Last week I sat and passed the AWS Solution Architect Associate exam. In this article I will share my experiences and provide you with some advice in regards to this exam.
Currently there are two versions of the AWS SA associate exam available, the ‘classic’ exam and the ‘new’ exam, currently in beta. The are a few differences between these exams; in regards to the number of questions, length, cost and also in terms of what is asked. I took the classic exam, which had (in my case) 55 questions and is 80 minutes in length. You have to score at least 70%, and the exam is focussed on scenario based questions. You will get your result immediately. The beta exam has 80 questions, is 150 minutes in length and you will get your results in 3 months after you did the exam. You also have to score at least 70%.
The objectives for the classic exam are:
- Designing highly available, cost efficient, fault tolerant and scalable systems (60%);
- Implementing/deploying (10%);
- Data security (20%);
- Troubleshooting (10%).
For the new exam, the objectives are:
- Design resilient architectures (34%);
- Define performant architectures (24%);
- Specify secure applications and architectures (26%);
- Design cost-optimized architectures (10%);
- Define operationally-excellent architectures (6%).
Full requirements for the exame are in the exam blueprint, which is recommended…mandatory to read carefully.
The AWS Solution Architect Associate exam covers a broad range of AWS solutions, however the individual questions are not that difficult. It’s more a matter of ‘you just have to know’ what is asked. When you’re new to AWS the exam can be challenging, so be sure to spent enough time to study on all subjects that are covered.
So what should you do to pass the exam?
- Attend a training;
- Read (some of) the FAQs;
- Read (some of) the white papers;
- Get hands-on experience;
- Do practice questions.
Attend a training
There’s an official 3 day AWS training called Architecting on AWS, which will prepare you for the exam. The course is delivered in a live classroom environment or through a virtual classroom. Notice that attending an official training for this exam is not mandatory.
There are also different non-official training available, I did two of them:
- A Cloud Guru – Certified Solutions Architect – Associate 2018;
- Pluralsight – AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate.
The A Cloud Guru course lasts 22 hours and includes lectures, a lot of labs, practice questions and an exam simulator. The Pluralsight course lasts a little longer than 8 hours, and only includes theoretical lectures. I personally prefer the A Cloud Guru course, because it covers the different subjects more in depth, the labs are pretty good and the content in general is more up-to-date. However, if you have the time it’s a good idea to also go through the Pluralsight course to get a different view on the subjects.
Both training provides offer the option to increase the speed of the lectures, the is a very handy option and will speed up your learning experience. With Pluralsight you can download the slide material, what can be used for you as a summary. Pluralsight also provides subtitles, whether or not real time translated to your own language via Google Translate.
What I liked about A Cloud Guru are the real world scenarios that are explained throughout the course. This really helps because you learn how all things comes together.
Read the FAQs
The online course will help you building a good foundation, however it’s strongly suggested that you also read through the different Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that are available for the different AWS services. You probably won’t have time to read all the FAQs, but I would recommend to read at least through the followings pages:
- Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) FAQ;
- Elatic Compute (EC2) FAQ;
- Simple Storage Service (S3) FAQ;
- Relational Database Service (RDS) FAQ;
- Indentity Access Management (IAM) FAQ;
- Route 53 FAQ.
Subjects that are also part of the exam are (a.o.) Glacier, CloudFront, DynamoDB, RedShift, Elasticache, SQS, SWF, SNS, Elastic Transcoder, API Gateway and Kinesis. I ‘scanned’ these FAQs on a high level. Of course, if you have the time it’s always good to learn more about these services but this is not strictly required to pass the exam.
About the whitepapers
The exam blueprint mentions a few blueprints, that are:
- Overview of Amazon Web Services
- Overview of Security Processes
- AWS Risk & Compliance Whitepaper
- Storage Options in the Cloud
- Architecting for the AWS Cloud: Best Practices
Go through these whitepapers. It’s a lot of content, it’s up to you how much time you want to spent here. I focussed on the security processes, risk & compliance and architecting whitepapers.
Get hands-on experience
You will have a bigger chance to pass the exam if you have hands-on experience. If you’re already using AWS in your day-to-day work, this will help significantly in passing the exam. If you’re not an active AWS user, sign up and leverage all the beautiful things that provided through the AWS free tier. The AWS free tier includes offers that expire 12 months following sign up and other that never expire. You get a lot of stuff with this free tier: EC2 compute power, RDS, Elastic Load Balancing, Glacier, S3, Cloud Front and much more.
Use the free tier to follow the A Cloud Guru hands-on labs, or build some stuff yourself. Just think of any scenario and start building I would say :).
Do practice questions
It’s always good to do practice questions! This will get you in the flow for the exam, and will also help you in identifying the areas you need to improve. Every chapter at acloudguru.com ends with a short quiz, so this is a good start to test your knowledge. I also liked the exam simulator at A Cloud Guru. The simulator will provide you around 60 questions in an exam like environment, you have 80 minutes to answer the questions. You can do the simulator over and over again, the questions will differ however you will also see the same of the questions being repeated. AWS also provides a whopping seven practice questions at their site.
And…now you’re ready for the exam. Depending on your experience I would say preparing for AWS Solution Architect Associate would cost your somewhere around 20-30 hours. Again, it’s depending on your experience with AWS solutions. The exam itself, at least the classic exam, takes 80 minutes…no bonus time for non-native English speakers. Registration for the exam is through aws.training, there’s no prerequisite for the exam. You will need a certification account to register for the exam.
After you’ve passed the exam and your result is uploaded to the portal you will get access to a few benefits: a digital badge, PDF certificate, store access and a free voucher that can be used for any available AWS practice test (probably with more than 7 questions). The store access can be used to order AWS goodies (polos, laptop sleeve, mousepad, etc.).
So that’s it. After you’ve earned the AWS Solution Architect Associate exam, it’s maybe time for one of the other certifications. The following article by John Creecy, who passed all 7 AWS certifications, shared some of his experiences in this article. Worth a read!
That’s hit, I hope this was valuable.