Last month I passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate certification exam with a score of 87%. I wanted to share my experiences in preparing for this exam to provide insights to those considering taking the exam. The time required to prepare for this exam was surprisingly short. I studied exclusively after work which limited me to 1-2 hours a night for maybe 3-4 nights per week. I felt ready to take the exam after one month. In the rest of this post, I will describe what I did to prepare and my impressions of the test itself.
The driving force behind me studying for this exam was that my employer recently decided to move from our private data centers into the AWS public cloud. I had previous experience with AWS both professional and on side projects years ago, but nothing on an immense scale. Despite my prior AWS experience, the AWS ecosystem evolves so rapidly that new features and functionalities are released that make previous best practices obsolete. AWS announced over a thousand features and updates in 2017. So it is essential to go through this process with an understanding that your certificate is just the beginning of an ongoing learning process.
Please note, I passed this certification in early February 2018 before the release of the new February 2018 exam in mid-February. I am confident that acloud.guru will update their course to prepare you for this exam as well.
The primary study aid I used for my preparation was the online course provided by acloud.guru. I purchased this course through Udemy. Successfully completing this course means that you should watch all the videos, do all the labs, exercises, and then read all the FAQs for every product they cover (EC2, ECS, S3, DynamoDB, RDS, CloudWatch, VPCs). The official exam guide also recommends reading specific whitepapers. Finally, you should take every practice test you can. Udemy has a separate course with three practice exams.
On test day, you will sit in a PSI testing center near you. The test is 80-minutes with 55 questions. The new test is 130-minutes with 65 questions which means an additional 30 seconds per question. According to the instructor of this course, Ryan Kroonenburg, the new test should be considerably more comfortable than the original. I completed the exam with 30 minutes to spare. It is a knowledge test: either you know it, or you do not. They provide you with a pencil and a single piece of paper coded for you to use during your exam. After leaving the testing room, you have to return your notepaper to the administrators.
I was hoping to score very near 100%, but as I anticipated the “choose all that apply” question types were the most challenging. During my three practice exams, I scored between 85-95%. Many answers had the “correct” option, but they did not only want the correct and typical answer. They wanted all possible solutions to demonstrate complete knowledge. The choose-all-that-apply type of question was all or nothing regarding score. I found the whole experience very rewarding and challenging. The entire test is challenging not just the choose-all-that-apply questions.
I hope this post provides you with some perspective on taking the certification exam. If you are like me, the associate certification is merely a stepping stone to the professional certification. Once you attain your professional certificate, you only need to recertify for that certificate because it subsumes the associate certificate. In addition to demonstrating that you have a standard level of knowledge in architecting systems on AWS, you also get some cool perks. If you attend a free AWS Summit, there are some AWS Certified perks available only to those holding a valid AWS certification. AWS maintains a page with all certification benefits as well. Lastly, I want to wish you the best of luck in your future AWS experiences.