Get Salesforce admin certification on the first try: A 5-day study plan

Salesforce admin certification can't be achieved by rote learning; you need to demonstrate real-world understanding. Here's how to prepare for and ace the exam.

Salesforce certification is becoming increasingly important as a mechanism for vetting SFDC consultants and prospective employees. While there’s no reason to overdo it with certifications on parts of the system you actually don’t work on, Salesforce admin certification is really your first essential step no matter what your role.

SFDC’s certification program has grown significantly, now offering a dizzying array of specialist certifications.  In addition, the Salesforce system of Trailhead tutorials offers hundreds of badges on the technical details of what is now a huge software system.  While I know folks who have 10 certs and over 100 badges, I’m impressed more by how much time they have to waste than by the implied skill. Trailhead tutorials are self-paced, self-contained, and purely technical: there’s virtually nothing about best practices or the realities of a complex project.

Admin certification, on the other hand, cannot be achieved by rote learning (unless you’ve memorized a set of pirated test questions).  The cert tests are focused on depth of understanding and intelligent conclusions about the data model and the platform. The certification questions are designed to test for real-world understanding, and Salesforce recommends that the best way to prepare for the tests is to actually build some systems. This isn’t exactly a quick route, but to their credit SFDC wants certification to mean something.

Salesforce admin certification cost

The cost of the individual tests is $200; if you blow it and need to re-take the exam, you get a 50 percent discount on the retry.  You can also get cheaper tests at DreamForce events, which is a good use of your time if you’re going anyway. 

Of course, the test itself isn’t the real cost. It’s all in the prep time: expect to spend a week, minimum.  If you’re a consultant, that’s 40+ hours of non-chargeable time; even if you’re an employee, that can put a ding in your quarterly bonus.

The good news is that maintaining the admin cert is now free.

Salesforce admin certification study guides, exam questions and sites

Salesforce provides certification study guides and sample exams for free, and you definitely want to start there.  You’ll also want to take advantage of Trailheads (see the “action plan” below for details) for any topics where your knowledge is spotty. And of course, you’ll want to set up your own free “developer org,” as it’s the ultimate free resource from SFDC.

There are some third-party certification prep sites that help improve your chances (for example, FocusOnForce ).  These extra materials don’t hurt, but they aren’t free.  And you have to look out for “negative training” that’s caused by interpretation/emphasis issues in some of their materials.  For example, they may have a question or two that is based on information that is out of date or based on a mis-reading of SFDC documentation.  Given how fast the SFDC platform adds/subtracts bugs and “features” – and how many pages of their documentation are always out of date – you have to really think about the correctness of these sites’ answers.

There are certification training courses offered by SFDC and third parties, but these are  thousands of dollars each and will keep you out of the office for a week. Plus, there are different courses for Lightning vs the Classic UI.  

With diligence, you can do just as well on your own.  If you can, I suggest finding a “study buddy” who can learn alongside you and provide spontaneous quiz questions as you progress.

Prepping for the exam

The admin certification test tells you about the weighting of questions, but that’s not specific enough to be useful.  Here’s what you have to have down cold:

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