I have recently gotten my AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate certificate. In this post, I will share how I prepared for the exam and the resources that helped me get certified. You should be able to use this post as a high level guide on where to start and how to prepare for the certification exam.

If you are unsure if you should get certified or not, AWS is currently the largest cloud service provider with over 100 cloud services under its belt. In fact, according to TechCrunch it is 10 times bigger than its next 14 competitors. AWS is currently one of the highest paid IT certifications out there according to Forbes. Unlike other IT certifications, AWS certification does not require you to take expensive training and pay large amount of money for undertaking the exam.

Overview of Exam

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect is expected to understand the services available in the AWS cloud and use them effectively to design and deploy scalable, highly available and fault tolerant systems. The exam tests your ability to use AWS architectural best practices to estimate the costs and implement best cost control mechanisms. According to AWS Certification page, the exam validates the examinee's ability to:

  1. Define a solution using architectural design principles based on customer requirements.
  2. Provide implementation guidance based on best practices to the organization throughout the life-cycle of the project.

It is not clear how much you need to score in order to pass the exam. The passing score is set by using statistical analysis and are subject to change without notice. However I believe you should surely pass if your score is over 75%.

Online course

There are tons of on-line courses that you could undertake for preparing for this exam. However, after some research I settled down with the course offered by acloudguru. The course is developed for preparation of this specific certification and provides you with everything that you need to know. They have labs that you can follow to learn whatever the instructor is teaching and quizzes to test your knowledge after end of each sections. At the end of the course you can take sample exam to practice what you have learned.

I suggest you to finish this course before doing anything else. This course alone might be enough for you to pass the exam. this is a must have, if you plan to ever sit for the exam.

Practice Test

AWS have practice tests that you can purchase and test your knowledge. Personally I did not use the AWS practice test. Acloudguru has exam simulator that you can use to practice the simulation of real exam. It is great a tool but I think whizlabs practice tests are much better and will take you much closer towards your certification. I highly recommend you to purchase the sample test and use it in conjunction with acloudguru. The practice test will introduce you to some topics that might have been missed in the course or just help you to refresh your memory.

AWS FAQs

I highly recommend you to go through AWS FAQs. This is by far the most important part in getting certified. Most if not all of the questions will come from the FAQs. If you don't have time to go through all of them, at least make sure to go through following.

  1. Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2)
  2. Simple Storage Service (S3)
  3. Virtual Private Cloud (VPC
  4. Auto Scaling
  5. Load Balencer
  6. Route 53
  7. Simple Queue Service (SQS)
  8. Identity Access Management (IAM)

Key Topics

  1. Know types of instances that can be launched
  2. Understand Virtualization types. Difference between ParaVirtual (PV) and Hardware Virtual Machine (HVM)
  3. Understand NAT and Bastion hosts.
  4. Understand VPC inside out. This is very important.
  5. Know the difference between AD Connector and Simple AD in ADS.
  6. Understand Route 53 inside out. Difference between DNS and Alias records.
  7. Different EC2 instance types.
  8. When to use SQS vs SWF.
  9. What can Trusted Advisor do for you?
  10. Difference between SQS and SNS. SQS is pull and SNS is push based messaging.
  11. Spot instances and how it can save money.
  12. Difference between S3 storage classes.
  13. Cross Account Access with Roles.
  14. AWS best practices White Paper.
  15. Difference between AWS regions, Availability Zones (AZs) and Edge Locations.
  16. Types of EBS volumes. Difference between each volumes.
  17. Cloud Watch alarms and what it can do.

Other Resources

  1. Github gist with curated lists of AWS resources. Optional
  2. AWS exam cheatsheet. Recommended
  3. Popular section in acloudguru forum. Recommended

Booking an Exam

At this point you should have gone through everything that I have suggested above. If you are scoring above 90% on whizlabs practice each time, then you should be ready to sit the real exam. You can book the exam from AWS CertMetrics website. You will need to create a new Amazon account of use your existing one. You can schedule your exam once you login to the CertMetrics website. Book the exam via PSI exam and not WebAssessors. AWS recently started conducting exams via PSI and WebAssessors is soon to be removed. The cost of booking the exam is USD $150.

Conclusion

Without understanding most of the services provided by AWS, you will not be able to effectively develop and deploy highly scalable, fault tolerant applications in the cloud while keeping the cost to lowest. This is not an easy task to achieve and does not happen over few days but requires continuous practice, dedication and learning. Being able to effectively design cloud infrastructure is highly rewarding weather you are working in a large scale company or just a solo developer trying to get your application on the cloud.

I have received both AWS Certified Solutions Architect and Developer Associate certification. Soon, I will write a preparation guide for Developer Associate exam. Feel free to leave a comment if you think I have missed some important topic or just want to say hello.