ESRI Certified ArcGIS Desktop Professional

So we have been using ESRI products for years and know them inside out, but how do we prove this to our employers and clients, like other IT professionals can do with their MCSE or CCNA certifications?

ESRI to the rescue: Back in January ESRI launched their professional certification program. I am reporting on my experience taking the exam, in case anyone considers pursuing this certification. (Another candidate experience is over at the ESRI Australia blog.)

To become a ESRI Certified ArcGIS Desktop Professional all you need to do is to pass a test. First good point:  you can take the exam in one of thousands of Pearson Vue test centers worldwide. The test fee is a reasonable 225US$, and ESRI surely hope to cash in on their new preparation course.

The exam  it is a multiple choice exam – 90 ArcGIS questions in 2 hours. You don’t have access to the ArcGIS software or any other material during the exam.

I took the exam in the Manchester, UK, and was directed to a dodgy test center in the commercial wastelands aka ‘vibrant business district’ – not a good reference for ESRI’s testing contractor Person Vue.

The exam itself held some surprises:

  1. It is not easy.  The easier questions are like: “A polyline Shapefile has a LENGHT field, and you import the Shapefile into a geodatabase. How is the LENGTH field treated?” Not ArcGIS 101. (This is not an actual exam question.)
  2. It requires detailed knowledge of the ArcGIS Desktop applications, geodatabases and extensions, specifically Network and Spatial, but also many others. I suspect many candidates will struggle with this breadth and depth of knowledge – most of us use only specific procedures and one or two extensions, depending on our respective industries.
  3. Quite a bit about Python – at least more than I expected.

I can see some room for quick improvement:

  1. Questions regarding geomatics, coordinate systems and projections have a strong bias towards the United States. How am I supposed to know which would be the best central meridian to project Louisiana? I can tell for most of Europe, but not for the US.
  2. Some answer options are slightly ambiguous and unclear.

My main criticism is that the exam requires the candidate to know almost all there is to know about ArcGIS Desktop by heart. In real life we rather know our most frequently used tools, and everything else and the details we look up as we go along; so I find the exam a bit academic.

On the other hand it does a good job in not only thoroughly testing your knowledge of the ArcGIS products, but also of underlying GIS principles – e.g. if you don’t understand coordinate systems or geoprocessing in detail you are lost.

So should you pursue the ESRI certification? It didn’t take the GIS world by storm – many users seem to wait and see if it gains popularity before splashing out for preparation courses and exam fees. The good point is that the exam is far from being trivial, so passing it actually means that you have a REALLY good knowledge of ArcGIS. In my opinion, if you are after a technical certification, it is your best option and worthwhile.  If you are after a non-technical GIS certification you are more likely to end up with the GISP.


3 thoughts on “ESRI Certified ArcGIS Desktop Professional

  1. Thanks for the great post. I’m seriously thinking about taking the technical certification. But perhaps I should wait until it’s more Europe-centric.
    Instead of GISP (very US-oriented) in the UK there is Chartered Geographer certification (a CPD scheme run jointly by the AGI and RGS). This is more about career and professional development rather than a technical test. For GIS people there is CGeog(GIS). Find out more at

  2. Any advice on how best to prepare? I copied the information under the “skills measured” tab on the ESRI webpages discussing the exam(s) listed below and plan on going through those points and researching/asnwering them. I agree the test can cover A LOT of minute details for a software that is really quite broad and am somewhat intimidated by that.

    Also, how are test scores reported and what is a “passing” score? Do you get the results at the test center or do you have to wait for a period of time? — professional — associate

    1. I cannot really give advice on how to prepare for the exam, in particular as I assume ESRI are continuously adapting the contents – so now it might be quite different from when I took it.
      When I took the test, it was a pass/fail, they did not report a “passing” score. I got the results by email after a few days.

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