Admins / Certifications

6 Tips to Pass Any Salesforce Certification

By Stacy O’Leary

I stumbled into Salesforce Admin work accidentally, a surprisingly common story I’ve come to realise that I share with many others in the ecosystem. I have a background in Child Development & Education, an industry where I spent a maximum of one hour a day in front of a computer. Needless to say, I had no clue what I was doing in Salesforce.

I learned about Certifications after a few months of doing some basic Admin work. As soon as I heard about them, I knew they would be necessary for me. With an unrelated background, I had nothing to show an employer as evidence of my training or skills back then – to me, the Salesforce Certifications were external validation of my capabilities: “yes, Stacy knows what she’s talking about, and is reasonably good at it.”

Actually, getting the Certifications wasn’t easy.

On the upside, I did find that my background in Education was not completely wasted! I was very familiar with my own learning style, and how to teach myself (having taught many children). Here are a few things I’ve learned that can be applied to any Certification exam, and hopefully you will find them useful too!

1.  Don’t Get Too Intimidated by Studying

Have you ever heard the tip: “use a person’s name three times when you meet them, you’ll never forget it?” Well, the same logic applies to Salesforce!

Studying alone is unlikely to help you pass the test. Actually doing the task several times is what is going to help you understand not only how something is done, but why it is done a certain way.

That means you need a Sandbox or a Developer org, and you’ll need to start implementing and modifying all those features you’re reading about – like Multi-Currency, Territories, Forecasting – the list goes on!

I want to emphasise these lesser-used features, especially if you work for a company that does not use those features. You never know, one day your employer may come to you and ask: “does Salesforce have any tools for Forecasting?” It’s a bonus because you can answer, “Yes! I’ll tell you about it and give you a demo!”

2. Broaden Your Horizons

Have an idea of what people need to get from the tool – what are VP’s going to ask for, the Business Development Reps, the Marketing team, etc.

The outcome? You’ll be able to answer exam questions better.

I felt like a lot of the questions (especially on the Sales Cloud Consultant and Service Cloud Consultant exams) are centred around what a Sales VP or a Support VP might want. You have to be able to predict what your leadership team is going to need and ask for. It’s important to know that a Sales VP is unlikely to ask you for a report on Case Closure success rates, and the Support VP probably isn’t going to ask for a report on Pipeline Change over time.

This is where Trailhead comes in to play. Even though I’m an Admin, I like the trails that focus on the end user, because those give me a good idea of what an end user in a particular role might be looking for or expecting to get out of Salesforce.

There’s a great trail here called “Build and Manage Your Sales Team the Salesforce Way.” Another one I like is the module here called “Annual Planning with Sales Operations” – there’s a particular line in here, “5—7% annual churn is considered standard for SaaS companies, some organizations may even allow up to 10%” If you’re going to be a Sales Cloud Consultant, this is definitely the type of information you’d need to know, even if you’ve never worked in Sales Operations. This is the type of information you want to look for – not Admin specific, but rather, end user specific.

3. Teach Someone Else

This is a classic. Humans learn better when they’re trying to teach a subject. So, grab your cousin who’s a line cook, and teach them what Salesforce is. Explain it to your grandparents. Show your sister-in-law how to do a Lead Assignment Rules.

Create step-by-step guides for your end users, including screenshots. Host a “Secret Sauce” Lunch for your colleagues, and show them behind the scenes on validation rules, and what causes all those pesky error messages.

There’s a lot of opportunities to share your knowledge, and I promise you will learn something new.

4. Remember Which Exam You’re Taking

As a person with anxiety, I understand how hard it is not to panic during an exam. I often take a few minutes at the start, when I sit down, and remind myself, “This is a _________ exam. The study guide covered these topics. They aren’t going to ask my questions that can’t be answered within those topics.”

If you’re taking an Admin Exam, the answer to any question is not going to be “I should implement a trigger with an after-update”… It’s an Admin exam, after all! You aren’t expected to know how to implement a trigger (although you might be expected to know when a trigger is required). Conversely, on the Platform App Builder exam, a question about automation is probably more likely to be answered with something like a Flow, or Process Builder, rather than a Workflow Rule. Bearing these in mind can help narrow down distracting options, and help you think clearly.

5. Take Practice Exams

I’m just going to say it – I find the question formats to sometimes be weird and oddly worded. The multiple-choice answers will try to confuse you, and the questions might throw in a sentence or additional information that is completely irrelevant to the overall question.

I have seen four multiple-choice questions on an exam that were identical except for a single word. So the practice exams are perfect, not only for helping you understand if you’re ready for the real thing, but also to familiarize you with the question format, and how the material you studied translates into a hypothetical scenario.

For example, you may have studied and remember that you can track field history on up to 20 fields per object. You are not going to get a question like this:

How many fields can you track history on, per object?

  1. 10
  2. 20
  3. 30
  4. Unlimited

Instead, you’re going to see something like this:

Universal Containers VP of Sales Maggie Dawson wants a new custom object to track customer POC’s. She would like 45 custom fields added to this object, and a piece of automation that marks the POC Status as “Completed” 30 days after the POC has been created. Maggie has identified 25 fields that are critical for history tracking. How should the Admin implement Maggie’s Request?

  1. Create the custom object, time-based automation, and track history on 25 new fields
  2. Create the custom object, time-based automation, and track history on 10 new fields
  3. Discuss field history limitations with Maggie, and identify up to 10 fields for history tracking
  4. Discuss field history limitations with Maggie, and identify up to 20 fields for history tracking

The answer is D. Notice how the second question was significantly longer and more convoluted. There is a lot of noise. Identify the core of the question, what they’re really trying to ask you, and that will help you figure out the answer.

6. Eliminate the Impossible Answers

Every once in a while, I will see a multiple-choice option that is so completely unusual, it must be wrong. Even if you’re not sure what the right answer is, you can probably eliminate at least one of the multiple choices.

This is especially helpful if you combine this with Tip #4 above – remember which exam you’re taking. Let’s pretend we’re taking the Advanced Admin Exam, for example:

Universal Containers wants to create some automation for Sales Reps. Whenever an Opportunity is Closed Won, they want to find any Leads where the Website matches the parent Account website, and convert them to Contacts under that Account. How can the Admin accomplish this? Choose 2.

  1. Create a Process Builder to find & convert the Leads
  2. Install a third-party application
  3. Have a developer write a Python trigger to automate
  4. Have a developer write an Apex trigger to automate
  5. This is not possible in Salesforce

(Apologies to any developers by my poorly worded options here, I’m obviously not a developer!)

Every Admin should know that Salesforce triggers are written in Apex, and should also know what is and isn’t possible with the Process Builder alone. That eliminates answers A and C. For answer E – Is anything really impossible in Salesforce? True, Salesforce isn’t going to magically deliver me a cup of coffee each morning, and it’s also not going to do my job for me, but this question is about automating some standard tasks in Salesforce. Maybe I personally can’t do that, but it seems really unlikely that this is completely impossible, so we can eliminate E. That leaves us with B and D, the correct answers.

  1. Install a third-party application (makes sense, seems like there are apps for everything)
  2. Have a developer write an Apex trigger to automate (this is a real thing, so probably right)

Summary: Fail Early, Fail Often

It’s OK to not pass the tests the first time (or even the second…. no judgement). Failure is the best teacher, and some of us (myself included) are particularly poor test-takers. I have five certifications; of the five, I only passed on the first try (Platform App Builder. Why? Who knows!). Practice exams are great, but there’s no substitute for doing the real thing.

Failure is OK in other areas while you’re studying too. While you’re practising the new skills you’re learning. Try to break them. Do something wrong on purpose. You will likely get questions about why something broke, or why something isn’t working. Making mistakes is going to give you real-life experiences to help other people in their hour of Salesforce-need.

At the end of the day, remember that the purpose of the exam is to certify that you can successfully run a Salesforce org in a real, business scenario. Anybody can memorize facts, but a great admin can anticipate the needs of their users, prevent errors, and build common use-cases specific to their org.

Certifications help show the outside world that you have a good grasp on the Salesforce tool, managing and maintaining it, and helping users make the best possible choices. Getting a certification is not easy, but by mixing real-life situations with the knowledge you will be able to pass any exam sent your way.

And if you have taken any exams yourself, please use the comments below to share study tips that were especially helpful in passing your Certifications!

The Author

Stacy O'Leary

Stacy is a 5x Certified Salesforce Consultant & Full Time Mom.


    Rishi Vardhan
    June 09, 2020 7:53 am
    Great insight into the exam strategy. Thanks a lot for sharing this.
    Salesforce job market
    June 10, 2020 1:25 pm
    Thanks for sharing this guide, really actual information. I was thinking to pass similar certification in the near furure
    Sarah VanArsdal
    June 14, 2020 8:41 pm
    Thanks for the tips & encouragement! Great article :)
    Jitendra Hansalia
    September 12, 2020 6:25 am
    Great advice... Thanks
    Sheryl J.
    December 03, 2020 4:13 pm
    Great article. I took the SF Admin Cert exam this past Monday and failed by 7 points. Ouch! Some of the questions were tricky, very wordy with lots of irrelevant info as the article mentioned. Even by reducing the 4 answers that obviously were not correct, the other two answers could have been correct. I didn't approach this exam well prepared, even though I've been using SF for a few years. Train well and train hard. I'm taking again next month.
    December 04, 2020 4:36 am
    Thanks for the tips
    Christine Marshall
    December 04, 2020 10:13 am
    Good luck with your next attempt!
    Christine Marshall
    December 04, 2020 10:13 am
    Thanks for reading our article!
    January 27, 2021 5:04 pm
    Christine, I did forget which exam I was studying for in step 6: I did get thrown by the exam for step 6 because I was thinking that A (and D) was a good choice if you are going to create Process Builder on Opportunity when the status was set to Close Won. Then the Process Builder would call Invocable Apex using the Opportunity.AccountID as the parameter so that you can match the Account website with any matching lead websites for lead conversion. So Indirectly you are Creating a Process Builder to find & convert the Leads. I went too deep. (Former Force.Com Certified Developer studying for App Builder exam). Thanks
    J. Rob
    June 04, 2021 2:27 pm
    This was a timely and motivational read. I just completed a 3 month course and I'm studying for the Admin Exam now. Focusing the last 2 weeks on practice exams but will also return to my org to get more hands on practice. Great tips.
    Christine Marshall
    June 07, 2021 10:39 am
    Thanks for reading! Good luck with the exam!
    Louvanne Thomas
    June 23, 2021 8:46 pm
    Salesforce Admin exam has been changed as of today and there is different weighting on the topics with some topics from the previous exams eliminated. When will you update the exam so that i can do the trial exams with the correct weighting to assess if i am ready? thanks
    Christine Marshall
    June 24, 2021 12:31 pm
    Hi! We have updated our study guide and will soon be updating our practice exam.
    Pavan kumar
    October 14, 2021 4:33 am
    Hi All, hope you are doing great and safe in this pandemic I want to know few things about salesforce career. Present iam a salesforce trainee and I have choosen few areas which I want to be in the future. Mulesoft, salesforce industries(vlocity), devops in salesforce, pardot specialist, cpq specialist, einstein analytics. And let me know if I miss anything important. I want to know which is better for long term career . Can anybody suggest me?
    Vikram I
    October 20, 2021 11:14 pm
    Helpful tips, thanks for putting this together
    November 23, 2021 8:48 pm
    I feel a bit ashamed writing this, but at my previous job they wanted me to take the Admin certification. I failed twice in April 2020. In the meantime I switched jobs, and I thought I could finally focus on the Marketing Cloud 'path' (Email specialist etc.) More my cup of tea. Now due to circumstances they want me to take Admin, because you need it to take the Sales Cloud certification. This was my Vietnam. I took the exam again today and failed. I think 47% or something in total. Or little like 29/60 questions. During those first two attempts, I mainly looked at the Admin Exam Trailhead provided. Now I studied through Focusonforce, and regardless if I answered right or wrong, I tried looking it up in the system/sandbox to see. I am officially out of ideas on how to pass this. And it's stressing me out a bit how to approach the exam given that work is pressuring to get certifications. Any tips, for a poor soul who really, really wants to pass?
    Christine Marshall
    November 29, 2021 3:00 pm
    Hi Celine! Firstly, cut yourself some slack - the Salesforce Admin exam is notoriously tricky, even when you have years of experience. It's not uncommon to fail the exam several times. I personally took 2 years to actually take the exam because it was so scary! It's probably worth examining your scores from the exam to work out which areas you need to focus on. You can also try doing a Salesforce Certification Day or perhaps asking your work if they would consider paying for a course? Practice exams are a great way to prepare but it's important they also include explanations so you understand why you are right/wrong. Check out your free practice exam here: We also have a pack with 5 full, length exams: Focus on Force also do practice exams. You will get there!
    February 14, 2022 5:54 am
    hi Christine, I missed it by just 3 points. That was a bummer. However, I want to give the test as soon as possible since everything feels fresh in my brain with the study material I have covered. I keep hearing from my friends and colleagues that it's better to immediately schedule the test. What do you think and what tips can you suggest me for the retakes. I have a good understanding of the topics or areas of improvement. FOF has this cool calculator to check the # of points i missed to pass the test.
    Christine Marshall
    February 16, 2022 9:22 am
    Hi Rad, I would use the scores provided by Salesforce after the exam to focus your studies. If you only missed the pass score by a few points then it sounds like it's probably worth re-booking quite soon but make sure you give yourself a few weeks to brush up on any topics!
    March 11, 2022 2:23 pm
    Thank you for your insight Christine! This was very helpful.
    Christine Marshall
    March 14, 2022 9:34 am
    Thanks for reading!
    August 01, 2022 10:14 am
    Thank you very much for this useful sharing. I am writing from Turkey. (not n.c, far away). I've been learning pf for a month. I'm learning by myself. I want to get a certificate, but I don't want to take the exam before I'm fully prepared.. Because the fee is too much for me. (almost one third of my salary). I'm always at the limit in practice exams. What would you recommend to me, at least with how many points should I feel ready?
    Christine Marshall
    August 03, 2022 12:19 pm
    Hi! When using practice exams, I am always aiming to score 85-90% before I take the real exam. Remember that practice exams are not exactly the same as the real exam and will have different questions. Try to use multiple resources as you study so you don't end up memorizing a particular study resource and miss other important information. Good luck!
    August 07, 2022 7:48 pm
    Your blog about 6 Tips to Pass Any Salesforce Certification is an amazing blog. IT is filled with rich info. My company name is Maze Consultancy. You are always welcome to visit to our website.
    September 30, 2022 2:36 am
    Are there free online lectures on entry level Sales Force certification?
    Christine Marshall
    September 30, 2022 2:19 pm
    Are you planning on taking the Admin cert or the Associate?
    October 12, 2022 12:55 am
    I wish I would have done some research and stumbled upon this info before my exam! Reading through an example you presented I am still trying to figure out what one word means after reading the first sentence, I’m almost lost at the end of the second sentence, and after the third I am staring at the screen mouthing the word, “What?”. But according to the trailhead and the 97% I scored on my final practice exam I should be ready to take the certification exam. Not. Those things did not prepare me in the slightest. In fact, I wouldn’t have scored any higher if I had been allowed to use notes! It’s almost as if they want people to take it again. Anyway, you are spot on about the real exam questions. Most of the questions did require some type of problem solving. Few of those on my test were straight forward, and none contained numerical answers like several practice ones. I learn best like athletes - repeating an action many times - and not so well via articles and videos. My brain just doesn’t retain all of the info. The trailhead training is free, but it was a poor way to learn from my seat. I’ve taken, and passed, multiple certifications in other fields. Salesforce has been more complicated with some terminology barriers. It’s much easier to navigate through the platform performing actions, than to select the accurate problem solving answer. I’m not sure where I’ll go from here, but at least I understand how better to prepare. Thanks for the latter.

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