Last week I finally got around to taking the GAIQ (Google Analytics Individual Qualification), something which I had committed myself to do at the start of the year so this was as much a personal goal as it was a professional one. In the short period of time I had set aside to study for the exam before actually sitting it, when reading about the qualification I had noticed that many aspects of taking the exam had changed since the start of the year (2014).
I have listed some of the more obvious changes here but be sure to check Google Analytics support forum for the most up to date guidance on this:
- You no longer had to pay $50 to take the exam it’s free once you have registered as a Google Partner
- You only get 90 minutes to take the exam, no pausing, no save option to come back to it over 120 hour period
- All questions must be answered with your first attempt. It’s not possible to mark for later, skip a question or review your answers at a later date
- Your results are instant! Well, this was the case for me, I had read of some individuals having to wait 48hrs for their results but this didn’t happen to me, i knew my results there and then.
My motives or the idea behind this post is to help my fellow digital marketer or analytics enthusiast through shared experience. In attempting to do so I will outline:
- How I prepared
- What was actually covered in the exam
- Suggest potential tactics to use
- Highlight the lessons learned as I see them
- Then summarise with my thoughts on the exam.
Firstly, let me make it clear that there are good articles out there, well written posts by other SEOs such as Josh Waldrum’s “plan to mastering the GAIQ” and Morgan Chessman’s “what you need to know guide” (to name but two) and posts like these are great to help you prepare (I found some great advice which I have repeated in this post but the credit goes to these guys), however such posts have a short life span and some of the tips and advice no longer valid – the same will be true of this article when Google changes the format of the exam.
How to prepare
Read everything! Well this isn’t possible for most of us who also have the inconvenience of a career to work at as well as a growing interest in analytics, however at the very least read and watch all of the Google Analytics Fundamentals courses. Then when you register for Google Partners read through the study notes provided and refer to these during the test when those trickier questions arise – and believe me you’ll get those questions. I would also suggest the following points to keep in mind:
- Take your time to study and only take the test when you are ready
- When you feel ready plan ahead and make sure you have 2 hours of time to yourself with no interruptions
- When taking the exam if possible use 2 screens, have the test open in one and your notes open in the other
- Use Control + F to skip through your notes or bookmarks
- Have Analytics open in a browser tab – I found a quick dive into a couple of reports really useful just to confirm my thoughts on an answer or two
What was Actually Covered in the Exam
Google does suggest what will be covered in the exam, and I would say they are quite fair on this, it’s in there that they don’t try to fool you … what they say they’re going to cover they cover. For me, the most weight was placed on the topics from the analytics fundamentals course, then platform principals and ecommerce analytics, followed by mobile app analytics fundamentals.
If you study these courses in detail (Tip: I tried taking the questions at the end of each topic first before listening to Mr Cutroni, this way I knew how much more reading I had to do on a particular topic), I would suggest that of the 70 questions you should be able to answer 50% quite comfortably. It may seem fairly obvious but I would also suggest that you will benefit from having day to day experience of using Google Analytics nothing beats learning through doing, practical experience within the analytics reports, various customisation techniques, menus and navigation helped me greatly.
A Tactical Approach
As previously mentioned, it seems that within the exam you can no longer pause, mark for later or go back to a previous question. So you have to answer right there and then, but if you know this before taking the test you should be fine, so don’t say you weren’t warned. I found this aspect of the exam particularly tough as the first 4 or 5 questions included wording and potential answers which managed to stall me slightly and this added to my stress levels, fortunately I moved onto a group of around 15 questions which I managed to answer comfortably and progress through relatively quickly which made up for any lost time at the start of the test.
The point here is don’t be alarmed if you take longer than you may have expected to answer some of the questions about the reports in Analytics which you are less familiar with, there will inevitably be questions which you will find easier to answer and this should allow you to catch up on any lost time.
The time available to take the exam counts down on the bottom right hand side of the screen and to the left is a progress percentage complete bar, I know for some people this will be a distraction and a cause for additional stress so don’t fixate too much on these. My advice would be to certainly be aware of both the timer and progress bar and after 45 mins if you have answered more than 35 questions you should be on track to finish within time.
With the regular changes in the format of the certification (I know of at least 3 in 2014 alone) it’s probably fair to suggest that it’s a good idea to take some direction from the various “how to guides” for the GAIQ out there, however don’t put all your trust in what you read anywhere other than information published by Google. Other blog articles are good as a guide but rely on Google for guidance as to the test format and any recent changes made to the exam.
If there is any advice and tips I can offer it would be:
- To know the basic definitions of reports, from Intelligence and Real Time through to Conversions, and this includes what reports can and can’t do
- It’s a good idea to be familiar with the default dimensions and metrics of standard reports
- You also need to have a solid understanding of the stages of measurement planning and implementation
- Many of the questions come with 5 possible answers with one of them saying “all of these answers” so you need to know your onions!
- I read 2 good articles (linked to earlier) which indicated that you need to know about Intelligence reports and Google Tag Manager – I can only speak from my own experience but in my case this was only definition level questions. I’d recommend you have a good understanding of both before sitting the exam
My Thoughts on the Test
On reflection I think it’s like when you are learning to drive … when I was taking my lessons (all those years ago) I remember my Dad telling me that driving lessons make sure you learn to pass your driving test, it’s only once you can drive that you actually learn how to drive. I think the same applies to Analytics and the GAIQ.
After I had completed the exam I felt there were around 10 questions which were pretty tough and I had to think properly about my answer for them and as it turns out I was right as I got 9 wrong but managed to pass with 87% (room for improvement).
Having passed the exam, aside from a great sense of achievement and substantial relief, I now feel that having covered the absolute basics of Google Analytics and I now have solid knowledge and understanding of these. Importantly I can now support my wider team in analytics based scenarios and have a sensible conversation with a client about Google Analytics and be able to advise them on the appropriate reporting they need to consider for their business and website.
Have you recently taken your GAIQ, or are you preparing to do so over the holidays or when you return in the New Year? Are you about to take your certification again and have become aware of the changes made in the last 18 months? Good luck if you are in either of these camps and I would welcome any questions or indeed opinions on the GAIQ or this post in the comments below.