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4 Salesforce Exam Writing Tips to Achieve Salesforce Certification Success

by Cary Walkin

Do you have your eye on a Salesforce Certification to advance your career? Perhaps it's your first certification. Maybe you're challenging yourself with a difficult certification. I'm a 6x Salesforce Certified professional who has had a career full of exams, and the tips in this guide have helped me and my team pass all of the Salesforce Certification exams that we've written. I wrote this guide to help you achieve Salesforce Certification success.

Don't Delay the Exam

A lot of people who are writing Salesforce Certification exams are post-academia professionals. It may have been years since you've written your last exam. Maybe you were certain you’d never have to write an exam ever again. This can lead to a fear of failure that gets compounded by loss aversion bias. Loss aversion is a cognitive bias whereby our brains tend to prefer avoiding a loss rather than achieving an equivalent gain. As an example, most people would prefer not to lose $200 of their hard-earned money due to personal failure than receiving $200 as a windfall.

When applied to the Salesforce Certification exams, this causes us to behave in unproductive ways. If we believe that we may fail the exam, our brain will justify delaying the exam. After all, it costs nothing to reschedule the exam, I'll have more time to study, and I won't have to feel the social ramifications of failing the exam with my peers. If any of the above justifications resonated with you, you are letting the fear of failure drive your decision-making process. Each one of those justifications is counter-productive, let's deconstruct them:

"It costs nothing to reschedule the exam."

This is ignoring a high cost: your time. The more time that you invest, the worse the impact of loss aversion becomes, and you are more likely to postpone the exam indefinitely.

"I'll have more time to study."

This is ignoring the recency effect and decreased motivation. More time to study does not correlate to an increased likelihood of passing the exam.

"I won't have to feel the social ramifications of failing the exam with my peers."

This is is overvaluing the loss in your mind. Failing the exam is not a big deal in terms of your resources or impact on your career. You can retake a Salesforce Certification exam after 24 hours and for half of the original cost for an unlimited number of retakes. By comparison, when I wrote the Chartered Accountant exams, failure meant that I would need to wait one full year before I could attempt it again at the same cost.

Don’t Study Too Much Content

Once you've decided on writing a certification exam, your next step is likely to run to Trailhead and start doing the recommended Trailmix. After all, this is what Salesforce recommends and who knows better about writing the exam than the makers of the exam! The Platform Developer I Trailmix has an estimated 45.5 hours of content. Completing this volume of content will give you a false sense of security that you are ready for the exam.

The reality is that in a Salesforce Certification exam setting, your ability to recall specific information quickly is more important than your ability to understand the underlying concepts being tested. Narrow down the content that you are studying to be tailored to the exam that you are writing. You can do this by getting a study guide for your exam, such as the ones prepared by Focus on Force. The material in a study guide is both tailored to the exam and is easily digestible, so you can review it before writing the exam, which makes information recall easier.

Don’t Study Too Long

We often think that the more time we spend studying a subject, the greater the likelihood that we will pass an exam on that subject. That’s not actually true due to the recency effect and declining motivation.

The recency effect is the tendency to remember the most recently presented information the best. We want to use that recency effect to our advantage by reducing the amount of time between the first piece of information that we need to recall and the last piece of information. If you are studying for a day, it is much easier to recall information from your first topic than if you are studying for a week. Similarly, anything that we need to memorize for the exam, we should review immediately before writing the exam.

We are the most motivated when we decide to do something. This is why people feel great about their new year's resolutions when they make them. Motivation naturally decreases over time and needs to be maintained. Gamification mechanics in Trailhead is an example of motivation maintenance by providing rewards over time. If we want to remain motivated throughout the study plan, we should reduce the amount of study time required to cover the content tested on the exam.

Plan for "Pick Multiple Correct Answers" Questions

The Salesforce Certification exams are notorious for the type of question that has multiple correct answers, and you need to get ALL answers right to get credit for the question. A sample question looks like this:

Which of the following are true regarding Web-to-Lead?
Choose three answers.

A. The default lead creator for web-generated leads can be specified
B. There is a limit of 100 leads that can be captured per day
C. Standard and custom fields which need to be captured online can be selected
D. Data entered in the web form is validated before it is sent to Salesforce

These questions can be challenging if you're not prepared for them. The benefit of these types of questions is that only certain types of testable content can be asked in this manner. This means that you can reasonably guess the questions that will be on the exam before you write the exam. Reviewing sample questions on practice exams, such as those prepared by Focus on Force, can help you prepare for these questions in advance.

Next Steps

  • Schedule your exam within the next week to a month
  • Get a study guide
  • Ensure you have 2-3 days off of work to focus on the study plan
  • Read the study guide before the exam
  • Re-read the study guide immediately before the exam
  • Write the exam

What Certification are you studying for now?

Focus on Force currently provide practice exams and study guides for nine certifications

Cary Walkin

Cary Walkin

Cary Walkin is a Chartered Accountant, has six Salesforce certifications, and has an MBA from York University. He uses his Finance and Operations expertise to help businesses improve their processes. Before he became a Salesforce expert, he created a full length video game entirely in Microsoft Excel. The game, Arena.Xlsm, launched to over 600,000 players and was featured by over 150 media outlets.


  1. Wendie Hipolito

    Are you suggesting we study for 2-3 days straight and then take the exam right away? And by studying, are you suggesting reading through the Focus on Force study guides is enough? I was a Certified Admin back in 2013 but let it lapse when I left workforce. Kicking myself now bc I’ve yet to be able to pass the real exam (failed 2x at our 55-60% score) or FoF test exams (similar test scores). So close but not enough.

    1. Cary Walkin

      Hi Wendie,
      That is largely what I’m recommending. Commit the Focus on Force Study Guide to memory over a couple of days and then write the exam to recall that information. If you fail the exam, don’t get discouraged, you now are ahead of the game for your next rewrite. Schedule the rewrite quickly and study the sections of the exam that you did poorly on.