I came late to Salesforce, only working with it for the last five years. The upside to that is that I don’t have a bunch of old habits that need to be unlearned in order to take full advantage if this awesome platform. The downside is that I am having to re-brand myself after having risen to the top of a technology space that was decimated by a combination of merger-madness and a vendor-victimization of the acquired customers. Salesforce will eventually fill that nixed niche for both the technologists like myself and the customers who need something that is flexible, scalable and has strong communities for both technical and business users. A big part of establishing oneself in the Salesforce space is certification, and the Salesforce Administrator certification is the foundation for anyone interested in professionally working in the field.
While I have over a hundred certifications, most are from third-party testers rather than the vendor because my experience of vendor certifications is that they require memorizing things that take less than a minute to find on Google and are only used two or three times in a career. And they cost a lot of money. However, they are also a way to stand out in a field where there are many people who rely entirely on search results for their understanding of how to get things done and believe that complex issues can be solved by only re-using the result of the first link that matches the immediate need.
The Salesforce Administrator is definitely one of the more honest certifications in that if you have been working regularly with the product for a couple of years you can pass the exam with little or no study. Not because there isn’t a bunch of those esoteric questions that only the admin-savant knows, but because the passing grade is only 65% and the credential verification site only shows that you passed and not by how many layers of teeth-skin you made it by. 65 is a fair percentage of what you would learn if you were doing the job correctly for some period of time or are adept at acquiring skills quickly through a combination of classroom learning and real life experience (which is how I passed, with much better than a 65% score).
The steps I will outline here are meant for whether you have real-life experience or not. Experience is not necessary to become certified in most technologies, which is why in many (other than Salesforce and a very few others) certification has become meaningless. It is, however, necessary to become good at applying the knowledge that is being certified. As is experience with other technologies and roles outside of technology.
If you haven’t already, go sign up for a free Salesforce Developer account. As soon as you sign up, you will get an invitation to join Trailhead. You can join Trailhead without the free account, but you will want the free account to better grow your skills. Trailhead provides a whole lot of free training is well-designed and relevant to real-world requirements. At the start, I suggest completing a bunch of the beginner modules. They are easy to do and instructional, with many hands-on exercises that will get your confidence up. Confidence is key to test-taking. If you are working with Salesforce in the real world you can be prepared for the certification exam simply by completing all of the beginner and intermediate admin modules for Sales Cloud, providing you do them in a compressed period of time and test soon after completion.
If you are one of those people who are really good test-takers and are interested in high scores regardless of how practical your knowledge is there are several free prep sites on the web. Here is a list of the ones I found fairly useful, even if some of the questions are more about impressing people on the knowledge of the site owner than in preparing for the exam:
Personally, because of the number of questions that are not on the exam and are both esoteric and overly-clever (i.e., “tricky”), I found the above sites useful in building knowledge but not very helpful for confidence.
For me, the best resource for preparing for the exam was Udemy. There are a few free courses, and you can combine them will all of the above and have a good chance of passing. If you want to guarantee a pass, I suggest two courses.
The first is https://www.udemy.com/salesforce-certified-administrator-201-2017. I can’t say enough good things about this course. It is extremely well-designed and engagingly presented. It covers every aspect of the exam and provides practical and understandable demonstrations.
The second Udemy course isn’t really a course (IMO). It is https://www.udemy.com/salesforce-administrator-certification-practice-tests. There are three tests in the course that you can take as many times as you like and the review your wrong answers with both the correct answers and explanation why it is correct. If you are not in a rush, you can sign up for a Udemy account and then wait for one of the frequent sales they have and take the courses for under $15 each, a bargain considering Salesforce will charge you $20 bucks for one practice quiz.
Finally, when the time for the exam comes, be prepared with a strategy. The practice tests should give you an idea of how much of the allotted time you personally will need. I have to variations of my certification exam strategy based on how much of that time is required.
If you find you use most of the allotted time in practice exams, when the real exam comes along take in four phases. In the first phase only answer the questions you immediately know the answer to going from first to last question. In the second phase, go through the unanswered questions as quickly as you can and check the review box for all those you don’t feel confident about. For the third phase, review all of the questions you check for review and take your time until you are confident you have either chosen the best answer or truly don’t know the answer. The final phase is to review the questions from start to finish until your time is down to the last minute.
If you generally finished quickly in the practice exams with a passing score then on exam day go through all of the questions in order and flag any that you are not 100% positive of. Then go back and review those questions and revise the answers where necessary. Finally, quickly go through all the questions again and double check yourself.