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Thoughts on the Acquia Certified Front End Specialist Exam for Drupal 8

Of Interest To: Theme Developers

This is the fifth in a series of posts on the Acquia Certification Exams for Drupal 8:

In the last post, I described the Certified Back End Specialist exam for Drupal 8, which assesses your ability to develop custom Drupal modules. In this post, I'll discuss its counterpart, the Front End Specialist exam for Drupal 8.

What's on the test?

The Front End Specialist exam assesses your knowledge of the Drupal APIs and general skills necessary for creating custom themes and doing front-end development with Drupal 8. Some of this material is also covered on the Certified Developer exam, but the Front End Specialist exam requires a much deeper understanding of Twig, CSS, Javascript, and PHP as used in Drupal development.

Some of the topics that came up in the questions on my test were:

  • Overriding templates for Drupal blocks.

  • Twig blocks and the the {% extend %} syntax.

  • The effects of use strict; in javascript code. (Pretty sure I got this question wrong.)

  • Advanced CSS selectors and CSS selector priority.

  • Javascript performance: the question asked for which of the given alternatives has the best performance. (pretty sure I missed this one too.)

  • How to use jQuery with Drupal 8: it's not automatically loaded on every page like it was in Drupal 7.

  • Valid HTML5 tags

  • How to declare CSS and Javascript libraries, and how to override and extend existing libraries in your custom theme.

  • Basic Twig syntax: how to access variables, the differences in {% %} and {{ }}, what type of code goes in each type of bracket.

  • Twig functions and filters: I expected more questions on these than I got, but that may have been a function of randomly selected questions.

  • Drupal-specific Twig functions and filters: know which ones are standard Twig and which come from Drupal.

  • Twig debug mode: know how to enable it, and know what it does.

  • How to set and alter template name suggestions.

  • Declaring regions in your theme: understand how to create new regions and how the regions of a subtheme are related to the base theme.

  • How to add custom settings to your theme.

  • Drupal-specific javascript features such as drupalSettings and Drupal.behaviors.

  • How to add print-specific stylesheets and other media queries to your theme CSS.

  • Some very basic PHP syntax questions. Nothing requiring advanced object-oriented concepts like on the Back End Specialist exam.

As with the other Acquia exams, the study guide provided by Acquia is a great resource. It gives you a complete list of topics, with links to relevant documentation. Some of the links, however, are to general documentation about CSS and javascript, which, of course, is voluminous. You will never have time to study all that for this test. So, you had better already know standard CSS and Javascript to a proficient level.

Surprises on the exam

Of the four exams I took during DrupalCon Baltimore, this was the one I scored the worst on. There were several advanced questions about CSS and javascript that I didn't know, despite the fact that I regularly build custom Drupal themes from static Photoshop designs, and I write custom javascript from time to time. Front end development is definitely my weakest area, though, so if it's your specialty, these questions may not challenge you. Otherwise, I would say that the study guide referenced all of the topics I saw on my test, so definitely go through that.

Again, like the Back End Specialist exam, I felt there was at least one error on the test that required me to select an incorrect answer to complete the test. I'm less certain on this one than I was for the errors on the Back End Specialist test, but I've forwarded it on with the other issues to Acquia.

Which DrupalTutor classes will help you prepare for this test?

None of our classes are advanced enough to fully prepare you for this exam, but the PHP Bootcamp and Drupal 8 Theme Development classes would be a good start. Those courses cover the PHP and Twig topics, as well as nearly all of the Drupal-related topics on this exam. Our courses do not cover general CSS and Javascript, so you would need to either know that ahead of time, or work on them afterwards as you build some custom themes.

Who should take this test?

Like the Back End Specialist exam, this test is difficult. However, the corpus of material the Front End Specialist exam covers is not nearly as big as the entirety of the Drupal 8 APIs that the Back End Specialist exam covers. So, I think many people who build both custom modules and custom themes could have an easier time passing this test than the Back End Specialist one. Yes, there are some advanced CSS and Javascript questions, but there are only a few of them. I'm pretty sure I missed those questions, and I still passed the test.

As for who should take this test, I'll include my general caveat that a portfolio of work is much more impressive than any certification. But, unlike the Back End Specialist exam, I can imagine a group of people for whom this test could be useful. Let's say you're a great front-end developer, but you have limited Drupal experience. You take a course or learn on your own to gain that expertise, and you want to prove that you are ready to do Drupal theming on a professional level. I could see this test helping you do that. It covers the Drupal-specific aspects of theming in a really complete way, much more so than the Back End Specialist test covers module development, due to the fact that 60 questions can't cover all the back end material. I feel confident saying that if I saw a job candidate who had passed this test and had good general front development experience, they could be a good Drupal themer.

For more details or to register for this exam, go to Acquia's Front End Specialist page.

Wrapping up this series

This is the final post in this series on Acquia Certification exams, so let me give a few overall thoughts on them. The flagship exam is clearly the Certified Developer exam. It's the test that I can see being the most useful to the most people. The two Specialist exams are significantly more challenging and more expensive, and therefore will appeal to fewer people. The Certified Site Builder exam doesn't seem that useful to me, other than as practice for the Certified Developer exam.

I appreciate Acquia discounting the exams during DrupalCon Baltimore. I wouldn't have taken them otherwise. Even after teaching training classes in Drupal 8 for over a year, I learned a lot by studying the APIs in more detail, and I've already used that knowledge on a development project in the week since I've been back from DrupalCon.

Since I passed the Certified Developer and the two Specialist exams, I have received the Acquia certification of Drupal 8 Grand Master, which sounds a little creepy to me. Even more so after looking at the badge for it:


(no joke. this is really the Grand Master badge)

I'm assuming my Drupal Illuminati meeting invite is in the mail. I hope there's a secret handshake.

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