I took and passed the Zend Certified Engineer PHP 5.3 exam recently at my local Pearson Vue Test Center. I bought the certification bundle in early 2010 already. But due to a limited time budget, taking the exam had to wait until early January 2011. Now I can pride myself with … well, with having passed it. Or as the certificate puts it

Has successfully completed the test requirements and demonstrated the knowledge and skills to be recognized as a Zend Certified Engineer PHP 5.3

My ZCE certificate

What does it mean to be a ZCE?

I think the text on the certificate is appropriate. In my opinion, passing the test requirements says very little about being able to successfully pass the real-world requirements on your next project. It wouldn’t be fair to expect that from a test like this anyway. Though the testimonials on Zend.com suggest different, I also wouldn’t expect the certificate to help too much with job offers either. If anything, it might give you a headstart. But it’s likely not enough to make you win the race. Or as someone on StackOverflow put it:

The Value of an Zend Certified PHP Developer, for me personally, only lies in the fact that we can skip the “is he/she a complete moron that knows nothing about programming at all” - edorian.

While that quote is a bit drastic, the author gives some valid points about professional PHP development later on. PHP has evolved a lot in recent years. So have the available frameworks, tools and methodologies. These are out of scope for the exam though. The exam only tests your working knowledge of PHP and it’s API. Passing it ensures you have a good and necessary foundation. Nothing more, nothing less. Tell me more about the exam

Because I had to cross my heart and swear to die not to tell anyone about the actual questions in the exam, I cannot write too detailed about it. I guess it’s okay to give a few hints as to what to expect from it though, since that is openly available in the official ZCE FAQs anyway.

The exam is a collection of 70 questions, covering a good range of PHP and web-related topics. The questions are either multiple choice or free input. Question tasks include analyzing code snippets for what they are doing. Or they might ask for appropriate functions, methods or interfaces applicable in a given scenario. There is also the occasional question about Design Patterns (at least in the Mock Exams).

Unfortunately, there is also a good portion of what I like to call “memo-questions”. These will ask you about argument order or which variation of a function name exists. Personally, I find those type of questions completely pointless. If I forgot whether the $haystack or the $needle comes first, I know where to look. Same for function names. Those questions should definitely be ditched.

You do not get penalized for wrong answers. If you don’t know an answer, guess. To my knowledge, the questions are picked randomly, so no test is alike. There is some logic that makes sure you get a certain amount of questions from certain areas. Somehow they have to make sure this is a PHP 5.3 exam, right?

You got 90 minutes for the exam, which is plenty. I finished 15 minutes earlier. You can mark questions during the exam, which makes reviewing your answers in the end quite easy. Once you are satisfied with your answers, you submit them. You’ll get the result immediately. If you pass, you’ll get listed with the Zend Yellow Pages in a day or two. A few days later, you’ll receive your official certificate from Zend. How did you prepare for the exam?

I bought the ZCE certification bundle. It contained the official Study Guide, ten Mock Exams and the voucher for the exam. The Study Guide and the Mock exams are for the ZCE PHP5 exam. Given that I had less than a dozen or so questions about PHP5.3 in the real exam, I consider both to be still well suited for preparation. I mostly ignored the Study Guide and only glanced through it to get an idea of what areas I should be knowledgable of.

Like their name suggests, the Mock Exams simulate the actual exam. I felt those are quite helpful to find out what to expect. I did two of the Mock Exams and passed them both with an “Excellent” grade immediately. You get a detailed report in the end, telling you how you fared in certain areas. Obviously you should improve your knowledge in those areas you scored low.

However, the best preparation is to actually read and write working code. So the exam was easy?

No. Actually I was suprised when I took the exam. Maybe I was just unlucky but there was a number of questions where I was unsure or had no clue. Unlike in the Mock Exams you do not get a detailed report for the real exam, so I don’t know how I fared compared to the Mock Exams. But they definitely felt easier. I wouldn’t suggest to take the exam lightly or without passing the Mock Exams with high grades. What others had to say

Find out how other developers think about the Zend Certified Engineer 5.3 exam and how they prepared for it:


20 January 2011


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