AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

After a solid break from both the blogging and certifications, I decided to get back into the game and attempted the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification. It was sort of inevitable for a person in my situation. The products I am helping to create and manage run in AWS, and given the company’s commitment to embrace the cloud it only made sense to become familiar with the fundamentals of this platform. Amazon describes Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a secure cloud services platform, offering compute power, database storage, content delivery and other functionality to help businesses scale and grow. Corporate PR aside, AWS is really cool piece of technology allowing you to do pretty much anything. Having day-to-day practical experience with this platform and desire to learn more led me to explore more and more till I took and passed the exam. Here are some notes I would like to share regarding this experience.

About certification

Let’s start with the basics. Since this is an entry-level certification, there are no prerequisites required to take the exam. The certification is valid only for 2 years due the rapid phase of development of AWS. So keep that in mind when deciding on when to take the exam. You can purchase the exam voucher via AWS certification portal and take the exam in any test center partnered with Kryterion. The following table presents the most important information regarding the exam.

Prerequisites none
Exam Topics topics
Exam Format multiple choice and multiple answer questions
Duration 80 minutes
Number of Questions 60
Passing Score 65%
Price US$ 150

The exam

All questions I have encountered in the exam were either in form of select correct answer or choose all that apply with the number of required answers provided. The questions are designed to test you in the following areas: Designing highly available, cost efficient, fault tolerant, scalable systems; Implementation/Deployment; Security and Troubleshooting. There are two types of questions: scenario based questions and factual questions testing your knowledge of individual service features. I was happy to see no trick questions in the exam – all the questions were clear and to the point.

As mentioned earlier, there are 4 sections with the following distribution of questions:

  1. Designing highly available, cost efficient, fault tolerant, scalable systems (60%)
  2. Implementation/Deployment (10%)
  3. Security (20%)
  4. Troubleshooting (10%)

When it comes to the time aspect of the exam I felt like there was plenty of time to comfortably complete the exam. The software used allowed me to mark questions for review later which I used for around 5 questions. I would suggest you make use of this feature as it allows you to answer as many questions as possible given the time provided to finish the exam. First pass through the exam took me about 40 minutes, followed by another 20 minutes of reviewing. After this time I decided to submit my answers and leave the testing area.

Preparation

Before I start writing about the sources and time it took me to prepare, let me make one thing clear – practical experience with AWS is a crucial part of the preparation for this exam. In case you don’t have any, I would suggest setting up an AWS account and trying out various features in a free tier. Besides that I used a mix of Udemy video lectures, book, AWS documentation and resources as well as mock exams.

Given my schedule and personal/work-related schedule, it took my about three months of on and off studying to prepare for the exam. My day to day experience with AWS at work was also great resource that helped me pass the exam. I tried to make the most out of my free evenings and when it worked out also the weekends. Given your exposure to AWS these times will vary. My ultimate goal was to both learn about all the features mentioned in my study resources and to be able to provide a solution to scenarios described in the mock exams.

Helpful notes from fellow bloggers:

Resources

Books

When it comes to books, I was lucky enough to chat to my friend who had already passed the exam and he recommended AWS Certified Solutions Architect Official Study Guide: Associate Exam. I found this book to be of great value as it went into appropriate amount of detail and covered all of the required topics. Compared to the rest of my resources, this book provided the best coverage of the exam topics. The downside of this resource however might be the price and the fact that it was talking about the older services such as EC2 Classic which is not part of the platform (unless the account used it in the past). The book comes with a small set of mock questions and hands-on exercises after each chapter to test your understanding of the topic at hand. 

White papers and FAQs

Some of the recommend sources to use are white papers published by AWS as well as the FAQ sections available for each of the services that are part of the exam. I have to be honest with you – the white papers are the single most boring aspect of the preparation. Very dry reading that has a high potential of putting you to sleep. However the FAQs are filled with bunch of useful information and well worth the read. Even though you might not enjoy this, I would recommend you to read the white papers at least once and FAQs based on your understanding of the given service.

Videos

Since I prefer to consume audiovisual content to reading, I also decided to purchase AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate 2017 Udemy course. This is a great option for people on the move as Udemy provides a mobile app allowing you to take the lectures with you. You can listen to them while commuting and also set the speed of playback. Speeding the content up by the factor of 1.75 proved to be the best to me. Ryan guides the students through various services and their features. Many lectures also showcase practical work with AWS in the AWS console which helps the students to become more familiar with the practical aspects of work with AWS. Great thing about this resource is that Ryan tries to keep the lectures up-to-date and adds new ones as they appear on the exam. The course comes with a set of mock exams as well as the forum where students share their experiences and discuss mock questions and scenarios.

Mock exams

The last group of resources are various mock exam platforms.

  • Exam Guru: AWS Solution Architect – Associate app
    • This iOS app costs $30.99 as of writing this. Unfortunately I was not happy with it. Both UI and UX sucked for the price I paid and the questions in it were not as good of a match to the real exam compared to the other ones I tried. Many questions were repeated, readability on a mobile device was not great, some of the features I would expect were missing as well as numerous typos made me abandon this app as a learning resource. The app might have gotten better since I saw it the last time, but based on what I saw I would not recommend it.

  • AWSLagi
    • One of the cheaper alternatives is this mock exam collection. It comes with several mock exams tracking your progress and time. It provides some explanation to why the answers are correct or wrong, however this does not come with all of the question. I found these questions to be close to the real exam. I would recommend this mock exam platform.

  • The Cert School
    • The last resource I used is this platform. It comes with a vast collection of mock exams and the coverage of topics is the best out of all three options. If you are on the budget, I would recommend to go with this resource as I felt it provided me with the best training for the actual exam.

Certificate

When you are all done and successfully passed the exam, you will receive the email confirmation. In a day or two, you will be able to see the results of the exam in your AWS Training portal. As a bonus you will also receive a badge that you can embed into your CV or website. It will look something like this. Please note that it includes the two-year validity period I mentioned earlier. 

Certification badge

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

Conclusion

Well, this was a long road, but quite worth the effort. In case you end up working with AWS, it is IMHO necessary to become literate in terms of AWS. The preparation process will help you achieve just that. I personally like what AWS has to offer and enjoy my daily interactions with the platform. This was a great factor that motivated me to become better at what I do. It was great to see how the stuff I learned influenced the way I work, my productivity as well as the value it brought to my employer and the customers using the applications I am involved with. All in all, it was a great learning experience and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in AWS.

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