This post was written by Rich Bosomworth.
AWS Certification provides many benefits. It deepens product knowledge, provides professional validation and is an enabler for companies wishing to achieve AWS Consulting Partner status as a guarantee of competency to enhance client engagements.
Background preparation for AWS Solutions Architect course
I took the AWS Solutions Architect (SA) Associate exam first time round in 2014. Having worked with AWS core components since 2008 (EC2, S3, IAM & RDS), I presumed a decent level of knowledge; however, I found it filled in a multitude of gaps and substantially broadened my awareness of AWS products and services. I didn’t have an existing AWS study method so looked into online options, the result of which led me to Linux Academy.
Linux Academy subscription currently drops in at $79 a quarter (for all courses) and their 2014 AWS SA course offered 30+ hours of content with accompanying exercises and server labs. (Note: for anyone new to AWS in 2016 I would also recommend ACloudGuru as an entry point and prequel to the deeper content scope of LA. The ACloudGuru SA course is very well put together and Ryan Kroonenberg is an excellent presenter).
Learning schedule – 1 month
I allocated a month to go through the LA course at 2-3 hours per day (my limit for soaking up information). The course includes a mock exam at the end, which I ran through several times. It was useful as a guideline for what to expect with regard to exam format and being timed also gave a good feel for pace, although it was no surprise that the actual exam was much harder.
The real exam is 80 minutes and with 60 questions this equates to just under a minute and a half per question. I’ll mark for review any questions I’m unsure of, then cycle back round several times to revisit and trim down. I have no problem with marking up to 50% of questions for review at first look.
A useful technique I’ve identified (which sounds ridiculously obvious) is to fully analyse the scenario questions. Wording in AWS exams is key; I can’t stress this enough. Every single word of information they present you with is relevant and there are usually at least two core markers that will dictate the correct answer from what can seem an ambiguous choice. Again, I know this sounds obvious but anyone who has taken the exam I’m sure would agree. The wording of the scenario questions is such that superficial product knowledge will not be sufficient to assess the desired outcome from combinations of services and configurations.
Time goes quickly, very quickly, and I submitted with a minute left on the clock, passing with a mark of 72% (The pass mark isn’t actually detailed anywhere but presumed to be +68%).
The 2016 AWS Solutions Architect exam
Fast forward to 2016. You are required to renew AWS certifications every two years so it was study time for me again. LA have updated their AWS SA course and on reviewing the new release I was aware of around 15-20% new content. This makes sense as anyone with knowledge of AWS will be aware of how many new products they have released over the past two years.
The revised LA course is now 38+ hours with updated content for new products and expanded sections for disaster recovery, fault tolerance, security and design. I followed my previous study method, further supplemented again with forays into AWS product FAQs.
On taking the 2016 exam it seemed harder than the 2014 version, with deeper scenarios almost up to AWS SysOps level (I took the SysOps exam in October 2014 and it was notably more difficult than the SA). Once again I applied a cycled question review technique and as before I submitted with one minute on the clock, this time passing with a more respectable mark of 89%.
Summary – supplement hands-on experience with multiple study sources
Having now taken the AWS SA exam twice I know what works and what doesn’t with regard to study method and exam technique. Basically it’s about putting in the work and understanding all services in depth; there are no shortcuts and the exam questions are so constructed as to filter out those without thorough knowledge.
For me there is no single study source that’s comprehensive enough to pass the exam. The LA SA course I rate highly and although product whitepapers are recommended the AWS service FAQs are extensive and I believe sufficient if supplemented with adequate hands-on experience.