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#CertifiablyTableau: The New Tableau Data Analyst Certification Exam

I took the brand spanking new Tableau Certified Data Analyst exam recently. This exam was offered in a discounted "beta" during the fall, but the production version has only been live for a few weeks. This is Tableau's intermediate-level exam; the Tableau Desktop Specialist is the beginner-level exam.


I got my result shortly after I finished, and I'm pleased to say that I passed! The exam is tough but doable. I can't go into detail on specific questions, but I wanted to give my impressions.


Should You Get a Tableau Certification?


Before I jump in, let me address the elephant in the room: Is this certification worth $250 (or $100 for the Specialist exam)?


I got my first Tableau certification a few years ago, but I resisted for a long time. I rarely see job postings that specifically request a Tableau cert. But I recommend taking the test if one of the following applies to you:

  1. You want to take your Tableau knowledge to the next level. To pass, you'll need to familiarize yourself with functionality that you don't use in your job, student work, or hobby projects. After studying up, you'll have a much more robust understanding of what Tableau software can do.

  2. You want to brand yourself as a Tableau expert. I've interviewed a number of developers at this point. A certification plus a portfolio of work shows me that a candidate really knows what they're talking about.

  3. Your employer will pay for it. Check with your HR department to see if you have learning or certification funds available. You'll add value to your organization and bolster your resume for the future. In many (most?) companies, you'll need to actually pass the exam before you can get reimbursed.

If you do not pass on your first try, don't despair! I know people who didn't get a passing score the first time but then retook the exam successfully. You should definitely study hard, though: Tableau's Certification FAQs makes clear that to retake the exam, you have to pay the fee again.



What Do I Need to Know to Pass?


Check out the Exam Guide, pages 7-11. I recommend you go item by item and practice every single bullet point. Even if you're familiar with a function, look it up in the Tableau help documentation to see if there are options you weren't aware of. Then, open Tableau and try it out on the Superstore data set.


In particular:

  • Tableau Desktop (vs Public): The exam tests your knowledge of the professional software. If you're used to using Tableau Public, be aware that there are significant differences in what the paid software can connect to, save as, and export to. This video discusses these differences.

  • Tableau Prep: This software is new on this exam and is covered in Section 1.3. If you have a Tableau Desktop license through work, Prep is included for free. If you don't have access to Prep, sign up for the two-week free trial to get some exposure. Work through some tutorials or Preppin' Data challenges.

  • Tableau Server/Online: This is also new; you need to know how to interact with Server/Online as a content creator (Domain 4: publish content, schedule data updates, manage published workbooks). If you don't have access to Tableau Server or Online, register for the Tableau Developer Program. This entitles you to a small, personal Tableau Online instance that you can familiarize yourself with.


What's the Exam Process Like?


There are some opportunities to take the test in person, either at a Pearson testing center or (probably) at the Tableau Conference (#data22) in Las Vegas. But most people will opt to take it virtually at their home or office.


Pearson VUE requires you to download an executable (.exe) file to conduct the exam. Many companies do not let employees run unapproved programs; you may need security approval. I chose to take the exam on my personal computer for this reason. After launching the software, I typed in a test code to confirm my microphone, speaker, camera, and Internet speed.


On exam day, I went through the same logon process using a different code. I then took pictures of my ID and workspace. A live proctor came on and checked my ID and workspace through my webcam.


The rules for the room are strict. Closed door; no one comes in or out. No headset: you'll need to use your computer speaker and microphone. Nothing on the desk, though they allowed me a bottle of water. No books or other materials in reach. (I was asked to take my monitor off a large "History of Art" book that was elevating it.) Cell phone placed out of reach, though they do suggest you have it nearby if you need technical help. When the exam launched, my face was recorded the whole time. You're not supposed to leave your seat, so, um, take care of business beforehand.


The exam started with a 5-minute instruction period that explained the types of questions. These are also covered in the exam guide. There were familiar multiple choice questions, but also questions where I was asked to select the steps for a task and put them in order, or to click on the correct option on a screenshot.


With little warning, the live exam started. A 2-hour countdown clock was shown in the upper right corner. The exam is in three parts:

  1. Knowledge-based questions: Multiple choice and other questions. There was no access to Tableau software or help files.

  2. Hands-on lab. A virtual environment launched, and I had a fully-functional copy of Tableau Desktop there. I was asked to build or modify different vizzes and reminded to save my work after each step. A PDF version of the Tableau help file was available.

  3. More knowledge-based questions.

Each section was separate. I could go back and review questions at the end of a section. When I moved onto the next section, however, I could not go back.



Question Quality


Most of the questions were straightforward, and I didn't feel that there were trick questions. Unfortunately, I believe there were a few errors on some of the knowledge-based questions: places where a field name didn't match the screenshot, for instance, or where I thought two of the multiple-choice approaches could work.


The Prep Guide states that there is "unscored content": test questions that they're evaluating for future use. My hope is that these glitches fell into that category, but there's no way to know for sure. In the exam, there is an option to leave a comment on a question, so I pointed out several places where I thought there were mistakes. I'm disappointed in Tableau and Pearson on this front, though: in an expensive, high-pressure exam, hitting what I thought was an obvious error was distracting and confusing, and it's a little unfair to rely on the exam-takers to help you fix them.



Results


This was a highlight. The Prep Guide estimates results within 48 hours; presumably, the lab portion needs to be scored by hand (i.e., someone physically looking at your edited Tableau workbook). I got an email within 90 minutes that my results were ready, which was a huge relief.


The exam is scored using a opaque weighting system: some questions (you won't know which) are weighted more than others, and 750 out of 1000 is considered passing . The prep guide states that if you fail, you'll get a scoring table to highlight your strengths and weaknesses. Because I passed, though, I only got my overall score.


It can take a day or two for those official results to propagate from the Pearson website to your official Tableau account and for you to get badges on Credly.com. But when they do, please share them on social media! I got a huge response for doing so. Additionally, add your certification to your LinkedIn profile. Recruiters scour LinkedIn for good Tableau candidates, so give yourself a leg up in their search results!



The Circle of Certification


The certification is good for two years, which, I regret to say, will be up before you know it. The good news is that certification is much easier to pass the second time. Most of the content will be the same (with the addition of a handful of new features), and you'll be familiar with the exam process. Tableau may even offer you a discount to get you to re-up your certification.


Good luck to those of you who decide to take the plunge and become #CertifiablyTableau! Feel free to send me your general questions or chime in with your own experiences.

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