My experience of the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate Exam

I was pretty blown away by the response I got from my recent successful Tableau Associate Certification on Twitter so I decided to share my experiences in the hope that maybe one or two of the tips will help those in the future.

Resources I used –
Weeks before the exam

Firstly, there are a couple of really good Blog posts I read more than once when preparing for the exam.

  • This blog by Sarah Bartlett has 8 really useful tips on how to approach the exam.
  • This is a great resource by Elias Nordlinder covering lots of elements to the exam, both Associate and Specialist and covers all elements of preparation and good content as well.

And there were two main learning resources I used specifically for the exam.

LearningTableau.Com – This was extremely useful as it has a number of practice quizzes, questions and for a reasonable price three full length practice exams. I found the questions similar in style to the exam but more importantly it got me into the rhythm of the style of questions that would come up.

Emin Cengay’s Tableau Desktop Certified Associate YouTube video – This is a very useful watch to help prepare for the exam conditions on the day itself but if you watch the video there is also a link to a Udemy course by Emin which goes into great detail around the main concepts that will be tested in the exam and also includes two full length exams to try. Similar to the LearningTableau exams the questions are good and it’s a great help to get exam ready.

Preparation for the Exam – Recreate the environment –
Days before the exam

If at all possible try and recreate the environment you will be experiencing in the exam, for me this meant

  • A different room.  Because I wanted to have a hardwired LAN connection rather than a wifi one I moved my iMac downstairs.
  • One screen.  This is a big one.  If you are used to multiple screens when working then getting some practice with one is going to be really important.  When taking the exam you can only use one screen and this is checked by the proctor.
  • You’ll get an email in advance from the exam board with some pre-exam instructions.  Log into your portal a few days beforehand and you’ll see a countdown until the exam.  Even logging in and ensuring you know the login details will save potential panic on exam day.
  • Try using Tableau with the mouse avoiding keyboard shortcuts as the virtual environment doesn’t accept everything.  I didn’t even try Alt+Tab just in case it threw me out of the virtual environment!

Connecting to the Proctor –
Minutes before the Exam

Beforehand, reading the various instructions it seemed like the Proctor element might be a bit troublesome.  I read that it could take up to 30 minutes to connect to the Proctor!

Luckily it was far simpler than that.  But, do be ready to enable microphones, speakers and I also had to download and install a new Zoom style video call app called GoToMeeting.  You might want to do that beforehand.

If you have a portable WebCam, use it.  Unfortunately for me I don’t and just have the camera on the front of the iMac.  This made verification of a clean and clear living space slightly challenging and involved me having to pick up the iMac (while being careful not to pull the plug out) and hovering it in various positions across the desk and living room.

Finally, the exam began. The virtual environment isn’t the best and certainly very different to my normal set up so you might find yourself spending a minute of two playing with the windows to get them into decent positions. It didn’t really make a huge difference, the practical questions aren’t so complicated that you need a whole screen to solve them.

You’ve got time, pace it out –
During the Exam

The questions are balanced between theoretical and practical and I tended to get two or three on one type before two or three on the next.  The questions didn’t get progressively more difficult so it was possible to pace and ensure that there was enough time at the end.

I tried to do this pretty simply, if I was at question 18 or later half way in then I was on track.  In the end I hit the hour mark on about question 23.  Don’t forget to build in time to go back to any flagged questions.

Don’t second guess and use Google! – Practical vs Theoretical  – During the Exam

Personally, I found the practical questions easier.  It’s much more straightforward to know if you are right or wrong.  Typically I built my view, got an answer and then checked whether it was an available option.  In most cases it was and I simply reconfirmed my filters, calculations and moved on.  On a couple of occasions the answer wasn’t there, in these cases I resolved all but one by re-reading the question and correcting something.  There was only one that I really didn’t have any idea about and had to guess.  

The key is to breakdown the question and work through the view in a logical way.  Apply the filters first, then get the right level of detail in the view (Category, Region etc) and then look at the calculations, sets, groups etc you might need.  Whilst we all want to solve the question using the most elegant approach in Tableau, ultimately, you just need to get the answer right and that’s the beauty about Tableau, there is more than one way to do something.  There were times when I’m sure the correct approach flew out of my head so I ended up doing something completely different.  That’s OK, it’s the result that’s important here.  

On the theoretical side, the good thing is that they are multiple choice, the bad thing is that some of the questions are (Select all that apply).  This led to a lot of second guessing so I would probably suggest two things 1) trust your instincts and 2) USE GOOGLE.  This is allowed so take advantage.  I found a couple of the answers were almost word for word from the Tableau Help website so definitely look for these in the returned results.  Clearly Google isn’t going to help every question and it has the potential to be a time burner so use it wisely.

Where’s my certificate?! –
After the exam

Obviously I was really happy and wanted to run upstairs, tell my wife, do the #CertifiablyTableau tweet and so opened up my dashboard expecting to see the download certificate option.


The page hadn’t changed and the exam looked like it hadn’t even started.  In fact, the “reschedule exam” button was there!  “Oh no, the Proctor had shut down the session too quickly, I’ve lost my hard earned result!”  I even emailed the exam board helpdesk to see what had happened.

They told me to wait, it can take up to 48 hours to receive the notification, certificate etc.  Luckily within about 30 minutes everything had come through and I was able to celebrate properly.  That last part may well be a reflection on my personality but the slight worry did take the edge of initially so remember, the result doesn’t come through immediately!

I hope sharing some of these experiences will help when you come to take your certification and assist in some small way to a successful result.  

Thanks for reading.

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