Over last two years I have passed a bunch of Esri technical certification exams (10 exams to be precise). Esri did a great job posting multiple blog posts regarding how to prepare for the certification: there is a free training seminar covering the details and some blog posts and Esri Australia blog post. Esri has also authored two special instructor-led courses for those who plan to become certified as ArcGIS Desktop Associate and ArcGIS Desktop Professional:
Esri Technical Certification: Skills Review for ArcGIS Desktop Professional
Esri Technical Certification: Skills Review for ArcGIS Desktop Associate
Another useful resources are free web courses (2 for Deskop and 1 for Server):
Esri Technical Certification: Sample Questions for ArcGIS Desktop Associate
I highly recommend going through sample questions to get an idea of what type of questions will you be present with on the exam. For those considering obtaining the ArcGIS Desktop Associate it might be beneficial to check the Esri ArcGIS Desktop Associate Certification Study Guide (Esri Press).
So I wanted to share some of my experience and here are some of the general tips on how to prepare for the certification exams which are applicable for all of the exams (might be a good list to read even if you just want to update your Esri skills):
I believe that the best way to prepare for any exam is to work with the software in various ways according to your job responsibilities. You will know your stuff because you use the software daily, you might support your users or colleagues at work, and most important you will run into problems by operating the software and you will be in charge of fixing those problems either by reading through the documentation or talking someone at work or on the Internet. At the same time, it is quite common for many of us to be engaged only in some specific workflows most of the time, so you might need to read the documentation or experimenting with the software first to make yourself comfortable at the exam.
If this is the case, your options are:
1. Go through the information page for the exam you plan to take. There you will find qualifications required, skills measured, and training resources. Try to go through as many Preparation Resources as possible to make sure you cover most of the topics.
2. Read the Esri Web Help. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is really worth reading. There are some specific sections that are particularly interesting. Read through the “What’s new in ArcGIS 10.x” section to get an idea what features and tools were introduced in this target version. But be careful reading the latest version of the Help because if you are taking a 10.1 exam, you don’t want to know anything that was implemented in 10.2. There is a link on the Esri Resources page to go to a previous version help which will take you to an earlier version. Don’t forget to go through the software system requirements and installation guides at the Esri Resources page as well.
3. Go through the ArcTutor (a set of tutorials with .mxd documents, GIS datasets, and tools) which is available for free for anyone who has obtained ArcGIS Desktop. Unfortunately, you can download only some parts of ArcTutor on ArcGIS.com; most of the tutorials are available only via Esri Customer Care Portal which you as an Esri customer should have access to.
4. Esri Training should also be a main entry point for anyone learning about Esri GIS technology. There are dozens of free web courses with the access to the training data (.mxd map documents, geodatabases, and tools). The tutorials are updated regularly and include the latest software versions. Many users have no idea how good Esri web courses are; most of them are also available for free. However, avoid just going through the steps outlined; try to think first – why you need to do this and what will be the result. It might be good to try to do the exercise yourself first and then go through the steps outlined to see if you have chosen the right path.
5. Watch the Esri videos from user conference technical sessions and developer summits. This way you might be able to memorize things better since you will also listen to and not just only see or read.
5. Get yourself familiar with the software GUI because you want to know the name of the used tools, menus, buttons and panels. Usually people work with just some parts of the software, so no one expects you knowing every single button; however, it is worth playing with the software for some time before the exam to keep the GUI images in your memory.
6. Pay attention to the licensing levels of the tools and features. Again, no one expects you knowing in what license every GP tool is supported, but browsing through the functionality matrix for desktop and server is definitely worth it. You probably also want to know what extensions you need to run most used GP tools.
7. Get access to a physical or a virtual machine with the software of older versions installed if you don’t have it yet. Play around trying to access data stored in a newer format from an older client or move some piece of functionality into a newer version and find out if there is anything you have to do to make it work in a new environment. You will memorize such things much better by practicing rather than by reading the Help; so if you don’t work with some aspects of the workflows mentioned with the certification exam scope daily at your work, get to know them by getting your hands dirty back home in the evening.