Discuss the latest changes on the exam post-Oct 2021, and how to prepare for it
Published in · 13 min read · Nov 30, 2021
13 min read
Nov 30, 2021
When you land in this post, it is likely that you are trying to find some reviews or posts on what are the changes in the latest Tableau Desktop Certification exam post-Oct 2021, how is the exam looks like, and how you shall prepare for the exams considering the new changes.
Not to worry, I have been in your place as well! I have just passed my exam with a decent score (903/1000), would love to share my reviews about the latest changes in the exam, as well as my journey on how to prepare for the test. Let’s dive in!
Before going into details about the exam and how to prepare for it, let’s start with some basic introduction about the certification itself. Tableau offers several certifications for people to demonstrate their knowledge around Tableau, one of the most popular visualization tools used by various companies and organizations. Among their available certifications, Tableau Desktop Specialist Certification is the most foundational one which tests the basic product knowledge about Tableau Desktop.
To pass the exam, you need to score at least 750 marks out of 1000 from the 40 scored multiple-choice questions (p.s. there will be a total of 45 questions available in the exam with 5 of them unscored, however, you will not know which are the 5 unscored questions). Compared with some other more advanced Tableau certifications, Desktop Specialist Certification does not have an expiry date, so you do not need to worry too much about renewing it every two or three years.
When you first start to consider getting Tableau certified, you have probably encountered another certification option that also focuses on Tableau Desktop skillsets — Tableau Certified Data Analyst. In fact, this certification is newly introduced several months ago, and now it is still in the beta phase. It is considered a more advanced level of certification from the following perspective:
- Concepts coverage: if you compare the exam prep guide between Specialist and Data Analyst, you will realize that the data analyst certification exam covers some more advanced topics, and is more in-depth in terms of understanding and applications. For instance, the data analyst exam would text on topics such as Tableau Prep (for data preparation), various LOD calculation concepts, and it will touch on the tableau server (or Tableau Online) side of concepts as well, which are not covered in the specialist exam.
- Exam Format: for the specialist exam, with the latest updates it is now purely theory-based MCQs without hands-on questions, whereas for the data analyst exam you will have a hands-on lab session. Correspondingly, the time duration for both exams also differs due to the additional coverage for the data analyst exam (60 mins for specialist exam v.s. 150 mins for data analyst exam). Both exams have the same passing score (750/1500) and are delivered via the Pearson Vue platform.
- Experience Level: for the tableau specialist exam, it is recommended that you have at least ~3 months of experience using Tableau. In the case of the data analyst exam, given it covers more concepts with more details, the recommended tableau-related experience would be >6 months.
- Title Validity: Last but not least, it is worthy to mention that the specialist certification has no expiration date, whereas the data analyst title is only valid for 2 years since it is a more advanced level certification.
Now you know the differences between these 2 certifications, but which one should you go for? For my case, I go for the specialist certification with the following considerations.
Firstly, I do not really have a rich experience in Tableau or even visualization in general, since I just started to work on Tableau-related tasks from Sep 2021 — which makes it ~3 months of experience for me in Tableau thus far. Additionally, when I was considering which certification to go for 2 months back, it happened that Tableau was making some important changes (which I will cover in more detail in the next section), where they are retiring the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate (for those who are new to the game, you can think of it like the old version of data analyst certification)by end of Oct 2021. So for me, it appears that going for the specialist one is a safer choice given all the changes taking place and my limited experience in Tableau.
Having said that, if you are really serious about Tableau, or you are planning to use it intensively in your daily works, then becoming a certified Tableau Data Analyst definitely adds more weight to your profile. However, since the data analyst certification exam is still quite new(now still in the beta testing phase), you might need to spend some more effort on finding relevant information, or guidelines in the community on how to prepare for it more efficiently. If you are just starting your journey in Tableau, or just starting to look for entry-level career opportunities related to Tableau, perhaps the specialist certification is not a bad choice to build a good foundation as a first step.
As I just mentioned, there are some new adjustments to the Tableau Desktop Specialist Certification exam. This section will help in case you have started on the exam preparation earlier with the old exam guidelines, but now you have to take the test in the latest format. The changes are summarized as follows:
- Exam Format: in the old version of the exam, there are both hands-on questions and theory-based questions. By hands-on questions, it means you will be given some dataset and use Tableau desktop to manipulate the data and obtain the correct answer. However in the latest version, there are no more hands-on questions — they are replaced by more knowledge-based questions.
- Accessibility of Tableau Desktop/Tableau User Manual: since now the exam is purely theory-based, during the exam you will no longer have the access to Tableau Desktop or Internet, which was available in the old exam. To me, this is one of the most significant changes, as the way you prepare for the exam could change a lot depending on if you have access to the actual software or user manual. With the Tableau Desktop software handy, you do not need to worry too much about the detailed menu options in the Tableau formatting, etc since you can check it conveniently, but now you have to memorize those things by heart.
- The coverage of topics: while there are no major changes in the topics covered, there are some still small adjustments in place. For instance, the topic of relationship v.s. join is newly added in the syllabus, which is also tested quite frequently in the actual exam. Another example is that the topic of animation is now available, which was not covered previously as well. In a nutshell, always refer to the latest exam guide for the topics covered in the latest exam.
Although I have not taken the old version of the exam before, my personal feeling about the changes is that the difficulty level for people who are less experienced in Tableau has increased. For things that you would know by exploring around in Tableau Desktop, such as how to change the font color of the tooltips in your visualization in different ways, now you have to memorize the exact options by heart to be able to get the score. In the next section, I will share some of my experiences in preparing for the exam.
1. Read through the Exam Prep Guide
This is perhaps the most important document that you need to read through carefully. Regardless of your experience in Tableau, I would recommend you spend some time to understand what are the key knowledge points covered in the exam. Along the way of your preparation, it’s even better that you could revisit this document on and off to build connections between what you have learned, and the knowledge points listed in this guide. In fact, if you are able to explain every single item in this guide clearly to another person, elaborating on the what, how, and why for most of the concepts, you are in a good shape in general.
2. Learn/Review Tableau Knowledge
Now you know briefly what would be covered in the exam, time to study for it! At this stage, the way you learn (or revisit) Tableau really depends on your current knowledge level and your learning preferences.
- For Experienced Tableau Desktop Developers:
If you are already a very experienced Tableau developer with years of experience in Tableau, and you are only taking the exam to renew your certification, or building up your resume for potential career opportunities, you could spend minimum time in this step. Perhaps you can just go through the exam prep guide again and only focus on those sections where you need a memory refresh. After this, you may go straight for the mock tests available online to check if you are really ready for the exam later on.
- For People new to Tableau (< 3 months’ experience)
On the other hand, if you are like me, who just started the journey in Tableau months ago, perhaps it is a good idea to learn the concepts in a more structured manner. Here are a few options you could consider:
- Tableau training materials (Free!): In fact, if you do not want to spend extra dollars on the training, Tableau has lots of resources in place for you, free of charge! If you prefer to learn through reading blogs, the Tableau Knowledge Base page offers all the information you need to pass the exam — you could simply search for relevant topics listed in the exam prep guide, and learn relevant concepts while following some of the examples inside. If you are a more visual person, there are also free training videos that you can follow through, where most of the relevant topics are covered under the Creator section.
- Udemy Tableau Training Courses ($20–$200 SGD): This is the option I have opted for. There are plenty of Tableau training courses available in Udemy, specifically designed to cover the relevant topics outlined in the exam prep guide. Just a few tips on how to choose the right course among the others:
- Check when was the course last updated. This is especially important given the recent changes in the exam. Typically a good course instructor will always update their courses accordingly based on the latest changes, and they tend to have more frequent announcements in place to explain what has been updated in his/her course. Don’t go into those courses with the last update date back in 2020.
- Check the latest student feedbacks and ratings. Though it sounds like a given, going for the top rating courses is usually not a bad idea. I personally would always leave positive comments and a good rating for the courses that I enjoy.
- Check the course outline and syllabus. In the beginning, I have enrolled in a few different courses since I am not sure which one to go for. In the end, I selected the course which is more aligned with the exam guide — that is, the instructor will cover each individual topic in the exam prep guide, and specifically mark the topics in the titles of each video. I find this is more effective for exam preparation, where if later you wanna have a review of certain topics, you could quickly identify relevant videos. There are some other instructors following another teaching style, where they will come up with several projects and try to cover relevant topics throughout the projects. I found this approach is a bit unstructured, and some topics might not be covered in the end.
- Pick the right time to purchase! In case you are new to Udemy, there are very frequent promotions ongoing where you could spend less money to purchase the course (as much as 90%+ off!). So once you decide on the course to take, make sure to select the right timing to buy as well.
3. Tableau Official Training Courses ($120 USD): Tableau does offer this official training for self-paced learnings. I have not taken this myself personally, but there are some positive feedbacks that I have seen from those who mainly use this as a reference for exam preparation. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments if you have taken this path!
3. Try out Some Practical Tests
Now you have gone through the training, time to assess if you are ready for the exam! There are actually 3 sample questions attached at the end of the exam prep guide, but perhaps doing a few practical tests would help you gain more confidence in passing the exams in one shot. One of the additional benefits of doing mock tests is that you could identify some “blind spots” that you did not pay attention to earlier so that you could revisit those concepts in time.
There are plenty of resources out there when you google for “Tableau Desktop Specialist Practical Exams” or similar terms. In my case, I go for some mock tests on the Udemy platform, since the reviews from users seem to be quite positive. Here similar guidelines of selecting Udemy courses shall apply for the mock tests as well, you should look for those tests updated recently considering the latest changes in the exam format. Based on my actual experience in the exam, I would say these practical tests really help a lot, at least the way they set up the questions and the topics they focus on match quite well with the exam.
4. Hands-on Tableau Software
This point perhaps only applies to those who are still new to Tableau. If you are using Tableau now in your day-to-day work, I would suggest taking notes for the issues you have encountered along the way. Try to be more familiar with the Tableau Desktop interface and different menu options. If possible, you can find out if there are multiple ways to complete the same task in Tableau. For instance, what are the options available if you want to change the font of the tooltips? In what types of charts you could change the shape of marks? The more hands-on experience you have when exploring these things, the easier for you when you are preparing for the exam.
- Complete the system test prior to your exam. Tableau is now partnering with Pearson VUE to deliver the tests. Once you schedule your exam, you will receive a confirmation email with one link inside asking you to test your system. Just follow the instructions outlined and complete all the tests then you will be fine. On the exam day itself, you will be going through the same process as what you have done in the system test to start your exam.
- Ensure that you follow the guidelines in the confirmation email. On the exam day, make sure you are alone in a quiet room with a clear desktop, you shall only have your laptop (with webcam function tested), phone, and government-issued photo ID with you. Make sure your network works fine as well — although if you have unexpected network issues you can reach out to the proctor, as much as possible try to secure a reliable network in the first place
- Log in to the exam 30 mins earlier to start the check-in process to allow for any troubleshooting. Basically, you will need to take pictures of your surrounding environment with your phone, and then the proctor will call you (via the software you have tested earlier on) to clarify if they have any further queries. For me, this process took around 15 mins to complete on the actual exam day. You can actually start the exam earlier if all are good with the check-in process, though the overall time given will still be 60 mins to finish the test.
- Mark the questions you are not sure about and revisit them later on. In the exam interface, it allows you to mark the question to revisit later on conveniently. By doing this it could also help you avoid wasting too much time thinking for certain questions earlier on, as 60 mins are not that long considering we have 45 questions to complete. In my case, I am left with ~15 mins after the first pass, for the remaining time, I can then focus on the questions that I am not very sure about earlier on.
Overall, I would say if you are comfortable with the practical tests we talked about earlier on, you should be fine to pass the exam. Having said that, I would say the questions in the actual exam are designed in a way that requires some in-depth understanding of the relevant concepts, and you have to be very familiar with the terminologies that Tableau uses. For example, when they test the concepts related to the relationship/join feature in Tableau, they will not just list out the original statements listed in the user manual. Instead, they will rephrase the sentences, or use some examples to showcase the differences between relationship and join, and let you identify which are the correct answers.
For my case in the exam, out of the 45 questions asked, I marked ~12 to 15 questions in the first pass for review. In the second pass, I managed to decide on the answers for most of the marked questions exclusion methods, but still, there are 2 to 3 questions that I have not really covered in my review, so I have to make the best guess for those questions in the end. Luckily, you only need to score 750 marks out of 1000 to pass the exam, so there is some room for you to make mistakes. But still, if you really want to pass the exam in one shot, doing sufficient preparation beforehand will make you more confident on the exam day.
That’s about it! I hope this post will be helpful for your preparation for the Tableau Desktop Specialist Certification exam with the updated format. I am sure you will learn a lot in this journey, and become more knowledgeable in Tableau at the same time. Feel free to add a comment if you have any questions about this, or you would love to share some experience of your own. All the best to your exam!
About the Author
It's TJ here, I enjoy learning data analysis-related topics and sharing knowledge via blogging. In case you are considering joining Medium membership, you may use my referral link here: https://medium.com/@tianjie1112/membership
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