If you failed the Specialist exam this guide will give you suggestions on how to handle your disappointment and also how to retake it and pass next time! The Tableau Desktop Certification exam is designed to prove you’ve mastered the fundamentals of Tableau Desktop… not an easy feat. If it was easy to pass, it wouldn’t be a meaningful test of knowledge and skill.
3 Ways to Deal with the Disappointment
It’s normal and totally okay to feel disappointed if you’ve failed an exam. But don’t just stay stuck in that feeling and mope. If you’re feeling down, work to reframe how you think about the setback. Here are three suggestions for turning this disappointment into a positive:
#1 – It’s a Chance to Improve your Study Strategy
For example, one poster on reddit who failed the Specialist exam mentioned that he did training courses and practice tests, but had never actually created a visualization with Tableau Desktop or Tableau Public. The top commenter replied, “You won’t really learn Tableau until you put in the grunt work of creating and designing a big dashboard project completely by yourself.” So this was an opportunity for the person who failed to realize that he’d missed having hands-on practice. Maybe you did hands-on practice, but you neglected to do practice questions for some of the theoretical areas. In that case, you’d need to be able to explain the differences between discrete and continuous, between joins and relationships, and between extracts and live connections.
#2 – It’s a Chance to Understand Your Weak Areas
One good thing is that if you fail, Tableau will provide a score report that shows how well you did in each of the four domains. Which of the four areas gave you the most trouble?
- Connecting to & Preparing Data
- Exploring & Analyzing Data
- Sharing Insights
- Understanding Tableau Concepts
You may even be able to remember particular topics on the exam that you need to study. Or maybe you realize that you panicked during the exam and so ended up wasting time stuck on one question, and that next time you need to approach the exam with a different attitude.
#3 – It’s a Chance to Grow in Humility
Most people are tempted to look down on those who are less successful in whatever capacity – professional, personal, or moral. When you experience a failure, it can remind us not to look down on other people. It can remind us to be grateful for our successes.
I’d say failure has helped me with humility. I was fired from a job early in my career and found it to be painful and embarrassing. But I also found that the experience helped me to understand the pain of unemployment. And when talking to people who lost a job, I think I could relate to them better by sharing my own experience with unemployment.
St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “if we have not accepted humiliation, we will not learn humility.” So perhaps by accepting a failure on an exam we can learn a little humility.
Failing Because of a Technical Glitch
So far I’ve been assuming that you failed because you didn’t have the knowledge to answer enough of the questions correctly. But of course there’s a second reason you might have failed – you might have experienced a technical failure during the exam. Unfortunately, an unexpected internet outage can cause you to fail and it’s not grounds for a free retake. Your exam proctor may be able to call you and you may be able to get back into the exam, but an outage could also cause you to fail. Very frustrating, especially if you are paying the exam fee yourself!
But if there is a technical glitch with that’s the fault of the exam administrator (Pearson) then they will log a ticket on your behalf and if they agree it was their problem you should (eventually, hopefully) be able to get a free retake.
Preparing for a Retake
The Tableau FAQ explains the retake policy. If you fail on your first attempt you can register after 24 hours for a second attempt. The exam fee is the same each time, so you have to pay again for your second (or third, or forth!) attempt. Yes, it stinks to have to pay a second time. But if it made sense to pay the fee the first time, it probably makes sense to pay a second time.
But of course before you do your retake you should make sure you’re confident that you’ve got the knowledge to pass! Hopefully you’ve identified some weaknesses in your knowledge and come up with a new study plan. If you need hands-on experience, try Makeover Monday and Workout Wednesday. If you need the sort of multiple choice and multiple response questions that you’ll see on the exam, try these Tableau Specialist practice questions.
From Failure to Success
Failing the certification exam doesn’t mean you can’t get your Tableau Specialist Certification. All it means is that it will take a little more time, money, and effort than you expected. Get to it!
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.
Do you have any tips for passing the Specialist exam? Let me know in the comments.
Tableau Tim put did a video his experience with the new Tableau Specialist exam. Tim has taken basically all of the Tableau exams, so he’s very experienced.
Tim goes through the sample questions on the test. He mentions that a couple of the questions hard to understand… after reading them he said he found himself wondering, “what are they actually asking here?”
He also describes having trouble with some of the questions that required you to explain exactly what steps you need to take through Tableau’s user interface. That resonates with my own experience… there were a few questions where I felt they were asking me to recall some detail of the menu system that would have taken just a few seconds to figure out if I’d had access to Tableau.
I signed up to take the new version of the Tableau Desktop Specialist exam as soon it launched. Here are my notes on the experience of taking the new Pearson-administered version of the Specialist exam.
Initially, I had trouble with the system test and wasted a bunch of time retrying with different computers and fruitlessly calling Pearson for support. Without making any changes, I retried the system test this morning and was able to pass. I immediately scheduled to take the exam with Pearson. The proctor wanted EVERYTHING off of my desk aside from my landline phone and asked me to close the blinds on my window to reduce the glare. I had to retake my driver’s license photo… my webcam didn’t want to focus the first time. Checkin took 10 – 15 minutes… there’s no virtual machine to set up with the Pearson Specialist exam.
Once I got logged in to the exam, the interface was easy to use… just click through the questions use radio buttons and checkboxes to answer the questions. A timer in the upper right shows how much time is left in the exam, and I think there were around 39 minutes left when I clicked Finish. I found out immediately that I’d passed.
I’m disappointed with the change. The new exam has absolutely no hands-on questions, and some questions are asking for minutia about how the menus work. In real life, if I’m trying to remember how to to change the font on a particular part of my workbook, I’ll click around in the menus or in the data pane until I find what I need. It’s nice to remember where all the options are, but is it that important? I preferred the old version of the Specialist exam, where you had to use Tableau to answer questions about sample datasets.
I’m not sure what motivated Tableau to switch to Pearson, but it seems to me that Tableau decided providing a quality Specialist exam to test basic Tableau skill is not a priority.
I’m reminded of a conversation about the base SAS exam. The story I heard was that someone who’d been using SAS productively for YEARS and could not pass the base SAS exam. The story resonated with me as I was studying for and taking the base SAS certification. It was easy to see how a very experienced and productive SAS developer but fail the exam due to a lack of knowledge of SAS arcana such as the “Program Data Vector.”
In any case, the new Specialist exam is probably here to stay, so I’ll be updating my practice tests for the new format.
The Tableau Specialist exam has been revised – instead of 30 questions with a mix of hands-on and knowledge based questions, it’s now 40 questions with no hands-on questions. In the past the Specialist exam would be taken on a virtual machine, but with the new version you don’t need to actually use Tableau so there’s no
Here’s the Tableau page with the announcement of the move to Pearson: https://www.tableau.com/tableau-certification-faq and here’s Pearson’s Tableau certification page: https://home.pearsonvue.com/tableau.
As soon as I saw the change, I scheduled to take the Specialist exam with Pearson. Technical difficulties! Even after turning off various filtering software and disabling Windows Defender, I could not get the Video Streaming test to pass. I tried on three different computers: my work laptop, my personal laptop, and my wife’s laptop… same result all three times. I even tried connecting at my friend’s place, but I kept getting this:
When I did the system check I could not get by this message. Making matters worse, the chat help was not responsive and I spent more than 15 minutes on hold with Pearson before giving up. I sent an email to the support team.
Update: The support team responded two days later they followed up with this link https://home.pearsonvue.com/op/OnVUE-technical-requirements. I retried the system test without changing anything on my setup this time my system passed. I also heard from a student who finally got the system test to pass. I strongly suspect the problem was on Pearson’s end:
The Specialist exam has four sections:
- Connecting To and Preparing
- Data Exploring and Analyzing Data
- Sharing Insights
- Understanding Tableau Concepts
Where should you focus your study time? I analyzed the results of test takers who weren’t able to pass the exam to find out. Different test takers struggled with different sections, but on average the most challenging sections were Connecting To and Preparing and Understanding Tableau Concepts. And, on average, Understanding Tableau Concepts was the easiest section. Take a look at the data below:
Here are a few exams of scores for students who didn’t pass:
Download the test score data here: Specialist-Failing-Scores.xlsx (377 downloads)
(note that this post relates to a previous version of the Specialist exam)
Please note that this post is related to a previous version of the Specialist exam. For the current version, check here.
How difficult is it to pass the Tableau Specialist certification exam? Here’s my experience:
So what’s the exam like?
- I had a lot of trouble logging in to the virtual machine to actually start the exam. On my first attempt the proctor spent about a half hour with me trying to get me logged in, but then realized that the virtual machine was not working at all, so I rescheduled. The second time it took about 45 minutes for the proctor to suggest trying to take the exam on a different computer. I switched computers, and was finally able to log in and take the test.
- There are the same number of questions as on the Tableau Qualified Associate exam, but there are fewer hands-on questions, and the hands-on questions are much simpler… no calculated fields, just simple aggregation (sum, avg), filtering, sorting.
- A few of the knowledge based questions asked about features that I hadn’t heard of before, so I found myself googling for at least 3 or 4 of them to try to find an answer. I skipped quite a few questions that initially puzzled me, and came back later.
- Some of the knowledge-based questions ask you what steps to do to perform a task. I found it helped to open Tableau and test things, to verify the best answer to the question.
- Compared to the Qualified Associate exam, one test taker commented that the Tableau Specialist “has incredibly easy hands on part. But the theoretical questions are the vast majority and are almost same as in the other exam. Maybe just more theoretical.” I would agree with this – the hands-on questions were very simple, but the knowledge based questions seemed about as difficult as the one on the Qualified Associate exam.
I finished about 15 minutes early and got a 92% correct.
Also check out Chelsea’s post on the exam or take my Udemy course which includes two practice tests and videos covering all Specialist topics.
Note that this post applies to an older version of the Specialist exam. Here’s the post on my experience with the current version.