Last week, I passed my AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam so in the great tradition of others, I thought I should to a quick post to document my thoughts about it too.
I had to prepare for it and pass in a hurry so that I can start working on an ongoing project so failure wasn’t an option and efficiency was necessary. So, the first thing I did was to download the blueprint. I’ve always been the person who tries to over-prepare and probably the reason, I take forever to do certifications. Now, over-preparing for AWS certification is not such a bad thing, especially if you’re planning to take the other AWS exams soon after as it all helps but my priority was to clear this exam so wanted to keep it focussed.
It’s pretty clear from the blueprint which “Domain” you should focus on more but don’t leave anything out. Even if you pass the certification, any gaps in knowledge will only make your life harder later so better get that information solid in your head right from the start. After downloading the blueprint, I just focused on reading up and practising.
What resources did I use, I hear you say. Well, here’s the not so long list and sequence and if you follow it, I don’t think you’ll have any difficulty passing it either:
ACloud Guru Course
ACloud Guru’s AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate is the first thing I started. The idea was to start with a structured format and at the same time, having focused attention to what I needed to study. I had already heard great things about their courses and the praise is not misplaced. As the courses haven’t been revised in a while, you’ll find some information is outdated but there are notes in the course that point you to the current status as well so nothing’s lost there.
Hands On Practice
As you may know already, AWS provides you with a Free Tier Account. Make use of it! There is no substitute for practice. Now, I know that the exam does not test you on anything practical but by doing the practice, you start to see the logic of why something works (or doesn’t), which does help in the exam. If you’re doing the course mentioned just above, make sure to follow the exercises. Don’t skip them!
Next up for me were the FAQs. I focussed on the ones for Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, Amazon VPC, Amazon Route 53, Amazon RDS and Amazon SQS. Everything else is important too but not for this exam. I did the FAQs after the training so that they made more sense and I could understand exactly what was meant by everything said in there.
Then come the whitepapers. There are a few that you should definitely go through before taking the exam. Make sure you understand what’s mentioned in there and why. That’s made easier if you’ve gone through the material above and understood it.
- AWS Security Best Practices
- Architecting for the AWS Cloud: Best Practices and
- AWS Well-Architected Framework
OK, the last one is probably optional and not strictly required for the exam but a good one to read if you’ll actually be designing AWS environments. It helps to understand what AWS wants you to consider when designing, which could help with the exam too.
Now one thing that you may or may not find useful: If you haven’t taken an AWS exam before, taking the Practice Exam from Webassessor might help. It’s not too expensive at $20 but gives you an idea of what the exam questions might look like.
One thing about scheduling: As soon as you feel slightly confident about your exam, book it. There aren’t many exam centers and choice might not be available for when you want to take the exam, if you leave it too late. For that, you’ll need an account on Webassessor.com and it doesn’t hurt actually to create the login, select the exam and see availability of dates as early as possible. It gives you an idea of dates available (or not) and you may find you need to book sooner, rather than later.
Having choice is also important because you may want to avoid test centers that might be colleges or institutes etc. Like I said above, I didn’t have much choice, due to being in a hurry and so I had to book the exam at a training institute. Not only I had to take the exam in a cramped cubical in an open-plan room, there was someone either taking a typing exam or had to type dozens of letters. There was constant and heavy typing throughout the exam which was very distracting. Booking early can possibly avoid such scenarios.
Exam iteslf wasn’t too bad. If you’ve studied and practised, then the exam becomes quite easy for you. Some questions do have a lot of text, especially for someone whose first language is not English but there aren’t many. I insist you read all the questions and their answers “very carefully”. Sometimes, there are minor differences that can catch you out and you don’t want to be losing points for it. As far as I know, with AWS exams, you don’t get partial marks for a partially correct answer. It’s either right or wrong!
As with all exams, a good idea is not to spend too much time thinking about the answer. I normally select my best answer and if no doubt, I carry on. If some doubt, I mark it for review to come back to it later. I do make sure, however, to select my best answer before moving on, in case I don’t get a chance to return to it. One important thing to remember is that process of elimination works quite well.
I finished answered all questions about half an hour in advance of the time so went back and reviewed my marked questions. Even though you don’t think at the time, you will sometimes find things that you didn’t pick up on first reading of the questions. I certainly changed two answers where I initially missed a subtle difference between the provided answers and I am absolutely sure my original selection was incorrect. So, I reiterate: Read both the questions and answers very carefully!
AWS doesn’t tell you what the pass mark is but I felt confident clicking the finish button and the marks also weren’t too bad. So, I would say that if you are considering taking the exam, do it as this will only grow in popularity and demand. Keep the study focussed as mentioned above and clearing it should not be a problem at all!
Hope this helps!