5 Keys to Passing Your Next Salesforce Certification
Not all certifications are created equally. Employers typically place value on certifications based on two things. First, the subject matter of the cert needs to be relevant to the position or project. Second, they value how difficult it was to obtain. Some credentials are glorified participation trophies. Fortunately, Salesforce certifications are highly applicable to company needs, and therefore are always in high demand. They are also a challenging measure of knowledge. Many people are not able to achieve a passing score on the certifications, and some take the exam multiple times to pass. This article is designed to give you comprehensive steps to succeed – hopefully on the first attempt – in obtaining that highly coveted Salesforce Certification.
1. Complete the Trailhead
Many technical platforms have self-guided learning, but none are better than Salesforce’s Trailhead. For those familiar with the site, information is taught through a combination of teaching material, scenarios, projects, videos, multiple choice questions, and hands-on exercises to present the material in a variety of different ways. At the lowest level, the information is presented in units (for example “Create Reports with Report Builder”). Two to seven units are grouped together to comprise a module (continuing the example, the report unit is part of the “Reports & Dashboards for Lightning Experience” module, along with four other units). The modules can be logically put together into trails or trailmixes. Users can create their own learning mix or use one that Salesforce created for you.
When preparing for a certification, Salesforce has already created trails and trailmixes custom-made to prepare for the exam. In this case, the Reports & Dashboards module is part of a trailmix called “Prepare for Your Salesforce Administrator Credential”. The trailmix material aligns perfectly with the sections of the exam. The modules include in-depth descriptions and scenarios for each block of learning. Many of the units include short videos, as well as links to additional salesforce knowledge articles on the topic. Each unit concludes with a brief test of knowledge through a few multiple choice questions or an activity that is to be completed in a Trailhead Playground (your own instance of Salesforce where you can practice everything you just learned).
2. Get Hands-on Knowledge
As a continuation of Trailhead, these Trailmixes also have “Superbadges”. These are also completed in a Playground instance of Salesforce. They aren’t easy, but completing these Superbadges is a great way to get real hands-on experience. It’s one thing to read about building reports, answering a few multiple choice questions, or following step-by-step instructions. It’s a completely different experience to take a general business requirement and translate it into a functional report. That is an example of what happens during a Superbadge. High level requirements are given a similar way to a real-world needs gathering conversation may go. Some of the guidance may be vague, just like it would be in an actual situation. There are guides online to help walk through Superbadges. Don’t look at them. The effort, including occasional frustration, will build knowledge more than reading an article ever will.
Outside of Trailhead, real-world experience is also incredibly valuable. An essential license is only $25/month which of course equates to $300/year. Many of the tasks – especially for the initial Admin Certification Exam – can be completed in Essentials. Additionally, Salesforce offers free Developer Editions where developers, admins, and all other aspiring members of the Salesforce ecosystem can practice and utilize all of the features of the system in a real instance. There is a limitation to the amount of data that can be loaded (so it's not a work around to get a free instance). Lastly, real-world experience can be gained by participating in projects for actual companies. Specifically, many Non-Profit organizations utilize a heavily discounted instance, and need assistance without having much of a budget. Help a Non-Profit get their org off the ground or assist with a specific project they may have. The growing pains of executing in a genuine business situation make the lessons learned from Trailhead really sink in.
3. Join a Study Group
Five people can look at the same piece of art and come away with five different interpretations. In the same way, a group of individuals can wade through the breadth of learning material that Salesforce provides, and pick out different aspects that they find important. This is one of the reasons that a study group is a great way to prepare for an exam.
- How do I find a Salesforce Study Group?
- Start with User Groups. Each metropolitan area, and even many smaller cities, have User Groups. They are often categorized further into specialty groups (for example Non-Profit, Developers, etc). The groups typically meet monthly, either in person or more recently via Zoom. Keep in mind that you don’t have to actually live in the physical city to participate in the virtual meetings. Even if the User Group doesn’t directly sponsor a study group, it’s a great forum to ask and chances are that someone in the group will know people studying for the exam.
- How do the Study Groups work?
- There are different structures, and because of this, not all study groups are created equal. One effective method is for group members to take turns presenting a module to the group. To learn the material well enough to teach it to other people is a great way to truly internalize the information. Smaller study groups mean more “at bats” for each member to thoroughly learn the material to the point that they can present to other people.
The other major benefit of preparing with a group is the accountability that comes with having deadlines. Oftentimes preparing for a certification is not a full-time effort. Frequently we’re preparing for certifications while working full time or studying in school. The extra nudge from a regular group meeting really helps keep the progression moving along.
4. Take Practice Exams . . . Late in the Process
Taking a practice exam may sound like an obvious step, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant. However, here’s an added “tweak” to the advice. Wait until the end of your certification prep to take practice exams. There are many great websites out there that provide practice exam questions in similar formats to the real exam such as Salesforce Ben, Focus on Force, and Terry’s Tidbits. In addition to these free resources, there are many paid courses (such as Udemy) that offer training materials as well as practice exam questions. There are also questions on sites like Quizlet, although these are user-provided, so there is not much vetting.
There is a danger to putting too much weight on practice exam performance, though. The exams allow you to check the answers after taking the test, with thorough explanations of the correct answer. This means that after taking the practice test once, many people will unavoidably memorize certain answers. Jumping from a 45% to 62% to 88% on the Salesforce Ben exam is more of an exercise in repetition rather than increased knowledge. For this reason, the tests are the best measure of understanding the first time that you take them. For this reason it makes sense to complete as much learning as possible before using the practice exam to see where you stand.
5. Read the Fine Print
As mentioned in the Trailhead section, the individual units provide links to additional resources. Since these are not required to complete the modules, many “trailblazers” gloss over these links. Additionally, unlike Trailhead units, these Salesforce Knowledge pages are just a little . . . boring. Be that as it may, these resources provide invaluable information, and the factual nature of the pages make them ideal for Certification Exam questions. These Knowledge pages have greatly improved over time, and the page link within the site to additional information on the topic.
Let’s put these tips and tricks together into a comprehensive plan.
- Find a Study Group that will be preparing for the certification that you are after. Determine the start date and more importantly the end date of the study group. If you can’t find a group (or make your own), then establish a timeline to complete the trailhead or course (i.e. Udemy) with a fixed end date.
- Schedule the Certification Exam two to three weeks after the end of the study group. Nothing makes the process more “real” than having the exam formally on the calendar.
- Stay on Schedule. Make the schedule a priority. Whether it’s a study group or trailhead/course schedule, stick with it every week.
- Complete the Certification Trailmix including all of the modules, projects, and most importantly Superbadges. Completing 90% without doing the Superbadge is like watching 90% of a movie without seeing the ending!
- Make an effort to put the knowledge into action with Hands-On application. The Superbadge is one way, as well as options like the free Developer edition, a paid Essentials license or volunteering with a Non-Profit Org.
- During the two/three week period after the study group or lesson plan concludes, take practice exams to test your knowledge.
- Run back through the Trailmix, this time focusing on the Resource Links to additional Salesforce Knowledge.
- Pass the Certification Exam! After all that hard work, you’ll be ready. Add another valuable credential to your resume that will open new doors.