Prepping for the Tableau Desktop Certified Professional Exam

I recently sat for the Tableau Desktop Certified Professional Exam, which is the exam you can take after you pass the Tableau Desktop Certified Associate Exam. The Professional Certification is valid for 3 years. After 6 weeks of waiting, because the exam is graded by committee and can take 4 to12 weeks to get your results, I was told that I’m #CertifiablyTableau as I passed the exam! I actually wrote this post before knowing my score because I wanted to share some resources to help you prepare as well as my thoughts on the experience.

*Note that these are my thoughts and recommendations and are not endorsed or approved by Tableau, and are not the thoughts or recommendations of my employer. These are solely my opinions.

The Structure

The Tableau Professional exam is proctored, which means you will log into an external site where you will connect to a proctor who will monitor you via webcam and microphone during the entire exam. There will be time to get set up with the proctor before your actual exam clock starts, so don’t worry about it taking 15 minutes, you still have the full time once the exam starts. This means, allow yourself at least an extra 30 minutes to your exam time block. You are required to be alone in a quiet room without interruptions. Your desk must be clear and you may not talk or leave your desk during the test. Here are some additional key details to know about the exam.

Time Limit: 3 hours

Question Format: Hands-on, building solutions completely in a Tableau workbooks, which you submit at the end of the exam

Number of Questions: May vary – The Tableau exam guide doesn’t explicitly inform you how many questions you will get. I’ll share my experience below.

Passing Score Required: Pass/Fail – graded by committee.

Set Up: Tableau Workbook and screen with questions. Unlike some other Tableau exams, you can use Google. Otherwise, you are allowed the Tableau workbook open and the screen that has the questions.

My Recommendation: Three hours will go by pretty quickly, so continuously pay attention to the timer, which is on the screen with the exam questions. I always find completing these tests on a small laptop screen very difficult. So keep this in mind. You cannot have a second monitor and must have your webcam and microphone on at all times. For me, this meant I had to use my laptop screen because that is where my webcam is. Switching between the questions and the workbook was a challenge as I couldn’t see both at the same time and spent a lot of time going back and forth to double check the question.

While you can flag questions in this test, it’s likely not necessary. I believe I only had 6 actual questions but each question had multiple tasks. Once you complete the full question, and all the tasks, you simply need to write “Complete” in a text box and move on. This is your way to say you completed the task in the Tableau workbook, which as mentioned, you submit as your exam answers. No answers are written into the exam platform. Note that you must write “Complete” in each question in order for the final “Submit” button to appear at the end of the exam.

Lastly, they give you an additional 5 minutes to submit and upload your workbook, so don’t worry about finishing right up to the clock. You need to hit the submit button on the exam, but then you have a few minutes to actually save and submit the workbook. I finished with 5 minutes to spare. It is a very tight test! I wouldn’t expect you to have time to go back around and review your answers, so just keep that in mind.

Exam Content

According to the exam guide, the test is broken up into three modules that assess various aspects of analysis and creating a visually appropriate dashboard. It states that one of the main objectives of this exam is to test your ability to quickly familiarize yourself with unknown data and gather insights by creating effective views. The exam isn’t testing you on being creative or using any crazy technical skills. Remember, it’s testing your ability to be quick and accurate. This means focusing on the main aspects of making a visualization insightful such as the correct chart types, clear titles, appropriate colors, helpful tooltips, and storytelling through the layout and design of a dashboard or story.

Module 1: Visual Best Practices

This section tests your ability to choose the correct or best chart type for the given scenario and analysis desired in the question; use space, color, and fonts appropriately; utilize formatted tooltips and descriptive titles; and focus users on the most important parts of the data. I believe I had 3 questions in this section that required me to “re-do” a chart in a worksheet. I don’t recall the time recommended but pay attention to that. This module shouldn’t take long – maybe 30 minutes. So be fast.

My Recommendation: In order to prepare for this section, I recommend completing the sample question in the user guide as well as read the Visual Best Practices whitepaper. This white paper actually was quite helpful. Not because I learned anything, but because I was acutely aware of what Tableau expected of me. Meaning, there are some things in here I would never do for a client because I use a ton of other fantastic and creative techniques to achieve visual best practices in the best way, but Tableau is testing on visual best practices at its most simplistic core and wanting to ensure, above anything else, that you can deliver what is right for a client visually. This is all to say, you won’t have time for anything fancy, so freshening up on the simple ways to add value is really helpful. I didn’t do much else to prepare as I’m pretty versed on best practices. If you aren’t, then I suggest the following:

Visualizing Health and Healthcare Data – while it uses healthcare data in the visuals, it’s really all about best practices of data viz and is applicable to anyone. Plus, I’m a co-author.

Big Book of Dashboards – This one reviews a ton of best practices and why certain dashboards excel.

Storytelling with Data – This is a fav of mine and I think really gets to the simplicity of what makes a great visual and why. A must read.

Module 2: Advanced Technical Skills

This section includes a few (3-5 according to Tableau) tasks that will test you on your ability to use Tableau’s functionality – specifically calculations and analytics. While I don’t remember the time suggested, this should probably take around 40 minutes. You will be expected to show your knowledge of various calculations (table cals and LODs specifically), connection to multiple data sources (they will clearly let you know if you need to and what fields you need to join on), as well as using parameter to swap sheets or metrics, or set up Top N filters. As mentioned, each task is a worksheet view you need to complete that will correspond to a question. Tableau does a decent job of explaining the data source and the aggregation levels (as well as what certain fields mean that you need to use) so you shouldn’t have to spend time looking at the data structure. I think this is smart on their part because the point is the analysis here so Tableau wants to ensure you know enough to just hit the ground running.

My Recommendation: First of all, check out two other fantastic blog posts about the Professional Exam that I reviewed: Sarah Bartlett and Simon Beaumont. These have some similar pointers and links, but I used both of these to prepare. Secondly, review Tableau’s guide to Table Calculations, Top 10 Table Calcs, LOD calcs, Top LOD Expressions, and Nested LODs. These were the only two large reviews I did to prepare for this section and these were the main focus of this section of the test, which they do highlight in their exam guide. Also, ensure you are aware of how to calculate Top N parameters as well as how to show the top N of a dimension in a view based on rank or index. I had to practice this before the exam, and was glad I did. They have an example in the exam guide. This section should take no more than 40 minutes I believe. Or together about 70 minutes between the first two modules.

Module 3: Storytelling

This final section is worth the most points and will take the longest. Tableau recommended that this section will take 110 minutes, as it’s the bulk of what you are graded on, so pay attention to your time up until this point. Tableau states that this section guides you through a data discovery that needs attention and it’s your assignment to build a compelling and convincing story. You will need the time here as you will be required to create a dashboard that includes a number of views (mine included 4). The exam tests your ability to not only create the requested views, but also to arrange them appropriately, create clear titles, format tooltips, use dashboard actions or parameters to improve the interactivity, all while using visual best practices.

My Recommendation: Review the exam guide, as I think it’s a good example of what will be on the test. I had to build four views and create a dashboard using them. I found that time was very tight for this section and while I completed it within about 75 minutes, that left me with only around 35 to create an entire storyboard, which I had never done before as I never use them.

I focused on getting my charts correct and was a bit confused by some of the questions and the data aggregation. I think I spent too much time trying to get my calculations right in this section and validating the data then I should have. Given the fact, that this section is about storytelling, I probably should have ignored if my calculations were correct and just focused on the polish of the overall dashboard. Keep in mind you won’t have time to add anything fancy to this dashboard. This means you aren’t able to add images, or icons, or custom anything, so just go with some of the default options such as drop down filters, action filters, and dynamic titles and tooltips. Things that add value within the tool itself. To be honest, there are a ton of things that I would never do in the example dashboard in the exam guide. For example, I likely wouldn’t use the same color throughout the visual when it means different things in different areas. My clients tend to be confused by this. However, I used their sample solution as the expectation – so I did things on my test that I believe Tableau wanted, but I would never actually do. Seems a bit weird, yes, but remember, this is about the basics. The Tableau basics.

Lastly, in this section I had to create a storyboard. First of all, I’ve NEVER used this functionality before so I actually didn’t even know how to do it. I didn’t realize you can’t remove things from the view. Meaning, if the dashboard/worksheet has a filter, it comes over automatically. I couldn’t delete it or move it. So I ended up creating duplicate sheets and removing filters from the sheet/dashboard so I could add it to the story. Additionally, the data set I had didn’t really have any interesting stories – or not any that stood out right away and I certainly didn’t have time to explore the data further, so this was a hard section. Plus, I was running out of time.

I was able to create something that I think fit the bill of a story, which is that I added sequential charts that had a beginning, climax, and end (which is what the task required) and commentary in the story points section header. Is there a better way? Probably. But as someone who isn’t familiar with storyboards, I don’t have much to add other than to review how to create them. This viz by Matt Francis is probably the only storyboard viz that I know of, and it’s a good one.

Summary

In general, I think this is a difficult test to actually “study for” in the typical sense of preparing. If you have been using Tableau regularly for a few years, honestly, you should pass. The test is testing your ability to create appropriate and effective charts on the fly with unfamiliar data – this is likely something you do daily (well perhaps not the unfamiliar part, but often it is, at least at first). If you don’t create charts in a quick turn around, then that is something you could practice. I’d suggest, as others have also suggested, participating in community projects where you have to use a small, unfamiliar data set to create a visual in a short amount of time. Give yourself 30-60 minutes to create one. I realize in the test you need to create a chart in about 15 minutes, but even limiting a normal community project can help. Perhaps try to create the chart, tooltips, calculations, and story within 15-20 minutes, then take another 15-20 to refine the visual as you normally would for a community submission (colors, images, custom whatever).

You can participate in any of the following fantastic projects (or even use old data sets from these) to practice your time on:

  1. MakeoverMonday
  2. ProjectHealthViz
  3. SportsVizSunday
  4. ViztoEducate
  5. Iron Quest

Other suggestions for studying I mentioned above: Read the best practices white paper, Tableau’s top 10 table calculations, and LODs. Read the suggested papers/links in the exam guide, but I wouldn’t waste time going through any of the e-learning if you are already fairly competent at Tableau and use it regularly.

Lastly, be sure you are in a quiet place free of distractions. This is really important because you have only 3 hours, which may seem like a lot but it’s not and you need to be fully focused the entire time. If your home or workplace is distracting, that either go to another place that is quiet, send your family out of the house for 3 hours, or go into a conference room alone.

Remember that you can do this and you know your stuff in Tableau! Best of luck on your exam!!!

Cheers,

Lindsay

One comment

  1. Excellent post Lindsay! I’m sure you’ll pass with good score. I’d also like you to add tableaupracticetest.com as a nice resource for preparing for this exam. Helped me a lot last month.

    Like

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