How I Passed the Tableau Certified Data Analyst Exam

I’m proud to announce that I recently passed the Tableau Certified Data Analyst certification. If you found this article, most likely you are looking for a perspective on the exam and how to pass and earn this certification yourself. Here is the story of my journey, which may differ from the typical experience.

I had a New Year’s resolution to add the Tableau Certified Data Analyst certification to my resume because the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate certification I held was due to expire.  If you want to read up on how I passed that older exam, you can find my insights here. Some of those insights will also serve you well on passing the current exam.

I believe that certification has its advantages. It’s a way to signal to potential and current employers that you have some defined level of competency in a targeted skill. It’s also a means to strengthen the case to your employer that you deserve additional compensation (if you are under-compensated). Fortunately, I am compensated fairly now, but this has not always been the case (shout-out to highly competent middle office IT pros toiling away underappreciated, but I digress). Finally, studying allows you to stay up-to-date on the latest tools and trends in your chosen domain.

How Much Experience Do You Need?

The official exam guide states, “The best preparation is role experience and time with the product. To be prepared, candidates are strongly encouraged to have at least 6 months of experience.” I would tend to agree with this if you have used the tool extensively during this time frame. Otherwise, I would recommend at least 1 to 2 years experience with the tool and as a data analyst before attempting to sit for this one. Focus on obtaining the Tableau Specialist certification (it never expires) first before attempting this exam.

Why Did I Get Certified?

For my purposes as a senior manager in a consulting practice, certification certainly has benefits with respect to establishing credibility quickly on new projects. I may hold a manager title but you’ll never pry my hands away from keyboard-centric hands-on technical work, as I enjoy being a technical subject matter expert (and teaching/mentoring others).

Other than employment and signaling purposes, an additional benefit of certification is the personal growth and esteem benefits that you gain from tackling a goal. My body of work is visible online and I have years of relevant experience, thus certification is not something I necessarily needed but something I desired.

The main difference between the new Certified Data Analyst exam and the older Desktop Certified Associate exam is that you will now be tested on Tableau Prep, Tableau Server and Tableau Online. Having to understand aspects of Server and Online were initial concerns I held before taking this test.

I have about 7 years of experience between Tableau Public & Desktop and about a year of experience with Tableau Prep so that was not an issue. I have used Tableau Server to publish my dashboards while on a project at a large Fortune 500 company, but I would by no means consider myself a server expert. I’ve used Prep to transform data for clients without issue as it is easy to pick up with exposure and usage. Look at this listing of domain items covered on the exam.

My strategy to compensate for a lack of deep hands on experience in Domain 4 was to perform really well on all the other domains. Using this strategy, I could still potentially score 91% max (assuming I miss every Domain 4 question which would be highly improbable). If you are like me and have deep knowledge of Tableau Desktop, then you should be fine. Do not use a lack of server experience as an excuse to avoid certification. Simply read up on publishing content at these links and you should have a fighting chance. Personally, I found the Certified Data Analyst exam to be somewhat easier than the Desktop Certified Associate exam. Not easy, just a little bit easier with respect to the Tableau Desktop asks.

This Tableau Prep link could prove useful as well:

Another difference between the Certified Data Analyst exam and the older Desktop Certified Associate exam is the presence of a hands-on lab portion. I honestly found this to be the easiest section on the test, although your mileage may vary. There was one question that had me stumped only because I wasn’t sure what was being asked so I built a visual that probably did not reflect the ask. Other than that 1 question, I felt that I nailed this section.

The official exam guide states, “Candidates are encouraged to comment on items in the exam. Feedback from all comments is considered when item performance is reviewed prior to the release of new versions of exam content.” In hindsight, I should have left a comment on the question stating “unclear”.

For the hands on lab (I’m not sharing anything that isn’t already on the exam guide), definitely be familiar with filter and highlight actions, how to use a TOP N filter, how to use parameters with filters, labels, and how to add reference lines and perform custom sorting.

How Did I Prepare?

Honestly, I meant to prepare for at least a week beforehand, but life got in the way. Thus, I literally crammed my review into the span of 7 hours the Saturday before sitting the exam. I do not recommend this if you are not well versed in the tool. I simply needed to review some concepts. The listing at this website provides great links to official Tableau documentation for the subject areas covered on the exam.

Results

I completed the exam with about 35 minutes to spare. After I submitted my results online, I only had to wait an hour before I received an email stating that I had a score available. This is in stark contrast to when the beta exam was in effect. I heard that results would take months to process. I cleared the 75% hurdle despite studying for only a few hours and not having deep experience with Tableau server. I could have easily scored higher given more study time, but I was happy to pass the exam given the meager study time I allotted to the task. I’m not saying that the test was easy, I’m just fortunate that I’ve had enough experience with Desktop that I could “sacrifice” in other areas and still make it across the finish line. This strategy may not work for you if you have under a year’s experience with the tool.

Focus on These Subject Areas:

However, here is the section you came for, this is my abridged list of test focus areas. Make sure to focus on these subject areas to give yourself a good shot at passing the exam.

Start here: Here are 5 useful videos from my catalog that you should review to level up for the exam. I promise they are worth your time and will help you prepare. Do me a favor and like the videos to help others find the content as well!

I used this link to acquire access to a free practice exam: https://savvy-data-science.ck.page/1ec0f2d5a8

Additionally focus on these areas from the exam study guide:

  • INDEX function
  • Parameters
  • TOP N Filter
  • Context Filters / Data Source Filters
  • DENSERANK
  • Exporting Options
  • Sets
  • Extracts
  • DATETRUNC, DATEPART, DATENAME
  • Map Density
  • Percent Difference
  • Know How to Interpret a Box-Plot
  • Know How to Build Dual Axis Charts
  • Understand FIXED LODs
  • Understand TOTAL vs SUM
  • Understand Hierarchies
  • Understand Show Hide Container Functionality
  • Design for Mobile Layouts
  • Blending Data
  • Know How to Add Totals to Charts
  • SPLIT Function
  • Row Level Shading

Also follow Jared Flores as he has a great YouTube channel focused on Tableau Prep.

Best of luck to you. I know that you can pass this test if you have decent hands on experience with the tool. For those of you without a Tableau license, use Tableau Public to study and fill in gaps by reading blogs, watching videos and using Tableau official documentation. I believe in you!

Need Personal Data Tutoring?

Are you a beginner that needs help understanding data topics in Tableau (or Excel/SQL) and would like someone with experience to discuss your problem? If so, contact me here to schedule a 1 on 1 virtual meetup. Make sure to describe the concept that you are trying to learn in the message so I can understand if I can help. Depending upon your ask and time required we can discuss cost. Access to Tableau Public will cover most of your study needs regarding the Tableau Desktop sections and lucky for you, that is a FREE tool.

About Me (Data background):

  • Experience: 15 Years Industry + 8 Years Analytics Consulting
  • Tableau Certified Data Analyst
  • 2X Tableau Ambassador
  • MBA – Georgia Institute of Technology
  • M.S. Information Management – Syracuse University
  • B.S. Computer Science – Clark Atlanta University
  • Certified Business Intelligence Professional
  • YouTube 2.5 Million Views on my Analytics Channel

Image :@anthonysmoakdata (Instagram)

All views and opinions are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer

I appreciate everyone who has supported this blog and my YouTube channel via merch. Please check out the logo shop here.

Thank you!!

Anthony B Smoak

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Passing the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate Exam: My Journey

I’m Tableau certified and with some study time and focus, you can become Tableau certified as well.

As of this year, I can say that I, Anthony B. Smoak passed the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate exam. I already hold the Certified Business Professional (CBIP) designation which is product agnostic and a great certification for a data consultant and data blogger to showcase (apologies for the humblebrag). Read up on my experiences with that certification here.

Although my Tableau certification aim started as a mere whim, it morphed into a full time goal by the time 2020 rolled around. We all know 2020 has been a challenging year for most of us, I’ve tried to do my best to make it redeemable by continuing to learn and up-skill. And because you’re reading this post, my assumption is you are too! Great minds think alike.

Why did I want to pursue the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate certification?

  • I run a YouTube Channel and blog focused on data tools; Tableau content is the most salient feature of these passion projects. Becoming Tableau Certified helps convince you that I know what I’m talking about.
  • Clients respect credibility. I recently delivered a data visualization workshop at a well known Fortune 20 company and being certified as well being a Tableau Public Ambassador helped establish my bona fides.
  • The more you study, the more you learn. It was refreshing to brush up on some basic functionality and even learn some new intermediate tricks while prepping for the exam.
  • Just like you, I found myself with a bit more time in 2020 to start acting on neglected data goals. When the world shakes off 2020 (please make it stop) and starts getting back to normal, people will ask ‘How did you better yourself during the downtime’. My answer will be Tableau (and fostering a boxer puppy, but that is for another blog post).

As my exam time came about, I logged in to the testing website and my proctor had me share my license to prove that it was indeed me taking the test. I also had to show that my physical table (not in the Tableau context) was clear of any papers or other materials. Once that was clear it was off to the races. Although you will have 2 hours to complete the exam, make sure to account for at least 30 minutes of setup time before you actually start the test.

Of course I don’t remember exact questions and wouldn’t share any even if I did but I do recall thinking that I had a good handle on most of the material. There were only two questions where I was completely stumped and had to take a guess. The test is timed and by the time I finished answering every question, there was only about 10 minutes left to review my 36 answers.

For some of the more esoteric questions on product minutiae, Google is your friend. The test is mostly open internet which can be helpful on these small detail-like questions. But remember, you are balancing Google searching against test answering time.

I did not need to use Google during the hands-on assessment questions. You either need to confidently know how Tableau works or you’ll find yourself playing defense and guessing.

Fun Fact: the Firefox browser on the virtual machine only displayed search results in Japanese (ども ありがと) and it took me awhile to figure out how to set English as the default language.

In short, the test was by no means easy, but with time and adequate preparation you’ll be successful. I’d say a good 7-8 months of Tableau use and 3 to 4 weeks of study time should get you where you need to be.

To prepare for the test, take a look at the official Exam Guide.

However, here is the section you came for, my abridged list of test focus areas.

How to Get Started with Tableau

Using Tableau Public is the best way to get started learning Tableau if you don’t have a Desktop license. Download Tableau Public and practice at home because it’s free to use! The functionality is practically the same as Tableau Desktop, you just have to save your content to the cloud instead of locally.

Practice on this dataset. It is the default dataset (Tableau Superstore) that comes with the licensed version of Tableau, but you can download it from data.world thanks to Tableau Zen Master Ann Jackson.

Fast Track:

If you just want to jump right in to dash-boarding you can start with two video series I have in this playlist:

  • Build a Tableau Dashboard Parts 1-4
  • Tableau How to Build A Dashboard 
  • Tableau How to Format A Dashboard 

Slower Track to learn functionality:

Watch everything in the Creator section except Tableau Prep which is a separate tool.

https://www.tableau.com/learn/training/20202

https://www.tableau.com/learn/starter-kits

Linkedin also has 4.5 hours of free Tableau training in a course here:

https://www.linkedin.com/learning/paths/become-a-data-analyst

Visualization Techniques:

I took this course when I was first starting out. It’s a bit more academic with respect to visualization techniques but useful nonetheless.

https://www.coursera.org/specializations/data-visualization

Then after about 3 months take the Tableau Specialist Certification.

https://www.tableau.com/learn/certification/desktop-specialist

Once you’ve built up confidence after passing the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam, keep practicing and then sit for the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate Exam.

Heed my advice and you will become Tableau Certified! Keep at it and one day you’ll be opening up Ambassador Swag from Tableau.

I’m rooting for you!

All views and opinions are solely my own and do NOT necessarily reflect those of my employer.

“Do Great Things with Your Data!”

Anthony B. Smoak

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels