I know, I know, somewhat of a click-baity title but honestly there are a lot of – and I’m a little tired of, the “AWS Solutions Architect Associate Exam Experience” blog posts! Not to say they are bad, they are certainly one of the reasons I passed, but I thought I’d shake it up a bit. A month or so ago at Re:Invent I sat, wrote, and passed the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Exam on the first go-around and I wanted to outline some of the resources that made that possible.
First though – A bit about the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam.
For those that may be just starting out on their AWS certification journey let’s first take a step back and look at the exam itself – it’s nice to have a bit of an understanding as to what you are heading into before you get too far into the process.
The official AWS Certification page recommends that those writing the Associate level exams should have around one year of experience solving and implementing solutions within the AWS Cloud. Honestly, I think this is fair. I’ve done some messing around in AWS but it wasn’t until 2 years or so ago when I joined Rubrik did I really begin digging into the services and platforms and actually begin using them in some sort of real-world use-case type fashion. Hands-on is a must with this exam as it’s a lot of scenario-based questions – without having actually performed some of the scenarios it’s hard to figure out what the exam might be asking of you. That said, don’t worry if you don’t have a “production” type environment to work in – the A Cloud Guru course (talked about later) has plenty of labs and whatnot that you can run through based off of the free tier of AWS.
The exam itself contains 65 questions – and is scored based on some crazy wonky algorithm just as any other certification is. What I mean by this is your final score on the exam can be anywhere from 100 – 1000; with the minimum passing score of 720, however just know that all of this, while published on the AWS Certification site is subject to change per exam, depending on the difficulty of the questions – My take – get in there, get at least 70% and you should be good.
The questions themselves are either multiple choice or multiple response – meaning you are required to pick either 1 of 4 possible answers, or 2 or more out of 5 possible answers depending on the question type. While one might think multiple choice is easy – it really isn’t. Anyone who has written a technical, scenario-based certification will know this. My advice – read the questions carefully and watch the wording – sometimes your mind might assume something while reading and you will take it the completely wrong way! Another piece of advice – sometimes you might see multiple answers which are correct – if this happens, read the question again as it usually gives you clues as to how to eliminate answers – IE, sometimes they are looking for the most cost-effective solutions, or the most performant type solution. You don’t need to be an expert on billing – but certainly, know what costs more than what and what outperforms what…
Finally, you are scored based on your results achieved within 5 overall domains listed below…
|Domain||% of exam|
|Design Resilient Architectures||34%|
|Define Performant Architecturs||24%|
|Specify Secure Applications and Architectures||26%|
|Design Cost-Optimized Architectures||10%|
|Define Operationally Excellent Architectures||6%|
Don’t worry if any of this doesn’t ring a bell – honestly, they are so high level it’s hard to know what to study! If you want, the Exam Guide breaks them down a bit more for you – but we will also go through what I think are the most important things to focus on heading into the exam.
Alright! – On to how to pass!
OK – so without further ado here are the resources I used to pass this exam! Now, these are just techniques and resources that worked for me – there are a ton out there – chose what works for you! But if you need a jump start, here’s what I did
A Cloud Guru
A Cloud Guru is brought up in nearly every single AWS certification study guide/exam experience blog and believe me there is a reason why! There are honestly days worth of video included in the A Cloud Guru Solutions Architect Associate course that covers everything you need to know in order to pass this exam. It’s not simply just lecture content either – there are a ton of labs within each module of the course that you can partake in – and definitely do this – you will need the hands-on experience. My advice, get this course, follow the labs to a T, then do the labs again but this time explore a little bit, try some things on your own. The course also includes a ton of practice questions that are pretty close to the type of questions you will be asked on the exam (the scenario-based ones anyways).
Form a study group
I was lucky enough to be able to participate in a study group we formed at Rubrik. There were a number of us looking to achieve the certifications, so we took turns each week providing an overview of the lessons within the A Cloud Guru course. This was probably one of the biggest advantages I had heading into the exam. Having to teach others, or explain the concepts to others forced me to really dive into the sections I was responsible for. And the repetitive nature of both listening to the videos, then presenting in my own words embedded a lot of knowledge into my brain. I mean, I didn’t feel the need to review any database information at all before the exam since I seemed to be able to remember everything. Also, we had Ken Hui on board which always helps 🙂
It is highly recommended, even by AWS, to read the whitepapers which are listed in the exam guide! I did this, but not to the extent of what some others did. I guess it really boils down to what type of learner you are – myself, I learn more by doing and teaching, rather than just reading. As always though, it’s best to take in information in a variety of formats (video, audio, written, reading) so if you have some downtime while you are sitting on that train – take in a whitepaper or two.
AWS has a practice exam that they offer – I did this a while back but did not try again before the exam. The practice exam is a great way to get a handle on what the questions might look like. If I remember correctly it came with 20 questions. That said, keep in mind you can only do this once and you can’t go back in and review. If you are up for it, I’d recommend taking this a day or so before you write, just as a refresher and to see how questions can be worded.
Here’s the thing – I actually started preparing for this exam nearly 4 years ago – went through the videos, created some half-baked study guides, just never actually wrote the exam. When the time came around to begin the process all over again it seemed easier and less intimidating. The human brain works in funny ways, and the more exposure you have to something with small (or large) breaks in between, the more you are able to remember and comprehend. My advice on this, take the time you need to prepare. Watch an hour or two worth of videos, take a break for a couple hours, then watch some more. The next day, review those videos you just watched the day previously. The more exposure you have to this stuff, the more you can train your brain to remember everything!
But there is so much! What to focus on?
I know I know – AWS has a lot of services available and when you look at the shear amount of information covered by the A Cloud Guru course it can be a little intimidating. The fact of the matter is, you need to know it all. You could have questions on anything included within the exam guide. That said, I spent a lot of my time on the following list – but only because I was probably most weak in those areas…
- Network – VPCs, NAT Gateways, VPNs, Load Balancers, etc
- NoSQL DBs – DynamoDB
- EC2 – Autoscaling Groups, instance types, etc
- Storage – yeah, all of it, know S3 and the different storage classes as well as the options for EBS.
- Aurora and all Dbs really – know about read replica’s and multi-az
So aside from a little luck, that’s really all I needed to pass the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification. If I can leave you with one more piece of advice – don’t write it at Re:Invent. I found that writing the exam along with around 80 other folks in the room was a little distracting, even with earplugs and whatnot! Take your time – meaning take the time to study, review things over and over, and take your time during the exam, read each question twice – I had plenty of time to review questions and ensure I didn’t get slipped up by tricky words. All this said, it’s a tough exam. Even though I haven’t published a complete study guide like I have with some other VMware certifications, do realize I have written and document a flurry of information down around AWS. Maybe someday I’ll have the time/energy to create a similar style study guide for AWS.
Good luck on your AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam and thanks for reading!