Today I sat and passed the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam. Now, admittedly, going into this I knew enough about Amazon Web Services to be dangerous (I’ve been more an Azure guy) and by no means would I consider myself to be an expert, so I had to study and complete online training in order to ensure I was prepared to sit the exam. This blog post will focus on what I did to prepare as well as a few takeaways and tips for others that are looking to achieve the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification.
In order to prepare for the exam I spent about a month studying, reading and taking practice exams. Before you even start preparing you want to make sure you review the AWS Solutions Architect exam blueprint. If you’ve sat other exams you’re likely familiar with what an exam blueprint is but if not this document clearly outlines all of the topics and areas that you should focus on. Amazon is certain to highlight that you should have general IT knowledge as well as a good understanding of AWS itself. The exam blueprint points you to several AWS Cloud Computing Whitepapers, which I chose to print and place in a 3-ring binder and read. Personally I’m a hands-on learner so just reading PDF’s isn’t enough.
These are technical whitepapers and very well written and easy to read. These AWS Cloud Computing Whitepapers 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
Now, be forewarned, reading these whitepapers alone IS NOT ENOUGH to pass the exam. You need to have hands-on experience within the AWS Console and become intimately familiar all of the key services (IAM, S3, EC2, ECS, EBS, Lambda, VCP, Route53, RDS, DynamoDB, SNS, SQS, SWF…etc) which is why going through a formalized training program is highly recommended. Amazon does have a fantastic online documentation center that is easy to navigate and understand. Within this documentation are Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ’s for every single service that AWS offers. Without a doubt you need to be reading these FAQ pages!
After consulting with several colleagues and friends in the community it became obvious that the A Cloud Guru platform not only provided the best training material out there but it was also focused on the critical exam topics and provided specific exam tips within each section. The course material that Ryan Kroonenburg, the instructor and founder of A Cloud Guru, provides is both theory based as well as hands-on in the AWS Console. So to begin with you’ll absolutely want to follow along with the labs and you can follow along with an AWS Free-Tier Account. You’ll need a credit card to get setup, however, as I mentioned, the majority of the labs are able to be completed within the limits of the Free-Tier account. If there are labs that would incur costs Ryan clearly highlights this fact and you can optionally skip those or choose to follow along. I followed along with all of the labs regardless. Another nice component of the A Cloud Guru program is that after completing each section there are mini-exams which will test your knowledge and understanding of the topic just covered. Also, at the end of the course there is an all-inclusive exam that mimics the real AWS Certification Exam. After completing the sections within A Cloud Guru and before taking the mini-exam I recommend going and reading the FAQ for the specific services and topics covered. I’ll cover this more later, but there were several exam questions that were not covered in the A Cloud Guru material for the Associate exam – not to say they’re not covered at all with A Cloud Guru, they were just not covered in the SA Associate course.
So, the online training material is fantastic, however, there’s not enough practice tests – so I signed up for WhizLabs. I came across WhizLabs after reading some discussion forums online and will admit that at first it seemed very sketchy to me but after multiple people spoke very highly of the practice tests I figured lets go for it. The cost was $19.95 USD and with this you are provided 8 practice exams with ranging difficulties and there are also specific topic exams as well. So if you wanted to test your knowledge just on VPC for instance, there’s a specific examination just focused on this topic. I’ll add that there is a free exam with 25 questions that I took first just to vet the platform and was very pleased. In addition I took the exams on my iMac, iPhone and iPad – all devices are fully supported and work reliably. Also, WhizLabs has a guarantee that you’ll pass the exam with their material so if this is of a concern to you be sure to read up on this guarantee.
Now that we’re prepared for the exam lets talk about the exam itself.
My Notes from the A Cloud Guru Course!
AWS Solutions Architect Associate Exam
In order to take the exam you’ll need to create an AWS Certification account and schedule to sit your exam at an official PSI Examination Center. Come exam day you’ll want to make sure you have the correct identification – so check the requirements there. This might seem trivial but please arrive on-time, in fact you should plan to arrive 30 minutes early to allow for traffic and any unforeseen issues along the way The exam consists of multiple choice questions as well as check box questions (pick 2 or pick 3 of the best), there was no simulated lab type questions on this exam. Once you end the exam you immediately know whether or not you passed and Amazon emails you in real-time your results, with how you performed in each section – there’s no print out that you receive after completing the exam.
OK, so my exam takeaways:
- Oddly one question actually appeared twice on my exam
- Amazon ECS (Elastic Container Service) was not covered in the A Cloud Guru course but there was a few (3 maybe) questions on this topic specifically
- Know IAM inside and out – I had quite a few questions on federation, SAML as well as Amazon STS (Security Token Service)
- NAT Instances came up a few times whereas the newer NAT Gateway did not
- Several questions on VPC peering
- A trick question on provisioned IOPS for a database workload that required at peak 2k IOPS but during normal operating conditions only used 1k IOPS – which would be best
- Understand S3 Lifecycle Management
- 80% of the questions were scenario based and only a handful were what I would call “layups” (super easy and obvious)
I hope this quick article helps you both prepare and pass the AWS Solutions Architect Associate examination.