Preparing for a Salesforce Certification Exam - Techniques that Work

06/18/2018 by Dan Hardy
In this article we will take a look at some ways to study for and pass a Salesforce certification exam that are based in neuroscience.

It’s been a long time since I had to take an exam for school, so when I started my Salesforce journey I was looking for the best neuroscience-based approaches to learning. I’m not a very gifted test taker and I needed all the help I could get. Salesforce certification exams are tough, and should be. Here at Arkus all of our project managers have 6+ certifications. Below I’ll share some techniques I found that have really helped.

Focus on Understanding, not Memorization

As David Liu, a Salesforce Architect at Google and author of www.sfdc99.com puts it, the first step to getting certified is to focus on understanding, not memorization.  It’s really tough to pass a certification exam by studying the material on its own from a book, website or flashcards without knowing the context within Salesforce. The first time I took the Salesforce Admin exam I failed.  It was only when I went back into my Salesforce developer org and really practiced (thanks Trailhead) that it was able to retake it and pass. What really is on the user profile page layout?  What are in the user settings? How do you do a validation on a custom field? What’s a master-detail relationship look like in the Schema Builder? Once I’d gotten the context, it was time for some serious memorization. Otherwise, how can I possibly remember a series of lists like: “What are the Key Performance Indicators of a Call Center?”    

Spaced Repetition

The Wikipedia definition of “spaced repetition” is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect.  It’s been proven time and again to work and the first study that proved its effectiveness dates all the way back to the 1930s. I found an amazing open source app called Anki that is built on spaced repetition.  It’s an electronic flash card program that keeps track of what I remember and what I have forgotten.  The app prompts me to review the cards I’ve forgotten more frequently. For the ones I keep forgetting (“leeches”), I might rewrite them if they are too dense and break the information up onto 2 or 3 cards.  After practice, I might only review them every 3 months or so since they are now locked into my brain’s long term memory. I have created Anki “Decks” for each of my certification exams. How do I create the cards?  What has worked for me is to read through a condensed study guide (e.g. Focus on Force) and then write cards for things I didn’t know and therefore needed to learn. Simple.

How to Remember Long Lists of Abstract Words

My brain has a really hard time storing lists of abstract words. Fortunately I live near U.C. Berkeley and there are lot of smart test takers here.  I happened upon a meetup group led by Josh Cohen who runs the artofmemory.com website and he gave me lots of great advice from the memory masters.  I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but I found the techniques of “Linking” and “Memory Palaces” the most helpful.  First I found that I had to convert all of those abstract words (e.g. sales rep, component, VisualForce, entitlement, management) into pictures that I could remember. So, I created a special Anki deck of flashcards just for my word-picture associations.  Now each time I picture General Patton I will think of management and whenever I see a rock climber I remember Lead. Even though it takes time, learning lists has become quite creative and fun.

Tea and the Pomodoro Technique

In this era of rapidly diminishing attention, when sitting down to study I found it difficult to not get distracted by the latest desktop or phone notification.  The pomodoro technique is very simply a way to focus with a timer (and refrain from doing anything else) in 25 minute segments spaced with 5 minute breaks. I find pomodoros especially helpful when trying to kickstart a study session on a Sunday morning.  Lastly, I love coffee but I’ve found tea (or Yerba Mate for the true die hards) to be more effective in helping me concentrate. The L-theanine elevates levels of GABA, as well as serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals are known as neurotransmitters, and they work in the brain to regulate concentration and alertness.

I hope these neuroscience-based techniques can help you like they helped me.  I can also recommend this great article from Larry here at Arkus. May your Salesforce certification journey be plentiful and fruitful.  


Please feel free to comment below, on the Salesforce Success Community, or directly at me on Twitter @DanHardy16

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