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Salesforce Certification

Test Taking Tips

Obtaining a Salesforce certification can change the trajectory of one's career, and many people make it a goal to get as many certs as possible. Beginners, however,  often find themselves not knowing what to expect on exam day.


For the fifth and final installment of this series, we talk about what Salesforce certification exams are like in actuality, how Salesforce is extremely intentional in how they word their questions, how to compute how close you were to passing if you fail, and what to do when you fail.

Test Taking Tips Icon

My conversation continues with Salesforce Architect and Colorado Springs User Group Leader Roy Moore.


Interviewee Roy Moore

Roy Moore

Roy Moore has been Salesforcing since 2010 and has passed 7 exams on the first try, and 3 exams on the second try — making him an 11X certified Application Architect (heading for Platform Architect). He is a 6X Trailhead Ranger and is Co-Leader of the Colorado Springs Salesforce User Group.

About the exams

Martin: So now we're into the actual Test Taking Tips. So Roy, can you tell us a little bit about it for people who don't actually know what the exam is actually like.


Roy: Well, sure. Well first off you should know that it's a multiple-choice exam. Some of the answers are not multiple-choice, they’re multiple-answer. Meaning there's more than one correct answer and it'll actually say choose two, or choose three. You can mark the questions for review as you are going through the exam — if you're not sure you just want to think about it a little longer and come back to it there's a checkbox for that. Most of the exams are 60 or 65 questions. But even the 65-question exams are still only 60 questions. (Laughter) Salesforce likes to use social proofing for new questions. So they'll throw in five bonus questions and they'll say ‘Hey, five of these won't count against you or for you. We're not gonna tell you which ones.’ But they use that to help them figure out how to make the test better for the next guy. So you're helping them out and you're paying for the opportunity to do that. So 60 or 65 questions is what you should expect and then passing for most exams is between 62% and 68%. You really need to look at the exam prep materials in Trailhead to know how much your specific one is going to be. It's around ⅔. It's usually the score that they're looking for but again check the certification prep materials to get the exact number. And lastly, there's a time limit — it varies between 90 and 120 minutes usually. And that's a lot of time. That's more than enough time to take 60 questions and review them all if you're focused and ready for the exam. But that's basic information about all the certification exams. Again, go to the specific exams for the exact details of that exam — but that's the first thing I can let you know about the exam. (Laughter)

About The Exams

Martin: I guess a couple of things I'll add to that. So some questions are multi-answer so there are some instances where there are multiple that are correct and you have to choose the best answer. So it's very important to read the question carefully. And marking questions for review is a really important tool as well. So make sure that you know if you're not sure about something you can mark it for a review and you can come back to it. Make sure that you use the time in the best way and don't just get stuck on one thing. So once people actually get into starting the exam and they're going through the questions, Roy, what are your suggestions and advice for how people should approach going through each question?

Take note of Keywords

Roy: Well the number one thing they need to know is that Salesforce is extremely intentional in their word choice. They waste no words on these questions. There's no backstory; no fluff — everything in that question will impact the answer. So take note of keywords like Always, Only, Never, All, None, Some; Must.

Take Note of Keywords

Roy: Anything that would either be an absolute or a discriminator would be a keyword to take note of. If too many options seem like they COULD be right, choose the one that you think is MOST right or ALWAYS right without some sort of special caveat or special condition. When you think about Process Builders and Flows, Record Type and Picklists, Lookups and Master Details — these all have overlaps between them of things that are similar about them but there's something that makes them special. And something in that question will point you to that special thing to help you find the right answer. At the end of the day, if you're not sure, eliminate all the choices that you know are wrong and then go with your best guess of what's left. If you can take 5 questions down to two questions — you've taken your odds from a 20% chance of getting it right to a 50% chance of getting it right. That's Test Taking 101. That's stuff you've been doing since primary school or grade school. Those are a few tips I can give you about Salesforce and we actually have an example coming up where we can look at this in a fun way. (Laughter) So this feels like a very Salesforce question if Salesforce cared about fruit. (Laughter)

Identifying Keywords

Roy: But a question in a Salesforce exam might say something like ‘Universal Containers likes fruit that are green only on the outside. Which fruit should they choose?’ Now, there are keywords in here: fruit, green, only, and outside. These words are all there and they will help us eliminate choices. So here's the thought process. So we look at Limes. And Limes — they're green but they're green on the inside and outside. And this says only on the outside so let's eliminate that one. Then Kiwis. Are they green on the outside? They're kind of a brownish color, I'm not really sure. But the inside's green so I know it's not Kiwis. Apples — not all apples are green. Maybe. I don't know — let's come back to that. Donuts — donuts aren’t a fruit! DUH-DOY! They're junk food. (Laughter) Watermelons — I've never seen one that wasn't green, and the inside's red. So a fruit that's green only on the outside? Yeah, watermelons — E. So I would choose watermelons for this question. I would eliminate the ones I was sure about. I'd leave the other ones until I got it down to a 50/50 pick and then I go with the most right answer.

 Multi-answer questions

Roy: Now, a slight variation on this question: what if it said, ‘Choose two answers’? 

Multi-Answer Questions

Roy: Well, that brings apples back in the mix because there are green apples. Not all apples are green but there are green apples. Therefore, in this case, I would choose apples and watermelons because it says choose two. And this would be my best choice for what's left in that scenario. It's the exact same question but with that caveat of multi-answer versus single answer. That's how Salesforce questions often feel. And it's through those keywords, and that very careful word choice, and a process of elimination that if you need help working down to the right answer, you can do that.  

Use the paper

Roy: All right, and so the final tip I have is regarding the testing centers. If you are at a testing center, you can do something there that you cannot do online. Online you don't get paper. At the testing centers, they give you paper. And the No. 1 tip I can give you is to use the paper.

Testing Center

  • At testing centers, test takers are given a piece of paper.

Online

  • Test takers do not get a piece of paper.

Roy: And this might kind of cause you to scratch your head for a moment because what do you need paper for the Salesforce exam? But there are actually several ways you can use it. One thing you do is you can jot down notes as you get started.

Use the Paper

Roy: Let's say you're thinking about the order of operations - the order of execution for the different logic that can fire in Salesforce, and you have that in your head so you write it down. When you get to into the test — if that comes up and they have a different order, you can get confused. You can forget like, ‘Well, I thought it was that but maybe it's that one.’ Well, draw it down first. You can actually compare what you've got in your brain against what they share with you in the exam. So writing down some of the mnemonic devices, charts, graphs, or the things that you've got in prep for the exam can be handy as you go through the exam that you're working on. Drawing out the questions that you're asked. They will ask you questions about Master Detail Relationships and Lookups, and they'll talk about how this object has to look up to this object, and how this object has to look up to that object. For me, that stuff can get kind of confusing so I like to draw that out. I draw a little box and I name it. I draw the little crow's foot off of it to the next object. And that helps me to keep it straight as I'm going through the question. So drawing out the schemas as you're visualizing the questions you're working on. Supplement the review button — here's a fun little fact that I know is true. I heard from a presenter at Dreamforce a while back that when you go through the exam, the order of the answers that they give you in the questions — they'll change them when you go back through them to review them. So what was the first answer the first time around, may be the third or fourth answer the next time around. And so, use the paper but use it well to document the things that you want to review. So write down the number. Write down what you thought it was but don't just put the letter — put some notes about it. Because when you go back through and review — if things have moved around you go, ‘Why on earth did I think it was the first option? That's not the first option. It can't be.’ It's like, ‘What was I thinking?’ And then you start to doubt yourself. Well, it's not you — they move things around. So you can actually use the paper. Use the check box and the exam to say I want to review this. But also put down in notes what your initial reaction to that question was. What do you think the answer is like? Write a couple of words about it to help you when you come back through and review. So use the paper for that purpose. And then, along with something in the review button and drawing out schemas of the questions you're working on, or even jotting down some notes before you get started, there's one more use of the paper. This is my favorite tip of all time. It's my ‘Never going to give you up, never gonna let you down’ tip and that is: as you're going through the exam, as you come to questions that just totally stump you — you have no clue what the answer is. Write down some keywords from each of those questions.

Favorite Tip for the Exam

Roy: At the end of the exam, after you reviewed the marked questions and before you submit the exam, take some time to go through all the keywords of all the questions that were really tough for you and come up with some way to remember them. Put them in alphabetical order; a silly sentence or a song. Something that will help you remember all those keywords. And after you've done that, once you have those keywords in your temporary memory — your short-term memory, hit the Submit button, and if you passed — great! Never mind, move on with your life. You're fine.

If you did not pass

Roy: But if you didn't pass — first off, don't panic or beat yourself up. Of the 11 certifications I've gotten, I didn't pass on the first try on three of them. And these are hard exams — it doesn’t mean you don't know your stuff, it just means they're hard exams. 

If You Did Not Pass

Roy: So take a deep breath, check out with a proctor, get your stuff, go to a private/quiet place — maybe your car, or just somewhere where you can have a minute. Take out your smartphone, and open up an audio-recording device or something like that, and record that list of terms. So the things the keywords that you struggled with on the exam — record that list out with that silly mnemonic device or whatever you want to use — capture it into the recorder before you lose it. Go ahead and add any other thoughts that you have about the exam. Anything else that you can still recall at that moment — capture it all in the recording. Then go home, take that recording transcribe it for yourself, and onto a Word doc; Notepad, or whatever, and then you have that tool to help you as you prep for the next exam. And there's more to come, but that we'll stop there for that note. But that piece alone — just capturing the areas where you struggled with while still super fresh in your mind — will give you great fodder for your second attempt. And that alone might be all you need to get out on the next try.

Check your email

Roy: So along with that keyword list that you generated, Salesforce does want to help you do better on your next try so they do give this helpful email.

Check your email

Roy: It tells you if you passed or failed. Side note: I love how they type FAIL in all uppercase letters. That makes you feel really good as you read that you FAILED. (Laughter) They do also tell you how well you did on each section — well sort of. They tell you the percentage of how well you did in each section but they don't tell you your total score. They'll tell you how many you got right and how many you got wrong. They just tell you the percentage and again that has value but not by itself. There is something though that's we've developed that will help you make more use of this email.

Salesforce certification score checker

FOF Score Checker Icon

Martin: So all credit goes to Roy for coming up with how this works. And this is basically to answer those previous questions where you've got your PASS or FAIL and then you've got your Section-level scores, but what does that actually mean in terms of the number of questions? So this tool that we have at Focus on Force — it's called the Salesforce Certification Score Checker — and what you do is you put in the exam and then we've recorded the passing scores. So in this example, the passing score for Admin is currently 65 — those passing scores actually can vary per certification. And then what you do is you put in your Section-level scores from your email, and then what it's going to do is it's going to use the current exam weighting for each one of those sections which we have in the back-end. And then it's going to actually show you how many questions there were for that actual Section, and then based on your score — how many did you get correct; how many did you get incorrect? And then it will also give you a total. So it gives you a lot more information around what your total was, how close you were, which Sections you need to spend more time on — considering the weighting of those sections.

FOF Salesforce Certification Score Checker

Roy: So in this example, it happens to be that the 40% is where you have the most room for improvement. If you got 100% on the next attempt, you get six more correct. But it's very possible that they'll have a section that's worth 5%, and let's say you got zero of that. Well, that's only three questions. So that may not be where you should put most of your energy. So what Martin did with the Focus on Force team is they've added this section to tell you not just how you did in total, but where you have the most room for improvement. And that's a really handy tool if your time is limited — and it probably is, you know where to put most of your energy and prep the next time around. 

Final round of tips

Roy: Okay so you got your word list that you generated, you have this great calculator on Focus on Force, you've taken that information and you've got a plan to study for your next round. Well, here's the final round of tips for you.  

Final Round of Tips

Roy: And this might kind of cause you to scratch your head for a moment because what do you need paper for the Salesforce exam? But there are actually several ways you can use it. One thing you do is you can jot down notes as you get started.

Use the Paper

Roy: Reschedule the exam right away within two weeks — one would be better — but reschedule it right away. If you're at all discouraged, you might be tempted to put it off. But if you put it off, then all the stuff you've been studying for — there's a chance that you'll forget some of that. So while it's still fresh — all the work you have done, and while the exam’s still fresh in your mind, schedule right away because that will also help you to stay focused and stay on your study priorities. If you say,  ‘Okay, I'll just schedule some time on the road.’ And it ends up being 2, 3, or 4 months, you've lost a lot of momentum that way. So schedule it right away, research your keywords list — which we talked about, prioritize your studying by putting most of your energy into areas where you can make up the most ground, then retake the exam and PASS. 

Author: Martin Gessner


Martin Gessner is the Founder of Focus on Force. 


He has spent over 10 years working in various Salesforce roles including business analyst, project manager, consultant and solutions architect. Along the way he has earned twelve certifications, published "The Salesforce Career Playbook", and helps Salesforce professionals learn more about Salesforce, develop their career and prepare for certifications.

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