How Hard Is It to Get ISA Certified?

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You’re probably an arboriculture fanatic if you’re looking into the ISA examination, trying to earn an official certificate that is internationally recognized. Well, If you’re a mere enthusiast, you might be wondering how hard it is to get ISA certified.

Generally speaking, if you’re simply interested in the topic with no prior knowledge or proper background, you probably won’t be able to sit for the examination. You’re required to have both practical experiences and sufficient knowledge to sit for the test.

However, if you believe you have all that it takes to become fully certified, then we have good news for you! While the examination is quite lengthy and challenging to study for due to the amount of information, we discuss everything you need to know about the ISA Certification in this article.

What Does ISA Certified Arborist Mean?What Does ISA Certified Arborist Mean?

The ISA Certification is a voluntary program that aims to test your skills and achievements in the arboriculture field. It requires a more professional outlook on the subject and enables you to become a recognized figure among your peers.

While not everyone in the field seeks an ISA Certification, having one gives you an edge over those who do not. Generally, employers value the certification, allowing you to be a more competitive person within the job market.

An expert panel develops the examination, and it is designed to test you in various fields of arboriculture. Again, the purpose of such an extensive examination is to test all your knowledge in the area to qualify you to take one step ahead of everyone else.

The examination targets ten primary areas of knowledge, but keep in mind that the questions are not divided equally. Each topic has a specific percentage that reflects the division of questions according to the subject.

The ISA certification test is divided into the following areas:

  • Pruning (16%)
  • Safe Work Practices (15%)
  • Tree Risk Management (13%)
  • Diagnosis & Treatment (12%)
  • Soil Management (12%)
  • Identification & Selection (8%)
  • Tree Biology (8%)
  • Urban Forestry (7%)
  • Installation & Establishment (5%)
  • Tree Protection (4%)

Hence, we advise you to base your studying according to the percentage division. The higher the percentage is, the more proficient and knowledgeable you should be about it.

The examinations are sponsored by an ISA chapter or an associate organization. It could also be offered through a Pearson VUE testing center.

How Many ISA Certified Arborists are There?

How Many ISA Certified Arborists are There?

First of all, you should be aware that there are numerous ISA credentials globally. These include the following:

  • Certified Arborist
  • Utility Specialist
  • Tree Worker Climber Specialist
  • Board Certified Master Arborist
  • Municipal Specialist
  • Tree Worker Aerial Lift

The credential with the least number of certified candidates is the Tree Worker Aerial Lift. Some of them include that it is not as exciting and not frequently demanded in the world.

However, the number of Certified Arborists as of 2020-21 was a whopping 35,944!

How Long Does It Take to Become ISA Certified?

How Long Does It Take to Become ISA Certified?

We cannot give you a specific time for how long it takes to become ISA certified. Still, it would help if you had years of experience before sitting for the examination. Hence, it would take you a minimum of two years to become certified. You are required to have sufficient knowledge and experience before applying for the examination.

However, to have a better understanding of the process and time required to become ISA certified, let’s break down the necessary steps and discuss the ISA certified arborist application guide:


Your eligibility depends primarily on your background (college degree, accredited degree programs, diplomas, certificates, or RAPs). Accordingly, you can determine whether you can sit for the examination and the requirements based on your background.

Moreover, we recommend you to find eligibility documentation by contacting your college university or acquiring your original certification as proof. To figure out if you’re eligible or not and which documentation you need, read through the following list:

  • College or university degree programs are not utilized to equal requirements for more extended programs
  • Assessment-based programs are combined to equal the eligibility requirements
  • No matter what your educational experience is, you must complete it before submitting your application
  • You must send in your transcript that contains all the courses and training sessions with the number of credit hours taken
  • If you have your own company or are self-employed, you must submit three different letters of reference – these can be either invoices, contracts, or even business licenses. ISA can accept other forms, but we recommend contacting ISA to confirm

Location & Time

As mentioned earlier, the assessment is offered through an organization or a Pearson VUE testing center. Hence, you must acquire the necessary information to determine where and when ISA will provide them.

You have two options. The first one is looking for places offering the examination sponsored by ISA chapters or associates, which you can find here. However, if you prefer finding out whether a Pearson VUE testing center offers it somewhere nearby. You can check their website.


We discuss the fees and the process of paying them in extensive detail below. However, it is worth mentioning that you are eligible for a discounted rate if you are an existing member of ISA. However, you also need to be a current ISA chapter or associate organization member.

Since some places do not have any associate organization related to ISA, you can still get a discount as an ISA member. However, keep in mind that you have membership dues to keep track of once you are an ISA member.

Certification Agreement

As the organization is a voluntary, non-profit organization, they have a list of clauses they ask you to sign and agree to.

You can find the whole list here, and we recommend you thoroughly read through it to be prepared for what’s ahead of you.

Moreover, aside from the Release Authorization agreement above, you must accept another piece of the ISA Code of Ethics. These two agreements are found at the end of the exam application, which you must sign. You will need to review and sign both of them to be eligible for the certification.

 Application Submission

All the steps mentioned above are necessary to complete your online application. You can complete it through submission through the MyISA portal. You follow a few simple steps. First of all, you apply through the online portal. Alternatively, you can also submit a completed application.

Your second step is once you get the approval notice. Once you’re accepted into the program, you can enroll through your online account on the ISA website.

Now, you will have to pay your fee. However, remember that you must pay at least 12 business days before the scheduled date to sit for the examination. Moreover, ISA does not offer a refund once you have successfully enrolled for the exam.

Additional Information

A few things to keep in mind:

  • You can take an Arborist certification online instead of applying for a paper-based examination
  • Even after you apply for the examination, you have the option of rescheduling. Once approved, you will have to pay an additional $50
  • There is no on-site application as the process tends to be lengthy
  • ISA has all the right to contact your references or any mentioned entities present on your application

What are the Requirements to Become a Certified Arborist?

What are the Requirements to Become a Certified Arborist?

The requirements to become certified mainly depend on your background. However, the general reference is a minimum of three years of full-time work and experience in arboriculture. Your knowledge should involve both practical experience and knowledge.

Hence, you must have a few years of experience in a related field. These example sources include the following:

  • Nurseries
  • Utility companies
  • Horticultural or arboricultural academic experience
  • Different related programs
  • Pest control providers

The list includes, but is not limited, to the areas mentioned above. So, how hard is it to get ISA certified? It is not that difficult as the minimum requirements involve a typical degree from college or university. Hence, if you have always been passionate about arboriculture, then you’re probably ready to go!

You can meet the requirements through various combinations of experience and knowledge. Hence, it widely depends on your background and the years of experience you have acquired. If you have one of the below-mentioned experiences, then here is how you can qualify through them:

Complete College or University Program

  • You must have two have obtained a two-year associate degree that involves at least two courses that directly relate to arboriculture. Moreover, you must have two additional years of practical work as a full-time job
  •  OR
  • You possess a 4-year bachelor degree in a field related to arboriculture that has at least four different courses related, in addition to one full-time year based on practical work

Assessment-Based Programs (Certificates & Diplomas)

You must complete 900 hours of training, including 90 hours of topics focused on arboriculture. In addition, you need two years of full-time practical work in arboriculture

  •  You must have 1,800 hours of training along with at least 180 hours of work directly related to arboriculture. Moreover, on top of that, you need a work experience compromised over one year of full-time experience in the field

Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAPs)

  • You might be eligible for the ISA Certification if you have another certificate, such as the RAP. These involve any formal training that has been approved on a nationwide basis. However, to know whether you are eligible through these certifications, we recommend contacting ISA

To successfully obtain your certification and become a Certified Arborist, you must successfully achieve the ISA arborist exam passing score of 76%.

How Much Does ISA Certification Cost?

How Much Does ISA Certification Cost?

The fee varies depending on a few factors. If you are an existing ISA member and a member of the ISA chapter or one of the associate organizations, you are eligible for a discount.

If you’re sitting for an examination sponsored by an organization or chapter, then a member’s fee is $170 and $280 for nonmembers.

However, keep in mind that if you want to sit for a computer-based test, you must pay an administrative fee of $125. This fee is an additional amount you must pay on top of the exam fee itself.

Is the ISA Certified Arborist Exam Hard?

Is the ISA Certified Arborist Exam Hard?

First of all, be aware that the examination comprises 200 multiple-choice questions, making things a tad easier. It is thought to be better because each question will only have four different choices, which is often easier than more options presented.

The whole exam will last for 3.5 hours, which is quite lengthy. Hence, while the examination is not extremely hard, the process is quite long and might bore you.

However, if you’re still wondering if the examination is complex, the short answer is no, it is not. The main reason is that there are only 20 new questions for each test that have not been mentioned before. Hence, you still have the other 180 questions you can practice if you obtain the previous examinations.

The ISA Arborist exam passing score is currently at 76%. Keep in mind that different domains are weighted; hence the average of each field is not equal to your final score. However, if you do not obtain the minimum passing grade, you must retake the examination.

Keep in mind that if you want to re-sit the examination, your very first retake is free. However, after that, you will be charged $75 per retake.

Once you successfully pass the examination, you receive your designation of ISA Certified Arborist.

Wrapping Things Up: How Hard Is It to Get ISA Certified?

All in all, the examination itself is not too difficult. However, the process is lengthy, and the test itself is pretty long, as it takes 3.5 hours. However, you can excel at the exam with flying colors with adequate preparation.

However, remember to make sure you have a few things in check. That includes paying the fees, checking the documents that require your approval and signature, and finding the time and location. Do not forget that you have the option of taking the examination online as well.

To conclude, you need to make sure you are proficient in the top 10 areas in the examination. Once you do, solve as many practice questions as you can. Utilizing past assessments and any other resources will help you immensely.

Our final piece of advice? Don’t stress too much about the examination. Simply make sure you study well, have completed all the requirements, and you will become certified in no time.

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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