How AdWords Certification has changed

Google’s AdWords certification, which is now part of the Google Partners platform, has changed a lot since 2012. Knowing what to expect can give aspiring partners a head start.

Google’s Partner program replaced their Certification program in 2013, and with it made some pretty significant changes to the way that the exams were held. Fundamentally Google replaced their Testing Centre (GTC) with a new system which was integrated right into Partners and made the tests slightly more challenging. Conversely, Google have seemingly spent a lot of time solidifying and re-structuring the study guides – Making studying for the exams a lot more straightforward.

The AdWords Certification exams - 2012 and 2014 user interfaces

The two AdWords Certification exam user interfaces and associated badges

Google AdWords study guides

One of the most noticeable points was the improvement that the Partners team have made on revision material and content structure. Two years ago I recall the revision materials being difficult to understand, even harder to find and almost impossible to navigate. This made for a painful experience with lots of bookmarking and jumping from page to page via internal links.

I’m pleased to say that the content is structured really, really well today. And it reads even better. I don’t know if they’ve been busy with some copywriters but the detail and language used seems much more understandable (that being said, I do have two more years experience this time around!). Either way, reading some of the materials this time was a joy – So much so that I’d recommend it as a resource to anyone who uses AdWords regularly.

What’s particularly nice is the balance between on page content, extendible boxes and internal links to other pages. Text is combined beautifully with image and video, and there’s lots of tips and real-life examples. What’s also really great is the “try it now” functionality, which lets readers test out the topics being discussed on their own AdWords account.

AdWords Exam format

Unlike in 2012 once you hit “start the exam” you’re straight off – There’s no instructions of how the exam works or sample questions. So it’s worth knowing the structure and format of the exam you’re about to be taking for the next two hours beforehand.

The old format

Back in the good old days you’d have to pay $50.00 before you could access the exam. Once your account was credited you could start the exam. Upon starting you’d be given a few slides on how the exam worked and a sample question.

  • The exam was multiple choice
  • There was usually one correct, one partially correct and several incorrect answers
  • Some questions required multiple answers (eg. Pick two of five answers)
  • Right-clicking struck-out an answer
  • Questions could be flagged and returned to at the end of the exam
  • You could navigate backwards and forwards between questions
  • Whilst the exam was in progress other browser windows were locked

The new format

Since the introduction of Google Partners, the exams have been free to take – which is great! When you start the exam you’re given a quick introductory message explaining that all confirmed answers are final and then you begin.

  • The exams are still multiple choice
  • However there’s only one correct answer, and several incorrect answers
  • Each question is a single choice, although some include an “all answers are correct” choice
  • You are no longer able to strike out answers
  • Once a question is answered and confirmed it is final
  • The new exams are linear – All answers are final once confirmed
  • Other browser windows are no longer locked whilst the exam is in progress

AdWords certification exam questions

All the exams in the Google Partner program have a similar number of questions and permitted time. These are similar figures to 2012 with between 90 – 120 minutes and 74 – 98 questions. The pass-grade has changed from 80% (2012) to between 70% and 85% (2014) depending on the exam.

Details of each of the four exams within Google Partners

Details of each of the four exams within Google Partners

Fundamentals exam

The content of this exam is the most similar to two years prior – There’s still a heavy focus on account management, structure and some performance analysis. There are 90 questions and 120 minutes which should be plenty of time to achieve the required 85% passing score. There’s some questions on the API and AdWords Editor, but these topics are covered in more detail during the Advanced Search exam.

Advanced Search exam

The Advanced Search exam hasn’t changed a great deal since 2012, however there’s much more emphasis on real-life examples and case studies. Expect a lot of scenarios in which the advertiser is expected to advise on the best approach. There is 120 minutes to complete 98 questions with a passing score of 80%. The advanced search exam which I sat had a lot of reporting and optimisation related questions.

Advanced Display exam

The Advanced Display exam gives participants 120 minutes to correctly answer 70% of 88 questions. This was the easiest of the three exams that I sat, with questions typically discussing best practices for display ad creative and how the Google Display Network (GDN) works. There’s a lot of questions on placements and frequency capping, too.

Video Advertising exam

The video advertising exam is the most recent in the series of certifications, and wasn’t around back in 2012. It’s made up of 74 questions across 90 minutes with an 85% passing score. There’s a really strong focus on TrueView videos in this exam, particularly the differences between In-stream and in-display options. Also read up on the Videos for Ads sections, as there’s some cross-over from the Advanced Display exam.

Google Analytics exam

Unfortunately the Google Analytics exam is no longer available as part of the Google Partners program, but hopefully it will return as it was a fantastically informative exam back in 2012 which covered filters, segmentations, account structure and administration. With Google Analytics evolving significantly over the last two years it would be a welcome return for the Analytics exam.

How the AdWords exams compare

In 2012 the exam format was more forgiving and gave applicants the chance to revisit answers they were unsure about. However the $50.00 charge and poor revision material meant the exam could be more stressful and challenging overall. The introduction of much better study content has made the overall process more enjoyable and having to go through questions in a linear and one-time-only way makes applicants (or me, at least) think about the answer in more detail before confirming.

Overall I personally think the exams are easier than two years ago, purely due to revision materials. If you’ve got a few years experience with the AdWords platform you should be able to pass the 2014 exams without too much trouble.

Let me know how you get on in the comments section below!

John Alexander Rowley

An enthusiastic digital marketing professional passionately dedicated to increasing the online presence of businesses and individuals in order to improve engagement and ROI.

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