Salesforce is one of the fastest growing and most in-demand skills in IT right now, and to add that knowledge to your resume can have a payoff almost immediately. The Salesforce ecosystem extends far past its original cloud-based CRM platform, so Salesforce technical skills prove extremely useful and necessary in a wide range of areas, from system administrators, to product managers, developers, integration architects and beyond.
Becoming Salesforce Certified is not only a highly effective way to prove your skills are current and at the expected baseline level but more often than not a prerequisite for companies who seek Salesforce experts. Most Salesforce-related jobs will require a minimum of one certification, and the entry-level – but no less challenging – is the Salesforce Certified Administrator certification.
Our Greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.
One thing I hear a lot from people with multiple Salesforce certifications is that passing the Certified Administrator exam was one of the hardest. Why? Well, because it’s the first one and the material covered is very comprehensive. So although this is a prerequisite exam to several other certification paths, it’s not one you can simply show up and take the test without preparation, even if you’ve worked with Salesforce for years.
Don’t let the difficulty level of the test put you off, though. The good news is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re already an experienced system administrator who wants to take the next step and get certified, or if you come from a completely different background and decided to learn a new set of skills from scratch. Getting that first certification can be achieved in a few months, even if this is the first time you’re reading the word “Salesforce”. You just need to devise a plan, prepare and practice.
I passed the Salesforce Certified Administrator exam exactly 3 months after I started studying for it. Before that, my Salesforce knowledge was very limited, to say the least. But with that goal in mind, I also wanted to pass the first time I took the test. Ambitious? Maybe, but very feasible as I later found out.
There are different ways you can prepare for the exam.
Salesforce runs courses onsite or online, one of them being the Administration Essentials for New Admins (ADM201), which can run you about $4500 for the 3-day course.
You read that figure correctly. So if you or the company you work for are not willing to make that investment on your certification goals, there are many self-study resources online that can help you prepare for the exam. I took the second option which proved to be highly rewarding and I plan on using those same resources for my future certification exams.
What to expect from the exam?
I found practicing my test-taking technique to be just as important as learning the contents of the exam. Understanding the format of this test will help you structure the way you study for it.
How to prepare the self-study way
Set a goal for yourself
Set a goal for yourself and book the test in advance so you have to meet your deadline.
Any time is the right time, but be realistic and know you will have to dedicate yourself for many hours a day so the content stays fresh in your head. This is particularly important for the Administrator exam because there is SO. MUCH. TO. COVER.
Prepare a schedule
My timeline was 3 months so during the first month I had about 16 hours a week to study. Luckily I was able to do these in large blocks, about 2 days a week. Then by month 2, I increased to 2 full days plus an additional 2 hours a day on the remaining 5 days.
I used the last month for revision. The schedule remained the same but by that point, it was all practice. I studied even a little bit every day, building Salesforce “muscle memory”.
How to Study
Download the official Exam Guide.
Become very familiar with that exam guide because it outlines the weight distribution for the topics required on the exam. Definitely concentrate on the areas of most weight (i.e. Standard and Custom Objects 14%, Security and Access 13%, Reports and Dashboards 10% etc). Anything over 10% is a high priority.
From that exam guide outline, prepare a study schedule.
Make a nice little spreadsheet if you’re into that sort of thing. Divide your schedule into two basic areas: large topics and smaller topics.
If you have a large block of consecutive hours, tackle one of the big topics (over 10%). I spent an entire week on Security & Access, so use as many “large blocks” to study those as you need.
Tackle the 1% and 2% topics (AppExchange, Desktop and Mobile Administration) on days you can’t study for hours consecutively but can still read up on the subject, like on your lunch break.
Overall, I highly recommend starting with Standard and Custom Objects and User and Org Setup because that’s really the beginning of everything.
Standard and Custom Objects
Sales and Marketing Applications
Security and Access
The reason why I put a high priority on these 3 topics is because they cover a large chunk of the exam, they are often interrelated, so if you understand these 3 areas really well, you will be able to answer the most difficult questions in the exam. This doesn’t mean you should skip the other topics. But learn these ones VERY, VERY WELL.
If you’re a Salesforce beginner (like I was!), go to Trailhead first.
Trailhead is the official Salesforce FREE online learning tool. It’s fun and gives you a practical, hands-on approach to learning Salesforce. They divide the subjects into modules and trails that you can take at your own pace and you earn badges after you complete a module.
There’s something there for every level. A lot of the modules will correspond to topics on the exam guide but it’s not comprehensive because that’s not what Trailhead is for. The Admin Beginner and Intermediate Trails cover a lot of ground but it’s not a one-stop shop. It’s a starting point, especially if you’re stuck on a subject you don’t know much about.
Be aware that Trailhead alone will NOT get you that certification.
Sign up for a Developer Account.
The Developer Edition Org is a free, Salesforce practice org where you can apply the skills as you’re learning. While you’re at it, download the Salesforce1 and SalesforceA apps as well since they will also be covered in the exam. The questions on the exam are scenario-based, so practice your learning material on your Developer Org constantly but also imagine business scenarios where the tools you learn could be used.
Utilize Salesforce Help and Developer Documentation.
They cover everything you need to know. But I wouldn’t tackle those until you’re at least a bit familiar with the topic you’re studying. Then make the Help and Developer documentation your best friend. Every Salesforce expert does.
Implement the Developer Documentation “AW Computing Recruiting App”.
I recommend taking the time to fully implement it on your Developer Org. That will cover a lot of scenarios.
Watch the “Who Sees What” video series by Salesforce.
When you get to Security and Access, make sure to go to YouTube and watch the video series. You don’t want to skip that.
Have a buddy system.
It’s helpful to ask someone with Salesforce experience questions as they come along; no question is silly. If you don’t personally know anyone, the Salesforce Success Community will be more than happy to answer any type of questions you may have.
Take notes as you learn and write down key concepts.
I used a combination of a good old-fashioned notebook and making my own flash cards. There are flash card websites that will have tons of ADM201 notes but be mindful they are not necessarily updated with the current release and may not be accurate.
Find a good study guide website.
There are a few good study guide websites out there. The good ones are paid but for a tiny fraction of the price of the Salesforce courses. Because you pay for these, you can expect a higher quality and accuracy with the material offered.
Because I had already been preparing my own flashcards on some of the key principles from each topic, I found the card and bullet point format from the Focus on Force study guide very helpful.
Find a good mock exam website.
Mock exams can be a hit or miss. Real “question dumps” compromise the integrity of your hard-earned certification. Real questions that get divulged by test takers out there get reported and taken down rather quickly, so don’t waste your time.
I used the Focus on Force Practice Exams, which contain all original questions but follow the same format as the actual exam: 60 questions, 105 minutes to complete. Also try sample Salesforce ADM201 Exam Questions
That alone helped me practice my test-taking pace but I also found the difficulty level on par with the actual exam. They also give you the feedback results percentage by topic at the end, as well as details on the correct answers, with screenshots and links for reference.
Finally: when you study, don’t try to just memorize names and numbers.
It’s useless to know how many data types of fields there are if you don’t understand how and when to use which type. The best way to practice these skills is real life or the Developer Org.
It’s important to remember which part of the Setup you can find some of the most important configurations, like the Company Settings but the approach is always from a business case. For instance, there may be a question where you have to decide when to apply a workflow rule instead of a validation rule or an approval process. Sometimes there isn’t a completely wrong answer, but one where you have to choose the “best” answer for that scenario.
One of the questions I asked myself a lot while studying was “do I need to learn this in Salesforce Classic or Lightning Experience?”. For now, focus on Classic mode. Although Salesforce is no longer developing new tools for Classic, the skills required for this exam are still covered mainly in Classic. But do learn how to switch and when to switch and some of the limitations.
You’ve studied hard. You passed the test. Congratulations! Now what?
Getting the “Pass” mark and earning your certification is definitely not the end of the road. Salesforce Certified Administrators are required to take 3 maintenance exams per year, in order to keep their certification valid and current. It is an online and open book exam that is 30 minutes long and typically 5-10 questions, related to the current release. You can find more information about the maintenance exams for all certifications here.
The Salesforce Administrator certification is only the first of many available, and once you earn yours you will find it’s very much like a tattoo: you will want many more! So set yourself that goal, go get it and best of luck!
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Study Guide Topic Weightings
WORKFLOW / PROCESS AUTOMATION
STANDARD AND CUSTOM OBJECTS
SERVICE AND SUPPORT APPLICATIONS
SECURITY AND ACCESS
SALES AND MARKETING APPLICATIONS
ORGANIZATION SETUP (GLOBAL UI)
DESKTOP AND MOBILE ADMINISTRATION
ANALYTICS - REPORTS AND DASHBOARDS
ACTIVITY MANAGEMENT AND COLLABORATION
To prepare successfully for the Salesforce Admin Certification Exam, we recommend to work through our Admin Certification Study Guide and Practice Exams.
Salesforce Admin Certification Practice Exams
Test yourself with complete practice exams or focus on a particular topic with the topic exams. Find out if you are ready for the exam.
Salesforce Admin Certification Study Guide
Every topic objective explained thoroughly. The most efficient way to study the key concepts in the exam.