Preparing for the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate Exam

Certification is a great way of proving your skills both to yourself and to others. I first took the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate exam in 2018. At that point I had been using Tableau for over 3 years, so when I booked to do the certification I was thinking that it would be fairly easy for me, after all I had been using Tableau desktop for years. That changed as soon I started reviewing the exam guides and the example questions. I quickly realised that I wasn’t using half the functionality and knowledge that the certification would test me on.

Myself and a few of the team had booked to take the certification, so I arranged for us to have group revision sessions so that we all had both focussed time and each other there for support. I put the exam off for a good 3 or 4 months, and spent this time either revising in the group sessions or revising on my own. I probably revised about a couple of hours every couple of weeks.

I would definitely recommend working through practice questions as it gives you a general understanding of how the questions will be structured so you are absolutely prepared for the real thing. On the following link there is access to free practice quizzes and step by step instructions so you can see where you are going wrong.

There are also some practice exams that you can pay for. I would recommend both. I did the practice quizzes through this site as well as the ones in the Tableau certified guides which helped me to understand the areas of Tableau desktop I needed to revise further. Just before I took the first exam I took one of the practice exams and timed myself so I could see how well I used the time which is really important element. (There are lots of other websites that have similar quizzes/practice exams).

Fast forward two years. During the summer of 2020 my certification expired so I felt it was important for me to renew. I don’t use Tableau Desktop every day in my current role as my focus is on leading the data team and the data strategy for my organisation but I am always keen to keep my skills up to date. I also like to be able to support the team when needed and help to advise on best practice. Plus I still love using Tableau and the ability to be hands on is important to me. It is also really useful as a Tableau user group lead. Oh and one major benefit is we have just jumped from using 10.4 to the latest version, so thought it would be a great way of spending time with the new version and checking out some of the new features.

This time round there wasn’t a group of us taking the certification so I started to set some time aside to do some revision but I really struggled to find space in my calendar. As a result my revision was definitely last minute this time. Now here is where I admit that it took me two attempts to pass! I took the exam at the very end of 2020. I had spent a good few hours revising the previous day and plus a little bit of revision earlier in the month. I thought I was ready! In hindsight I rushed into the exam because the clock was ticking as I had to get it done before 31st Dec. Work and life had been hectic so I hadn’t been able to give myself enough time to ensure I was completely prepared.

On the day, the exam started well and the first few questions where absolutely no problem at all. I was feeling pretty good. Then there was one practical question that I absolutely struggled with. I limited my time on this and marked it to revisit later if I had the time. After that I hit a few knowledge questions that I really couldn’t get my head round, and my google attempts were frugal.  Suddenly I lost track of time and started to rush through the other questions, leaving myself very little time to revisit those questions I wasn’t sure about. I got to the end of the exam and the ‘unfortunately you have failed’ message appeared. I only missed it by a couple of marks, but I was absolutely gutted!

I had a few months to prepare for my resit which I was dreading. Let’s be honest no exams are fun, and the environment of the exam can be quite stressful which adds to the pressure on the day. Plus I had my previous attempt playing on my mind. Your confidence once you hit a question you are unsure of can have an impact (like it did on me); my advice is to remember it is just one question, and you have room to get a few wrong! It is not a reflection on your overall skill and knowledge level.

I went into my resit far more prepared. I put side a time over the weeks leading up to it to revise on the things I wasn’t sure about, that I had remembered from the previous exam. (BTW – you don’t find out what questions you got wrong so that’s an extra challenge). I found my revision notes from the first time round, and they were much better. I worked through the list of areas that the exam may cover in the exam guide and ensured I was comfortable with them all. I watched some YouTube tutorials on those questions I wasn’t confident with, re-wrote my notes to help with reminding the knowledge type questions, and completed a few areas of the desktop courses on Tableau E-Learning. Pleased to say I passed with 89%, so well in the green! The relief was huge…despite feeling more confident in this exam I was still sweating waiting for the results! Luckily the results appear a few minutes after you finish the last question.

Overview of the exam process:

  • $250 (40% off for renewals – keep a look out for special offers)
  • Expires after 2 years
  • 2 hour exam
  • All multiple choice questions
  • 36 questions
  • 75% pass rate – questions have different scores depending on complexity of question
  • Two types of questions – knowledge and practical

Knowledge questions – There is a different types of multiple choice knowledge questions; some questions ask about the functionality or features within Tableau Desktop such as highlighter. It is useful to test the feature in the Tableau instance provided to ensure that you are coming up with the correct answer. Other knowledge questions are around how Tableau desktop works i.e. hyper extracts vs TDE

Practical questions – The practical ones ask you to find out a certain value from the sample datasets they provide. You can get to the answer any way you want using Tableau. Then choose the answer from the multiple choice options. Just double check you have done all the filtering it asks before selecting your answer.

On the exam day you will enter a virtual session with an exam proctor who will be there throughout the exam. They will talk you through the process, check your ID and ensure your computer and room meets all the required exam conditions. All work is completed on a Virtual Machine which is expanded to cover your desktop. This has google chrome which the proctor will open and log you into the exam questions. These are in the chrome window and you can hop around between questions using the interface. Separate Chrome tabs can be opened to google as required. Tableau is available from the desktop and all the files are in a directory on the desktop.

Make sure you put plenty of time aside for the exam. Whilst you have 2 hours to complete all the questions it can take a bit of time to run through all the checks with the proctor and ensure all your tech is working. Give yourself 2 and half hours at least.

My top tips for preparing:

  • Use the guide – Work through each section of the guidance and make sure you feel comfortable with each element. Identify those that you are ensure of and focus on them for your revision.
  • Make sure you are ready – Consider taking the Tableau Desktop Specialist exam first if you haven’t already – this will get you used to the exam conditions and help you to feel more comfortable with how the questions are structured.
  • Revise revise revise – Revision is absolutely key – work through the practice quizzes and exams and then revisit the areas you struggle with.
  • Create some focussed time to prep – Block time out in your calendar in the run up to your exams to revise (don’t leave it til the last minute) – be prepared!
  • Time yourself doing the practice quizzes exams – Remember that there are 36 questions to get through in two hours, and you want to leave yourself time to revisit some. You only have a few minutes per question.

Top tips for the actual exam:

  • Use a big screen – Make sure you have a big screen, you’re only allowed one screen in the exam and ideally it needs to be big enough so you can have the questions and Tableau work book side by side. I think it would be difficult on a small laptop screen.
  • Re-read the questions – read the question at least 3 times: for the practical questions make sure you have added all the filters before you rush to answer the question (e.g. in 2015 what was the highest sales for the Technical category – so 2 filters to add; year and category)
  • Create a worksheet per question – For each of the practical questions create a new worksheet for each question and re-name it with the question number so you can come back to if you wish at the end of the exam (in the exam you can mark the questions you want to revisit later)
  • Keep an eye on the time – Ideally you want to leave yourself 10-15 minutes at the end of the exam so you have time to check any questions you weren’t confident with.
  • Don’t panic – If you get stuck on a question don’t panic (its only 1), limit your time on this question, move on and then come back to it later.
  • Google is your friend – you will have access to google throughout the exam. Always helpful to double check if you doubt yourself.  But don’t think you can rely on google; whilst you do have access to google it isn’t going to answer the questions for you, just use it to back up what you know.

I hope you found this blog useful and I hope it helps you to prepare and to encourage you to be Tableau certified. Whilst I have been using Tableau for over 5 years and feel very confident with the product, there are still gaps in my skills and knowledge. I always push myself to keep learning to help me develop professionally, and this process definitely challenged me. Even if you are put off by the ‘exam process’ I would still recommend reviewing the exam guide and working through the practice quizzes. You are guaranteed to learn something. And anything you learn you can then apply in your role. So my question would be what is stopping you?!

If you are thinking of taking the exam and wanting some further advice drop me a line, always happy to provide support if I can!

Good luck with your Tableau journey

Best wishes


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