Here are my seven suggestions for passing the Tableau Desktop Specialist exam on your first try. This is post is based on the current version the exam as of 2022. The Specialist exam was revised in mid-2021, so keep in mind that anything published on the Specialist exam before mid-2021 is outdated.
1) Plan enough study time
How much study time you need When I took the Specialist exam, I’d been using Tableau for years, so I didn’t need much prep. I just skimmed the list of topics and looked up a few unfamiliar topics.
But if you’re just starting with Tableau you’ll want to plan for at least a couple months of consistent study. Tableau recommends three or more months experience with the software before trying the exam. Of course this varies by person – it can be shorter if you’re a good test taker, but don’t underprepare and end up having to retake the exam.
If it’s getting close to your scheduled exam date but you’re not feeling confident, reschedule to give yourself the time you need.
2) Practice with Tableau Desktop or Tableau Public
The current version of the exam does not allow you to actually use Tableau (or any other outside resources, like a web browser). So it’s technically possible to pass the exam without ever having used Tableau. But you’ll find that going hands-on with Tableau to create some visualizations is the fastest way to learn the functionality, and it will definitely help on the exam. And Tableau Public is a free download, so even if you don’t have access to the commercial version of Tableau you can practice most of the topics on the exam without spending $ on a commercial Tableau license.
At a minimum, I would recommend doing the following:
Download the Bookstore dataset and use it to practice combining tables
- [topic 1.2.1] create a relationship between Book at Checkouts
- [topic 1.2.2] create a join between the Book and Info tables
- [topic 1.2.2] create a union between Sales Q1 and Sales Q2
Practice creating charts using the Superstore data (included with Tableau in the \Documents\My Tableau Repository\Datasources folder)
[topics 2.1.1 through 2.1.1] Connect to the orders worksheet of the superstore data. This data has a good mix of different field types, so you can use it to create all of the following chart types:
- bar chart – show sales by category
- line chart – show sales by order date
- scatterplot – show sales on one axis, and profit on another axis. Drag product name to detail.
- geographic map – double-click state and postal code. Add sales to the map.
- density map – take the map you just created and change the marks type to density
- combined chart (two measures on one axis)
- dual axis chart (two measures on the same chart, using axes on different sides of the chart)
- stacked bar (bars are subdivided using a dimension)
- cross tab (also called a text table)
Create Groups, Hierarchies, and Filters
- Combine two or more sub-categories into a group
- Create a hierarchy using category and subcategory
- Create a dimension filter (try filtering by region or product)
- Create a date filter
Add basic analysis to your visuals: sorts, reference lines, quick table calculations, and histograms
- Sort alphabetically, manually, and based on ascending and descending values
- Add a reference line to a bar chart
- Create a crosstab showing sales by category. Then add a percent of total to show the % of sales in each category
- Create a histogram using Profit. Adjust the bin size.
Dashboards & Stories
- Combine multiple worksheets in a dashboard.
- Add dashboard actions
- Configure a mobile layout
- Create a story
Domain #4 – Understanding Tableau Concepts
Experiment with the four different field types:
- Continuous measures
- Discrete measures (less common)
- Discrete dimensions
- Continuous dimensions (less common)
How do these different field types change when they are added to the view? Experiment with switching a field from continuous to discrete and see how it behaves before and after.
3) Do plenty of practice tests and practice questions
Research demonstrates that taking a practice test is the most efficient way to study for the real thing. It is particularly effective when the practice test closely matches the real exam format. When you make a mistake, the experience of understanding your error helps build your knowledge.
A common mistake students make is to overemphasize passive modes of study (reading documentation, highlighting, watching videos). The way I think about this is that the more work you make your brain do, the better you will remember what you learn. Reading or watching something is less work for for your brain than trying to figure out the correct answer to a question.
To get started, try these practice questions.
4) Summarize exam topics from memory, then check your summary using the Tableau documentation
This works on the same principle as tip #3. Trying to recall information is a very efficient way to improve retention. Imagine you are being interviewed, and you are asked one of these questions:
- Compare what happens when a dimension is added to a view to what happens when a measure is added.
- What’s the difference between a dashboard and a story?
- How would you combine rows from one table to rows from another table?
- Give two use cases for parameters.
- What steps would you take to change the size of marks?
- When would you want to use a relationship rather than a join?
Write down your answers… if you’re not sure take your best guess. Then use this guide to quickly find the documentation, or test things out Tableau.
5) Use the OnVue system checker
Assuming that you are taking the exam online rather than at a Pearson test center, you’ll want to make sure you computer passes the system test.
6) Prepare your computer and workspace
Assuming that you are taking the exam online rather than at a Pearson test center, you’ll need a webcam and microphone so that the proctor can communicate with you and observe you during the exam. You’ll also need a valid photo ID so that the proctor can authenticate you.
And your work area will need to be clear, with objects and papers moved out of arms reach. The area needs to be private – you can’t have family members or roommates walking through while you’re taking the exam.’
Your physical desk needs to be clear, and you also need to close any applications running on your computer before logging in. Close down all applications other than the PearsonOnVue app.
You need a reliable internet connection during the exam. If possible, use a physical ethernet cable to connect to your modem rather than relying on wifi.
7) If you’re not sure about an answer, mark it and come back at the end
Don’t panic! You don’t need to get every answer correct in order to pass. Even if you spend some time puzzling over a question you should still have plenty of time to finish the exam. But just to make sure, if you find yourself rereading the question and possible answers just mark in the OnVue app and come back at the end.