How I became a Tableau Desktop Certified Associate (and you can too)

Let’s face it, there’s nothing like achieving a goal you’ve set for yourself. With all that’s going on in the world, passing the ‘Tableau Desktop Certified Associate’ exam is definitely one of my personal highlights for 2021 and I’m not done yet … but that’s a different story all together.

In this post I’ll be sharing some of my favourite tips and tricks and give you some insight into how I prepared for the exam and hopefully it’ll give you some new ideas that you can incorporate into your own prep. If you’re interested in getting a taste of the actual exam experience and what to expect, I recommend going through the resource list in one of my previous posts.

Important to note that when I took the exam they were testing version 2020.1, you can view the exam guide here.

Preparing

For most folks getting ready for the exam all starts with reading up on the different topics in the exam prep guide and watching all the videos on Tableau Help. And while that is certainly a valid approach, I knew I needed something a bit more structured to help me work through all the different topics. Especially because there were a few functionalities that I hadn’t actively used at work, and for that reason were more challenging to relate to because I couldn’t put them into context.

I’m aware that this will be different for everyone (and I’m by no means saying you need to invest in a course to pass the exam), but I find that I learn best by doing so I decided to invest in an online exam prep course. You’ll find that the offering for prep courses and test exams has grown considerably over the years. You just have to check what’s currently available on platforms like Udemy which is where I found  “Tableau 2020 Certified Associate Exam Guide A-Z by Kirill Eremenko”. What I really liked about this course were the videos and exercises with exam tips folded in; and the 2 practice exams with the incredibly detailed solution videos which really helped to solidify my learning because it helped me think through what I was doing.

Next to taking the course, I collected tableau articles & community blogs on all the topics in the exam prep guide and read through them. Remember you can use Google during the exam so while you might not need to know every single piece of theory; it helps when you have read the content in Tableau’s Help section and/or at least know which articles you should not skip on. I’m currently working on consolidating all these materials in an easy to search overview and hope to release something in the coming weeks.

💡 Tip: make sure you check what version of Tableau you’ll be tested on. In some cases you may need to look up an article on a specific feature that is no longer relevant in the current (read: latest) release. This came up in the course a few times as well, so it is useful to know how you can look up specific help articles for older versions.

Current URL > help.tableau.com/current/pro/desktop/en-us/default.htm
V2020.1 URL > help.tableau.com/v2020.1/pro/desktop/en-us/default.htm

When it comes to practice, the exam prep guide contains a set of 15 questions which are representative of the actual exam experience. If you’re looking for more, learningtableau.com provides several sets of free practice quizzes which are great for validating your understanding of certain topics; and they also offer a set of 3 practice exams which I believe are $9.99 each ($19.99 for the full set). On the latter I personally found that some of the solutions were a bit dated or not always the most efficient; but it’s still good practice. And for the scope of this particular exam, how you get to a solution is not relevant.

My focus areas

With all the practice exams/tests I took and other blogs I’ve read on the exam experience, this is my shortlist of topics and concepts I paid extra attention to. You will get tested on all if not most of these so make sure are familiar with them.

Boxplots: are you clear on what the different parts of a box & whisker plot are, can you identify them on the plot and do you understand how to interpret the data in the visualization?

Forecasting: do you know how to add/edit, what some of the quality metrics are and when you won’t be able to use this functionality?

Trendlines:  are you familiar with what the different values (P-value/R-squared) represent and how they can change depending on the model you select? My recommendation would be to familiarize yourself with all the different options in the analytics tab (distribution bands & standard deviation etc).

Maps: you’ll get several questions on maps alone (could be theory and/or practice) so make sure you spend extra time on familiarizing yourself with the different map options and layers; and know how (and for what purpose) you can use them. 💡 Tip: it pays to know where you can change units from metric to us.

Unions, blends & joins: another topic on which you’ll be tested on so it pays to understand the differences and under what circumstances one is preferred over the other.

Dashboard actions: knowing the difference between the different actions, how to set them up and how they can impact your visualizations will come in handy during the exam.

Device layouts: be clear on the different options (layout, size etc) and how to add them. Familiarize yourself with the interface, be clear on what goes where and understand the difference between the default and device layouts and how both can be changed.

Sets (& Combined Sets) vs Groups: make sure you’re clear on how they are different and how they behave when placed in the view.

Calculations: do you understand the difference between table calculations and LOD’s and their relationship with the level of granularity in your view? Can you recognize the most common uses cases for each? I found this blog post to be very helpful and I would highly recommend checking out the articles referenced at the end under ‘Learn more about calculations’.

My favourite tips (some borrowed, some newly discovered)

  • When taking the exam, don’t be afraid to skip a question if you find you are not getting anywhere in the first 2 minutes. There are 36 questions to get through and you only have 2 hours so be efficient with how you use your time and flag any question you want to come back to later.
  • This should be obvious but when under pressure it’s easy to miss something. Read your questions! And when the questions are very detailed and lay out specific steps for you to follow; follow them and then double-check.
  • You’ll be taking the exam on a virtual machine and the only applications you can use are Tableau Desktop and Firefox. This means no Excel to quickly check your data or Notepad for taking notes. Learn how to use Tableau for that. 💡 Tip: depending on whether you are using a mac or not, some of your usual shortcuts may not work as expected so know where you can access the options via the browser menu.
  • Keep track of the solutions to your questions by renaming the labels of your worksheet with the question numbers, this will save you time when you want to come back to something later on.
  • You’ll be using the same datasets several times but my recommendation would be to always start with a fresh data source. Some questions will require some data manipulation (joins/unions etc.) so it’s safer to always start from scratch for every question.
  • Use captions to take notes (Worksheet > Show Caption) when needed. For certain questions you might have to run a few scenarios to find the right answer and it helps if you can ‘write down’ down the different answers somewhere making it easier to validate.
  • Always remember the order of operations; especially if you’re solution contains Sets, Top n, Table calculations, LOD’s etc.  
  • When joining data, do a quick check of the data and be on the look-out for duplicate records and how this could impact the calculations you’ll need to use to get to the right solution.
  • Use the ‘Calculation Editor’ to quickly validate the outcome of a calculation and what values could potentially be ignored. It’s a lot more efficient then having to google for the right answer.

Additional resources

For a different viewpoint I highly recommend checking out these posts and Youtube series.

The Tableau Desktop Certified (Qualified) Associate Exam by Sarah Bartlett

Passing the Tableau Desktop Certified exam: My Journey by Anthony Smoak

Preparing for the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate exam by Ella Worsdale

Tableau Certification Exam Tips by SQLBelle

Thanks for reading and good luck with your own certification journey!

Author: Marian Eerens

Tableau Fan, Foodie, Travel, Photography

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