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.
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 University runs courses onsite or online, one of them being the Administration Essentials for New Admins (Admin201), 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.
- There are 60 multiple-choice questions and 90 minutes to complete.
- 65% is the passing score, which means you need 39 correct answers.
- You may take the test at a test centre, or remotely on your own computer. The second option is monitored through a webcam and you must submit your biometrics and follow strict guidelines beforehand, but may be worth it if you don’t have a test centre near you or need more flexibility in terms of scheduling. You can find the information about scheduling your exam and the guidelines here.
- The fee to take the test is $200 and the retake fee is $100. You can retake this exam 9 times.
- Every question is worth 1 mark on the test. Some questions will ask you to pick more than one correct answer but you either get the whole point or nothing. There’s no partial marks for a multi-select question.
- The questions on the exam are scenario based. Some questions are longer than others.
- You can mark questions for review on your screen during the test, and that’s a tool I highly recommend using so you can maximize your efficiency during the test.
- When taking the test, if you know the answer to a question right away, don’t dwell on it or second-guess yourself. Pick your answer and move on. Likewise, if you don’t know the answer, mark for review and come back to it later so you have time to answer the ones you know.
- Use all the allotted time given on the test and read each question carefully, while always being mindful of the clock. I recommend spending 70 minutes on the 60 questions, allowing yourself the remaining 20 minutes for questions marked for review. So if you see yourself spending over 1 minute per question, it may be time to move quicker.
- Some of the multiple choice options will have made-up names for things such as a “List” Report Format, which doesn’t exist or is not one of the report formats in Salesforce. You can eliminate those options easily right off the bat.
- None of the exams are open-book so you may not bring any notes, hardcopy material or take notes with you during the exam.
- Before 2017, Salesforce would only give you “Pass” or “Fail” results at the end of your exam. Now, they are including Section-Level Feedback Results, shown as a percentage of correct answers from each topic on the exam, as outlined on the exam guide. It’s great feedback because it shows you exactly what your strong points are or areas you could practice more, in case you fail.
- Once you pass, you’ll receive an email with your test results, a link to your certificate as well as a link to the official “Salesforce Certified” badge that you can add to your profile photos on LinkedIn, social media, or pretty much anywhere you would like to brag about! You’ll also be invited to the exclusive Salesforce Certified Success Community.
- Your certification may be displayed on their official verification website, which you can opt in or out before you take the exam (or after if you change your mind).
How to prepare the self-study way
- 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
- 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 & Custom Objects 15%, Security & Access 14%, Reports & Dashboards 10% etc). Anything over 10% is a high priority.
2. 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 & Custom Objects and User & Org Setup because that’s really the beginning of everything.
Some very important topics to focus on:
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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
- 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 & Developer documentation your best friend. Every Salesforce expert does.
6. 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.
7. Watch the “Who Sees What” video series by Salesforce
- When you get to Security & Access, make sure to go to Youtube and watch the video series. You don’t want to skip that.
8. 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.
9. Take notes as you learn, 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 Admin201 notes but be mindful they are not necessarily updated with the current release and may not be accurate.
10. 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 University 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.
11. 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, 90 minutes to complete. Also try sample Salesforce ADM 201 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.
12. 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 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 and learn about the costs involved.
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
Study Guide Topic Details
|Organization Setup (Global UI)|
|Describe the information found in the company profile|
|Distinguish between the various UI features that an administrator controls, including the implications|
|Identify the steps to set up and maintain a user|
|Understand the implications of activating, deactivating, or freezing a user|
|Security and Access|
|Explain the various organization security controls|
|Given a user request scenario, apply the appropriate security controls based on the features and capabilities of the Salesforce sharing model|
|Given a scenario, determine the appropriate use of a custom profile or permission set using the various profile settings and permissions|
|Describe how folders can be used to organize and secure communication templates, dashboards, reports and documents|
|Given a scenario, determine the appropriate use of a custom profile|
|Standard and Custom Objects|
|Describe the standard object architecture and relationship model|
|Explain how to create, delete, and customize fields and page layouts on standard and custom objects and understand the implications of deleting fields|
|Given a scenario, determine how to create and assign page layouts, record types and business processes for custom and standard objects|
|Sales and Marketing Applications|
|Given a scenario, identify the capabilities and implications of the sales process|
|Given a scenario, identify when to apply the appropriate sales productivity features|
|Describe the capabilities of lead automation tools and campaign management|
|Describe the capability of Salesforce Content|
|Service and Support Applications|
|Describe the capabilities of case management|
|Given a scenario, identify how to automate case management|
|Describe the capabilities of solution management and Salesforce Knowledge|
|Describe the capabilities of the Community application, such as Ideas and Answers|
|Activity Management and Collaboration|
|Describe the capabilities of activity management|
|Describe the features of Chatter|
|Describe the considerations when importing, updating, transferring, and mass deleting data|
|Given a scenario, identify tools and use cases for managing data|
|Describe the capabilities and implications of the data validation tools|
|Describe the different ways to back up data|
|Analytics – Reports and Dashboards|
|Describe the options available when creating or customizing a report|
|Describe the impact of the sharing model on reports|
|Describe the options available when creating and modifying dashboards|
|Describe the capabilities of custom report types|
|Workflow / Process Automation|
|Given a scenario, identify the appropriate automation solution based on the capabilities of workflow/process|
|Describe capabilities and use cases for the approval process|
|Desktop and Mobile Administration|
|Describe the capabilities of Salesforce1|
|Describe the installation and synchronization options of Salesforce Lightning for Outlook|
|Identify use cases for AppExchange applications|