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Just Do It! : Tips for Passing a Salesforce Certification Exam

I recently returned to Cloud for Good after three and a half months off for maternity leave.  With baby Kelvin busy robbing me of sleep, I spent many late-night hours thinking about work, Salesforce, and what I could do to make my maternity leave productive.

Since I wasn’t working for any clients, I decided that the best thing I could do would be to study and take another Salesforce certification exam. While everyone at Cloud for Good has at least one certification, many have more than one and I wanted to be part of the club. For me, the natural next step was the developer exam, so that’s what I started working on.

I encourage everyone to take a Salesforce certification exam. They are not only a stamp in your Salesforce passport, but they expose you to parts of Salesforce that you never even knew existed. They make you a better user, a better administrator, a better developer and, let’s face it, a better human being. Plus, studying flashcards on a smartphone is actually pretty easy with one hand if the other one is occupied with a newborn (or hanging onto the rail while stuffed into a commuter train, or eating a burrito for lunch, or doing just about anything). As you go through the study guide and material, you realize again and again just how robust Salesforce is, and when you pass the exam, you realize just how much of it you know.

Studying and taking the exam are skills in and of themselves. Actually knowing Salesforce is yet a different skill. Even with 10 years of Salesforce experience, it’s not a given that you’ll pass these exams. Those 10 years will help, but without studying, you’re likely to run into some things you haven’t come across in your professional career. And the converse is also true: Even without the 10 years of experience, with a bit of studying and some strategy, the tests are passable. They are multiple choice and a passing grade isn’t terribly high, but there are some tips and tricks to studying and taking the exam. There are also lots of details about the actual exam that I won’t go into in this post.

First off, read through the study guide.  The truth is that, technically, you don’t really have to study every little thing.  They already tell you what percentage of the exam is going to cover what topics.  So if it says that only 1% of the exam is about Chatter, then don’t spend days studying up on all the minutiae of Chatter.  Focus instead on the 18% which is Standard and Custom Objects, because you know that’s going to occupy lots of real estate.  Remember, you only need 68% to pass.  Of course, 100% is even better, but they don’t tell you what percentage you get anyway, so barely passing and acing the test are the same thing.

At more than 1,000 pages, reading through the whole handbook takes a lot of dedication. It may be helpful to some, but I prefer to find the flashcards on sites such as Cram and ProProfs.  When there is a question about a topic I’m unfamiliar with, I look it up in the handbook and read about that topic.  Memorizing the answers of a select number of flashcards is risky so use those flashcards as an outline that’s a bit more specific than the study guide.  It’s a good middle ground between just cramming some question dumps and reading every line of the handbook.  Another suggestion is study groups. Sharing tips and strategies is always useful, and when other people are involved, it motivates you to know what you’re talking about.

The exams are all multiple choice, with some of the questions being multiple answer (“Select 2 correct answers”).  Whether you do them at home or at a test facility, you’ll be doing them electronically with the ability to review your answers before you submit them.  A strategy that I found helpful is my patented Three Pass Approach.  To execute the Three Pass Approach, do a full pass of the entire list of questions, answering whichever ones you can with 100% certainty and marking the rest as ‘Mark for Review’.  Once you’ve gotten through all the ones you know, do another pass and spend a bit more time on the questions that are a bit more challenging, removing the ‘Mark for Review’ flag for those that you have figured out.  And finally, do a third pass, where you spend the most time on each question.

The benefit to this approach is that you get to see all the questions within the first 20 minutes of the exam.  You’ve viewed them and, hopefully, have completed a chunk of them.  You can then gauge how much time you can afford to spend on each of the ‘hard’ questions without stressing out about time.

Back to that 68% pass rate…if you finish the first pass and have answered 55% of the questions with 100% certainty, then you’re probably sitting pretty. The second and third passes only need to have 29% correct to pass. Definitely focus on answering the rest of the questions correctly, but you won’t have to stress out about whether you’ve passed or not. You’ll also find out right after hitting the Submit button if you passed or failed. Some people would rather wallow in the uncertainty for a couple of days, but I love knowing immediately.

If you do not pass the first time (a common occurrence for all Salesforce cert exams), don’t get too down on yourself.  Get right back on that horse, and quick.  All your studying hasn’t been for nothing.  Sign yourself right back up for another shot.  Write down questions that were in the Second and Third Pass and look them up. The retake cost is half the price of the first time, maybe to encourage those who don’t pass the first time. But don’t wait a month to sign up again, or you’ll lose all that good studying you already did.

And, finally, when you pass and you feel confident that you’re a Salesforce rock star, send us your resume.  We’re hiring!

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