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How to become a Zend Certified Engineer (ZCE) on a budget

Last year I finally took the plunge and went in for my ZCE exam, and thankfully passed first time. I’d like to share with you why and how I did it (on a budget).

Is it worth it?

After using PHP for a number of years, I decided that I’d like to take some form of certification to verify my level of expertise and knowledge of using the programming language. Naturally when looking at PHP courses online, it was clear that the Zend Certified Engineer exam is really the only one that holds much merit (at least in my eyes).

My main reasons behind taking the exam were:

  • To strengthen my CV
  • Use as a marketing tool for freelance business
  • An excuse to develop my PHP knowledge
  • I wanted a challenge!

I know some people in the PHP community see certification as a waste of time, and advocate that the effort is better spent on Open Source projects. To that argument, I say I know of development shops that insist that all of their team are ZCE certified, and undoubtedly hiring managers do see value in candidates that are ZCE certified (rightly or wrongly).

You should constantly challenge yourself, and as a PHP developer, I felt this was a natural step of progression – which amongst experience (including Open Source development) will improve your skills and expertise.

Becoming a Zend Certified Engineer on the cheap

The exam itself costs €170 (£144.97 at time of writing), so it’s a good idea to revise well and pass first time unless you have money to burn on exam retakes.

Having to personally fund this venture myself, I was keen to keep costs down as much as possible. Whilst Zend offers training and exam prep, I felt €500+ was a bit steep for my liking.

PHP Manual - now available in print friendly format.
PHP Manual – now available in print friendly format.

For those on a budget (like myself), I’d highly recommend purchasing the exam prep from uCertify. I really left all my revision way too late, and found myself cramming a week before the test. This course was a lifesaver and gave me a lot of confidence going into the exam. Priced at around £75, I think it is good value for money.

If you have an iPhone/iPad, I’d also recommend supplementing your revision with PhpRiot (£1.49). It’s a nice little app that firstly tests your PHP knowledge, and secondly gives you offline access to the PHP manual. Although I’d perhaps make a suggestion that if you do the quizes, do them often with a lower amount of questions; I once had a 40 minute quiz, then the app crashed after 35 mins! It’s handy to do a quick quiz before you go to bed etc.

Which brings me onto the best (and cheapest) resource of all, the PHP manual. Use this to thoroughly understand how functions work. You will be tested on a cross section of all PHP areas, so it’s important you really know it inside out.

Learning outcomes

I’d say the exam is worth doing for a developer of any level. During your revision period, you’ll soon find out what are your weak areas, and by going through this process you’ll come out a much more rounded developer.

I found it was a great motivator to learn stuff, especially the sort of stuff that you wouldn’t usually encounter in day-to-day development. Regardless of the benefits it may have when it comes to employability, I found the experience in general to be positive from a personal development level.

To say that the whole certification process (including training materials) costed in the region of £230, I think it’s worth the investment. If time is not an issue, then you could probably just make use of the PHP manual alone. Although let’s not forget that Zend Certified Engineers receive a perpetual license for Zend Studio (worth €299 normally), so you could actually be up on the deal if you were planning on buying it.

I hope this article has helped you in your decision to become a ZCE. If you have any questions (taking into account the confidentiality agreement) drop a comment below.

Further reading

Chris Bell

Chris Bell is a software engineer based in Leeds, UK. Enjoy his personal accounts and insights into the weird and wacky world of software development.

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Published inWeb development


  1. chrisbell chrisbell

    Thanks Rob, looks like a steal for $25!

  2. Thanks. That was helpful. I was wondering how long it takes to prepare for the exam. Should i buy the exam first or prepare first and buy exam.

    • chrisbell chrisbell

      Hi Bishal, thanks for stopping by. It will really depend on how much you know already, but an exam voucher lasts for a year I believe. I’d recommend just going ahead and buying the exam voucher, that way you have no excuses to avoid revision and exam prep.

  3. I have experience of one and a half year of php. I scored 89 in elance test. Do you think i should go for this one ?

    • chrisbell chrisbell

      Sure. Buy the exam voucher and it will give you a year to prepare anyway. What I would say is just don’t rush it. Ideally you want to retain all of this knowledge, not just cram it in and then forget it all a week later. Good luck Nishant!

  4. armi armi

    hi chris
    i was wondering i could also take the exam
    im coming from a total different field and i have just started taking courses in php both basics and advances.
    shoud i really be a web developer or having job experiences in order to pass the test ?
    i want to be reayy realsitic about that
    would 6 months be a goood time preaprring for the exam with no prgramming back round andonly taken courses ?
    i would be appriciating your answer

    • chrisbell chrisbell

      Hi Armi. Firstly I’d like to congratulate you on your decision to pursue a career in computing/programming; it’s great 🙂

      My opinion would be to get some project experience first before taking the exam. Courses are all good and well, but you need to see how all of this stuff works on a server. The more project experience you get, the more this stuff becomes second nature to you.

      Although with enough motivation, there’s nothing you can’t do. Good luck!

      P.S. You might also want to give this post a read:

  5. armi armi

    hi chris,
    thans for the time u took answering my post,
    i will definitly try working on some projects and do as much practices as i could.
    i hope i can make it in 2014 🙂
    i also read your article about how becoming a web developerm was interesting . 🙂
    hope my interest and enthusiasm remains the same as it is right now. 🙂
    i wish u great year with lots of joys and great success 🙂
    happy new year 2014 in advance:)

  6. Hi, I really enjoy your article, but I didn’t like just one thing, I’ve seen this article a couple days ago and this one really supported to decide buying the voucher =D, then I bought, when I returned this week to check more informations I saw your “UPDATE 2014” kkkkkkkk , whether I had waited a few days more I could use the discount =(

    Best wishes from Brazil!!!

  7. Nalin Tharanga Jayasinghe Nalin Tharanga Jayasinghe

    I’m a Sri Lankan PHP web developer.Hope to sit for ZCE examination.But I don’t know where I should go to sit for Exam.Please help me?

  8. Ahmed Bouferra Ahmed Bouferra

    Hello, where the exam will be passed is it in the website or in a center ?

  9. Mohit Pratap Mohit Pratap

    hey! chrisbell i want to give the zend exam so what is the oroceedure to give the exam…please tell me

  10. João Paulo Cercal João Paulo Cercal

    Thanks Mr. Bell, very helpful!

  11. Keyur Shah Keyur Shah


    Right now I have 3 years of experience in PHP and Magento. After passing the certification of Magento , I am thinking about PHP Certification. For this certification do you have any free stuff for preparing the exam ? 🙂 , You know it is bit difficult for me to purchase this vouchers which you have provided.

    i will really appreciate your help towards this material.

    Looking forward for your response.


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