About one month ago, I decided that studying for and taking the Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam would be the perfect way to bolster and establish my working knowledge of Amazon’s fantastic public cloud offering, AWS. On October 29th, 2014, I took the exam and passed, and I am officially Associate #4043! I had a great time with this exam and I would love to share a few tips to help any IT professional preparing for the exam. I will not deep dive into individual topics that are covered in the exam and I am, in fact, prohibited by the NDA agreement from sharing questions from the exam. I will, however, share my strategy and mindset that I think is necessary to pass this valuable certificate exam.
Start at the official AWS Certification page
Visit the official page here. This is where you will find important specifics about the exam, topics covered, and links to some of the materials that are mentioned in some of the tips below.
You should circle back to this page frequently because AWS is very rapidly updating its offerings and may include updates relevant to the exam.
Introduce yourself to the technology
Watch the free instructional videos and practice with the free labs at the AWS Training page. This is extremely helpful if you are completely new to AWS.
Know what to expect
Download the exam blueprint and the sample questions. Create a checklist or studying plan based on this content and stick to it. Periodically review these documents to make sure that you are on-track and that you understand every topic in-depth.
Read, read, read
I highly recommend studying these five official Whitepapers from AWS: Overview of Amazon Web Services, Architecting for the Cloud: Best Practices, Building Fault-Tolerant Applications on AWS, Storage Options in the AWS Cloud, and AWS Security Best Practices. These papers will help you understand broad concepts of designing highly available, elastic, fault-tolerant, and secure architectures in AWS. If you are already a seasoned IT professional working with traditional systems, these whitepapers will especially help you adapt to using the cloud.
Take a course
I highly recommend that you do not study without having excellent studying material. I personally found LinuxAcademy to be a priceless and very valuable resource in training for the exam. LinuxAcademy is a website that includes over 30 hours of training videos, hands-on labs, and exercises specifically geared for the Solutions Architect – Associate exam. I also recommend taking the official AWS Practice Exam, which costs $20 USD from their website. I attended one AWSome Day LA meeting, which was based on the content of the AWS Essentials course. AWS recommends the Architecting on AWS 3-day course, although it is not a pre-requisite and I did not attend this course.
Memorization alone is not enough
I compare the experience of the Solutions Architect – Associate exam with my experience taking medical human anatomy class in college. You need to memorize all the bones, muscles, organs, and other components of the human body, but if you do not understand how they all must work together, you will not fare well in the class. Knowing the individual services (S3, EC2, VPC, RDS, etc.), their features, and their options is definitely necessary, but you must also understand how to use them together to develop highly available, fault tolerant, and optimized applications in the cloud. As one can see in the official sample question list from Amazon, the exam includes some scenario-type questions, which will test you on your understanding of AWS. This can prove to be very challenging, but it also gives you a very valuable certificate to be proud of when you pass!
Practice and experience make perfect
In my opinion, this is the best way to obtain the level of understanding I mentioned in the previous step. Create a free AWS account and utilize the Free Tier as much as you can to create, break, and fix many applications in the cloud. The more you do this, the more you will understand each service and how you can use them together. This will best prepare you for the exam. You need to understand where to go to and how to troubleshoot applications in AWS. You must also understand how to use certain features to optimize applications for cost and/or for performance.
Be ready for test day
Many people have their own strategies for test-taking. I recommend getting 8 hours of sleep the night before, don’t skip breakfast, and go easy on the caffeine. Caffeine can amplify any anxiety and jitteriness that you might already have due to the stress of taking the exam. Being calm and collected helps to ensure that you read every instruction and question clearly so that you can select the best answer.
And that’s it! These eight tips can really help any IT professional to prepare for the exam, even if you have never worked on AWS before. If you pass, you will not only be certified, but you will really know “what you are talking about”, which will be a great asset for projects, interviews, and so forth.
Don’t hesitate to reach out in the discussion for further advice. If you have passed, please share what worked for you here! Good luck to everyone taking this exam!