Who doesn’t remember graduating let’s say five, ten, even twenty years ago? You strutted off that stage, throwing your cap in the air in celebration – no more late nights in the library, stacks of highlighted note cards, and begging your professors for extra credit, hooray!
Just when you thought your testing days were over, your new boss demands that you take and pass the Google AdWords exam to become an AdWords Certified Professional. Yikes...your stomach starts to rumble, and your testing anxiety rushes back from the dorm room you buried it in.
Take a deep breath! I’ve been there, and it isn’t too bad. As an alumni of WordStream’s Customer Success team, I went through this very process when I was hired back in 2013. I can still remember the endless tension built up in my shoulders during my first two weeks of studying this previously unheard of concept called search marketing.
For many, including every customer-facing employee at WordStream, becoming AdWords Certified is a critical part of the job.
If you’re looking to get certified, you’ve come to the right place! Since I’m an old dog with no new tricks, I’ve interviewed three of our newer Customer Success Specialists to give you the low-down on how to prep for and pass the AdWords Exam on your first try.
What is the AdWords Certification Exam?
The AdWords Certification Exam is a series of two examinations, which upon passing grants you your AdWords Certification. One of these online, multiple-choice exams must be the AdWords Fundamentals, plus another one of your choosing from the list below:
- Search Advertising
- Display Advertising
- Video Advertising
- Shopping Advertising
- Mobile Advertising
Key Facts to Know about the AdWords Exams
Luckily, the exam is free of charge, but there is a time restriction. The AdWords Fundamental Exam is comprised of 100 questions with an allotment of 120 minutes to complete the examination. The additional exams allot only 70 questions with 90 minutes to complete the examination.
Time limits and passing scores for each AdWords exam
As you can see in the table above, you must score 80% to pass on each exam. You have 7 days to retake the exam if you score below 80%.
Upon passing the exam you’ll receive a personalized certification as well as a Google Partners public profile page that lists your certifications. This is valid for 12 months, after which you’ll need to re-take the test to maintain your certification status.
It is true that your browser will not be locked while you take the exam, and you’ll have the ability to Google the answers. But relying on this method will not serve you well for multiple reasons. First off, you likely will not pass due to the time restrictions, and secondly, you will not learn how to use AdWords!
Hopefully this guide will set you up for success, but before getting into the tips it’s helpful to know about the challenges of becoming AdWords certified.
The 3 Main Challenges of the AdWords Certification Exam
If you’re feeling nervous about the exam, don’t! I’ve never been a good test-taker. I took the SAT’s three times before getting an acceptable score to send to colleges. More recently I suffered through the GRE’s when applying to grad school; the AdWords Exam was a piece of cake in comparison.
In fact, I’ve been able to pass the AdWords exam multiple times, and if I can do it, you can do it! But first, let’s discuss some of the challenges so you’re not astounded.
Challenge #1: Information Overload
There is no denying that the AdWords Fundamentals Exam and the additional exam you need to pass contain a wide range of definitions and concepts that need to be nailed down. With 170 multiple-choice questions this might not come as a huge shock, but it’s important to be aware of the variety of topics covered.
“The most challenging part for me was not knowing what was going to be on the exam,” says Zachary Nussbaum, a WordStream Customer Success Associate who recently passed the exam. “Fundamentals is so broad, and the questions are all over the place.
He added: “While the mobile exam felt a bit more focused, the questions were very detailed and focused on YouTube. The hardest part is just how much there is to know, and knowing where to focus your time.”
Zach graduated from University of South Carolina with his bachelors in marketing in 2016, but upon joining WordStream, AdWords was an entirely new world to him.
Nicole Nesbitt agreed with Zach. While Nicole is also a Customer Success Associate, she came aboard with a slightly higher level of knowledge since she had worked in a similar space. Her time in her previous role was more focused on other forms of digital advertising, but she still felt there was so much to learn.
“There’s just so much information, so figuring out how everything pieces together is challenging,” says Nicole.
Challenge #2: The Wording of the Questions
Take note: The questions on the AdWords exam are worded to trick you! This finding was unanimous across the three WordStreamers I spoke with, and it’s something I remember quite well from the last time I took the exam in 2015.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve never done well with multiple choice. Well, Google likes to play hardball on their multiple choice questions by intentionally trying to make you second-guess yourself.
“Google AdWords exams are meant to trick you!” says Julia Guacelli, another one of WordStream’s newer Customer Success Associates. Like Nicole, Julia came from a similar space, but still had a lot to learn upon joining the team.
“The questions are not very well-worded. It’s very much like a standardized test,” says Zach. Zach often found himself debating between two answers.
Nicole agreed as well. “The questions are asked in a very strategic and analytical way to ensure you understand the meaning behind a definition,” she says. “For instance, match types – I can recite the definition, but actually knowing how to use them is another thing.”
Challenge #3: The Time Component
Lastly, we have the time component, which involves the length of the exam, as well as the fact that you’re being timed!
“Being timed is nerve-wracking!” says Zach. Luckily, all three WordStreamers agreed that they had plenty of time to complete the tests.
For Julia, it wasn’t so much about being timed, but more about how long the testing period is. “It’s a long exam so you need stamina to ensure you’re reading the questions right. After you go through 60 questions everything starts blurring together.”
OK, now that you’re aware of the challenges that lie ahead, let’s talk about it how you can overcome them with these seven foolproof testing prep tips from our recently Certified Professionals!
7 Tips to Help You Pass the AdWords Certification Exam
Tip #1: Start by Learning the Basics
Learning how to advertise on Google is not as simple as you may have originally expected. At least when I began my AdWords education I assumed setting up ads was a simple money-exchanging process. Boy was I wrong.
So, where do you even start? Zach recommends starting with the basic, foundational concepts like how the ad auctions works, and how campaigns are structured.
“I read a lot of WordStream articles to get the basics down on how the ad auction works, what quality score is, etc.,” says Zach. “This helped me have a better understanding of how everything tied together when I got to more detailed concepts like negative keywords and match types.”
If you’re not sure where to start, read our article on PPC basics in PPC University. (You can also download our full, free beginner’s guide to AdWords, PPC 101, as a PDF.)
Tip #2: Be an Active Learner
This piece of advice from Julia really struck a chord – it is super critical to take notes and be involved in your learning process rather than just watching a YouTube video or reading something online and hoping that everything eventually sinks in. And this isn’t just something that Julia believes, it’s something that’s been proven through extensive research.
“When we write something down, research suggests that as far as our brain is concerned, it’s as if we were doing that thing,” says Lifehack author, Dustin Wax. “Writing seems to act as a kind of mini-rehearsal for doing. This leads to greater memorization, the same way that visualizing the performance of a new skill can actually improve our skill level.”
Julia used the study guides and modules provided by Google AdWords to write down notes.
“I went through all of the modules, and took thorough notes,” she says. “While doing practice tests I wrote down questions I got wrong and then I’d go back and re-do them, a lot! It was my job to pass the exam so I drove myself a little crazy with two weeks of active studying,” says Julia.
Take advantage of Google’s own study guides
Julia’s advice to you is, “Take notes when you’re studying. Write things down and become an active learner.”
Tip #3: Make Use of iPass Exam
If you haven’t yet discovered iPass Exam you’re in for a real treat! I used this tool when I first began studying for the exam in 2013, and I was pleased to hear that WordStream’s new Customer Success Associates are using it too.
iPass Exam is an online program that allows you to take multiple practice tests that mimic the environment and question format provided on the actual AdWords Fundamentals exam, as well as the other exam flavors. The great thing about iPass is that it really prepares you for the difficult wording AdWords uses to trip you up, and it also gives you the opportunity to practice with their endless library of questions.
“The questions are very similar to how the actual test is,” says Zach. “There’s over 300 questions you can practice with, and running through them is great for muscle memory. It’s like doing flashcards.”
Tip #4: Lean on Other Outside Resources
In addition to iPass there are several other resources outside of the Google AdWords study materials that you can utilize to get comfortable with the material.
If reading works best for your learning style, head to the WordStream blog, and sort through the various topics to focus in on your weakest areas. If you learn better in a lecture type format, search YouTube. There’s tons of helpful videos explaining concepts like bidding and budgeting, the display network, etc.
“Don’t be afraid to use outside resources,” says Julia. “Obviously Google knows what it’s doing, but the WordStream blog was way more helpful for me. Sometimes even just YouTube videos would help me really nail down a concept.”
Tip #5: Study Between Meetings
Use your time wisely, and spread out your study sessions. Many people can’t concentrate for 5 hours straight so use the time in between tasks to read up on remarketing or run through a few iPass questions.
“Repetition is key,” says Nicole. “It takes awhile for it to click to the next level, but the more you practice and revisit your study material, the better you’ll do.”
Zach studied at every opportunity he had during his working hours. “If I wasn’t in a meeting, and had a free hour, I’d spend time just going through the iPass questions.”
Tip #6: Ensure You’re Learning Applicable Concepts as You Study
Have you ever memorized an entire stack of vocabulary words, but still failed a test miserably? That’s likely because you weren’t looking at the bigger picture. Since you’re taking this exam to improve your online advertising skill-set, going beyond just memorization is critical.
“Make sure while you go through the process you know the fundamentals that will actually translate to your business,” advises Zach. “Focus on learning rather then just trying to pass the test.”
“Think of things in the broader context,” says Julia. “For instance, this is how locations targeting fits into everything else.”
Zach also made an important point that if you’re able to chose which test you’re taking in addition to Fundamentals, choose one that’s specific to your business rather than the one that you think is the easiest. For example, if you work at an e-commerce company, you should take the Shopping exam.
Tip #7: Be Patient
Last, but not least, don’t stress, and be patient with yourself. This advice is applicable for the studying portion of the process, as well as when you’re actually taking the AdWords exams.
“Take time to take a step back when you’re taking the exam,” says Julia. “It’s a lot of information to digest, but you’ll have plenty of time.”
Nicole provided similar advice. “Don’t get overwhelmed. Just take it one step at a time, and you’ll do great.”
Should You Even Get Certified?
Now that you’ve read all the challenges and tips, you might be wondering if all of this trouble is worth the return. Does AdWords certification even matter? Well, our Customer Success Associates had mixed feelings, but here are a few common takeaways.
Getting Certified Won’t Make You an Expert, but You Will Begin the Learning Process
Passing the AdWords certification doesn’t make you the future paid search expert of 2018. Rather, it’s just the beginning of a continuous learning process that will evolve over time.
“Taking the exam is a good jumping-off point to learning about AdWords if you’re completely new to it,” says Julia.
Nicole felt that becoming officially “certified” is not what is actually important, but rather the process of studying and taking the exam is what made it valuable for her.
“I don't think the actual certification makes a difference, but the process is worth it because it walks you through everything and gets you learning,” she says. “There’s no draw-back to getting certified, and in the end it will help you. Even if you only pick up a few small things, that’s more than you had if you didn’t take it.”
If You’re Working with Clients, It’s Worth Getting Certified
Do you spend your days selling to or advising clients on their marketing strategies? Maybe you work at a digital marketing agency? Then you should become certified.
While the certification status may mean nothing to you, it will help instill trust for the clients you’re working with.
“For our position becoming certified is worth it because we work with a lot of small business owners, and informing them we’re certified makes them instantly comfortable,” says Zach. It shows that you know your stuff and take AdWords seriously.
“Having the certification adds value, and gives the client security.”
What if you’re a busy business owner who’s juggling multiple responsibilities and trying to keep the business running smoothly? Or perhaps you’re working on a marketing team to run their in-house AdWords account, but you’re not directly interacting with clients. In that case, it might be more useful to get actual experience then spend hours upon hours attempting to pass the exam.
“If you’re a small business owner, don’t waste your time,” says Zach. “Just because you pass the test doesn’t mean you know everything.”
Julia couldn’t agree more. She pointed out that the test is not equivalent to real-word experience, “but from a client perspective, yes it makes them comfortable to know they’re working with an expert.”
The Best Way to Learn AdWords Is Through Experience
Another unanimous takeaway was that learning by doing is the best way to become a true AdWords expert.
“Once I actually started working with clients is when the real learning happened for me,” says Nicole. “Studying for the exam, and teaching myself, helped me practice my skills and teach others. I can now relate to my clients when they’re hung up on something.”
Zach, who started a few months after Nicole, is still aware that there’s so much to learn. “While the process of having to learn it all and doing iPass did help force me to learn it, I passed and still feel like I have a lot to learn,” he says.
In conclusion, Zach also advised that stuff is always changing with AdWords, and you need to keep up with the industry in order to be successful, so the learning never stops!
Whether or not you decide to become AdWords certified, hopefully this guide provided some useful tidbits of advice to get you up to speed on Google advertising from our WordStream experts.
About the Author:
Margot is a Content Marketing Specialist at WordStream and nutrition graduate student at Framingham State. She loves all things digital, learning about nutrition, running, traveling, and cooking. Follow her on: