How to Prepare for the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam

On the last day of 2018, I took and passed the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam. This exam focuses on the foundational functionality of Tableau Desktop and a basic understanding of the product.

It costs $100 to take the exam and it is recommended you have 3 or more months of Tableau Desktop experience. Tableau also recommends that you have previously taken the Desktop I – Fundamentals class.

So, I have been using Tableau for a while, and you might wonder why I decided to take the Desktop Specialist Exam (DSE) versus the Desktop Qualified Associate Exam (DQA). There were two reasons.

The first reason I took this exam now was that Tableau offered a special price of $50 to take the exam if you purchased it before the end of 2018. I saw it as an additional resource in my practicing to take the DQA exam. Also, it gave me a feel for how taking an exam virtually worked (and I was glad I did!).

The second reason was that, at work, we want to be able to internally teach a DSE prep class for our business partners so they could obtain this certification to help them in their career path within the City and for them to add to their accomplishments list for their yearly performance reviews.

The Exam Format

The exam consists of 30 questions and you have 60 minutes to complete the exam. So, this is two minutes per question. This may sound daunting, but you really will spend more time (2-3 minutes each) on the “hands-on” questions versus the multiple-choice questions (maybe 10-30 seconds each).

At the end of this blog post, I provide some resources to help you prepare for the exam. I also purchased a practice exam from Learning Tableau for $9.99. Overall, this exam was very helpful, but I felt one of the “hands-on” problems was not worded properly, and the problem and the solution did not feel in-sync. Things like this can diminish your confidence in taking the exam. I e-mailed them about the question and, hopefully, they will correct it in the near future.

Here are some topics you may see on the exam.

My very first question on the exam was a “hands-on” Tableau workbook problem. I am used to exams starting slowly and increasing in difficulty as the exam progresses. I am unsure if the questions are randomly ordered, but this was a bit of a surprise for me. I was expecting a simple multiple-choice question as my first problem.

I believe I had 6-8 “hands-on” Tableau Workbook problems I needed to solve. One of the questions had you build a simple dashboard. Basically, they wanted you to use one worksheet as a filter to the other worksheet.

Read the Visual Analytics Cookbook as recommended by Tableau. Understand the differences between chart types, recommended best practices for creating each chart, and their idiosyncrasies.

Work through all of the questions and “hands-on” problems in the Tableau Exam Prep Guide. The solutions to the questions and problems are included in the same PDF file at the end of the file. I recommend you first try to work the “hands-on” problems on your own, then look at the solutions. This will help you determine areas of Tableau Desktop you need to put a bit more practice into.

Understand the Tableau Order of Operations. Think of other use cases besides the typical Context Filter one (trust me on this!).

If you have taken the Tableau Desktop I – Fundamentals class, I recommend you redo all of the exercises in the class workbook (included all of the Bonus Problems). Again, I recommend you first try to work the exercises on your own, then look at the solutions. This will help you determine areas of Tableau Desktop you need to put a bit more practice into.

Read Marian Eerens blog post on how to prep for the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam. I have provided the link in the Resources section at the end of the post.

At least 3-6 questions required you to select two or more choices via checkboxes. These can throw you off if you don’t get all of them correct. I am unsure if you get partial credit for the ones you selected correctly or if it is an “all or nothing” scenario. I personally hate these types of questions because I overthink them and probably pick some wrong choices “just in case.”

TIP: You will be able to do a Google search. Here is a search format I used that specifically searches the Tableau Online Help Site.

[Keyword1] [Keyword2] [Keyword3]

So, if I wanted to search the Tableau Online Help Site for topics related to bar charts, I could use this search string.

bar chart

Regarding taking exams, I would consider myself a “bitter-ender.” That is, I work on the exam until the clock runs out even if I am done. If this describes you too, I would recommend you watch the time clock during those last few minutes to ensure you click the Submit button before time runs out. I am not sure if time did run out they would just automatically submit the questions you answered or if they would say you did not submit any answers to the questions, so you did not pass. So, watch your time!

Taking a Virtual Exam

The exam is administered by Loyalist Exam Services. I want to warn you now that if you are taking the exam virtually, get yourself psychologically ready to not start the exam immediately. You will have at least 30 minutes of setup tasks to do.

My exam was scheduled for 9:00am. However, it took 31 minutes to validate and setup before I actually started the exam.

The proctor had me do several validation tasks. Here is a list of some of them.

I had to carry my laptop around the room I was in with the webcam on. She did not like the following items.

  • I had unused Post-It notes next to my laptop. I had to put these on a shelf about eight feet away from where I was sitting.
  • I have a desk shelf of books about six feet from my laptop. She wanted me to remove it from the desk. It would have been a somewhat laborious task to do so. I showed her none of the books related to Tableau, and she was good with that.
  • You will need to show her some form of a photo id (e.g., driver’s license) via the webcam.
  • I had my wallet and iPhone on my desk. I had to also put these on the shelf eight feet away from my desk.
  • I was not allowed to wear a headset. The thought here is they do not want someone feeding you answers via the headset.
  • I had to show, via the webcam, that no one else was in the room, and there were no other computers, tablets, phones or computer monitors, etc.
  • I talk to myself a lot while I work. As I was taking the exam, I started talking to myself. She told me I could not talk to myself during the exam. Both myself and I were not happy about this! Again, the thought here is that you might be talking to someone using an earbud or something, and not allowing you to talk (even to yourself) ensures no one is feeding you answers.

Once you finally are allowed to enter the virtual site, you will have a copy of Tableau Desktop (v2018.2 in my case), Windows Explorer (where the folder of data files and Tableau Workbooks were kept), and Google Chrome. You are not allowed to go back to your computer during the exam.

About halfway during the exam, Tableau Desktop froze in the virtual computer. She had to talk me through how to reset it. It was not a big issue, but not something you want to happen during a timed exam.

The proctor was always online and helped me immediately when I needed it.

During the exam, you have the option to mark questions to complete later after you get settled in or your brain is clicking more. It was very easy to go back to those questions, answer them, and continue on with the exam. If you are not immediately sure of an answer, mark it and go on. Another question on the exam may jog your memory or answer the questions you were unsure of.

Once you press the Submit button indicating you have completed the exam, the proctor will have you complete 4-5 questions related to how she did as a proctor and what you thought of their services. Then, your score will be displayed telling you if you passed or not.

About 5-10 minutes later, a PDF of your certificate will be e-mailed to you along with percentages of how you did on each section of the exam.


Tableau Exam Prep Guide

Visual Analysis Best Practices Cookbook

Tableau Desktop I: Fundamentals Course Description

Learning Tableau Practice Exam #1 (Purchase – $9.99)

Marian Eerens – Getting Ready for the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam blog post

Tableau’s Order of Operations Online Help

2 thoughts on “How to Prepare for the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam

  1. Hi! Thanks for the comprehensive guide! I had a question regarding the place you chose to give your exam. I have booked a conference room at my workplace to give the exam but there’s a monitor in each conference room. I’m guessing that won’t be allowed? In that case, I’m not sure where to give the exam from!

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