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The Tableau Desktop Certified Professional Exam Experience

After I took the Qualified Associate (now Certified Associate) exam, I wrote a blogpost about it, which you can check out here. This is the sequel, intended as a piece to read ahead of taking the Certified Professional exam for those who have signed up for it or are thinking of doing so.

I took the Tableau Desktop Certified Professional (CP) exam in March 2019, online in contrast to the Associate exam which I took in an exam room at conference in 2017. In the lead up to taking it I brushed up on the available resources but they were relatively thin on the ground. The materials I referred to most were the official exam guidance and Simon Beaumont’s blogpost about his experience. I thoroughly recommend reading Simon’s write-up as I’ve deliberately written this to complement it rather than overlap too much.

The Online Exam Experience
I’ve now taken two Desktop exams online, as I also took the Specialist exam recently. Suffice to say that the experience is much different to that taken in the classroom setting, and just getting setup can easily take 15-20 minutes to run through all the questions the proctor might have, validate your identification, to run through connectivity checks and for them to set you up via a virtual machine to your session. The proctors are nice, efficient and know what they’re doing, but bear in mind that they have very little idea what Tableau is, so don’t bother asking any questions related to the software etc – you’re on your own from this point.

You’ll be setup with a desktop canvas, a Firefox browser session, a copy of Tableau Desktop and a folder structure. You’ll be guided towards a packaged workbook file that has been prepared in advance for you to complete the various tasks, while the questions/instructions are all held in the Firefox browser and, unlike the multiple choice exams, in this case as you progress through you simply need to write ‘complete’ in a small text box at each stage.

At the end of the three hours you’ll then need to save and close the packaged workbook, and submit it via an upload tool. The proctor will give you guidance on exactly what to do in the moment. And then that’s it, you walk away and twiddle your thumbs until you get your results.

The Exam Structure
The exam is structured into three parts, just as described within the exam guide. Read it – it’s a good representation of the types of question that you’ll be asked. Moreover, the types of skills tested for are described in the exam guide. Be sure that you’re comfortable with everything in here, as you don’t want to rue getting caught on a topic area you’re not familiar with. Simon’s blog talks about his own lack of experience with the Story features, and this skill will almost certainly be tested. In my case there was a key technique that I’d not used for over a year, but which came up twice during my exam. Having revised it in the days ahead, I was well equipped.

In the opening few minutes of the exam you’re given a grace period to get yourself settled and to read the rubric. This includes the sectioning of the exam and the suggested amount of time you should allocate to each. In one of the few times I suspect will ever contradict Simon, I’ point out that these simply recommend allocation of timing, and not the points on offer for each section. Simon wrote that his approach was to tackle the big section first – I actually found it more comfortable to ease myself in with something to get the juices flowing, but everyone will have their own approach here.

As with the other exams, you can leave something part-complete and then return to it. In my case, I found I had only 10-15 minutes left after actually answering all the questions, which I then spent manically addressing as much formatting and labelling as I could. The time is very tight, but if you’re aware of the time and stick to it then you should see yourself through without a panic.

After three hours though, I would use two main words to describe the experience: exhaustive and exhausting. It is definitely an excellent all-round test of Tableau Desktop capabilities, with pretty much every key feature examined, and you will be put through your paces without question.

The Aftermath
Unlike the Desktop Specialist and Associate exams, you don’t get an instant result. Instead you have to save your packaged workbook, submit it at the end of your session and then face an excruciating and agonising wait of probably weeks until you find out your result. And that result will merely be a pass/fail, rather than the more broken-down results you get with the other exams. There is a committee which reviews each exam and scores your submission according to pre-defined criteria against which all Professional exams are judged.

Failed tests receive section-based categorical scores, whereas if you pass, you simply know that you ticked all the boxes – you won’t find out any measured scores against those criteria. It may feel frustrating, but it’s the same for everyone. As a result of the crude pass/fail, it is slightly vague as to what represents the dividing line between the two. This is justifiable, however, since it’s important that participants don’t simply try to game the assessment. Nor end up comparing results and then providing insights and trusted answers for others to benefit from.

Guidance and tips
I’m loathe to give too much ‘advice’ since much of exam advice is in prep and approach, and will differ according to the experience, confidence and style of each candidate. However, I can offer a handful of tips without revealing any exam secrets along the way.

My first would be to consider versioning. The Desktop Professional page of the Tableau website will specify the version of Desktop against which the exam is being conducted. That is the version of the software that you’ll be able to open on the day, and it’s important to be conscious of this in order that you aren’t expecting functionality to be available that isn’t. Or, alternatively, if in your organisation you’re stuck on a version that has since been superseded six times, you’d be well advised to brush up on the extra tools that have been introduced.

Next, be wary that you will spend 95% of your time in Desktop and not the browser session. This is important to remember because the countdown timer reminding you how much time remains is in the browser session, and you risk losing track of it. My best advice would be to get into the habit of saving your workbook frequently, perhaps after each small section of a bigger question, and then using that moment to flip back to the browser and check the time. Or if you have a stopwatch, keep that next to your computer.

The next tip I found to be a great time saver. Some of the questions can be very detailed, and it can be irritating to keep flipping back and forth between the browser and the Desktop sessions. Since you can only have one monitor, my best suggestion here is to copy the question from the browser and paste it into a Caption, which will then populate it into a small card that you can move around your screen as required, and so keeping both the question and the work in the view at the same time.

Finally, whatever you do try to avoid pressing the ‘Esc’ key. For me this is really tough as this key is a regular one for me to press to quickly close pop-ups etc., and over the years has been built into my muscle memory. However, within the exam this key has the effect of jumping you out of your remote session, and requires the proctor to take control of your machine and reset the view for you. This is flagged up in the rubric as you begin the exam, but the implications aren’t all that obvious. And it was quite seriously frowned upon by my proctor when I accidentally did it twice during the Specialist exam I took. Worse, it burns precious exam time.

Preparing for the exam
So far I’ve talked about the experience and not so much about the prep. Beyond the other resources I’ve already mentioned, easily the best prep is pure practice, and there are no better places to do it than with community challenges. If you take part in Makeover Monday already, be sure to do a good five or ten of them with a target of 30-45 minutes rather than the usual two hours you might take. Vary between small and large data sets with different subject matter. Work out what compromises you end up having to make, and think more about effective chart types and communication. In the exam you will have numerous data sets to handle, covering very different topics, so get used to this concept. Late last year I wrote separately about the benefits of timeboxing your Makeover Monday exercises. Add exam practiceto the list of good reasons for trying that more regularly.

And from a technical standpoint, Workout Wednesday will give you plenty of opportunity to stretch yourself. If you lean more towards table calculations or LoD calcs then find some challenges which are designed to test the areas you have bigger gaps in. Both will undoubtedly be tested during your exam.

Recommended resources
There aren’t a huge number of resources out there directly related to the exam. As and when any come up, I will try to remember to add them to this listing:
– The dedicated Tableau page for Desktop Certified Professional, here.
– Simon Beaumont’s blogpost, here.
– Tableau community forum thread, here.
– Workout Wednesday, here.
– Makeover Monday, here.

Good luck!

About The Author

Mark Edwards

A statistician at heart, Mark’s approach is always numbers-led. Already visualising data in other side-projects, Mark was introduced to the world of Tableau in 2016, when he and Pablo started working together in UK financial services. A keen participant in social Tableau challenges, Mark is building his skills and appreciation of clean and simple visuals, discovering interesting and untapped data sets, a path that has already led to a new career and a range of further opportunities. Mark is a Tableau Desktop Certified Professional, a Tableau Social Ambassador and an annual attendee of the Tableau Conference in the US.

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