Recently, I passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Professional certification exam.
Some have asked for tips that might help as they prepare to take the exam. In this article, I share how I prepared and passed the exam.
Disclaimer: Everyone learns differently and at their own pace. This is what worked for me as a working professional with a young family and limited time. Some of it may work for you or you may find alternatives that work better for you. Do what works best for you.
Official Exam Guide. I reviewed the official AWS Certified Solution Architect — Professional Exam guide and identified what I knew and what I didn’t to make a study plan.
Study plan. I then made a study plan based on what I needed to learn, estimating how many days I would spend on each topic, factoring in I would study approximately 2 hours per day and weekends. Some were longer (AWS Organizations, Transit Gateway, for example) and others were shorter (Serverless). This will vary for you based on your experience.
Set a date goal. With my time estimates, I counted the total days and ended up with a target date: 3 months away. (I had already studied off-and-on for about 3 months prior to this.) Each time I met a goal, I marked the item complete on my study plan. Seeing this visual progress on my study plan helped me stay motivated and focused; it felt like small victories along the way. 🎉
Schedule the test. Having a set date is great motivator! Set a reasonable date based on your preparedness and book the exam date! 📅
Grit. During your preparation, you may feel overwhelmed with the volume of material to cover and with your progress. Keep focused, take breaks as needed, and don’t give up. Keep moving forward, readjust as needed, work your plan and you will be successful! 🚀
Hands-on practice. I did hands-on labs in the AWS console. Most services will be in free tier but others like Transit Gateway may be paid. Be sure to delete resources when done with your lab; you don’t want any surprise bills! 💲
Budget. To avoid surprise charges, I set a budget in the AWS billing and cost management console. I set a low budget amount ($5/month) and AWS emailed me when my usage charges exceeded that amount. I got several emails throughout my preparation when I forgot to delete lab resources! Some are very easy to forget. I’m looking at you, NAT Gateway! 👀
Use free resources. There are many free resources, and I took advantage of them. 😁 Youtube, GoCloudArchitect’s free AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional Training, ebook and practice exam, and the official AWS SA Pro sample questions and practice exam.
Purchase a study guide. I used ACloudGuru for training and sample questions and TutorialsDojo’s practice exam. They were both helpful, but I found TutorialDojo’s questions to be more updated and the question material was closer to the topics I saw on the actual exam. Their answers and explanations are the best I’ve seen as well.
Take practice exams. This was one of the most helpful steps for me. It helped with learning timing but also to learn unfamiliar concepts and also to identify areas of needed improvement. I took time to learn why the correct answer is correct and why other answers are wrong. Sometimes, I spent a whole day or two on 1 missed question to learn more about that topic. I used the paid and free resources here.
Test your computer a few days before. I tested from home, so I needed to confirm my computer was compatible with the testing system’s (Pearson Vue) requirements. Pearson Vue has a computer compatibility checker that verifies your mic, speakers, camera and internet connection speed and strength. This is important to do beforehand to avoid issues on exam day.
Use every waking moment. This is a tough exam so the more you’re used to the questions, the architecture concepts and how they can work together, the better prepared you’ll be. I tried to use every possible moment to study, read or watch AWS re:Invent, and other AWS YouTube videos to absorb what I could when I couldn’t be at my laptop for hands-on practice. Sometimes, I could only get a couple mins to review a question but even that small amount of time helps to reinforce the learning.
Take notes. It helps me understand and retain better when I write/type things. I used my Git repo for my notes and diagrams! Use whatever works for you.
Learn from others. I learned a lot from listening to others’ experience and approach on YouTube.
Budget your time. Take about 2 mins per question on average. This time varies by question as some will take more time and some less time. With 75 questions and 180 mins, this will leave you with enough time to answer all the questions. To prepare, I took several practice, timed tests to get my timing right. Then, during the exam, I checked my time after every 10 questions to ensure I had sufficient time left for the remaining questions.
Know what you know and know what you don’t. If you don’t know an answer, guess an answer and move to the next question. Don’t waste time trying to figure it out. The time savings will be useful for the longer, more complicated questions that require more time.
Regain focus. 3 hours is a long time for me to keep deep focus. When I got tired and needed a quick break, I closed my eyes tightly and squeezed them shut for about 2 seconds. When I reopened them, my focus was back! This is a weird trick but magically works for me!
Can’t leave the test area. I took my test at home so I couldn’t leave the computer for any reason, or you forfeit the test. So, get a comfortable, quiet place and use the restroom before starting.
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional is a tough exam but with the right preparation it is very passable. Believe in yourself and push through mental blocks and you can do it!
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.