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IC3 Certification | Digital Literacy

An In-Depth Review of the IC3 GS5 Certification

August 20th, 2019 | 12 min. read

Bri Stauffer

Bri Stauffer

For nearly 10 years, Bri has focused on creating content to address the questions and concerns educators have about teaching classes, preparing students for certifications, and making the most of the iCEV curriculum system.

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Today, many middle and high school teachers are required to teach digital literacy in the classroom.

Along with this new topic, some programs are implementing certifications to measure student knowledge and skills in digital literacy.

One of the most common digital literacy certifications is the IC3 GS5 Certification offered by Certiport.

Because of its popularity, many teachers wonder if they should add it to their courses.

On this page, we’ll share everything you need to know about the IC3 GS5 Digital Literacy Certification to help you decide!

In total, we’ll answer four common questions about the IC3 GS5 Certification:

  1. What is it?
  2. How is it structured?
  3. What are the benefits?
  4. What are the downsides?

We’ll start with the most important question first -- what is the IC3 GS5 Certification?

1. What Is the IC3 GS5 Certification?


The term “IC3” stands for Internet Core Competency Certification, and it’s often called the IC3 Digital Literacy Certification.

This alternative title stems from the fact that IC3 measures student knowledge of computing systems, software applications, computer literacy, and other digital literacy topics.

“GS5” stands for Global Standard 5, which is the most recent version of the IC3 certification.

This difference is important to note, as IC3 includes other variations like IC3 Spark and IC3 Fast Track. Each variation includes different detailed topics and concepts.

The IC3 GS5 certification focuses on three main topic areas:

  1. Computing fundamentals
  2. Key applications
  3. Living online

With that, let’s get into how the certification is structured!

2. How Is the IC3 GS5 Certification Structured?

ic3 gs5 certification structure

Unlike other common certifications, the main topic areas for IC3 GS5 each have their own dedicated exam.

That means students must take three total exams in order to become IC3 GS5 certified!

To best answer the question of how the certification is structured, let’s take a look at each exam individually.

We’ll start with Computing Fundamentals.

How Is the IC3 GS5 Computing Fundamentals Exam Structured?


The IC3 Computing Fundamentals exam measures how well students understand the ways computers process information and the basics of hardware, software, and operating systems.

The Computing Fundamentals exam includes 50 questions based on seven overarching topics, called domains:ic3-gs5-computing-fundamentals-badge-1

  1. Mobile Devices
  2. Hardware
  3. Computer Software Architecture
  4. Backup and Restore
  5. File Sharing
  6. Cloud Computing
  7. Security

Each domain includes detailed questions that align to the questions found on the exam.

In total, students have 50 minutes to complete the IC3 GS5 Computing Fundamentals exam.

When a student passes this exam, they receive a digital badge acknowledging their success.

But there’s still two more exams left to go.

Next up is the Key Applications test!

How Is the IC3 GS5 Key Applications Exam Structured?


The IC3 Key Applications exam is designed to test student knowledge on common word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications.

The Key Applications exam has 45 questions across seven domains:ic3-gs5-key-applications-badge-1

  1. Common Features
  2. Word Processing
  3. Spreadsheets
  4. Databases
  5. Presentations
  6. App Culture
  7. Graphic Modification

As with the previous exam, each domain includes a variety of subtopics students need to understand to succeed.

On test day, students have 50 minutes to complete the IC3 GS5 Key Applications exam.

When they pass, they’ll earn another digital badge to show their accomplishment.

Now all that’s left is the Living Online exam!

How Is the IC3 GS5 Living Online Exam Structured?


The IC3 Living Online exam measures students’ skills in using digital tools to communicate effectively while being good digital citizens.

The Living Online exam includes 50 questions related to nine domains:ic3-gs5-living-online-badge-1

  1. Internet Navigation
  2. Common Functionality
  3. Email Clients
  4. Calendaring
  5. Social Media
  6. Communications
  7. Online Conferencing
  8. Streaming
  9. Digital Principles / Ethics / Skills / Citizenship

Each of the domains is made up of a varying number of subtopics and skills.

Students get 50 minutes to take the exam, and upon passing receive the IC3 Living Online badge.

After a student passes all three IC3 GS5 exams, they are officially IC3 GS5 certified!

At that point, they receive the full IC3 GS5 Digital Literacy Certification plus the all-encompassing digital badge.

Now that you know what to expect from the IC3 GS5 exams, it’s time to discuss the pros and cons of this certification.

3. What Are the Benefits of the IC3 GS5 Certification?


Overall there are three main benefits for students who earn IC3 GS5 certification:

  • They learn relevant knowledge and skills
  • They meet ISTE standards
  • They have a credential to show potential employers

IC3 GS5 Helps Students Learn Crucial Technology Concepts and Skills

When preparing for the IC3 GS5 Certification, students learn dozens of important skills and concepts.

These new skills will be useful in any career, from a business teacher to a healthcare professional.

On top of that, these skills can apply to a students’ use of technology outside of work.

With the 24/7 availability of technology, understanding specific topics such as digital citizenship, social media, and digital communications are crucial.

This is even more important for people who may use the same methods of communication for both personal and professional uses, like email or text messaging.

With such all-encompassing coverage of digital literacy skills, the IC3 GS5 Certification can help ensure students always know the right way to act online!

IC3 GS5 Helps Students Meet ISTE Requirements

Many teachers considering the IC3 GS5 Certification are required to teach lessons aligned to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards.

A section of the ISTE standards are specifically focused on what should be expected of students.

The ISTE Student Standards fall into seven areas:iste readiness seal of alignment

  1. Empowered Learner
  2. Digital Citizen
  3. Knowledge Constructor
  4. Innovative Designer
  5. Computational Thinker
  6. Creative Communicator
  7. Global Collaborator

In 2016, ISTE reviewed the IC3 Digital Literacy Certification against their standards for students.

Upon review, the IC3 GS5 certification was awarded an ISTE Readiness Seal of Alignment.

So if you need to meet ISTE standards in your class, teaching them becomes a lot easier if you use the IC3 GS5 certification topics as a guide!

IC3 GS5 Is an Industry-Recognized Credential

Ultimately, the biggest benefit for students who earn the IC3 GS5 Certification is the fact that it’s an industry-recognized credential.

As students enter the workforce, having a credential like the IC3 GS5 Certification can give them a leg-up over job candidates without it.

When a certification is listed on a candidate’s resume, the employer can be confident that person truly does possess the skills!

In addition, the digital badges make it easy for students to highlight their accomplishments on social media sites and online portfolios.

So if an employer is reviewing potential candidates on LinkedIn, they can easily spot who is certified and who isn’t!

Now that we’ve covered the three main benefits of the IC3 GS5 Certification, it’s time to discuss the cons.

4. What Are the Drawbacks of the IC3 GS5 Certification?


Though the IC3 GS5 certification is meant to set students up for success, there are a few drawbacks:

  • It’s designed for a large age group
  • It was last updated in 2016
  • There are no recertification requirements
  • It can get expensive

IC3 GS5 Is Meant for a Wide Age Group

The IC3 GS5 Digital Literacy Certification was designed to be recognized as the “global standard” of measuring digital skills of both students and employees.

When something is created with the intention of being used by millions of people across a variety of ages, it’s bound to have a few issues. You just can’t accommodate everyone with that big of an audience.

For example, the IC3 GS5 Certification accommodates both ninth-grade computer teachers and corporate training programs.

To work for both groups, the context and difficulty of the questions must land somewhere between ninth grade and entry-level employees.

That means for the scenario we’ve described, some of the information may be too difficult for younger students while being too simple for adults.

The IC3 GS5 Certification was Last Updated in 2016

The IC3 Digital Literacy Certification was most recently updated in March 2016, with the release of the IC3 GS5 version.

That means the information on the exam and in the related learning materials are more than three years old.

Though this doesn’t seem to be too long ago, it’s practically an eternity when it comes to technology!

With hundreds of new apps, communication methods, and employer expectations over the past three years, the IC3 GS5 Certification just isn’t as up-to-date as it may appear.

That’s why we recommend you don’t solely teach to the test when covering digital literacy skills in the classroom.

You’d be doing your students a disservice by teaching information that’s three years old, without adding more recent concepts and details!

The IC3 GS5 Certification Includes No Recertification Requirements

In many industries, professionals who earn credentials and certificates are required to recertify on a regular basis.

This ensures they consistently practice and review the key skills they need to maintain their credential or certificate.

However, once someone earns the IC3 GS5 Certification, there is no requirement to recertify.

That means f a student earns the certification in seventh grade, they are certified for life!

This sounds like a deal for the student, but it can have consequences in the long run.

As an employer, would you rather hire a person who was certified in the past year or someone who passed an exam seven years ago?

On top of that, there’s no requirement for someone to take the most recent exam in order to maintain their credentials.

That means your students’ certifications and digital badges will instantly become outdated.

If an employer is looking for employees with relevant certifications, they’ll hire a candidate with a more recent version!

Getting Certified Through IC3 GS5 Can Be Expensive

One of the more straightforward drawbacks of the IC3 GS5 Certification is the cost.

There are a variety of options available from Certiport when it comes to purchasing IC3 exam vouchers and preparation materials.

Some of the most popular choices are:

  • IC3 Digital Literacy Exam Bundle - $125 - Three exams and three retake vouchers
  • IC3 Digital Literacy Voucher & Practice Test Bundle - $240 - Three exams, three retake vouchers, and access to practice tests
  • IC3 Digital Literacy Voucher & 3 Preparation Bundle - $270 - Three exams, three retake vouchers, three practice test vouchers, Gmetrix practice tests, and the CCI Learning IC3 GS5 eBook

These items are so expensive because the IC3 GS5 Certification has three exams.

However, Certiport states that if your school purchases a site license, the costs are lower per student.

In order to get the detailed cost information for a school purchase, you need to fill out a form and work directly with a representative of the publisher.

With all of this said, there’s still one last question to answer.

Should you use the IC3 GS5 certification in your program?

Should You Implement the IC3 GS5 Certification in Your Program?


At the end of the day, implementing the IC3 GS5 Certification as part of your digital literacy program depends on your goals.

If you teach a high school course that is required to include a certification, IC3 GS5 will fit your needs perfectly.

Though there are other certification options out there (like Microsoft Office Specialist), the IC3 GS5 Digital Literacy Certification will help you hit more than just a few specific topics in your classes.

It will be just the right balance of helping you plan your classes while preparing students for their careers.

If you teach middle school students who are just learning the basics of digital literacy, the IC3 GS5 Certification is probably too advanced.

First of all, you’d be hard pressed to invest the time and money needed to have your students take three separate certification exams!

In addition, the depth of information you’d need to teach is going to be too much for middle schoolers.

Luckily, Certiport has developed a more pared-down version of the IC3 GS5 Certification that could be just what you’re looking for: the IC3 Spark Certification.

Want to learn more about this option for your middle school classroom?

Click below to learn about the differences between IC3 GS5 and IC3 Spark!

Learn the Difference between IC3 Spark and IC3 GS5!