AWS Certification Tips: Associate to Pro
I take my New Year’s goals seriously. This year's goal was to renew my AWS certificates. It has been three years since I passed all the Associate exams, and I haven’t done any Professional ones before, so it was time.
In the first week of January 2022, I passed all of the Associate exams. In the second week, I conquered the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional exam. And after a bit of a break, I also passed the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer Professional exam. Mission accomplished.
Through this article, you’ll learn my secrets behind achieving my goals and how you can too.
I had sporadically studied in November and December. I also used some days during my week off before the new year. In total, I spent about 130 hours studying for all the exams. Take into account I had passed the Associate certificates before, and I have been using AWS for quite some years now.
Associate exams are hard, but the Solutions Architect Professional exam is brutal.
The ultimate learning resource for AWS certificates are the courses by Stephane Maarek. They are exceptional. I’ve spent most of my life learning and taking exams, and Stephane’s courses can not compare to anything I’ve seen before. Stephane also has practice exams. They are great and similar to the actual exams.
Udemy often has a sale where you can buy each course for 10$. So, it's not a considerable expense either compared to the value they provide.
Are You a Native English Speaker?
In case you are not a native English speaker, as I am not, you can get an extra 30 minutes. If you have done AWS exams before, you know the questions are convoluted, and they want to trick you into picking the wrong answer. Your knowledge of the English language will be challenged. And an additional 30 minutes is very helpful.
You must apply for that before scheduling the exam. You only have to apply once to get an extension on all exams. Here is how to do it:
- Sign in to aws.training/Certification.
- Select the Go to your Account button.
- Select the Request Exam Accommodations button, followed by Request Accommodation.
- Using the Accommodation Type dropdown, select ESL +30 MINUTES.
- Select the Create button.
The accommodations should be approved immediately.
Covid-19? You Can Take Exams Online
You can do exams online now via exam provider VUE. I did all of them online, but if possible, go to the testing center. Because if you take the exams online, you are responsible for your computer, network, etc. and if anything fails, you fail the exam.
There are clear instructions—no standing, no toilet, no drinking, no breathing 😉
Make sure you follow them. You can schedule exams anytime, any day, including weekends.
You can do it on Mac or Windows. No Linux. Do it on a clean machine and/or make sure no services (Docker, etc.) are running or starting during the exam. The software checks for that before the exams, and you get blocked if some software starts during the exam. One service that kept randomly starting on my Windows was searchui.exe. It interrupted my first exam twice, and I had to wait for the operator to resume it. I forcefully deleted it for the second exam (and now the search feature in Windows does not work 😔).
Too Expensive? 50% Off Only for You
If you finish one AWS certificate, you get a coupon for a 50% discount for the next one.
To receive your coupon:
- Go to aws.training/Certification
- Find “Benefits”
- Click “Claim Benefit” which will be next to “50% Discount on your Next Exam”.
I finished all Associate exams three years ago and I was quite surprised that the questions are now a bit harder than they used to be.
Practice Exams Labs in AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate Exam
There are three practice exams labs for the SysOps Administrator Associate certification after you complete 65 questions. You are automatically logged in to a VM to do the labs.
They are not trivial, but not hard either. If you ever configured VPC, ALB, SG..., manually in the AWS console (and understood it) then you are good to go. You get detailed instructions on what to do and enough time, but you will fail if you are clumsy in navigating the console. Do not forget to reserve at least an hour for the practice exam labs. Do not spend all your time on questions. You cannot go back to the questions or to the previous practice exam lab.
I stumbled on some technical issues during the exam. The first VM had no working network. I was waiting for the operator to fix it for 25 minutes. Finally, I found a small icon with an option to reset the network. I am not sure if that helps or if the operator fixed it. But I lost 25 minutes.
AWS Certified DevOps Engineer Professional Exam
DevOps Professional might be an easier way to get a professional level, when compared to the Solutions Architect Professional exam. There is little less time pressure. I even had some time to review some answers. Questions are a bit easier but still tough.
AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional Exam
Associate exams are hard, but the Solutions Architect Professional exam is brutal. You have more time, but quite a lot more questions. There is no way to read all the questions and answers and validate the correct responses appropriately. You just scan for keywords and fire. There are no easy questions to gain some points. All are either hard or extra hard.
How to Handle Time Pressure
Handling time pressure is essential for the Solutions Architect Professional exam.
The following worked for me:
- I calculated how much time I need for the first third of the questions.
- I tried to finish that part as fast as I could and only then checked if I was on time. Then I acted accurately.
- Do not check the time on each question because that is only a distraction.
How to Break Down Questions
When reading a question, I do it in the following steps (especially for long questions and answers):
- Scan answers for keywords that will give you an idea of what the question is about, and you will understand it quicker.
- Read the question and pay attention to the last sentence where the keyword is: cost-effective, most secure, minimal maintenance / minimal change...
- Imagine the answer and find it in the list of answers.
- Quickly check other answers are not correct.
There could be multiple appropriate answers, but the right answer is the most optimal one.
If you do not know the answer, you can mark the question for review, but choose one of the answers because you will likely not have time for the review at the end. There is no penalty for a wrong answer.
"I Need an Easy Way Out"
From the exams I took, here is the order from the easiest to the hardest:
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate
- AWS Certified Developer Associate
- AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate
- AWS Certified DevOps Professional
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional
Should I do it?
Warren Buffett said, "Ultimately, there's one investment that supersedes all others: Invest in yourself."
Exams are not a replacement for experience. But no matter how much practice you have or which step you are in your career, exams are always an opportunity to validate your knowledge. They help you learn the parts that you will never come across by working on a limited number of real problems.
There are so many great resources on AWS, and it is incredible how quickly you can learn new things. For each minute invested in learning, you get back multiple times when working on a real project.