So you want to be an Apple Certified Macintosh Technician. You want the fame, the adoration, the fans screaming for your affections and/or phone number, the nifty certificate from Apple after you pass your exams.
Okay, you’ll get one of those things. Just find a nice frame for the certificate, and it’ll look that much better on your wall.
To become Apple certified, you have to jump through some hoops—specifically, you must successfully complete Apple’s Macintosh Service Certification Exam and the Mac OS X 10.8 Lion Troubleshooting Exam, each of which retails for $150. You must score 80 percent or better on each test, and achieve perfect scores in certain areas (namely, Embedded Battery Safety and Electrostatic Discharge Precautions on the Macintosh Service Certification Exam, and any and all Apple environmental policy questions that may surface). Get full details at Apple’s ACMT Certification website, which hooks into training materials and testing centers as well.
A lot of work
Getting Apple certified is no small effort, but certification also give you some definite benefits. First, it allows you to repair Macs that are currently under AppleCare warranty without risk of violating that warranty. Next, you’ll be able to order parts for your clients’ machines via Apple’s Global Service Exchange (GSX)—including the obscure, hard-to-find parts that are almost impossible to get your hands on via eBay or Craigslist; this kind of access can make you feel as if you’re part of the club. The prices are available at Apple’s prices, with no retail markup.
If you ever wanted direct access to an Apple employee who knows the hardware inside and out, certification and GSX access allow you participate in live chats with Apple’s technicians. Yes, it’s a chat room format, and the back and forth involved in describing a technical issue takes a while, but this gives you a main line to the mothership and it comes in handy if a diagnosis is eluding you.
And perhaps the most important benefit is that certification allows better access to tech jobs with Apple Authorized Service Partners, Apple resellers, or self-supporting operations such as colleges, school systems, and universities. This also helps current techies draw a better salary; you know your stuff and you now have a piece of paper from Apple that says so. It’s not unreasonable to point this out during negotiations with a potential employer. It enhances your credibility and helps attract customers should you decide to go solo and moonlight with your own repairs.
There are some provisos to consider. Becoming an Apple Certified Macintosh Technician allows credence to perform warrantied repairs, but this still runs into a bit of a gray area unless you’re employed by an SSA (Self-Servicing Account) that Apple allows for universities and institutions to service its own products, or an AASP (Apple Authorized Service Provider), which is more akin to the tech shop structure you might be used to. Also, access to Apple’s Global Service Exchange (GSX) will require not only Apple Certified Macintosh Technician status but also employment at either an Apple-approved SSA or AASP. Apple does, on occasion, allow for remote/field access to the GSX, but you’ll have to be vetted by Apple. If you can pull it off, you’ll have access to the Apple’s mighty GSX database, complete with updated technical manuals that can be access from any location as you work on-site with clients. Inquiries towards this can be shot over to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to start a conversation with Apple.
What’s involved with the exams
After June 23, 2013, the rules regarding testing to become an Apple Certification Macintosh Technician changed significantly. The exam, which has traditionally been hosted at assorted, proctored Prometric testing sites around the country as well as at specified testing locations and online, switched to an online-only format (find full details on the company’s ACMT FAQ page). The current U.S. Apple certification exam schedule is here.
You’ll need to know the following categories for the exams, which are presented in multiple-choice style:
Macintosh Service Certification Exam 9L0-010
Embedded Battery Safety
ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) Precautions
New Product Troubleshooting and Take-Apart Tips
OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Troubleshooting Exam 9L0-064
iCloud and Messages
Installation and Recovery
Peripherals and Printing
Security and Privacy
Troubleshooting Tools and Procedures
User Accounts and Permissions
The best way to prepare for and take the exams
While most of the exam focuses on diagnosing potential issues, Peachpit Press sells a good set of Apple Pro Training Series study guides. The core book sells for about $45 in print and $36 in eBook format. The guides include review sections and quizzes. You can also find courses lasting as long as several days at authorized training centers. The cost and depth of the courses vary from center to center.
Once the exam begins, you have 90 minutes to complete the multiple-choice questions. Stay calm, take your time, and remember that you can go back to answer questions you might have struggled with during the course of the test. The scoring is, of course, immediate; you can find details about Apple’s exam scoring in this FAQ.
If you don’t pass an exam the first time, you can immediately retake it if you’re willing to pay the exam fee again (at least, this has historically been the case). Apple takes the higher score and discounts the failed score. If you know the question that made or broke your score, for example, then it makes sense to retake the test on the spot.
Going through Apple Certified Macintosh Technician training and exams is a rough, somewhat expensive process, but it also opens new doors. And if you love diving into Apple’s hardware and doing that is a significant part of your living, the certification is indispensable. Find the study materials that work for you, read and reread everything carefully, get comfortable with every chunk of Apple hardware you can get your hands on, be as efficient as possible at diagnosing problems, and you’re on your way.
And if you accidentally set more than two hard drives on fire over the course of your Mac tech career, then you’ve got me beat.
Editor's note: Updated on 7/2/13 at 9 p.m. PT with SSA and AASP information.