How to prepare your AWS Certified Solution Architect Associate exam

Certified Solution Architect Associate since end of June 2018 after 45 days of intensive work, I thought useful to share with you the end-to-end process from the preparation to the exam.

After many years working on web and mobile projects, I wanted to acquire in-depth knowledge on architecture design on AWS with this certification.

The exam’s blueprint

Amazon has released in February 2018 a new version of its Solution Architect Associate certification which focuses on 5 pillars:

  • Design Resilient Architectures
  • Define Performant Architectures
  • Specify Secure Applications and Architectures
  • Design Cost-Optimized Architectures
  • Define Operationally Excellent Architectures

To pass the certification you will need to answer to 65 questions (multiple choice and multiple answer) in 130 minutes to complete and with a passing score of 72%.

AWS says that you need at least one year of hands-on experience designing available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on Amazon Web Services but you can pass it easily with some hard work 🙂.

More details on the AWS Certified Solution Architect Associate: https://aws.amazon.com/certification/certified-solutions-architect-associate/

My background

Before studying the certification I had a small introduction to S3, Glacier and Route53. However, I have 15 years experience building websites, 5 years experience as Product Manager in a digital agency working with SMEs, in an international organization serving 10’000+ users through several platforms and in a staffing startup with roughly 100’000+ users. I also have networking knowledge acquired at school and familiar with Load Balancer and Caching mechanism.

Which resources did I use to prepare the exam?

Udemy

Being a big fan of Udemy, there was (and is still) one course that stood out from the others with 4.5 stars rating from more than 90’000 ratings for $11.99 instead of $179.99 (93% off). This course, of 119 lectures for a total of almost 21 hours, is taught by Ryan Kroonenburg who’s heavily experienced with AWS, holds all the certification and is the CEO of A Cloud Guru, the world leader in computing trainings.

Ryan goes through every aspects you need to know in order to pass the certification and mixes theoretical, hands-on lectures and quizzes which help a lot to get familiar with the various Amazon Web Services. Each lecture varies between few minutes up to 20 minutes and ends up with a summary of what you have just learned which is extremely useful when you want to study the topic again without having to watch everything all over again.

Do note that even if you do not have any experience with AWS, Ryan explains so well that you’ll be able to make big progress in a timely fashion. Follow the tips given during the course such as reading the FAQs will improve your results at the exam.
Even though the course is top notch quality, I didn’t feel very confident in taking the exam taking into account I had many unanswered questions from the Q&A sections of the course. Therefore, I decided to join the A Cloud Guru to seek help from the community.

A Cloud Guru

Ryan and his team are more engaged on their own platform than on Udemy. Anytime there is a content update, it is done first there and later on on Udemy. If you have any question, someone on the forum will provide you an answer in few minutes or hours and last but not least A Cloud Guru offers an exam simulator to prepare you to take the exam.

All this content and all the other trainings are available for $ 20.75 per month (annual plan) or $ 29 per month (monthly plan).

On the beginning, I was satisfied to have many exams to practice what I learned and to get used to tricky questions that might occur during the final exam however my scores were most of the time below 50% which is miserable. After some time, I’ve found comments from other students who passed the certification reporting that questions were actually harder than the real exam and recommended to check Whizlabs’ practice tests.

You can argue that harder it is, better you will be prepared but lot of questions were out of scope.

FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions pages of the different services provides good insights and information for the exam on aspects not covered in the course or that you don’t except unless you have some hands-on experience.

I’ve listed below the FAQs that have been useful in my preparation:

Whizlabs

For a value of 19.95 €, you will have 8 practice tests of 60 questions to answer in 80 minutes, 14 thematics tests based on February 2018 exam and 5 full tests of 65 questions to answer in 130 minutes also based on the last version of the exam.
Whizlabs helped me so much in the preparation. Questions are extremely close to the one you have in the certification exam in terms of knowledge as well as wording. Being used to the phrasing plays an important role in your exam as you don’t have to read the questions several times and figure out what they actually mean.

I took 2 practice tests a day for 2 weeks until I get at least 90% correct answers to all test.

After this two weeks, I was quite confident but I still opted for the official AWS practice exam.

AWS sample questions and practice exam

To give you an idea of how the final exam is looking like, AWS gives a 10 questions practice exam for free: . Questions are easy and you must have 10 out of 10 correct otherwise you need to study more.

Besides this, you can also take the official practice exam which consists in 25 questions and cost $ 20.

If you have conscientiously studied and have good results to the Whizlabs exam, then it should be a not brainer for you.

I took this exam a week before taking the final one and jauge if I required additional work.
I passed with 92% of correct answers devided as follow:

  1. Design Resilient Architectures: 100%
  2. Define Performant Architectures: 85%
  3. Specify Secure Applications and Architectures: 83%
  4. Design Cost-Optimized Architectures: 100%
  5. Define Operationally-Excellent Architectures: 100%

It’s pretty good score but it is still easier than the final exam.

If you’re still in the decision process of taking this practice exam or not, I would advise you to focus on having amazing results with the Whizlabs exams rather than spending another $25.

Sample questions: https://d1.awsstatic.com/training-and-certification/docs-sa-assoc/AWS_Certified_Solutions%20Architect_Associate_Feb_2018_Sample%20Questions_v1.0.pdf

Additional resources

AWS, A Cloud Guru and many people on forums advise to read all whitepapers to perfect your knowledge. I personally didn’t read them as it took me already lot of time to watch all the lectures, study and practice.

Find below the links to the whitepapers:

  • Whitepapers: https://d0.awsstatic.com/whitepapers/AWS_Cloud_Best_Practices.pdf and https://aws.amazon.com/architecture/well-architected/
  • Books

Exam feedback

After weeks of training with Whizlabs, I was expecting the same level of difficulty but it was harder than expected. Mostly scenario based, questions were phrased similarly however questions and answers were confusing. I used every single second of the 130 minutes to review the 65 questions before submitting my results.

The questions were mostly on:

  • VPC
  • DynamoDB
  • IAM
  • S3

On the day of the exam, I only knew that I passed it on the last screen before closing the window and it took 24 hours before getting to know that I passed with a score of 83%.

I’m a Certified Solution Architect Associate, now what’s next?

AWS Certifications

AWS has two other certifications at the Associate level (Developer, SysOps Administrator), two at the Professional level (DevOps Engineer and Solution Architect) and more specialty certifications.

Depending on your ambition, you can either try to get them all or to become an expert of one topic and to focus only on the Solution Architect Professional.

In terms of difficulty, we can order them as follow:

  1. Solution Architect Associate
  2. Developer Associate
  3. SysOps Administrator Associate
  4. DevOps Engineer Professional
  5. Solution Architect Professional

Are you planning to take the Solution Architect Associate or you already hold it? Feel free to leave a comment to ask your questions, share your preparation, your experience and what you plan next.

About the author

Stephane Turquay

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