DA-100 – The Certified Data Analyst Exam

On September 25, 2020, I wrote and passed the DA-100 exam to become a Microsoft Certified Data Associate.

A Microsoft Certified Associate badge for completing the DA-100 exam.

This exam measures skills that are required in order to be successful at modeling data in Power BI.

Some of the questions are more technical in nature (e.g. proper use of a CALCULATE function). Others are more conceptual in nature (e.g. pie graph vs. line graph).

While having some real world experience with Power BI will make some questions easier, there will likely be some scenarios that you have not experienced in your daily job!

Setting up for the DA-100 Exam at Home

As I wrote this exam during COVID-19, the only option to write was remote proctoring. Fortunately, this was not my first exam that I had written at home, as I had written the PL-900 exam in March 2020.

The desk where I wrote my DA-100 exam.
This setup (except for the place mats) would meet remote proctoring standards.

Writing a home proctored exam is much more stressful than writing from an exam center, since it is possible for the proctor to cancel your exam for violations to the terms of the exam.

This means that it is critical that no noise or movement can be detected on your webcam or microphone.

Recommendations

  1. Use a room with a door such as an office, if you have one available. (I did not have one available).
  2. If you have young children, do the exam at a time when you can be certain that they will not disturb you. If they are at school, that’s perfect! During COVID-19, this can mean scheduling exams late at night. I did my exam at midnight!
  3. Make sure that you remove any papers or writing material well before the exam. Keep a completely clean desk for writing the exam.
  4. Unplug any electronics in the room that you write the exam in. I had a proctor request this.
  5. You will need to keep your phone in the same room, since they may need to contact you during the exam. Make sure your phone can take that call, but disable any other notifications.
  6. Make sure that you’ve gone to the washroom and will not need to drink / eat during the exam. Getting up to go to the washroom will invalidate your exam.

Recommendations such as writing the exam in the bathroom (with the door locked) may excessive. However; if you are concerned that there is a high risk of being disturbed during an exam, this could be a way to help alleviate the stress of the exam.

Preparing for the DA-100 Exam

When I wrote the exam, it was changed the day before I wrote the exam. It is important not to rely on a source that does not reflect the possibility of the exam material changing!

The DA-100 exam changed on September 24, 2020.

Microsoft Learn

The best resource for meeting all the requirements of the exam is the Microsoft Learn DA-100 Path. This provides all the information that you need in order to complete the exam, as well as labs to assist in providing hands-on experience with Power BI.

The Microsoft Learn path for the DA-100 exam.

Where I found it most useful is providing details on premium capacity concepts like development life cycle.

You can get an E5 Power BI license through the developer program. However, you will not be able to learn some concepts that are exclusive to premium license capacity.

Learn Data Insights

The Learn Data Insights site, run by Microsoft MVP Rishi Sapra was a fantastic resource for learning the content for the exam, and knowing how well you stack up before the exam.

One quiz for each section of the exam.

The site provides 5 quizzes (one for each section of the exam), which you can use to assess how close you are to being successful on the exam.

Don’t worry if you’re not passing every one of the practice quizzes! These quizzes have am 80% pass standard vs. a 700 / 1000 passing mark on the exam.

The sort of questions that you will see on these quizzes tend to be more challenging than ones that you will see on the actual exam.

Additional Resources

It is very possible to succeed on the exam using just Microsoft Learn. However, some additional resources should be considered to get a deeper understanding of Power BI. This is especially true regarding some of the more technical components of the software.

Data Preparation – Modeling in M

The best resource I found for getting data in M and investigating data is Excelguru.ca which is run by Microsoft MVP Ken Puls.

The book M is for (Data) Monkey is the deepest dive into the M programming language that I used in my work with Excel and Power BI.

Data Modeling – Learning DAX

The other critical language to learn for the DA-100 exam is Data Analysis Expressions (DAX).

To get started with DAX, I found the best resource to be Power Pivot Pro. They were the first company to build a consultancy on the Power Pivot / Power Query tools that make up the backbone of Power BI.

The book by Rob Collie and Avi Singh on Power BI is a great way to go from zero DAX experience to building DAX models in Power BI.

However; the undisputed best resource for advanced DAX content is SQLBI.com, run by the maestros of DAX, Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari. They also have a YouTube channel with content ranging from introductory to advanced.

The Definitive Guide to DAX is true to it’s name and will provide more than enough knowledge for any Power BI professional.

Data Visualization – Learning What Visuals to Use

Unlike DAX and M, there is no clear definitive source to data visualization in Power BI; this is likely because visuals are changing frequently!

However; one of the best sources I have found on data visualization is Storytelling With Data, which was founded by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic. This site (and the 2 accompanying books) provide great insights into data visualization and should answer most “what visualization should I use here” questions.

It is worth noting that this book does not address some Power BI specific visuals. These include AI generated visuals such as the Q&A visual, key influencers visual and decomposition tree.

As a result, the best source is still Microsoft Learn.

Keeping Up to Date on Power BI

One of the best ways to find the newest resources for Power BI is through the Guy In A Cube Youtube channel.

The Guy in a Cube YouTube channel banner.

This channel provides the latest information on Power BI, including updates from the latest Microsoft conferences.

Their weekly videos also provide a list of resources that can be used for further study of Power BI.

This channel is one of the best ways to keep on top of major developments, such as AI visuals!

Writing the DA-100 Exam

Time to Complete

The exam itself is 3 hours long and contains between 40 and 60 questions that are taken from a pool of questions. This means that there are 3 – 4 1/2 minutes per question.

While each person’s experience may differ, I was able to complete the exam in under 2 hours. Based on that assessment, you should not feel rushed to complete any section of the exam.

Make sure to read all questions very carefully. There are some questions that are 20-30 words, but there are others that take multiple screens and are over 100 words.

Response Types

There are 4 types of response for the exam. None of the questions that are asked will require any typed response. There is no penalty for selecting an incorrect response.

Multiple Choice (Single Response)

In a multiple choice question, there is 1 correct answer, which will provide full marks. The other selections will provide no marks.

Which comes first alphabetically, A B C or D?

Multiple Choice (Multiple Response)

In a multiple choice question with multiple responses, there are multiple correct answers and multiple incorrect answers. Points will be awarded for each correct answer. The number of correct answers will be specified in the question.

A multiple choice question asking what countries are in Europe, Italy, Japan Canada or France.

Ranking

In a ranking question, there are a list of activities that need to be put in the correct order. Points will be awarded for the correct answer in the correct rank. Some of the activities may be incorrect and award no points!

Put the number of Microsoft products in the correct order by release.

Fill in the Blanks

In a fill in the blanks question, a number of possible options will be provided to fill in a statement or code block. Points will be awarded for each correct response.

Inputs:

[Homer] [Bart] [The Flintstones] [The Simpsons] [1989] [1995]

Statement:

_____ is the father in the popular TV family _______, a program released in ________.

What can I expect to see on the DA-100 exam?

Unfortunately, I can’t provide specific questions from the exam. However; the course outline for the instructor led training provides some great examples as to the specifics of what needs to be learned.

All these concepts can also be learned using Microsoft Learn; the instructor led training is just another option.

  1. Getting Started with Data Analytics – How to get into the Power BI service.
  2. Prepare Data in Power BI – The advantages and disadvantages of importing vs. connecting to data.
  3. Clean, Transform, and Load Data in Power BI – Data shaping (pivot / unpivot) and query profiling.
  4. Design a Data Model in Power BI – Explaining different types of table relationships (one to many, one to one, many to many). Creating heirarchies.
  5. Create Measures using DAX in Power BI – Using a CALCULATE() DAX measure and distinguishing a measure from a calculated column.
  6. Optimize Model Performance – Understanding DirectQuery.
  7. Create Reports – Creating a report in Power BI desktop; using effective navigation and slicing the reports to meet user needs.
  8. Create Dashboards – Creating and contrasting Power BI reports to Power BI dashboards.
  9. Create Paginated Reports in Power BI
  10. Perform Advanced Analytics – Decomposition trees and key influencer visualizations.
  11. Create and Manage Workspaces – The types of security roles in a Power BI workspace and publishing Power BI apps.
  12. Manage Datasets in Power BI – How to create and refresh datasets within Power BI.
  13. Row-level security – How to set up and configure row level security.

Conclusion

The Data Analyst Associate certification earned through the DA-100 exam is a great way to show in-depth knowledge of Power BI.

If you have been impacted by COVID-19, you can schedule this exam for $15 USD. This offer applies if you schedule your exam before December 31, 2020.

If you have not been impacted by COVID-19, free exam credits have been offered at Microsoft events such as Learn and Ignite.

Good luck on the DA-100 exam!

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