I took a Google Boot Camp in March (April?): basically two days of advanced introductions to the GAFE suite. Now, I’ve been ambivalent about the GAFE suite as it has developed. I love Mail and Calendar; I rely on them daily. Drive is useful at times but I still find it too clunky to replace Word; Forms, on the other hand, a subset of sorts of Drive / Docs, is a fantastic tool and has streamlined many of my processes. Sites, like Drive, I find clunky, especially when something like Weebly makes life so easy.

On the other hand, no one can deny the ubiquity, the interconnectedness, and the usefulness of the GAFE suite, and so I wanted to pass the exams for both (obvious) professional reasons and investigatory reasons, i.e. taking the tests would formalize my introduction to and knowledge of the suite and potentially show me features that I will use that I wouldn’t have otherwise known.

In the wake of the boot camp, I took one of the tests and failed. This was not entirely a surprise; I had heard that they were difficult, not by virtue of their philosophy, but that the knowledge required is somewhat esoteric and some of the language can be confusing. The test itself also doesn’t say which questions were answered incorrectly (which I understand, of course). In the last two weeks, however, I passed them all, so I’m writing this to give an overview of them and some advice on how to approach them to best position you to pass.

For GAFE certification, you must pass four mandatory tests: Mail, Calendar, Sites, and Drive, and a fifth that you choose from three: Chrome, ChromeBooks, or Tablets with GooglePlay for Education; I chose Chrome. The tests are 60 questions and you have 90 minutes to finish. Each test took me around an hour and a quarter; Sites took me the longest at around an hour and 25 minutes. And I averaged an 87 / 88 on the tests (80 and above i passing).

You can navigate freely among the questions, so that a couple of times I stumbled upon the answer to a previous question when looking for another. If that was a different answer from what I answered, I could go back to change it. You can also mark questions for review, i.e. if you feel like you’re taking too long on a question, you can mark it and quickly return to it at the end of the test. Once you start, you cannot stop and you must pass all five within 90 days of starting the first. The GAFE certification lasts for 18 months from completion of the final exam and each test costs $15 to take (even if you fail). To get started, click here. You must make a Google Testing account, which is not your existing Google account; you need a new password for your testing account to go with your Gmail address.

A colleague (thanks, JS) forwarded some tips from a friend of hers who had passed the Drive exam. I will include those here and then offer my own thoughts.

Definitely have 2 computers at the ready when you take the test.  Have
one that you take the test on and another that you do all your
research and have your notes on(this was a mistake I didn’t rectify
until 15 minutes into the test)
• On said computer have open Drive, Spreadsheets, Docs and
Presentations, preferably with a live doc in each – you will need
these to experiment with as you are taking the test
• Find the info about the following – max # of columns/rows, cells in a
spreadsheet; max # of users that can collaborate or edit a google doc
(I think its 50 editors max).
• There were a lot of spreadsheet questions (good for me) that asked
about ‘what color does the toolbar become when you set a filter’ or
how many columns can yuo have in a spreadsheet, or can other people
delete your comments in a spreadsheet

 Someone told him that the bulk of the info you need is in the super advanced
guide ..  http://edutraining.googleapps.com/drive
I liked the two computers idea but didn’t like the logistics of it, so I used two browsers instead, one with the test itself and the other with the reference material that I needed. Using Apple’s command-tab function made toggling between the two browsers easy (and easier than juggling two computers). I should add that I did use two computers for the Sites exam; I was at my parents’ house and they had a set up a bit more conducive to that; I preferred the two browsers. I found myself trying to move the cursor on one with the trackpad of the other, etc.
So I had Chrome and Firefox open, Chrome with my test and Firefox with the reference material. For reference, I had three tabs open:
  • http://edutraining.googleapps.com/sites (and this is the site mentioned in the quote above); changing the ‘sites’ in my example (or ‘drive’ in the above) brings you to the sites for the other exams: drive, calendar, mail, chrome: this, as mentioned above, is an outline of topics that provides an advanced overview
  • https://support.google.com/sites/; this is Google’s help center (and the same applies as above; change ‘sites’ to any of the other apps for the parallel site) that is of course searchable
  • http://www.google.com; just Google itself for broader searching

The difficulty here was figuring out which resource would best answer which question. I had the best luck with the help center and Google itself; the edutraining site was too difficult to navigate but it wasn’t searchable except using the Find feature. The help center was useful when the help center itself answered a question; I learned quickly to avoid any search result that sent me to a user forum; these were too unfocused and too difficult to browse quickly. If the answer didn’t turn up in the help center, I used Google itself. I should also add here that this site included questions and answers directly from the Sites exam; not sure how Google would feel about that (more in the Part 2 post); and ironically in a GoogleSite; I did not find similar sites for the other exams (and I only stumbled across this one in a Google search, and, no, I did not use it, though I thought about it). I should add too that the advice about having a something live to experiment in was very useful for specific types of questions, i.e. questions that asked which of the following is NOT an feature of blank: it was very easy to go into blank and see what the features were.

So to sum up:

  • two browsers
  • the sites above
  • live examples of whatever you’re working on

And even with these, I only scored above a 90 on one of the five tests (others, mid- to high-80s).

But this should be a pretty secure path to passing the GAFE tests. Once the tests are passed, you can (if you want) start the application for a Google Certified Trainer.

Good luck!