DC-Based Government Contractor on IT 70 with Acquia Drupal Grand Master Certification

Congratulations to Taylor Evanson who is Agileana’s first Acquia Certified Grand Master in Drupal 7! 

Taylor shared his thoughts on how he worked through this challenge:

My goal was to become an Acquia Certified Grand Master in Drupal 7. In early 2019 I started preparing for the Site Builder exam and I developed the study plan that I used for each of the four Drupal 7 exams. 

In general, I recommend that if you closely follow the content and notes provided by Acquia on their Certification Program page, you will be prepared to pass on your first attempt. My not-so-secret way to calm my nerves is simple: preparation and hard work.

1. Site Builder Exam

I started by reading Acquia’s description of what one needs to know before taking the test. It states that there will be questions about content modeling, content and user management, programming skills, module and theme management, and security. The programming languages it states you need to have experience with are HTML, CSS, JavaScript/jQuery, and PHP. You don’t have to be comfortable with the languages except for HTML, so I wouldn’t focus on them too hard.

The #1 piece of advice I have for people that are about to take the Drupal 7 Site Builder exam is this: get access to a Drupal site that you can mess around with without consequences. Whether it’s a MAMP install or Digital Ocean Droplet, have access to a site that you can learn from. After you do that, just explore. Though the questions are based on certain things, there is an element of the test that requires you to have used a Drupal 7 site before. Poke around in the content, user, and block pages. Create a content type and some nodes to go along with it. Create a block with some content in it and get it to show up on the page. Create a taxonomy library and then some terms. Study what shows up on these pages and any more of the basic Drupal 7 features and you’ll get familiar enough to answer the questions correctly.

2. Developer Exam

This is where experience with modules becomes important. They also expect more PHP knowledge than the first test. You don’t have to be a full stack developer or a back end guru to pass this test; Drupal 7 does a lot of heavy lifting for you if all you’re looking to do is extend and create modules and themes. You can accomplish quite a bit without diving too far into the back end.

My advice is similar to my advice for the Site Builder exam; poke around. Pick something simple that you want to accomplish and then Google how to do it with a module. Create a page that prints out your username. There are examples, documentation, questions and answers, and issue queues all over the Internet. The more comfortable you are with a variety of issues and roadblocks that you run into and fix during the process, the better you will do on the test. Do this with Views, PHP (object oriented too), MySQL and a Linux server from Digital Ocean or AWS.

3. Front End Specialist Exam

Before taking this test I had never used the theme() function or the hook hook_theme() before. I thought that stuff was only for base themes and popular contributed themes. Whenever I was outputting HTML it was always raw from a module or theme. I started looking at code that I had written that could have very easily and effectively accomplished the same thing but in more extendable, reusable way. Studying for this exam was eye-opening for me.

I believe that when you get to this level of development, it really helps to see example code. If you poke around Drupal.org’s theming documentation you’ll run into a lot of example code if you know what to search for. If you look at this link (https://api.drupal.org/api/drupal/includes%21theme.inc/7.x) you will see a list of functions related to the Theme API. Look at what Drupal is doing in these functions and get familiar with it, and a lot of the rest is easy. 

There’s a lot of overriding in the theme layer, so learn the naming conventions and you’ll be fine. Get familiar with how to move and show things in blocks and view modes, it all comes naturally as you try to accomplish simple coding goals. Pick something you want to accomplish and then Google how to do it with a theme. Study what Acquia says is on the test but also get experience by doing it yourself.

4. Back End Specialist Exam

I studied for this exam longer than any of the other ones. It seemed daunting to me — could I really become an official back end specialist? By now, if you are experimenting and testing Drupal out as much as you should’ve been, you will have run into quite a few hooks. You should have used the database abstraction layer and made your own queries. You should be very comfortable with Views. I suspect you’re getting better at what to Google, you can explain your question more accurately.

I started with the main intro to Drupal 7 API’s on this page – https://api.drupal.org/api/drupal/7.x. That led me to the module hooks page that lists out all of the Drupal 7 hooks that exist in core. It’s intimidating, there are hundreds of them. 

I kept looking and found this page – https://www.drupal.org/docs/7/api. This should be your study guide for this test, it has just about everything that you need. In the main content area you’ll find a list of the API’s, each of them with a whole section dedicated to teaching you how to use them. On the sidebar of that page you’ll find sections that have more to do with site building that you should also study. 

I also studied core modules used by Drupal — what they do, what hooks are used by them, where they show up in the administrator interface and how to configure them. You can find those on this page – https://www.drupal.org/docs/7/core. Also make sure that you’re learning more and more about all of the languages used by Drupal; there is a surprising amount of it on this test.


Study what Acquia says will be on the test; it really will be. But if you want to get a better grade or are worried about passing, put in time on experimenting with Drupal itself. You will naturally learn what you need to know to pass this test by trying to accomplish bigger and better things with Drupal 7.

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