Why & How have I become a Photoshop Adobe Certified Expert

Before I explain you the reason why I’ve become a Photoshop Adobe Certified Expert, let’s look at what the certification is.

What is the Adobe Photoshop Expert Certification?

The ACE (Adobe Certified Expert) is the highest (besides the Adobe Certified Instructor) and official recognition by Adobe that one knows an Adobe solution inside out.  It is worth knowing the ACE is not restricted to the Creative Cloud solutions such as Photoshop and Illustrator. In December 2016, Adobe ended the ACE for Adobe Lightroom due to the lack of interest (in attempting the exam).

The Photoshop ACE exam

In order to become a Photoshop Adobe Certified Expert, one has to pass the computer-based exam with a score higher than 63%. The exam consists of 57 multi-choice questions across eleven topics which need to be completed within 90min without any Photoshop instance open. This is a kind of a blind test. The exam policy is very strict. You are not allowed to enter the examination room with any food, drinks, phone, watch or notes. A whiteboard type notepad is provided to you which you will need to hand over at the end of the test so no note from the exam can be taken in or out of the facility.

A few important notes:

  • The Photoshop ACE exam can only be taken in the English language
  • Each exam attempt costs $180 (even if you fail).
  • The certification is valid for two years after which, you need to renew it by retaking a full exam (not a subset like it used to be until recently).

Where taking the exam?

Adobe relies on Pearson Vue, an exam facility provider to administrate the ACE exam.

11 topics

While questions are confined to the following topics, not all of them are necessarily covered in an exam instance. The 57 questions are randomly pulled from a bigger question pool. This means that if you were to attempt the test multiple times, you shouldn’t be asked the same questions.

  • Start a Project in Photoshop
    • Create new documents
    • Import and open images
  • Navigate and customise the user interface (UI)
    • Work with panels and menus
    • Use and customise workspaces
  • Use tools and tool settings
    • Choose an appropriate tool
    • Adjust tool settings
    • Use the tools
  • Create and work with layers
    • Understand layer concepts
    • Work with blending modes and opacity
    • Use layer masks
    • Apply layer styles
    • Use Adjustment Layers
  • Modify image dimensions
    • Crop images
    • Resize images
  • Apply global tonal and colour adjustments to images
    • Adjust colour and tonal levels with curves
    • Apply global adjustments by using the Camera Raw filter
  • Apply local adjustments to images
    • Work with tools to retouch an image
    • Work with tools to adjust the tone of an image
  • Work with filters
    • Understand and work with filters
    • Understand and work with Smart Filters
  • Use pixel and vector-based tools
    • Understand pixel and vector tools
    • Choose and apply Typekit fonts
  • Create selections
    • Understand available methods for creating selections
    • Edit selections
  • Get images out of Photoshop
    • Prepare images for print
    • Understand file formats when saving images

Why did I want to be a Photoshop Adobe Certified Expert?

While I have been using Photoshop for more than ten years, the type of work I do with the tool is always the same. This means I have been probably using only 30% of its capacity. As an educator, I have always made a point only to teach things I know well and as I am planning to offer more Photoshop workshops, being a Photoshop certified expert would give me some legitimacy. I also saw the certification as a mean for me to finally dive fully into Photoshop and learn about alternative techniques and features I may have been missing for years of routine work.

Not The Best Photoshop User Certified

I am the first to acknowledge that being a Photoshop Adobe Certified Expert does not make me a great artist and does not mean anything about my creative skills using Photoshop. However, it does officially mean I know the Photoshop solution very well (theoretically inside out).

How have I become a Photoshop Adobe Certified Expert?

Before leaving Adobe in July 2016, I bought two vouchers to take the ACE exam at Pearson Vue (cheaper for Adobe employees). Back then I said to myself I would have a whole year to prepare for the Photoshop ACE exam and I would get the Adobe Lightroom ACE as well. Little did I know that becoming a full-time professional photographer would be so time-consuming and by early May 2017 I had prepared very little. While I knew the scope of the exam, it was still a huge amount to learn. By then I realised that Adobe had stopped the Lightroom ACE program which meant I now had two chances to be a Photoshop ACE.

How difficult are the questions?

As mentioned above, the Photoshop ACE exam does not let you have a running copy of Photoshop during the test which is harder than you may realise. The majority of the questions are very tricky. While I am not allowed to divulge any question from the exam, let me try to illustrate the challenging level.

While you may get straight forward questions like: “what is the difference between Place Embedded and Place Linked?

you will often have tricky questions like these:

Which of the following methods can NOT be used to place assets in Photoshop?

  • In Adobe Bridge, choose File -> Place Embedded /Linked
  • In Adobe Bridge, choose File ->  Place  >In Photoshop
  • Drag-and-drop  from Explorer (Windows) 
  • Drag-and-drop  from Finder (Mac OS)

Which Method will create a new layer below an active, standard layer?

  • Hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS)  and then press the New Layer icon  in the layers panel
  • Hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS)  and then drag the active layer  to the New Layer icon in the layers panel
  • Hold down Ctrl (Windows) or Command (Mac OS)  and then press the New Layer icon  in the layer panel
  • Hold down Ctrl (Windows) or Command (Mac OS)  and then drag the active layer  to the New Layer icon in the layers panel

You can also have an image preview and asked to choose which best method was used to achieve it. This is can be very difficult since there are so many ways to achieve the same result in Photoshop. So you are required to not only know all the methods but which one is best.

How to prepare?

It is no secret the exam questions are based on the Photoshop online help. While you could start on page 1 and walk your way through them all, there are hundreds, all filled with tonnes of subtilties. This would be very time consuming and while you would absorb the knowledge it would not prepare you completely for the ACE exam. There are some courses that aim to prepare you for the exam but since they are not updated at the same time as Photoshop you may not find the one for the version you are going to be tested on.

Online Course

I took a course (Prepare for the Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop CC exam) by Martin Perhiniak who is an Adobe Certified Instructor. His course was well constructed, covered each topic over six hours. However, it is worth noting that his course was made for Photoshop CC and I was taking the Photoshop CC 2015 ACE exam which had new stuff and a few important changes since the first CC version was released. This means I had to learn the differences between what Martin was showing and what I could actually be questioned on. I take this opportunity to add that I have been using Photoshop CC 2017 for more than six months so I had to keep in mind the differences in that version too. His course included a series of quizzes which I can now confirm are very similar to the real exam. I did not want to rely only on one source for my preparation. My online investigation led me to purchase a mock exam program from Examaids.


Examaids offer a program (for Mac and Windows) called Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 ACE Exam Aid. Not only does it simulate the ACE exam but also helps you study Photoshop by providing you with the correct answer to each question along with an extract from the Photoshop online help and the corresponding hyperlinks. The program includes 350 questions across all the topics. It costs about £70 and there is a free demo you can download to assess whether this tool is for you.

The tool includes three modes:

  • Study: a mode that lets you test your knowledge while checking the correct answer immediately
    Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 ace Exam Aid (mac) Study mode
    Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 ACE Exam Aid (Mac) Study mode
  • Practice: a mode that puts you in the exam conditions. You do not know whether you answer correctly until you have completed the exam.
    Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 ace Exam Aid (mac) Practice mode
    Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 ACE Exam Aid (Mac) Practice mode
  • Review: a mode that lets you navigate through all the questions and their answers. This is more like cheat sheet than a test mode.
    Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 ace Exam Aid (mac) Review mode
    Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 ACE Exam Aid (Mac) Review mode
Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 ace Exam Aid (mac) Settings
Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 ACE Exam Aid (Mac) Settings

In the Settings section, you can specify which topic(s) and how many questions in each you wish to be tested on. It is very practical when you want to focus on one topic a the time and then mix it up as go. You can even change the order of the questions multi choices.

I cannot recommend Examaids enough. I would not have passed the exam in such a short preparation period (a week) without it. My approach consisted in focussing on one topic at the time, and then I mixed them up. By the day before the exam, I did about 2 or 3 full tests using all the 360 questions. I have been in contact with the team at Examaids as I came across some puzzling questions in their test. I was glad to see they took my remarks on board and will make some changes in the next update which I was given the opportunity to validate.

It is important to notice that by taking multiple times the Exam Aid practice mode or the quizzes from a course, you are bound to remember the answer to a particular question. The questions are not the ones you will get during the real Photoshop ACE exam, so there is no point in learning them by heart. However, I do believe that you are bound to remember them eventually, and it will help you greatly during the real exam.


I am one of those who usually does not do well with exams. Both the stress their generate and the fact I’ve always failed to find a full correlation between the questions asked and the real world, have always made me doubt myself and eventually fail. So I do admit I am proud to have passed the Photoshop Adobe Certified Expert exam on my first attempt. I had put a lot of pressure on my shoulders and my short, but intensive preparation paid off.

That being said, I cannot tell you the test is a necessity if you are a photographer or a retoucher. Truth be told, the way the exam is put together, i.e. no access to Photoshop during the exam, already means you are not in a real life situation. Unless you work for the Adobe Support team and you need to assist someone blindly over the phone. However, based on my ten years at Adobe, you would normally have the application running on your own screen to help you with your troubleshooting steps. The phrasing of the questions is also made to trick you most of the time.

While the ACE exam is not real life representative, it is not meaningless nonetheless. As mentioned above, I undertook the certification to prove to myself I knew Photoshop “inside out” and to feel more legitimate when teaching the tool to others. It was also a great opportunity for me to discover some new features and techniques which can improve my image editing skills. So I have no regret to have done it, and I am even tempted to learn Illustrator and maybe pass the exam at some point.

Let me know in the comment section below whether the Photoshop ACE is something you have attempted or would consider in the future.

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