Excitingly, I got to start 2019 as a Tableau Desktop Qualified Associate! I prepped for the exam over Christmas and took it on the morning of New Years Eve. In this post I will take you through how I approached the exam prep, as well as my experience of the exam itself, as some of the things I mention might not have been covered in other posts.
At the Data School we have to/ are heavily encouraged to take both our Tableau QA exam and the Alteryx Core exam before ‘graduating’ at the end of our 4 months of training. This is useful as it confirms our skills ahead of entering our first placement.
Like with any exam, I find that preparation, research and practice papers are key. I started by reading a few blogs about how others had prepared for the exam. There are lots out there but two people’s thoughts in particular helped me a lot:
- Sarah Bartlett’s blog about how she prepped for the exam in September/ October of this year was really useful
- Joanna Hemmingway‘s Tiny Tableau Talks talk on her exam prep and experience
Next I read over the Practice exam guide from Tableau and read more into a few of the topics that I wasn’t as clear on:
- LOD expressions – this article by Bethony Lyons is great at explaining them, with some great embedded Tableau workbooks that help explain how the LODs have been created
- Parallel queries/ Query fusion – these came into Tableau in version 9.0 and work to improve Tableau’s speed and performance. This post explains the ‘new’ features really well
A seriously useful resource, aside from the 15 questions and solutions in the exam guide, are the practice questions on LearningTableau. They provide the data and simulate the exam style. LearningTableau also details the solutions really clearly and this was so useful in learning from my mistakes!
The practice exam (with a discount code, which is on the website) is a really good indication of the kind of questions that will appear in the real exam, complete with trickiness of question wording! I did the first one but there are two desktop exams and a specialist one too.
A few things to note
- What I found with the practice questions, at least in my experience, is that they tended to be slightly easier than the actual questions in the exam. I actually ended up with a higher mark on my LearningTableau practice exam than the final QA exam.
- In the final exam there were also multi-select questions, where more than one of the options is the answer, not just a single answer. This threw me a little as I was, for some reason, expecting single-answer only questions so watch out!
Louise and I decided to take the exam on the same day and I feel this helped as it gave me someone to chat about the preparation and nerves! Read about a good overview of the exam types and her experience here.
The exam environment was as described: sat by yourself in a room, with no notes on a virtual machine, watched by a friendly proctor who talked me through everything at the beginning. I utilised google during the exam which was really helpful, especially for checking what Tableau would do with data from a pdf (read in the data tables)!
A couple of tips I picked up on the way:
- Flag answers to come back to later
- Start/ open a new data connection each time you get told to use a different data source. This is because there may be joins from previous questions that will impact the answers if you forget and no longer need that left or inner join, but just the initial sheet. They put in a few trick answers to test your understanding of joins as well as the calculations so be wary of this.
- Read the question a few times before jumping to the data or reading the answers. One that tricked me up in practice was about positive and negative skews. I like statistics so thought I knew this one and that a positive skew did not mean values were mainly on the right – BUT I got it wrong because I didn’t slow down and read the question properly. The question actually asked if it was true that the extreme values for a positive skew were on the right, not the main chunk of the data! Slow down, breathe and read the question.
A few things perhaps made the exam a little harder for me than planned, but I tried not to worry about them and in the end they didn’t matter – I passed! As I hadn’t come across them during my exam research, I thought I’d list these out in case they happened for someone else in the future:
- There was an intermediary person who took a long time to try and connect me to a proctor. I think I was waiting on hold for the first 10 minutes of the call which was very nerve-wracking. Eventually, this intermediary person took control of my screen and changed my meeting from a GoToMeeting to a Zoom and this seemed to work.
- Whilst this was ultimately fine as the exam 2-hour timer doesn’t start until you’re connected, had your ID checked and read the instructions, it was frustrating as I could feel my nerves and the wait seemed longer that it was.
- I was a little ill and took some tissues with me into the exam – of course this was fine, but I did worry that the proctor wouldn’t allow this as the no notes rule was heavily communicated.
- The connection wasn’t great throughout my exam, despite passing the set up tests at the beginning. I actually had to speak to my proctor on 3 different occasions to reset the screen. This was because my Tableau Desktop kept freezing. The first time this happened I have to admit – I did panic a little. Mostly because the proctor said we couldn’t talk during the exam, and I often talk my problems out out-loud. But luckily the proctor understood and everything was fine – she just took over and refreshed my session, reconnecting me to the exam ‘environment’, which was as I’d left it but with a non-frozen Tableau.
- Whilst this didn’t lose my progress as my answers were still recorded, having it occur three times made me wary and I felt a little rushed in case it ate into my time too much. This probably won’t happen to you, but if it does, don’t panic as it’s easily resolved and you are allowed to talk to the proctor!
- As soon as you finish the exam it pops your pass/ fail result on the screen. This was exciting as I knew I’d passed – but the actual percentage comes through later in an e-mail. Louise got her email straight away, but I had to impatiently wait an hour for mine! I also wasn’t 100% convinced by the pass screen as I wan’t the results ‘in writing’ before I let myself get excited at passing!
Other than those very few, slight issues, the exam went as expected: the topics were as covered in the exam guide and I felt relatively confident in my answers.
Something that I feel the exam could improve on it displaying the solutions for questions you got wrong, like LearningTableau does. I understand it probably doesn’t do this to stop cheating because it re-uses questions across current exams, but I always try to learn from my mistakes. Therefore, understanding where I missed points at a more granular level could be better than just the category output currently given.
All in all, I’m really pleased that I passed the exam and that I took the time to prepare over Christmas.
Hope you found this post useful. I’m happy to chat more about the exam experience so tweet me (@elliekmason) if you have any further questions. Best of luck if you’re taking the exam !