AWS Certification Exam Preparation. An Ultimate Guide
April 12, 2023
5 min read
As the demand for cloud computing continues to grow, Amazon Web Services has become one of the industry's most popular cloud service providers. Consequently, AWS certifications are highly sought-after by professionals and teams looking to validate their skills and knowledge in cloud computing.
However, passing these exams can be challenging, especially for those new to the cloud. Here are some tips and strategies to help you prepare for and confidently pass the AWS certification exams based on my experience passing seven exams. If you're looking to boost your career in cloud computing or expand your knowledge in this field, keep reading to learn more!
Find the Motivation
Experience with the public cloud or strong motivation to learn about it should always be the starting point for your exam preparation journey. With proper reason, it will be easier to achieve the result. Are you working on developing a specific skill set to add to the ongoing project or hope to build your credibility for future roles? Find what works best for you, even if it is pretty abstract. And commit to it.
Select the Right Exam for You
This step is crucial, especially if it is your first certification. By choosing a level that is too challenging for you, you risk burning out and abandoning the idea of getting certified altogether. There are four basic types of exams: foundational, associate, professional, and specialty.
I usually start by mapping out what I want to achieve with this exam and which skills I want to validate. In doing so, researching the key areas and structure of the exam proves helpful. An excellent place to start is the official AWS Certification page.
Now let's talk about levels. The only foundational exam is Cloud Practitioner, which is for a reason. It validates a high-level understanding of AWS cloud services. However, many people I know are jumping straight into the first associate exam. It makes life more challenging. The certification journey should start from the beginning, like learning the alphabet before speaking the language.
The CP exam makes it easy to understand 'cloud' language. The introductory terms like scaling, load balancing, and foundational services like EC2, Lambda, RDS, DynamoDB, and S3 will be familiar to you. Also, the most significant advantage of going and passing the Cloud Practitioner exam is that you become familiar with the exam process, software, and style of questions.
If you are still determining which associate level exam to take, Developer or Architect, these levels are quite similar. If you are choosing between the first associate level exam, choose Architect. The difference in content between it and the Developer one is considerably low. The ways of preparation would be almost the same. Read more about it later.
Next Steps: Preparation Begins
Go through the exam guide carefully. Try to answer these questions and put answers into your 'Notes':
What is the exam structure? (questions, duration, etc.) Which domains are essential, and what is their percentage in the overall score?
For example: AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate. Here, you will find the way to download an exam guide. It is heavily focused on the domain of designing secure architectures. It takes 30% of the whole exam. Approximately 20 out of 60 questions will be on this topic. It will help us later in the preparation. Take note of the table in the 'Content Outline' section.
Usually, I spend 1-2 hours studying the course outline and practicalities. Downloading the whitepapers listed as recommended for the exam is also helpful. I recommend also booking the time for the exam well in advance to help you mentally prepare. Depending on your workload and the point in the cloud journey, it will take around 2-3 months, with studying 6-7 hours a week except for the foundation exam. Last but not least, notify your partner and family that you are taking the professional challenge of getting well-recognized achievements in your sphere. It will help you to receive their support and also manage expectations. For example, it will be a bad idea to plan a vacation four days before the exam unless, of course, you are a superhuman who can study anywhere.
The core of the preparation should be a comprehensive course on one of the learning platforms. There are many to choose from. As I have asked in my LinkedIn, learners tend to favor ACloudGuru. Also, many say that Adrian Cantrill's courses make outstanding courses. I also heard about Stephane Maarek, who is teaching on Udemy.
From my experience, starting with any of the courses is essential. Styles are different. In most cases, you must balance theory and practice in the study process. If you are taking your first exam, I recommend reading FAQs about services as additional reading. There are multiple services that you meet most in the exams: EC2, RDS, S3, IAM, SQS, SNS, API Gateway, CloudFront, Lambda, and Route 53. Also, in the evening, it is helpful to have a routine of reading a whitepaper from your e-book or tablet for about 30 minutes. I also like to study in the mornings before the chaos of emails, PRs, and business meetings.
The core preparation should end with completing the main online course, excluding the final test. Also, finishing some of the whitepapers is worth spending time on because they expand knowledge on various matters. Try to start the testing stage 1-2 weeks before the exam. If you are doing a first associate exam, it will probably take two weeks.
How could you test yourself:
Final exam in the main course
AWS Sample questions on the page of the exam
AWS Skill Builder: - Exam Readiness: (_name of your exam_) - (_name of your exam_) Official Practice Question Set (_exam code_ - English
TutorialsDojo practice exams.
Try to go into the last one after finishing everything. It will help you most if you have experience with questions and understanding the exam. Try to complete as many questions as possible. I found it helpful on the actual exam. Also, reading the explanations after finishing the practice exams is the key to success here. Take notes of the most complicated parts for yourself. It would be related to the differences between security groups and Network Access Control Lists. Note the tricky sections for yourself.
Prepare for the Exam Day
Consider finishing all the steps above while having 1-2 days before the actual exam. From now on, your main activity will be to read through all your notes and check TutorialsDojo cheatsheets for the services you have difficulties with. Also, put the most effort into the sections with the most significant percentage of the exam and the ones which are the points that are most vulnerable for you after passing practice tests.
Get good sleep during the last 1-2 days. On exam day, walk for 1 hour around a block or to the nearest park. It usually clears the mind and gives a natural energy boost to your mind and body. Take a snack and water bottle with you. What about making it in the comfort of your sofa with the cat on your lap? Unfortunately, it isn't effortless, and cleaning and preparing the room according to the standards takes time. Also, it feels creepy when somebody is silently watching you struggling with the cloud questions.
I took only one exam at home. It was an experience that I would rather skip. Taking Cloud Practitioner home is probably not a bad idea as it is straightforward and takes less time. Going to the test center helps me to be in the mode of testing myself. Also, during the exam, there would be the opportunity to take a break for eating, drinking, and walking. It becomes necessary at the professional and specialty levels as you spend more time pondering the questions.
During the Exam
Checking your name on the screen is a vital thing to do. Please read the questions carefully, and use the paper they give you in the center. It is not possible with the online proctoring option, by the way. Also, you can ask for a change of paper when you finish. First, strive to complete the questions in which you are sure. Use the 'Flag for review' feature because it allows returning after finishing the first round. My experience showed me that you should only mark answers in the problems where you are 95-100% sure. If not, simply mark them later and move forward. You have time to get back to all questions. But if you spend 15 minutes on one question, you will feel more time pressure.
Life After Submitting
Be prepared that, in most cases, the final screen will not show you PASS/FAIL score. Get some rest after the exam. I also prefer a day off when there is an exam. Your brain needs a recharge. In any scenario, you did a fantastic job preparing for the exam and learned a lot! High five!
Validity of the Certificates
Every exam result will last three years. Remember that every associate exam prolongs the validity of the foundational one. The same happens with the associate exam when you get the professional-level certificate. For example, if you pass Solutions Architect Professional, you will automatically renew the underneath ones like Solutions Architect Associate and Cloud Practitioner. However, Specialty ones do not work like that.
All these steps will help you to improve your knowledge and advance your career in the cloud. Certificates help me understand the logic behind the services and their interaction in my day-to-day practice. Also, they help to keep in mind the most secure and available solutions for the cloud architecture. And, of course, they give you the credit you deserve for learning all the cool cloud tech!
Thanks for reading! Good luck, and feel free to reach me for everything related to AWS, serverless, and cloud training.