trivial exercise, I think you'll find a lot of the questions touch on familiar issues you have had to deal with, so you will know what the right answer is.