Tips and resources to prepare for Foundational, Associate and Professional AWS Certifications

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An opinionated guide to tips and valuable resources to confidently prepare for and excel in Foundational, Associate, and Professional AWS Certifications, accelerating your career in cloud computing.

Are you considering obtaining an AWS certification? Whether you’re a seasoned IT professional or just starting, studying for an AWS exam can be daunting. But with the right approach and resources, you can pass your exam with flying colours.

This article looks at some practical tips before, during and after the exam. It provides a list of resources to boost your confidence to pass Foundational, Associate, and Professional AWS Certifications.

Tips BEFORE the exam

Here are a few suggestions that may be BEFORE the exam:

1. Choose the proper exam

Choosing the proper AWS certification exam for your goals and experience level is essential.

For example, professionals often choose the Developer Associate certification when their primary role revolves around software engineering. As their architecture skills develop, they may opt for the Solution Architect Associate certification to validate their growth in this domain. In cases where individuals hold organizational-level responsibilities in AWS adoption, being well-versed in AWS possibilities becomes crucial when addressing business requirements with non-technical stakeholders.

The driving factors behind exam selection usually involve a genuine passion for cloud technologies, alignment with current job roles, and a strategic focus on acquiring relevant skills for future career development.

2. Create a study plan

Once you’ve chosen the proper exam, create a study plan that works for you. This should include the following:

  • Set up a timeline. A timeline for when you plan to cover each topic and specific study materials you will use (such as resources, textbooks, online courses, practice exams, etc.). This is very subjective. After some years of AWS experience, one month per exam was enough for me. For new starters, I suggest finding your own pace and establishing a clear goal to get positive pressure (aka “I want to get certified in 3 months”).

  • Plan when you start practising for exams. For foundational and associate exams, start doing partial practice exams a week after studying. This will help you familiarise yourself with the difficulty level and assess your current preparation. A week/10 days before the exam day, redo the practices entirely and against the clock (all 65 questions). For professional exams, start practising in its entirety to use the 75-question format in under two hours. It is tough, but the harder you train, the better equipped you will be on exam day.

  • Know the rules. If you are not a native English speaker, remember that you can get an extra 30 minutes for the exam by selecting the Request Exam Accommodations option in your AWS certification account. This can make a big difference on test day.

3. Read the foundational material

As you have started your AWS certification journey, it’s essential to have suitable study materials. Below is a comprehensive list of resources, a common denominator for all exams, and should represent the foundation for your exam doubts, learning and curiosity.

While reading all of these materials is challenging, having them as a constant companion during your learning journey will maximize your chances of passing the exam and help you greatly with your daily cloud job. This list includes:

  • AWS official documentation: Find technical documentation for AWS services, SDKs and toolkits, use cases, scenarios, and tasks.

  • AWS Blogs. This is a bit harder, but I have seen ***tons of questions ***from use cases thoroughly described in AWS blogs.

  • AWS whitepapers: A heavy read, but it provides the most precise in-depth information on different AWS services and best practices for designing, deploying, and operating solutions.

  • AWS Exam Readiness: AWS pages gather information about the exam format, sample questions and many other resources such as whitepapers, training more.

  • AWS Practice Exams: Simulated exams available on Udemy, CloudAcademy, ACloudGuru or AWS Skillbuilder.

A more detailed list drilling down the above is listed at the end of this article.

Tips DURING the exam

Here are some valuable tips during the exam:

  • Focus on keywords and use exclusion. Above all, in Professional exams, two answers may work. Try to get to that phase: exclude the answers that mention something completely odd (e.g. implement a Serverless solution, which implies not considering responses containing EC2)

  • Stay calm in the first 20 minutes. I found that the hardest, longest, weirdest questions I got were placed in the first 20–30 questions.

  • Flag long questions at first. If a question is too long, flag it for review and move on. This ensures you get back to it with trained eyes and the proper pressure.

  • Keep calm; look at this example, taken from one exam question:

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Daunting, right? Most of the sentences in the main question can be skipped. Identify keywords, actions and boundaries (upload of 1GB, move files from EFS to S3, many files processed twice) and read carefully the question sentence (improve reliability, eliminate redundant processing of video files).

Then start excluding. For instance:

  • Option 1: CloudWatch Events (EventBridge) to trigger a Lambda upon s3 upload is unnecessary as an S3 event notification is better suited, so exclude this answer

  • Option 2: API Gateway has a well-known, complained payload limitation of 10 megabytes. Files are 1 GB; thus, exclude this.

  • Option 3: Convincing, also given the tone and the fact that it proposes reliable serverless flows (S3 event notification-> Lambda -> SQS <- app)

  • Option 4: Usually, periodic cron jobs are not preferred practice over the asynchronous event-driven application; thus, exclude this.

This shows that though daunting, questions can always be divided and conquered with an exclusion, analytical thinking and a bit of study.

  • You do not need to nail 720/1000. Indeed, 15 out of the total number of questions (65 or 75) are not counted. Though not a certainty, there is a high probability that the hardest or weirdest questions are among the ones that will not be counted.

Tips AFTER the exam

After passing/failing your exam, do not give up in either case.

  • Don’t Stop Learning. Learning is a journey and potentially should never end. Once the exam is done, you have to celebrate and relax. It is essential to put this experience into practice and use it as a toolbox when actual use cases require your knowledge to help you out.

  • Be curious. After an exam, I remember the questions that made me struggle and look for those afterwards in AWS articles. Curiosity and hangers drive us to be ambitious and keep that feeling.

  • Pick a new challenge. Once celebrated, set a goal you want to achieve in the distant future. Is, for instance, a new certification? Book an appointment so that incentives work against a concrete temporal goal. At worst, you can reschedule, though this should be left as a last resort and not become a habit.

Resources

Obtaining an AWS certification can be challenging but achievable with the right approach and strategy. Below is a list I found helpful categorized per exam.

I have also included an opinionated rating of the difficulty level for each exam and the hot topics that represent the baseline of the exam. However, it’s important to note that these resources and tips are not exhaustive and should be used with other study materials to ensure comprehensive preparation.

Cloud Practitioner — Difficulty: 1/5

This is a reasonably easy one, though there were some odd questions for services one may have never heard of, such as CloudEndure, CloudWatch Synthetic Monitoring and some use cases for Service Catalogue. Do not underestimate it, and look for topics such as **Costs (**Cost Allocation Tags, Cost Explorer, Budget, Shared responsibility model and AWS Support Plans. Refer to the below material:

Developer Solution Associate - Difficulty: 2/5

For this, I highly recommend hands-on around the serverless area. Hot topics are:

Refer to this material.

Solution Architect Associate - Difficulty:2/5

Questions can be more challenging, and networking started playing a role in exams. More involvement of VPC, ELB, and Autoscaling. This focuses on how products interact and what architecture best fits the use case.

SysOps Admin Associate - Difficulty: 3/5

I enjoyed this because of being the only exam supporting a Lab part. Hands-on starts becoming very relevant in the exam, with questions and lab (CloudWatch Alarms, CloudFormation and Autoscaling).

Solution Architect Professional - Difficulty: 4.5/5

This is, without doubt, the hardest. There is not much to say. A rather important skill is intuition and the ability to weigh decisions with your current knowledge. Get familiar with the exclusion technique.

DevOps Professional - Difficulty:4

Study through services such as CodePipeline (in-depth), CloudFormation, AWS Config, SSM, and Autoscaling lifecycles.

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