Zend Certified Engineer

I passed. 200 sample questions, 134 flash cards, and hours of studying later–I am now officially a Zend Certified Engineer. Three months ago, Daniel Kushner offered me a voucher to take the test for free, “to help advance PHP into the enterprise and to endorse PHP as the leading Web development language” since I am a “PHP community leader and professional developer.” In fact, I have over five solid years of PHP coding experience. So why so much studying? Frankly, I needed it–but more on that later.

Because I decided to take on the ZCE as the subject for my upcoming article in PHP Magazine, I also decided to take the angle of a participant-observer, trying as much as possible to put myself in the shoes of an average candidate taking this exam by going through all the motions. Plus, I care about having a reliable standard for measuring knowledge in the community. So I tried the whole thing on for size in a thorough manner.

In celebration of Zend’s ZCE Month, I plan to unpack some of my own experience taking the ZCE Exam here on my blog. For now, here is a quick run-through of some of my study tactics, complete with photos:

134 Flash Cards

Daniel graciously provided me with the Study Guide and Practice Test booklets, which were invaluable. I went through the study guide underlining everything that stood out to me–anything that might surprise me on the exam. Then I took some practice tests and scored myself. The answers I got wrong on the practice test fell into one of two camps: something I didn’t know that I needed to memorize, or something I needed to know conceptually. For the conceptual stuff I went back to the study guide and read up on the topic. Mostly, however, it was stuff I didn’t know from memory that tripped me up. So I made flash cards using not only everything I got wrong I should have known from memory, but also everything that stood out to me as good to remember or know from the study guide. In the end, my wife was drilling me on over 134 cards. She sorted the wrong answers to one side, then we’d go through the wrong ones until I could recite, for example, all the parameters and return value for preg_match as if it were my street address.

The practice book cut up

The other thing I did that really helped was to cut up the practice test booklet. Yes, cut. I took a razor to the spine and essentially unbound all the pages. Then I ran it through a copying machine. This way, I could take the 200-question exam multiple times. Erasing my answers from the booklet just didn’t do it–since I could see the depressions and pencil marks. Separate copies meant I could drill myself on these 200 questions until I got them all right. Between test sessions I would go back to the flash cards, look up concepts in the study guide, and consult the PHP manual for any details I might have missed. By the time I was scoring 100% on the sections I was previously having the most difficulty with on the practice test exam, I knew I was ready for the real thing.

I plan to write more about the test itself on this blog, and to pack many more study tips and my own color-coded reference sheet I used for studying into my article for PHP Magazine. For now, here is what the certificate looks like that I took away from the testing center–if you read closely you’ll see those blurry letters in the middle spell that all important word “PASS”:

I passed!