How hard is it to achieve ACA Accreditation?

ACA Certified

A few weeks ago I attended a course in Adobe Photoshop in an effort to achieve ACA accreditation. I was really looking forward to it because throughout 2011, I had already achieved accreditation from Google for AdWords and Hootsuite so to achieve a certificate from Adobe would rank highly along side them and display my breadth of knowledge for all things digital.

The course was great and although I’ve been using Photoshop for a number of years, there’s always some functions that I’ve never really understood and many intricacies that I may have taken for granted. 

The greatest tips and advice are normally the simplest. For example, I never knew you could rotate the crop tool in Photoshop. A lot of you are probably sitting there thinking that is a simple task, but if you don’t know, you’d never know. Simple tips like this are worth their weight in gold in improving your workflow and time management.

The course was expertly delivered by Xchange Training in Farringdon and I would recommend their tuition, facilities and location to anyone planning to complete an ACA in any platform.

But, and there is a but.

After spending four and a half days learning Photoshop CS5 on an iMac and actually growing in confidence every day, the time for the exam finally arrived. I was really confident, I’d been using Photoshop for years and was sure I could nail everything in the exam.

The exam itself has a dual format.

  • Multiple choice questions
  • Simulations

Every one who’s watched Who wants to be a millionaire has answered a multiple choice question before so that was fine.

The simulations consisted of an instruction within Photoshop like: change the image to black and white.

Easy? Simple?


But what if I tell you that after a week of learning to use Photoshop CS5, the actual exam runs in a poorly developed Flash application made to look like Photoshop CS5.

Yep, Flash.

  • You can’t use keyboard shortcuts – you can forget zooming in with Cmd +
  • You can’t use right clicks – hey, it’s Flash, remember?
  • The mouse cursor is constantly disappearing – how can you use Photoshop if you can’t see your mouse cursor?

So after a week of honing your keyboard shortcuts in order to speed up Photoshop, you now have to pass an exam by using the most time consuming techniques possible!

But wait, there’s more.

I did a practice exam before the real exam. The difference was that you could view the answer if necessary. On one question, I was really stumped, so I hit the little answer button to be informed that I should use the ‘right click’ function. Erm, hold on, this is Flash, I can’t right click!

So even the answers in the test exam were incorrect, well they were correct in the real world, but not in this Flash based exam hell that I’d found myself in.

The final nail in the coffin was in the actual exam itself. I could mark questions to be revisited later and cycle through to next and previous questions but as I revisited questions that I’d marked for review, I hit the next button expecting to see a question I had already previously answered only to find it unanswered.


I’ve already answered this, how can I be sure that the rest of my answers have saved in the system? I couldn’t.

Luckily I passed the exam with 72%. But by then, the ordeal had been more about how to actually function a flawed system rather than show my knowledge of Photoshop.

Hopefully this has highlighted the perils of the ACA before you book yourself on. I’m glad I’ve got the ACA but I didn’t know the exam would be so hard, for all the wrong reasons.

About Andrew Smallwood

Experienced digital strategist with a foundation in web development and analytics. Leads multi-disciplinary teams in content creation and digital marketing ensuring data is at the core of decision making.

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7 comments on “How hard is it to achieve ACA Accreditation?

  1. Dave MacKay on

    Hi Andrew

    I can understand your frustration completely. I have been using Photoshop from version 6 and have been teaching the program for the last 8 years. I would consider myself well versed in the program. I decided to sit the exam just for personal reasons. Mine was mainly practical with a limited number of multichoice.

    Great I felt – I am in my element. The problem is this as you rightly said confusion as to what to use. Should I use the menu Bar to add a new layer or click on the icon at the end of the palette!!!!!

    When I completed the exam I was very confident in my performance, however to my utter dismay I only received 70% !!!! exactly on the pass mark!!!

    Checking my printout – I received 60% for Manipulating images!! thats right only 60%. I couldn’t believe the result. I was gobsmacked. I am beginning to think that this is a moneymaking racket with Adobe to force people to do a repeat..

    After that shock I think I would prefer to do the exam as all multichoice instead of being mixed with simulation.


  2. Andrew Smallwood on

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the comment and for sharing my frustration.

    I was sure that if I was doing the exam on actual photoshop with someone watching over my shoulder, I’d do a lot better.

    They could even do a screengrab of the simulations to be assessed by someone at a later date. At the end of the day, you’re paying enough money for that kind of service.

    Congratulations on passing by the way!

  3. Lawry on

    Hi guys,

    I wrote the exam twice and got the same score on both,
    i keep getting 0% on the publishing digital images section. how did you get through that?
    its frustrating.

  4. Jon on

    Hey, thought I’d add my comments to your blog.

    You know when you scour the web for information about the exam and actual accreditation there is next to nothing to be found.

    well I had the misfortune of sitting thro the exam recently and just only just missed out on the pass mark. I was gutted. But, and here’s the rub, out of a class of 12 only 2 people passed the exam and those people just barely.

    The simulation part of the exam is confusing, Ill conceived and badly designed. All your and everyone else’s comments apply.

    As for not getting any feedback on the results – how on earth are you supposed to learn and address the areas you got wrong when you don’t know which questions you got right and which you got wrong?

    Oh and I too and a friend both got 0% on the Printing Publishing section. Wtf?!!!!!!!

  5. bob joe on

    i am in high school, and the teacher chose me and two other kids to take this exam. do you have any tips on getting a passing grade?

    • Andrew Smallwood on

      If you know Photoshop well, you should pass. The biggest tip would be to know how to do everything via the menus because in the exam, you can’t right click and you can’t use keyboard shortcuts.

  6. bob joe on

    What are the simulations like. please explain in as much detail, i am freaking out about this exam. I have to take this thing on Friday, I live in Germany by the way. The school pays for it, but i feel like if i fail my teacher will be disappointed. Also, I will too. If you don’t mind what are the multiple choice questions like too.


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