Esri Certification Exams - Are you ready?

By Tripp Corbin

There has been a lot of talk about Esri’s new technical certifications on various listservs, boards and blogs. While certification is nothing new to many of the disciplines GIS specialist/professionals work with such as IT, Planning, Project Management, Surveying, Tax Assessment, and so on, it is relatively new to the GIS field.

GISPpinproofThe GISP certification from the GISCI has only be around for about 10 years. It currently doesn’t include an exam. Expect that to change. GISCI is working on an exam which is tentatively set for release in 2015. Esri’s certifications have only been around for a couple of years. Because certification is new to GIS, many in the GIS industry have had little if any exposure to taking a certification exam. As a result, they are unsure of what to expect or how to prepare.

During the course of my career, I have taken and passed several certification exams which includes Esri’s Desktop Associate exam as well as several Microsoft Certifications, Esri Authorized Instructor exams, a CompTIA Certification, and the Certified Floodplain Manager exam. Most recently I took the Esri Enterprise Administration Associate beta exam for ArcGIS 10.1. Still waiting to get word on if I passed that one.  It is my hope that I can offer a little insight into what you can expect when you take an Esri Certification exam and some suggestions on how to prepare.

One thing all technicial vendor certification exams have in common, they are designed to test your overall familiarity with the application you are being tested on.  This means they will get into the weeds about specific functions, tools, toolbars, and workflows with the software. This has been true of the Microsoft and Esri Certification exams I have taken. You may see questions asking the location of commonly used tools and menus or how you might access commonly used functionality. So you need to make sure you know where these are located, what their names are and basic functionality associated with them. In the case of ArcGIS Desktop, this might include things like how do you autohide the catalog window or dock the search window or knowing what toolbar the Find tool is located on and so on. Oh and you will not have access to the software when you take the exam. Some questions will have graphics attached but you will not be able to open ArcMap to find that tool you use with the binocular icon.

You also need to make sure you are familiar with the vendor recommended workflows. In the case of the Esri certification exams, these would be the ones Esri recommends as best practices for ArcGIS for Desktop or Server or SDE which might be different from what you do in your shop.  When answering workflow questions make sure to keep in mind that the answers will be limited to the software and vendor you are being tested on. So if you use a third party add-on, such as Xtools to perform some task, you will need to make sure you how to do that with plain ArcGIS or one of the Esri Extensions.   One of the best ways to make sure you are familiar with the recommended workflows, is to go back through books from any of the Esri courses you may have taken. The exercises are especially helpful. They will generally follow the workflows and methods Esri recommends as best practices.

Another thing that is common to every certification exam I have taken are questions that test your knowledge of the vendor or industries’ lingo or terms. You need to make sure when you see terms, such as Feature Class, Feature Dataset, Layer, Topology, Geodatabase Topology and so on, that you know what they mean in the Esri world. My experience as an Instructor has shown me that many shops develop their own version GIS terms and lingo. For example I have seen shops where every data layer they have is refered to as a shapefile. It doesn’t matter if it is a feature class stored in a Geodatabase or some other format. Everything is referred to as a shapefile. This will get you in trouble when you sit for a certification exam.

Esri’s online GIS dictionary  ( is a great resource to make sure you know what Esri means when it uses specific terms. Once again, reviewing any training materials you have from past classes is also a good idea. Using these to make a study sheet or flash cards can provide a great exam prep tool.

I have found that most ArcGIS Users tend to specialize in specific areas, be it parcel mapping, transportation analysis, data collection or so on. This means they are experts at using the tools they use on a regular basis but often forget or are unaware of the other capabilities of ArcGIS software. This will make passing one of the Esri certification exams difficult. They are not profession specific but instead test you on the entire software package.

As you prepare for the exam make sure you take the time to look at tools and functions outside your specific area of expertise. A good example of this is projections and coordinate systems. Many ArcGIS Users use the same data day after day. It is all in the same coordinate system so they do not have to worry about it. However, one of the powerful functions  of ArcGIS is to project data from one coordinate system to another. There is a good possibility that you will encounter some questions related to projecting data in ArcGIS as well some of the components that define a coordinate system such as datum or ellipsoid. Again going back through old training materials is a good way to review.

A few other tips for preparing for an exam:

  1. Make sure to get a good night’s rest before the exam. Don’t over cram.
  2. Take practice exams. This can be from an online service or use the sample questions on the Esri website and the exam specific skills measured as a guide to make your own. Review questions from Esri classes also make good practice questions.
  3. Plan to go through the exam 3 or 4 times. During the first pass answer the questions you know for sure. Then come back and hit the ones you narrowed down to a couple of possible answers. Lastly hit the ones you have no idea. Remember an unanswered question is automatically wrong.
  4. Don’t force yourself to go for a higher level exam than you are ready for. Don’t feel you have to take the professional level exam even if you have been using the software for a long time.
  5. Remember theses exams are based on ArcGIS 10 or 10.1. So if you have not been using those versions, do not take the exam. I can almost promise you will not pass.

Esri and a couple of vendors have begun to develop exam prep classes. This includes my company eGIS Associates. These classes can provide a great opportunity to review functionality and provide a chance to identify areas where your knowledge may be weak. Many folks have reported these classes to be extremely helpful as they prepared for the exams.

I hope this helps. If anyone has any questions about the new Esri Technical Certification Exams please feel free to contact me.

Reprinted with permission, Tripp Corbin.

Published Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Written by Tripp Corbin

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