What You Need to Know Before Registering for a Salesforce Exam
What You Need to Know Before Registering for Your Salesforce Exam

What You Need to Know Before Registering for a Salesforce Exam

12/05/2020 by Yrel Macahilas
Learning the tips and procedures for scheduling the Salesforce certifications exams.

Salesforce Certification Basics 

A Salesforce certification can be proof for an individual that they have achieved enough knowledge in a certain area to be considered proficient in it, and subsequently “certified” by Salesforce. Salesforce began offering a select number of certification exams nearly a decade and a half ago. Over time, they have become the number one customer relationship management (CRM) software in the world and now offer around 25 certifications.

Passing awards you with a certificate as proof of your Salesforce expertise, whether you gained it from studying or working. Arkus President Larry Salvatoriello has written a blog post about certification preparation tips that are very helpful when preparing for an exam, especially if it’s your first time. So what do you need to know to schedule a certification exam amd make sure your test-taking set-up suits you best?

Scheduling the Exam

First things first, all the exams are tracked and scheduled through Webassessor, a cloud-based test development and delivery platform created by Kryterion, Inc. It requires registration to access exams, reminders, and results. After an account has been created, you will find a tab on the site labeled “Register For An Exam” with a list of the available exams. Each exam type has its own section, with a dropdown to show the available exams to be bought and taken. The page has the specific certification exams’ names along with a brief description of who the exam is intended for, pre-requisites and any additional information to be found on an external page within Trailhead.

With the exception of the Salesforce Technical Architect and practice exams, each exam presents two options for how you can take them: Onsite or Online. The majority of the exams cost $200 to schedule, however, they’re taken. Salesforce Architect exams cost $400, while the practice exams for the Salesforce Marketing Cloud Email Specialist and Salesforce Administrator are $20. When you have come to a decision for how to take the exam, the options present various locations and/or times to choose from.

If you have decided to take the exam onsite, click “Register” to redirect the page and follow the prompts to find your nearest testing center, complete the registration process and pay online or use a voucher or coupon code.

If you choose online, clicking “Register” will take you straight to a calendar page to set the time of the exam. Country and locale must be selected from a drop-down to reflect the available times within the associated time zone. After checking the checkbox for the agreements and moving on to the next page, you will be directed to the summary of your order and the payment form. 

Normally, taking the exam online would require you to have two webcams (one built-in webcam on the laptop and one external webcam), but due to COVID-19, the restrictions have been relaxed to accommodate more people. So as of December 1st, 2020, you are able to schedule an exam online with just your built-in webcam and forgo the external webcam requirement. Read the requirements fully in the future as this may change again. 

Sentinel and Online Exam Set-Up

Prior to taking the exam online, you will be instructed to download Sentinel, Webassessor’s security software. Sentinel will do a facial recognition scan and have that information logged to verify you each time an exam is taken online. Once registered, under the My Assessments tab, below the steps to installing Sentinel, there will be sections: Scheduled Exams, In-Progress Exams, and Completed Exams. 

The sections log the information of every exam purchased and when they were scheduled. If you find out that you are unable to attend and take an exam, Webassessor does allow you to reschedule for another time depending on whether you’re scheduled to take the test onsite or online. 

An onsite exam may be rescheduled for free 72 hours before the scheduled test time. There will be a fee charged for any changes made within 72 hours. Online exams can be rescheduled free of charge anytime. At one point in time, I  unexpectedly had to miss my exam time and logged back in as soon as possible to check the status. Luckily, a missed exam within a couple of hours that is held online comes with no additional cost or fees to reschedule.

Taking the Exam

Are there any differences in taking the exam onsite or online? Maybe. In terms of Salesforce content and questions on the exam, there is absolutely no difference between taking the exam onsite or online. You will be scored through 60 questions and depending on the exam, you may get five supplemental questions. These extra five questions will not be counted towards your final score.

The majority, if not all the Salesforce exams, will allow you an hour and 45 minutes (105 minutes) to complete. If you fail to put an answer for every question or click Submit before the allotted time, the exam will automatically be submitted whether it was completed or not.

Passing scores vary depending on the type of exam. For example, the Salesforce Administrator exam has a passing score of 65%, meaning you must get at least 39 questions out of 60 correct. Other exams like the Salesforce Platform App Builder exam require a 63%, or 38 out of 60 to pass. Salesforce openly displays the breakdown of each exam with topics and their associated percentage weight in the exam guide. Understanding the breakdown will help you strategize what is important to know for the topics and which to prioritize and focus on more than others

In terms of the exams’ substance, there are no differences between taking an exam onsite or online, but it may make a difference for an individual due to atmosphere, comfort, and convenience. Taking the exam onsite means you have to go to your chosen testing facility with identification to verify your identity. In-person exams are still taken through a computer and a blank scratch paper may be provided to take notes.The scratch paper will be turned in at the end of the exam. It is possible that other people walking in and out could be distracting. The advantage is that the Sentinel software is already installed and you don’t have to worry about it.

If you chose to take the exam online, the same place within Webassessor that Sentinel was clicked to be installed will turn into a button that launches the software used to monitor the exam ten minutes prior to the exam. You will be verified through your saved facial recognition and load the test once the proctor signs in to monitor you through the webcam. In contrast to the onsite test-taking rules, the rules are much more strict to prevent anyone from cheating or recording the exam. The rules state that there must not be any electronics, pieces of paper, or related items in the vicinity. The audio is also monitored, and talking or reading aloud is also prohibited. 

While it can be overwhelming to have so many rules to abide by, some people may feel more secure, comfortable, and relaxed taking the exam from their own home. It can also be more convenient. It is also possible that online you may experience issues with the lightning of your room, the positioning of the camera, or the speed of your connection that could prompt your proctor to interrupt your exam via a chat pop up to guide you to correct something they believe is an issue. 

After verification, the page will display terms and conditions to be accepted. This is followed by the exam information: allotted time, the number of questions, supplemental questions, etc. Each question in the exam requires a selection before moving on to the next one, but you can mark a question for review and revisit it at any point in the exam. 

If a question requires a specific number of answers (the “select X number of options” type of question), you need to select that amount of answers to be able to move to the next question even if you mark it for later review. The review feature can be very helpful as it allows you to see an overview of all the questions and view what is answered, flagged, and unanswered.

For onsite test takers, you may be allowed to use the bathroom during the exam, but the time will continue to run. If taking the exam online, a request to the proctor might be required first. Remember that the online test is closely monitored. Glasses are inspected, eyes must be fixed only to the computer screen and the test should be taken away from other people with almost little to no background noise. Once the time ends or the exam is completed and submitted, the feedback form will be displayed. This is optional to be filled out and can be skipped. The results of the test are calculated immediately and can be found right after the feedback form. 

For me, this is the most nerve-wracking point in the exam. The results only take a second to load, but it can be the longest second to find out if you passed or failed. I often cover my face until I calm down so that even if I fail and don’t see the outcome I had hoped for, I can refocus and try again another time.

Retaking the Exam

Was the result of the exam not what you had expected? Did you happen to miss the passing mark just by a question or two? Not to worry, you can take the exam again. Keep in mind, there are limitations and rules enforced before you can take another stab at it. 

In addition, by now you should have seen your results with the word, “Failed”, and the topic breakdowns of the exam in percentages. If you dismissed the page, the results are sent to your email associated with the Webassessor account you’ve created. It can also be found on the My Assessments tab under the Completed Exams section. 

A link will be displayed on the row of the specific exam that was taken. Notice that the results given will only show the percentage of each topic you have answered correctly and it will not tell you any of the questions you have answered. One possible reasoning for this method is to encourage people to double back and review the topic and its lessons. It takes away the ease of simply memorizing the questions and answers and encourages you to fully grasp the Salesforce concepts, capabilities, and setup.

While there are no limitations on how many times you can take the exam in total, the number of tries an individual has per Salesforce release cycle is three. What is the Salesforce release cycle? Each year, Salesforce is updated with new features and improvements three times a year (Winter, Spring, and Summer), and along with the release cycle, the certification exams are also updated to adhere to the Salesforce changes. The Winter cycle’s exam dates would fall from the end of the first week of December until the end of the second week of April. Spring’s exam cycle would then begin around the third week of April to the end of the third week of August. Then, Summer’s exam cycle kicks in at the fourth week of August and ends around the start of the first week of December completing the year’s cycle. This is only the time frame for when the three attempts are taken.

Each attempt also has a few rules to prevent the exam from being taken immediately one right after another. The first rule is that failing on the first try would require you to wait 24 hours from when the first exam was held to schedule the second exam. Failing on the second would then require waiting 2 weeks to schedule the third, and if on the third attempt you fail to reach the passing grade, then the next set of attempts can only be taken when the next exam cycle has begun.

On the bright side, every exam retake is 50% of its original price, thus the majority of any exam retaken costs $100. More information regarding retaking an exam can be found on this Trailhead page. Understanding the waiting period and exam cycle, in the event you fail an exam, can help prepare for the following attempt and maximize your amount of tries in each cycle. 

Remember the waiting period states when you can next schedule an exam and not when the exam will take place. Depending on the available time slots, there might be a possibility the next available slot will not be anytime soon due to several people also scheduling an exam. At this point, if you are unhappy with the current date and time, then revisit Webassessor from time to time to check for any dates that may open up. Fingers crossed it’s a date and time suitable to you

Passing the Exam

Seeing that “Pass” next to the result label can be the most satisfying feeling in the world, and with that outcome, congrats on being Salesforce certified! All those lessons studied, terms memorized, and Trailhead badges completed have paid off. Along with the results and the breakdown of how you did with each topic, an email is sent to your email address associated with Webassesor. 

The email will have a certificate attached that contains your name, Salesforce topic, date issued, and credential id printed. Despite successfully passing, a Salesforce certified individual must complete a Trailhead maintenance module to maintain their certification. 

Failing to do so will cause any certificates to expire and have to be retaken. Fortunately, the maintenance module(s) can be completed anytime within a year the certification was issued. Unless you enjoy paying for the exam and retake it, set up a reminder so you don’t forget.

Even with the relatively low percentage to pass, the exams are difficult and it is not uncommon to fail through your first few attempts. Understanding the rules and cycle can help you strategize your studying habits and time to fully maximize your options. Keep at it and don’t give up. Learning from your mistakes is just a natural part of the learning experience. Eventually, you're bound to pass if you put in the time and dedication.

For more information and interesting techniques to use for your Salesforce exam, check out Dan Hardy’s post on preparation based on neuroscience. If you have just started your Salesforce journey in learning and preparing for your certification, Mackenzie Stall has written the first of three articles about getting started with Trailhead.

Any other tips and advice on taking the Salesforce exam? How was your experience online or onsite? If you want to share any suggestions or stories, let me know in the Salesforce Trailblazer Community or chat with me on @MacahilasYrel.