Tableau Desktop Certified Associate Exam: My Top Tips

by Joe Stokes

So, a couple of weeks ago I passed the exam and am now a qualified associate. Along with my new shiny badge on LinkedIn, it’s a real step forward in my Data School Journey. I thought I would share some tips on how I approached the exam for anyone looking to take it.

The exam is multiple choice, some of which are knowledge-based questions and some of which will require you to use Tableau to build a Viz or use a dashboard answer the question.

I’ll be talking about how to prepare for the exam and doing the exam itself. For details on how to book and the structure of the exam, check out this blog.

  • Practice, Practice, Practice!!

It’s an obvious start but come on, what else could I go with?

Seriously though, to become Tableau Certified you need to know Tableau. The best way to know Tableau is use the software loads. You’ll be asked in the exam to build a chart to answer a question. If you’ve logged enough time with Tableau, being able to recall a time you’ve built the table or answered a similar question is going to be priceless and the difference between getting the question right and wrong.

Makeover Monday is a great way to get practicing, the datasets are generally fairly ready for use and will get you creating various visualisations that will stand you in great stead for the exam. Beyond this try out Workout Wednesday or just find some data yourself and show yourself around Tableau. Of course, there are lots of YouTube videos and tutorials online, all adding your arsenal for the exam.

  • Google is your friend

It’s an open book exam, which means you can use the internet to help answer the questions. A large part of any job in IT is being able to dynamically solve problems you run into. Are you able to quickly find the right resources to help you solve the issue? I would recommend doing some research into resources that work for you. Videos are not practical in the situation so stick to text-based resources. The Tableau community is thriving and I can nearly guarantee if you have a question someone would have asked it and got a detailed answer.

Learn to scan quickly and draw out what you need for the answer, don’t spend time reading every single word, you don’t have time!

  • Ever in doubt, flag!

I was feeling pretty confident before the exam started, but after the first five questions it was code red panic stations. Thank the lord for flagging. You are given the option to flag the question, move on and come back to it. There is a small box on the right of the screen that shows you all 36 questions, if completed they change colour, but if incomplete they remain the same. If you flag the question there is a small flag shown next to the question number.

Basically for me, when I couldn’t answer the first question I got nervous and I wasn’t able to think straight. I ended up flagging the first four questions that my panicked brain found impossible until I found something I was confident on. Once I had got a few correct I’d settled myself down. If I wasn’t sure on a question I either didn’t answer and flagged or had a go and flagged to come back to it. I tried not to spend more than two minutes on a question.

After I had seen and considered all 36 questions I was then able to go back to each flagged question and take my time answering them. Actually, after settling myself down and knowing I was confident on a good chunk of the exam I was able to think more clearly and logically work through the flagged questions without the fear of the unknown looming over me (the questions further on).

You’ll also find by flagging a question you are subconsciously thinking about the question and actually sometimes you’ll click and be able to go back and easily answer it. The absolute last thing you want to do is spend loads of time on a question, eating into your time on other questions. All this will do is raise anxiety and negatively affect your performance. If you really can’t answer it, it isn’t the end of the world! You need 75% correct answers to pass, don’t sweat it.

  • Past Papers

The internet is stacked full of resources and practice questions or past papers are around. Tableau itself in the Prep Guide offers 15 practice questions to give you an idea of what you’re facing. If you can spare a couple of hours some time, having a run through is a great idea. You’ll familiarise yourself with the exam conditions, practice Googling for answers and won’t go into the exam completely blind. Again, the Tableau community will come in so handy, either by providing example questions or helping you out with some of the trickier questions with solutions.

  • Create new Data Sources and Sheets for each question

When you’re in the midst of an exam and you’re moving from question to question it can be easy to answer one question, clear your sheet and go for the next one. This stops you from being able to go back and check your method for each question, or even realise you’ve made an error and tweaking your viz. Try and take a few seconds to name each sheet with the question number. This will save you time down the line when you’re not having to click through each sheet and see if it correlates to the correct answer. You’ll be connecting to multiple data sources to answer different parts of the exam, again don’t remove any of your data sources, just connect to new ones and keep your old work there to go over again.

There you have it, best of luck with your exam!

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