Updated September 2019: The Tableau ‘Qualified Associate’ exam is now known as the ‘Certified Associate’ exam. The exam format and content remains the same, only the name has been updated. 

Updated October 2018: Tableau offer three levels of Desktop Certification; Specialist, Qualified Associate and Certified Professional. The Specialist Certification is a new entry-level exam Tableau launched in October 2018. If you are interested in taking the Specialist exam, I suggest you read this exam guide.

This post will focus on the Tableau Qualified Associate Certification. Tableau suggests sitting the Qualified Associate exam after 5+ months of Tableau Desktop experience. They also recommend completing the Desktop I: Fundamentals and Desktop II: Intermediate training courses in advance of the exam. You can read more about the exam prerequisites here.

Note: The Specialist Certification is not a prerequisite for the Qualified Associate Certification. However, you will need to pass the Qualified Associate Certification before taking the Certified Professional exam. 

Whilst I’ve only just begun my Tableau Certification journey, I felt compelled to write this post. I am a huge advocate of getting certified and I often speak to people considering taking the Tableau Desktop Qualified Associate exam; the first exam in the Tableau Desktop certification journey (at the time of writing). I always direct others to resources which I believe to be useful, aside from those provided by Tableau themselves as it’s likely they will have already come across those.

In the past I have referred others to the following resources from others in the community;

  1. Mark Edwards‘ blog post on his certification experience: Points of Viz
  2. Joanna Hemmingway‘s Tiny Tableau Talks talk on her certification journey: YouTube
  3. Zen Master Emma Whyte: “Why I became Tableau Certified”

Since taking the exam myself I have come across more resources which you may find useful too;

  1. Fi Gordon’s – “Tableau Quest – Achievement Unlocked From Rookies to Rock Stars“. Fi developed a framework to help guide analysts on their certification journey from beginner to being certification-ready. This framework is particularly useful for team leaders or managers looking to guide multiple analysts through their certification journey. Fi also gave a presentation on her Tableau Quest program at the 2018 Tableau Conference which you can watch here.
  2. Louise Le“How to Prepare for your Tableau Specialist or Qualified Associate Exam”
  3. Marian Eerens“Getting Ready for the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam – Going Back to Basics”
  4. Lisa CarlsenPreparing for the Tableau Desktop Specialist Certification
  5. Paula MunozTableau Desktop Qualified Associate Exam Preparation and Study Resources

These posts should give you an honest overview of the exam experience and how best to prepare yourself.

Here I want to document my personal experience and offer some tips that might not be covered in the other posts.

My Experience

I’ve been using Tableau Desktop for around 4 years and had been pondering sitting the Tableau Desktop Qualified Associate exam for some time.

I delayed sitting the exam for various reasons; some of which were beyond my control but many of which were confidence-related. I thought to myself things like “What if I don’t pass?” or “What will others think of me if I fail?”. I’m sure most people experience similar feelings of self-doubt before sitting any exam and this is completely natural. Nobody wants to fail.

Last week I decided enough was enough and I needed to book the exam once and for all. So what if I failed! It wouldn’t be the end of the world and I could always take the exam again. To avoid giving myself too much time to worry I booked the exam on Monday and sat the exam on Wednesday. I had already done some exam prep before booking the exam and was confident I would have enough time to revisit any areas where I felt less confident in advance of the test.

When Wednesday arrived I was actually looking forward to the exam. I revisited my notes one final time then when I was ready moved to the meeting room at work I had booked for the exam. To ensure nobody disturbed me mid-exam I stuck a note on the door stating I wasn’t to be disturbed. The last thing I wanted was somebody walking in halfway through! When I was ready I logged onto the online portal and waited for the proctor to join. The proctor is an online exam invigilator who watches you through your webcam whilst taking the test to ensure you aren’t cheating or doing anything that breaks the rules. This sounds a lot more creepy than it actually is! My proctor was friendly and helped to put me at ease. He talked through how everything worked and where the files I would need were saved on the virtual computer. Once you start the exam you completely forget the proctor is there.

The exam is two hours long but I completed mine early. In my opinion two hours is plenty of time for anyone competent with Tableau to complete the exam. One good thing about this exam is that you’re given your results immediately after completion, leaving you no time to worry about the result and how you performed. After hitting the “Submit” button I nervously waited for a few seconds as my scores were calculated. I was both relieved and delighted to see the “Congratulations! You’ve passed” message on my screen! Even my proctor congratulated me which was nice of him.

Part of me enjoyed the exam experience. There really is nothing to be afraid of and it’s good to be able to verify your Tableau knowledge and hold a certificate to prove it. Tableau Zen Master Ann Jackson wrote a fantastic post about ‘The Importance of Certification’ and I agree with the points raised in her post. So much so, I’m already in the process of preparing for my Tableau Desktop Certified Professional exam. Watch this space!!

My Exam Tips

If you are considering sitting the exam yourself (and I highly recommend you do), here are some tips which may help you.

Tip #1 Read the Tableau Exam Prep Guide & take the practice paper

I found this to be really useful & is a fair representation of the real thing. Make a note of any questions you struggled with a revisit these areas before sitting your exam.

Tip #2 Visit LearningTableau.com & take the hands-on analysis & knowledge quizzes

LearningTableau.com is a fantastic site and has everything you need to make your exam prep as seamless as possible. I found the practice quizzes and solutions to be extremely useful. I would recommend working through all of the example questions. If you are unsure on anything there are step-by-step answers available too. There’s even a practice exam paper available (this costs around £7 but is well worth the money).

Tip #3 Study Trend Lines and gain an understanding of p-squared & r-values

This might seem like a strange tip but as part of the exam you’re expected to know how to plot different types of trend lines and determine which is the best fit. In my practice papers I encountered many questions on trend lines and I also faced a similar question in the exam itself. Thankfully I had studied this area so I knew how to approach it.

Tip #4 Google is your friend

While you aren’t allowed to take notes into the exam, you are allowed to use Google to search for answers. If there is anything you are unsure of, use Google to verify your knowledge. In my exam I was faced with a difficult question on standard deviation but thankfully was able to find the answer (via Google) on Ryan Sleeper’s blog. Thanks Ryan!

Tip #5 Know your Box Plots

I feel people often use box and whisker plots without a thorough understanding of what they actually show. For instance, are you confident you know what the boxes indicate? In my exam prep I was faced with various questions relating to box and whisker plots. Make sure you read up on them in advance of your exam.

Tip #6 Know your Join, Blend and Union basics

In the exam you’re likely to be asked questions relating to data joins, blends and unions. In my exam I actually had to perform some data joins too. Make sure you understand each of these principles and their use cases.

Tip #7 Understand when to use different types of calculations

Part of the exam involves answering hands-on questions by going into Tableau and working to find an answer. The question is unlikely to ask to you specifically to use a Table Calculation or Level of Detail Calculation; it’s up to you to know what calculation you need to find the answer you need. You aren’t scored on the calculation you use, only if you answer the question correctly so there’s not a right or wrong approach as such. However, some approaches will take you longer than others and some may not give you the right result! In this respect it would be beneficial if you have an understanding of the different calculation types and when to use them.

Tip #8 Break the questions down into steps

You’ll hear many people advise you to be careful with the exam question wording and not to let it catch you out. This is very valid advice. The questions are worded in such a way which could easily trick you. My advice would be to take your time and break the questions down into different steps. For instance, if the question asks about something in a specific year, filter for that year before doing anything else to avoid getting confused.

I hope you found these tips useful. If you have any tips of your own feel, free to add them in the comments section below.

Best of luck on your certification journey!

Thanks for reading.