How I Passed the Salesforce Advanced Administrator Certification Exam [2020]

Gang, I recently got my Salesforce Advanced Admin Certification. And to be honest, it was a bit of a mess getting there! 🤪

So I’m sharing my story for anyone who might benefit. That includes the mistakes I made during my prep, and the last minute changes that helped me turn things around before exam day.

Background

The Salesforce Advanced Administrator (301) certification is the next level up from the Certified Administrator 201 certification. (If you haven’t taken the 201 exam, start there.)

I took my 201 exam in 2017, after studying for 4-6 months. By the end of 2019, I felt it was time to graduate to the 301 cert. I bought a Udemy course that was on sale, but didn’t touch the course for a few months….until the pandemic hit.

My mistakes 🤦🏻‍♀️

Let me start by saying what I didn’t realize at first. This exam is hard.

Anyone who’s taken a Salesforce exam knows they’re not easy. So I really should’ve known better.

Here’s where I messed up. I wrongly assumed my 4 years of Salesforce experience made me a shoe-in to pass.

When I passed my first certification exam, I only had 1 year of full-time admin experience. My knowledge and skills have grown since then. I figured if I could pass the first exam with 1 year of experience, then surely I’d have an easy time with 4 years under my belt.

That’s why I only gave myself 4-6 weeks to study (compared to 4-6 months for my first exam!). Most of that time involved “lite” studying: passively listening to my online class and completing some modules from the Advanced Admin Trailmix. I barely took notes, and didn’t take a practice test until 3 days before my scheduled exam.

My rude awakening came when I bombed that practice test. I was totally unprepared to take this exam.

How I Changed Course 🏋🏻‍♀️

If you take anything from this post, let it be this. Unless you can recall every bit of logic on each exam category AND you’re a decent test taker, Salesforce skills alone do not make for a passing score.

Seriously. There are real pros out there, with years of experience, who struggle to pass these things. (Don’t believe it? Check out this reflection from Salesforce Mentor on a recent exam.)

To spare myself an inevitable retake fee, all I could do was push back my exam date.

I should’ve given myself at least 2 more weeks to comfortably study. But I was determined to take the exam that same week, for personal reasons. So I took the path I wouldn’t recommend: I crammed for 5 days straight, from morning to night.

The hope was I’d be ready to take the exam no later than the end of the week. So my cramming consisted of these 4 things:

1) I took 1-2 practice tests per day.

Huge shout out to the Focus on Force practice tests. My first practice test was one that I randomly found online. But Advanced Admin practice tests are hard to come by for free, especially good ones that aren’t out of date. For $20, you get 5 practice tests, grades across each exam category, and detailed explanations for every question. Money well spent.

It wasn’t until I passed 3 tests in a row (70-76%) that I felt confident enough to lock in my exam slot.

2) I leaned into Trailhead...to an extent.

Those who know Trailhead know it’s a fantastic learning resource. But I didn’t spend too much time there during my prep, simply because I didn’t need to for my first cert.

Revisiting the Advanced Admin Trailmix was a great way to reinforce my learning. Instead of racing to complete the modules, I took my time reading the prompts, absorbing & even repeating the steps. By the time of my exam, I completed 77% of the Trailmix.

p.s. I didn’t complete every Superbadge or Project, nor do I recommend it. While they’re helpful for flexing your skills, they can be time-consuming and don’t guarantee mastery for the exam. Some also have weird verification glitches, which can take even more time to troubleshoot.

3) I studied in a way that works best for my learning style.

This part of certification prep doesn’t get discussed enough. You should know how you learn & retain info best, in order to come up with an efficient prep plan.

For me, that meant writing a study guide, by hand. Some people do well with typing. Others do better by listening (in which case you can record yourself and play it back later!) Or maybe you’re okay with working from an existing guide, like the ones provided by Focus on Force. The point is, it pays to figure this out.

4) I spent the majority of my time in the Salesforce Help Center.

This was my biggest shift in strategy. Using the Exam Outline here (scroll down), I took notes directly from the Salesforce Help Center. I spent more time in the places where the exam weighting is higher (like Security) and clicked on any Help Center links in the Trailhead modules and Focus on Force question explanations.

Had I done this from beginning, I would’ve been far more prepared than I was.

p.s. I know the Help Center is massive, and that this sounds daunting. I mostly focused on “consideration” articles (like this) for features mentioned in the Exam Outline. I also focused on articles that had conceptual information (rather than specific instructions) and noted the permissions necessary for some of the major features.

Exam Day ✍🏽

The morning of my virtual exam could’ve gone smoother. I was tired AND wired from all the studying! But here’s what I did that helped:

  • I stopped studying early the night before, to make sure I’d get at least 7 hours of sleep
  • I gave myself 30 minutes in the morning to set up my exam space
  • I raced through the first time, only answering easy questions (few & far between)
  • I used my extra time to revisit the skipped questions, before re-visiting all of them. I ended my test with 2 minutes to spare.
  • In the event I failed, I tried to remember which questions I was stuck on. That tip comes directly from the Salesforce Blog.
  • Given my timeline, I accepted the possibility that I’d have to retake the exam in the Fall.

Ultimately, I passed. And took a mental break from Salesforce for the rest of the week.

Closing Thoughts

This can be a frustrating experience for some, and I get why. You can be a fantastic admin, with years of experience, and still fail.

That’s true even for the pre-requisite 201 exam. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find many Reddit & Trailblazer community threads about this. It’s super common for people to fail a Salesforce Exam, or even several.

So keep that in mind! Accept the possibility of exam day not going to plan, and you’re halfway there.

The other half is the test-taking, a game that can stump even the most capable Admins. But if you’re willing to play, this really isn’t a bad moment to cert-up.

After all, the pandemic has us all rethinking our job security (for those who still hold a job). A cert isn’t a bad way to have a leg up, should you find yourself searching for the next gig.


Hope this was helpful in your certification journey! Let everyone know in the comments if you have any extra tips for the exam, and feel free to share any lingering questions!

Share your thoughts!