What You Need to Know Before Taking the Adwords Exam

By Evan Levy | Sep 20, 2010
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Recently I had the distinct privilege of completing the requirements of the Google Advertising Professionals program to be recognized as individually qualified for Google Adwords.  This system was established by Google to help people establish credibility when making claims of PPC prowess.  Hypothetically, if you pass the exam, you should know enough to run a PPC campaign fairly competently.  In practice, the system isn’t quite that efficient.

The Good:

The study materials for the exam are laid-out in an easily accessible, free online format.  Google gives you the option of seeing all of the “modules” on one page to make it easier to print and take with you/write on/highlight.

The testing software is easy to use, and has some great features; however, it does lock down everything else on your computer while it’s running.  If you were planning on having multiple windows open on the same computer while taking the test, you’re out of luck.  The software does allow you to skip questions, mark them for later, and show you which questions you marked so you can skip to them individually later on.  It also allows you to easily strike-through an answer if you wish to visually eliminate it from the given choices (the exam is entirely multiple choice).  Also, you do have a two hour time-limit, which is just barely enough time.  There are 120 questions, meaning you have about one minute per question.  Some you’ll be able to answer as soon as you finish reading it.  Others will take much longer.

The exam costs about $50 to take, payments going to Google, of course.  I think this is a good thing because this exam is not something to take lightly.  If anyone who’s ever looked at Adwords took the test hundreds of times until they passed it, it would defeat the purpose.  Also, the price point isn’t necessarily prohibitive, but it does force one to actually prepare.  In order to be individually certified, you must take and pass (80% or better) both the fundamentals exam, and one of three advanced exams.  Each exam costs $50, so I would recommend doing your very best to get it right the first time.

The Bad:

That being said, I think the test was very difficult.  Don’t get me wrong, I passed both exams on my first attempt, but they were very difficult.  The time limit is, indeed, just barely enough time to get through it.  If you don’t know what you need to, you will run out of time and/or be forced to guess on several questions.  With an 80% passing requirement, forced guesses will not produce positive results.

The price point is a little high as well.  I understand the need to make this a somewhat exclusive recognition, and that a higher price point helps weed out some of the not-so-serious.  But $50 annually and $100 every two years seems a bit much for a test with extremely minimal resource demands.  Now if I owned a company and wanted to be a certified partner, I think that would be just fine.  But for individuals, that can add up.

The Googly-Eyed:

The exam can certainly be described as comprehensive.  I would say too comprehensive.  I studied all of the materials in the Adwords learning center, but there were a slew of questions that were so hyper-specific, I didn’t feel like they were covered well enough.  Also, there are a good number of questions that ask about things very few people use on any kind of regular basis.  They have the exams broken down into three different advanced categories, but I think they could do a much better job breaking them apart into smaller elements.

This would help people study a little at a time, take the tests incrementally, and they could be more specific about things people really use.

For example: the study materials briefly touch on the API aspects of Adwords.  For the most part, it explains what it is, the purpose, and who should use it.  Google also seems to give the impression of, “if you’re not a programmer, don’t worry about this.”  In the exam, there was a specific question about a technical aspect of the API process.  With their top-level explanation of the API process, and their repeated, “only programmers should deal with this” mantra, I didn’t feel prepared to answer a question like that.

Lastly, there were outdated questions on the exam.  I know that technology moves at a ridiculous pace.  I also empathize with the fact that it would be difficult to constantly update the exam to keep up with the technology.  My concern is when you study materials that don’t offer any information about this technology, you use software that no longer contains this feature, and you’ve never heard of this feature before, but you’re tested on it anyway.  This becomes an issue when this question will count against you in an exam that you must pay for again if you don’t pass.  I don’t know whether or not Google eliminates this question in their analysis of your pass/fail status, but there were too many questions like this for me to not be concerned about it.

Overall, the exam is tough, but not impossible.  Study diligently, explore all of the different features of the technology you’re testing on, and you should be ready for the exam.  Be prepared for the oddball questions, manage your time well, and you’ll be on your way to Google certification.

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