A Proper Core Workout | Passing the Alteryx Core Certification

by Harry Osborne

The Alteryx Core Certification was my first "official" test at the Data School, and I was fairly apprehensive going into the exam. However, my doubts were unfounded, as this is a well-designed format, built to limit pressure and facilitate learning above all else.

Bearing this in mind, the Core exam is definitely one that can be surmounted by focussing on specific areas and working methodically, both when revising and when taking the exam itself. Luckily, I managed to pass on my first attempt with a score of 95.1% - naturally, I felt that I should try to pass on my methodology!


The Exam

The Core Certification requires an 80% pass mark through 80 questions; 73 of these will be multiple choice (worth 1 mark), whilst the other 7 will be practical application questions (worth 3 marks). Practical questions are inserted randomly amongst the questions. The multiple choice questions also have partial credit if more than one answer is correct: this works both ways, as incorrect selections will result in marks taken away.


1. Spend some time on Alteryx

If it sounds stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid. Alteryx’s layout and tools are all built with similar foundations and logic, so using the application as much as possible will help familiarise you to how everything works. This includes looking through the menus on every tool and interface, checking how each tool looks and how they need to be programmed.

This step proved most useful when it came to questions in the exam that asked what tool was used (e.g “choose the appropriate Transform tool”). By knowing the calibration requirements within each tool, I was able to either rule out options or make more informed decisions between options.

2. Use the Prep Guide and Videos

This was my favourite resource when it came to supplementing my existing knowledge, whilst also filling in any fundamental gaps I had. The Prep Guide has an outline of the basic exam structure, but also goes into great detail on almost every tool that can appear in the test. The videos (found on pages 9-11) were ideal in giving basic but thorough tutorials on how every tool functioned, plus included quick practice tests at the end. One thing to note - if you watch the Core Certification Prep videos, only watch Part 4 (the first three are a bit useless).

When you finish with the videos, there are even a few real-life practice questions at the end, bringing up a few of the niche points you might get called up on in the test.

3. Take as many practice tests as possible

Carrying on from the point before, there are a few resources out there that have a couple of practice questions and examples that may come up in the exam. Always give these a go (regardless of how confident you feel) - I think doing questions is the best possible way to learn, particularly if you can spot your own mistakes after you’ve made them.

4. Use the exam format to your advantage

Being an open-book exam, this is one where searching for your answers and help is not only a possibility, but an encouraged option. As the Alteryx help videos state, you will be working with Alteryx in an environment where you can Google answers - so you might as well get good at Googling! Further to this, keep pages with useful info open and ready, so if you want to double-check anything or just confirm an idea, it’s there waiting for you.

The exam is also one with the option to flag questions, a moving time bar (to show how long you have left) and a mix of practical and multiple choice questions. There is significant time pressure if you aren’t careful (2 hours flies by), so my advice is answer the ones you’re sure on, and move on. Flag those you aren’t as confident with and come back to them later. Further to this, the practical questions (whilst far fewer) are worth 3 marks, so do warrant more of your time and energies.

Another thing to keep an eye on is the multiple choice questions’ formats. If they ask for “select all that apply”, there are always two or more correct answers. You can also tell by checking whether the question lets you check more than one answer - if not, there’s only one correct choice. The “select all that apply” questions feature negative marking, so if you aren’t confident about one of your answers, consider not selecting it.

5. Format your workspace

I cannot impress how useful it was to have two screens to work on. I could run through the test, Google solutions and download relevant datasets on one screen, whilst working entirely on Alteryx on the other. One screen will slow you down fairly severely, plus two screens gives you the freedom to use a larger monitor (I find this helps with Alteryx, as more workspace means more freedom to build without restriction).

6. Text Input is your friend

What a tool! The Text Input Tool was something I had neglected to begin with, but I am now a firm advocate, believing in its potential when deployed correctly. Say you have a question in the exam with a simple dataset (one row by one column and a header, for instance), but you’re not 100% sure which answer is correct - what do you do? Instead of taking a 50/50 stab, mock it up! Whack the data into the Text Input, run the question yourself, and then you’ve got a foolproof answer to your issue. It might take a little more time than just working inside the exam, but it definitely helped me through some of the questions I was in two minds about.

7. Learn your data types, file types and shortcuts

These will probably crop up at some point, but aren't necessarily issues you would come across if learning purely on your own. Data types can be sticking points in a few of the questions, so having a firm grasp on your Strings and Numeric fields in particular is extremely valuable. There also also a lot of different file types in Alteryx, ranging from workflows to data files. If you learn the few abbreviations (or, even better, have this page open), you’ll probably have earned another mark without thinking too hard.


8. Alteryx Weekly Challenges

Personally, I’m not the biggest advocate of these (some of the challenges even at the Novice ranking feel like an aggressive learning curve and may dent your confidence), but some of the challenges definitely help with tool familiarisation. They also help by showing how different solutions can be achieved (the community will have found 100 ways of completing each task), and will definitely improve your problem solving within Alteryx as a whole. You can find them here.

9. IT’S FREE - DON’T PANIC!

There are very few free tests you can take every week from the comfort of your own home, but this is one of them. As a result, do not worry about the result! If you don’t pass the first time, you get a breakdown of what areas you struggled on most, so you know where to practice for next time. This is not a test designed to pressure you, but to test the breadth of your knowledge; if anything, retaking the exam just gives you a chance to learn even more.