About a year ago I successfully passed the Tableau Desktop Qualified (aka Certified) Associate exam. I shared my experience of taking the exam in a blog post available to read here.

Admittedly, I held off for a long time into my Tableau journey before sitting the Desktop Certified Associate (DCA) exam (for various reasons) but thankfully passed on my first attempt. Part of me regretted waiting for so long to take DCA so I promised myself I would take the Certified Professional exam (the next exam in the Tableau Desktop certification series) within the next twelve months. Fast forward twelve months (yes I waited a full twelve months!) and I’m pleased to announce I passed the Desktop Certified Professional exam in August this year!

There are relatively few people that gain the DCA certification and go on to take the Certified Professional exam. I believe there are various reasons for this. Firstly, the Certified Professional exam is significantly more expensive than the Certified Associate exam (at the time of writing $600 versus $250). Secondly, many people may not have an appetite to take the exam. Perhaps the Certified Associate certification is sufficient for their job and there may be no pressure (or budget) from their employer to continue on their Tableau Certification journey.

Regardless, I would highly encourage everyone to take this exam if they have the opportunity to do so. It tests your Tableau skills and knowledge in a completely different way to the Certified Associate exam. I’m not implying the exam is more difficult; it just requires a different application of skills. It’s also a great recognition of your Tableau skills which you can add to your professional portfolio.

Since fewer people take the Certified Professional exam, there are fewer resources shared by the community to help others with exam preparations. There are two stand-out blog posts that helped me to prepare for the exam myself and I would highly encourage you to check these out too:

A number of people have requested that I also share my tips from my own exam experience so this post is for you! I hope you find it useful.

Top Exam Tips

Be Patient with the Proctor

If you are sitting the exam at anywhere other than Tableau Conference you will need to take the exam on a remote machine under the careful eye of a proctor (invigilator). The proctor is there to ensure you are taking the exam in a suitable environment and essentially checks to make sure you are not trying to cheat in any way. They are also there to support you if you have any technical challenges.

It took me around thirty minutes to get everything set up with the proctor before I could begin my exam. Factor this into your overall exam time. Also, remember to have your photo ID handy (i.e. drivers license or passport) as you’ll be required to show this to them via your webcam to prove your identity.

Read the Exam Guide!

This might sound obvious but the exam guide is made available for a reason. The guide explains exactly what you should be familiar with before taking the exam and also provides a really useful practice paper to work though (including solutions). I highly encourage you to work through the practice paper and highlight any weaker areas you may need to focus on in your preparations. For some of the more visual elements of the exam there is no definitive right answer. There may be multiple ways to approach a problem so bear this in mind when reading the solutions.

Exam Prep Guide

Get Hands on with Tableau

Ahead of the exam I would encourage you to use Tableau as much as possible. Practice playing with parameters, using them for things like Top N, measure swapping and sheet swapping. These things are likely to come up at some point during your exam.

Refresh your working knowledge of table calculations and level of detail (LOD) calculations. I found Pooja Gandhi’s “Using Calculated Fields in Tableau Desktop” course available on Pluralsight extremely helpful when preparing for my exam. This is the most thorough course on calculations in Tableau that I have ever come across and I would highly encourage everyone to take it. Pluralsight offers a free 14 day trial for new users which would give you the opportunity to complete this course and view other content from authors including Adam Crahen and Curtis Harris too.

Participating in #WorkoutWednesday will help you to study the Tableau functionality required for the exam and will also help to refresh your knowledge of best practices too.

You might also find these blog posts useful:

Top 15 LOD Calculations – Bethany Lyons, Tableau

Top 10 Table Calculations – Ellie Fields, Tableau

10 Best Practices for Building Effective Dashboards – Tableau

The Need for Speed

The exam is three hours long and I would be amazed if anyone completed the exam in much less time than this. There’s a lot of content to cover and it really tests you mentally. The early questions in the exam compose of shorter, stand alone exercises. These gradually become more complex exercises as you work through the exam, concluding in a dashboard build and a story exercise.

The dashboard build is the most ‘meaty’ part of the exam and should take the largest chunk of your time to complete. In my exam I was presented with a number of data sets and a business scenario to work through for the dashboard. There are a number of questions that will ask you to look at different metrics or find interesting insights with the data sets provided. Each of these questions will result in a different chart and all of them are later brought together on the dashboard. After the dashboard is ready you are asked to put together a story using the same (or slightly modified) elements. I ended up having to rush this section having spent so long on one of the dashboard elements.

Remember you can complete the questions in any order that you wish. When I took the exam I started with the dashboard section, before going back to question one. In hindsight I wish I had attempted question one first. I exhausted so much of my brain power on the dashboard that I struggled to effectively attempt the simple question presented at the beginning of the exam. I would suggest you complete question one as a warm-up, before progressing onto the dashboard section.

If you are struggling to build vizzes quickly I suggest you challenge yourself to complete some #MakeoverMonday’s in an hour or even less. Time-boxing yourself will really help you to speed things up and will stop you from getting carried away with formatting or adding unnecessary clutter.

This isn’t Iron Viz – Be Practical not Flashy

Remember you won’t have time to build anything flashy in the exam and this is not what you are tested on. Keep charts simple and always stick to best practices when it comes to colours, layout, labels, fonts, etc. Strive to produce clean views that are easy to read. Bar charts, line charts, scatter plots and heat maps are your friends!

Be Descriptive with your Titles

I often add descriptive titles to my vizzes as I believe it helps us to tell more effective stories with data. Rather than giving a chart a title such as “Profit by State” you could write a title that actually explains what is going on in the chart. For instance, “Texas is the most profitable state overall but California is catching up”. This actually highlights some insights to the reader, making it easier for them to ingest the data and interpret the chart.

In the exam I found this approach to be highly beneficial. Adding descriptive titles to the charts on my dashboard helped me significantly when it came to building the story too.

Best Practice is Key

I’ve mentioned this before but it’s really important that you apply data visualisation best practices in anything you produce during the exam (or any visualisations you produce in general). Without going into detail here I would suggest you read the Tableau Visual Analysis Best Practice Guidebook prior to taking the exam.

Know your Parameters and How to Apply Them

The exam will likely require you to use parameters in multiple different ways. This workbook and video by Andy Kriebel will help you to understand the power of parameters and refresh your understanding of their key use cases.

Don’t be Afraid of the Dreaded Nested LOD!

I’ve heard a lot of people say “ohhh the Certified exam requires you to use nested LOD’s” like they are something to be feared. Yes, nested LOD’s can be a little intimidating but once you have grasped LOD’s you should be able to pick up nested LOD’s pretty quickly. In my exam I actually only had one question that required me to use a nested LOD and this represented a tiny proportion of the exam overall. Pooja’s course (mentioned above) covers a nice introduction to nested LOD’s. This tutorial also provides some useful examples of nested LOD’s.

Beats, Joins and Blends

The exam will require you to have a working knowledge of data joins and blends. You may even be required to apply a simple join calculation so be sure to revisit these if they are something you use less often.

What’s the Score?

When you start the exam you’ll be shown a breakdown of the maximum points available per question / section. Some questions in the exam will carry more points than others. I would encourage you to familiarise yourself with the scoring framework and if you are struggling, focus on the sections which carry more weight. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t know how to approach one of the questions. Just do what you can. Don’t spend too long on any particular question. If you are stuck on a question I would suggest you bookmark it, complete the remaining questions and tackle it again at the end of the exam once everything else is complete.

Hopefully you have found these tips useful for your exam preparations.

It’s not an easy exam by any means but with focused studying and plenty of hands-on Tableau practice, it’s well within your reach. Once you pass the exam (which you will), be proud of your achievement; it’s a great recognition of both your Tableau skills and also your understanding of data visualisation and design best practices.

Good luck!

Thank you for reading.