Getting Zend certified using Teach 2000, amazon and test exams

I came to Fluid Creativity in January, through an iStudio placement with Northwest Vision and Media (NWVM). The placement ended in July and since then I’ve been taken on as a trainee developer, making this my first commercial developer job. I’m pleased to say that I’ve recently passed the Zend certification program, making me a Zend qualified engineer.

I spent about four months preparing for the exam, in addition to reading (and re-reading) sections of the PHP manual, I used three books to study from, Pro PHP Patterns Frameworks Testing, PHP Objects Patterns Practice 2nd edition, and the Zend Certification handbook.

North West Vision and Media paid for me to attend two PHP courses at NTI Leeds; Zend PHP 2: Higher Structures in March, and Zend PHP 5: Certification Training in July. The second course was particularly useful in getting used to the type of questions that would be in the exam. Basically, we spent three days going through hundreds of examples, discussing what pitfalls to look out for and why particular answers were true which was all excellent preparation for the final exam.

The preparation

I used a free flashcard program called Teach 2000 to write Questions & Answers to test myself. It’s designed specifically for language vocabulary learning but used correctly and it’s a fantastic tool to help you learn PHP code.

Top recommendations for using Teach 2000 for Zend certification

  1. Limit a set of questions to a maximum of 40 – any more than that and it becomes a real chore to work through them
  2. Set the test parameters to: selection=complete; ask=question/answer; order=random; type=flashcard quiz; repetition=repeat errors;
  3. Allow yourself around 30seconds per question, but pressing the space bar will reveal the answer so you have to be honest whether you got it correct or wrong.
  4. Using flashcard quiz option means you don’t have to type out the answer, just say it in your head.
  5. Go through at least one question set each day – practice makes perfect!

I wrote hundreds of questions in about a dozen question sets covering each of the major areas of the exam, and because I’m a really super nice guy you can download them all here.

Practise exams

With a couple of months to go, I purchased a set of 10 practice exams from the Zend website. They’re cheap enough and well worth a purchase, but they’re not exactly easy to find, so here’s the link. If you decide to get these practise exams, be aware of the following:

  • The exams are done over the internet, so you need a clear couple of hours to begin with, until you get used to the format.
  • What you get is a license to sit 10 practice exams.
  • Once you’ve started an exam, you can’t save it and go back later.
  • Once the exam is finished, you can’t re-take it.
  • You don’t get told which questions you got right or wrong.
  • You get told your score for each of the major exam areas: Excellent / Passed / Fail – but not which questions you failed
  • The real exam is 90 minutes to answer 75 questions. The practice exams have the same constraint, but if you do run over 90 minutes you can continue to complete the exam and you’ll get two sets of results for questions answered within time, and those answered out of time.

Here’s my experience of the test exams

  • Each exam I took I didn’t worry about the time constraints. I just took the time to copy out questions that I wasn’t sure about, and either tried out the code myself, or research the answer.
  • Each question I wasn’t sure of, I put into Teach2000 to go over later
  • The first exam took me around 2 hrs, but I had built up a good set of Q&As to retest myself with later.
  • I suspect there’s a limited question pool since the same questions cropped up over the series of exams – this meant that I got quicker on each exam to the point that on the morning of the real exam, I went through practice test 9 in around 20 minutes!

The real exam

Taking the exam, I was more nervous on the day than I had expected, but after a few minutes I settled down to it, so here are a few observations about taking the real exam.

  • During the exam you can mark questions for review, and go over them at the end to change your answers if you want. I did a quick run through of all the questions in the exam, answering those that were easy straight off, and marking harder ones for review.
  • Some questions will be obvious and easy to answer, get those out of the way first.
  • Some questions concern correct code. If you’re not sure, sometimes they can be answered by looking at another question where the correct code structure is given because it’s used as an example.
  • It’s usually the case with multiple choice questions that you can immediately rule out 2 or 3 answers, leaving a choice between only a couple of answers. If you’re really stuck, guess one, but at least you’ve narrowed it down!
  • Some multiple choice questions require multiple answers. Again, you can usually rule out one or two answers from being obviously wrong. Where more than one answer is required, the number of required answers is given so this helps – sometimes after ruling out the obvious, there are only the correct answers left!
  • A very few questions are so left of field that you’ll probably have no idea. Get over it, take a guess and move on. Don’t run out of time pondering over the really hard ones. There were maybe a couple of questions in my exam that were like this and 2 out of 75 doesn’t make a difference.
  • Watch your time – as I said before, make sure you’ve had a go at all the questions quite rapidly, then go over the harder ones again using the review.
  • The practice exams state that the questions are very similar in format to the real exam (which they are) and are slightly harder than the real exam. After sitting the real thing, I’d say the real exam questions are slightly harder than the practice exams, so be well prepared.
  • You get the result of the exam within a few minutes of finishing it. The computer will tell you if you’ve passed or failed. You don’t get a mark, you’ll just get a pass or fail on a computer printout before you leave.

The crushing victory

It’s all a bit of a let-down after several months of late nights and weekends spent answering test questions that all you get is “pass” on a screen, but if you’re lucky enough to pass, it feels better the next day! You get to call yourself a Zend Certified Engineer and you get a shiny logo for your personal stationary. Of course, you’ll also be listed on the Zend Yellow Pages!

I know for a fact that there’s a heap of PHP developers out there who know more, have more experience, and are better programmers than me. Becoming a Zend Certified Engineer doesn’t mean you’re part of an elite. For me, it was more about being a measurable goal in my progress as a trainee developer. It forced me to get a wide overview of the PHP5 language and opened up whole areas that I’ll need to explore at my leisure over the coming months and years. Certification means I know and am aware of a specific core of PHP knowledge and is a good place to start from in my career as a PHP developer.

  • Written by on 22nd September 2009 at 15:21
  • “Fluid Creativity is an award-winning, multi-service digital agency based in Manchester.”
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  • teacherinchina

    I wish I had come to this spot earlier…