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Part 2: Preparing for the Esri Desktop Associate Exam

Last month in Part 1 of my series I shared my reasoning on why I wanted to try for the Esri Desktop Associate Certification.  Since then I started to study for the certification, and I’m ready to take on the beast! But before I do that, I will share with you in this article the process of how I prepared for the 200 multiple-choice exam, and how I dealt with my knowledge gaps. If you’re comfortable with the self-paced online courses that Esri is oh-so-good at, then you’re going to have little problem from the start of your journey to the end of preparation. Here’s how I did it:finals-baby1

Where do I Start studying for this thing?

For everyone who has completed a university course, the biggest secret to success is to keep the summary of the course you receive on the first day on hand. It tells you everything that you need to be accountable for, and it prevents nasty surprises. For a company who wishes to accrue a profit from their tests, it’s not in Esri’s interest to make a test that is too ambiguous to prepare for. One of the first things they offer is such a summary, which outlines all the skills measured and the topics covered. It’s more than enough to start your way into your own studies, but they go even further: They point out the resources they offer and where they’re relevant to this exam.

This is a useful place to start. So is my past experience with ArcGIS Desktop. Since first learning how to use this program in university, I quickly became competent by hanging around in the Geography labs while studying for unrelated courses. Spending ten minutes out here and there to help a colleague out with a troubleshooting problem was a solid way to learn all the nuance of the program’s analysis tools I never touched through class, and doubled as a measured, beloved distraction from all my painful calculus or linear algebra problems that made up the majority of my education. Since then, ArcGIS Desktop has been one of my primary tools in geospatial analysis and map-making, thanks to a string of employers who used the software, or made it available.

Past experience with a topic will always make the tests much easier. Esri recommends on their summary page that the user have “two or more years of experience using ArcGIS”. But the roadmap and the experience are only two parts towards preparation. There are also the resources for study and the time spent behind the book that count as well!

The tools for the job – what you can use to get ready for this beast

Esri Press is a fantastic resource. While those accustomed to mass-market books may think that their selection is pricey, the books they publish are generally readable, straight-to-the-point, and a fantastic source when learning new things in the world of GIS. Python Scripting for ArcGIS by Paul Zandbergen was where I started to learn how to use Python for practical matters in and out of ArcGIS because it so clear. So, when Miriam Schmidts authored a comprehensive study guide for the Desktop Associate exam for version 10.1, I knew that this was the tool I needed to pass the test.esridesktop_guide

The Esri ArcGIS Desktop Associate Certification Study Guide (Amazon Bookstore) is phenomenal. It’s dense, dry and it’s really hard to fight my desire to turn the page and skim. But once I get into it, something really amazing happens: Learning. This is a hands-on exercise book that is listed as “Comprehensive” on the ESRI website, and has a lot to teach. The chapters are short and focused, and I was able to do an exercise per night, despite a grueling schedule occupied by fieldwork in the oil patch. While this book doesn’t offer a 180-day trial of ArcGIS like most other ESRI Press books, a free 60-day trial is always available on the ESRI website.

I’ve also been told by a handful of people that it’s possible to do the test purely from the ArcGIS online help pages. All the material that you are required to know can be found there, and parts of it can also be found within the tutorial packages that you find in the downloads section of your copy of ArcGIS through the ESRI website. While I’ve found these two parts complementary to my package, I’m not terribly interested in risking a 225-dollar investment without a further 75-dollar care package.

My Studies, or, A Method to my Madness…

The Esri ArcGIS Desktop Associate Certification Study Guide was where I started my studies. I was able to concentrate for one hour a day since I started writing the first article – sometimes just one exercise a day from the textbook when I found myself overloaded by the day’s affairs. Once I was finished all the exercises in the book, I asked myself what I retained. To answer that question, I powered through the multiple-choice questions in the book, and found the areas where I was weak. This is where the power-studying began.

Again, the best part of ArcGIS is the amount of time spent in making help resources accessible. If there’s a part you are fuzzy on, there’s always the ArcGIS help directory with the answer. While this directory may be unfamiliar for those who’ve relied on Google up until 10.3 (or by the Python class), learning how to crack this set of help documents may take some time. But the beauty of this help series is that it’s all intuitive. You always start with the general topic where you find your difficulty, then move to the specific case.

When I ran into specific problems, I went from the book into the help directory, and I studied those topics until I was confident in the material. When it was a hands-on portion that I needed assistance with, I went to the tutorial files. When I was really confused, there were videos. I quickly found in math courses that online videos are both one’s blessing and curse. On one hand, there are videos that have the answer to most of your questions, but on the other hand there are also an abundance of adorable cat videos. With all these resources at hand, I was able to gain insight into all the areas covered without relying on an answer from a living human being. Easy, right?brian_esri_exam

Onwards, to the great beyond!

At this point, I’m more than ready to tackle this test. Two hundred multiple-choice questions that seek to assess my skill with the platform await me. I’m confident that there will be some value in having this feather in my cap, although I’m skeptical it’s for the right reasons. In the concluding article, I’ll bring my concerns to the forefront and bring in the opinions of various individuals on why this is the right model (or not!). I’ll let you know whether these study methods were effective, and the results as well – sink or swim. While this isn’t as potent a credential as a university degree or a specialization, I still believe this may be effective in proving my competence with this platform to HR specialists – even as I move my primary focus to other platforms and skills.


4 comments on "Part 2: Preparing for the Esri Desktop Associate Exam"

  1. Fiona says:

    I love your idea for multitasking in the geography lab – learning by helping others!

    1. Brian says:

      Thanks! It’s less an idea for getting good at something than a method for coping with stress and a recursion thing: “To solve problems, first you have to solve problems”.

  2. Eric Collins says:

    I clicked through your summary link for the associate exam and the site claims 95 questions – are you writing a different exam?

  3. Sally says:

    Great post. Nice tips on how to prepare for you exams in college. One has to find out what ways work for him/her.

Comments are closed.

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