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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

How to crack the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification

An AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification is perfect to prove your knowledge. With my experience, tips, and tricks, you'll pass the certification exam.

It's no secret that an AWS certification opens doors to a world of opportunities in the cloud ecosystem. These exams can validate your knowledge of the AWS cloud, especially when looking for jobs in that area. The AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification is a great way to showcase your knowledge of architecting an AWS solution and serves as proof that you can work as a Cloud Architect.

At first sight, AWS Solutions Architect certification might be daunting, but once you are in the rhythm of studying for it, it can be easy to handle. There are countless resources out there to help you prepare for the certification exam, but I want to tell you about my experience when preparing for it and the tips and tricks I found along the way. Let's explore why you should get certified and start working on how to crack the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification to become an AWS Solution Architect.

What is the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification?

The AWS Solutions Architect, at an associate level, is a certification that AWS offers for individuals with some experience in AWS technology or other cloud services. Although it might not be impossible to achieve if you have no prior experience with any cloud provider, I recommend you have at least some hands-on experience with one cloud provider.

The main objective is to prove that you have the knowledge and skills in cloud architecture design using AWS services. They require you to distinguish their services, determine when to use one over the other and build highly-available, scalable, and secure architectures.

The associate-level AWS Solutions Architect certification is the perfect way to showcase your AWS competence and familiarity. Especially when compared to the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and the AWS professionals certifications, where the associate exam lies in between the difficulty curve. I will focus on the latest version of the exam (at the moment of writing), the SAA C03 exam.

Tips to ace the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam

These tips are helpful even if you have no experience with the AWS Cloud or have worked with it for years.

Complete a Solutions Architect Associate course

The first step to becoming an AWS Certified Solutions Architect is to complete an AWS Solutions Architect Associate course. It is regardless of whether you have experience in the AWS cloud. It can make a difference in knowing the approximate scope of the exam topics. You can use AWS Training, such as AWS Academy or AWS Educate.

There are other resources for courses, such as A Cloud Guru, Tutorials Dojo, and Udemy. In the end, I will detail my preparation and experience for the exam and the resources I've used.

The main goal of taking a course is to learn about the exam's scope and the services that you might've not used in your prior experience.

Read the service FAQs

I recommend you read at least the FAQs listed on the AWS Solutions Architect Associate resources page. The FAQs have critical information that I've seen on the exam as part of the test. In my opinion, they condense information better than the User Guides.

AWS lists only six of the service FAQs. Although you could read the FAQs for all the services included in the exam, I believe those are enough. The FAQs are for Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, Amazon VPC, Amazon Route 53, Amazon RDS, and Amazon SQS. Those are the most tested services on the exam. Although I also recommend reading about AWS Lambda and Storage Gateway, which are topics generally tested.

I recommend reading User Guides, FAQs for other services, and whitepapers only if you have specific doubts about some use cases or details. It's useful after a practice test to review the AWS developer guides on the resources.

Learn general IT knowledge to have an advantage

Although it's not required, learning general IT knowledge has a huge advantage when taking the exam. Some of the questions, especially the networking ones, might require knowledge of some protocols, ports, and the behaviors of outbound connections. For instance, knowing the SSH port or the underlying protocol can help solve questions that rely on that knowledge. Although it might seem trivial, this knowledge can help solve at least a couple of questions per exam quickly.

The most important general knowledge topics are:

  • Which are the ports of widely used protocols (HTTPS, HTTP, SSH).
  • Underlying protocols of widely used protocols (TCP, UDP).
  • Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR).
  • The OSI Model.

Knowing these things can help you quickly eliminate wrong answers in seconds from the certification exam, increasing your chances of success.

Complete practice exams

One of the most important things you should consider when preparing for the exam is completing at least one practice exam. If you want to be an AWS Solutions Architect, practice is necessary. The more tests you can practice, the better.

Practice is helpful for two main reasons here. First, you will be used to the "AWS Certified Solution"; this is the general standard to develop an AWS-based solution. You will be able to identify which AWS service applies to each architecture or solution case. Secondly, you will start getting used to the AWS Solution Architect certification format. You will be far more prepared for the associate exam. It leads me to the next tip, understanding how an AWS certification exam works.

Understand how the Certified Solutions Architect exam works

Understanding how the exam works and its composition can help you identify how to study or where to direct your efforts. The AWS Certified Solutions Architect contains 65 questions, but your final score includes only 50. The remaining 15 serve for collecting metrics and determining the score scale for the question set you got. What does this mean? Even though you might be unsure of some, those might be part of the unscored questions.

AWS certification exams offer the option to flag questions for review later. It means you can mark the questions and review them at the end of the exam. At the end of the exam, it offers a screen to review all the flagged questions.

Moreover, the questions can appear in two different formats:

  • Multiple choice: These questions present several options, from which only one is correct.
  • Multiple responses: These questions contain several options, from which you might need to select two or more.

Knowing this is beneficial if you know the strategies to solve the exam.

Learn the strategies to solve the exam

Strategies to solve the exam can help you increase your possibility of success. Putting these to practice is major when preparing for the practice and the certification exam.

  • Eliminate options. Most questions have at least two options you can easily discard at first glance. You can realize this when reading the options' services, features, or deployments. Worst case scenario, if you don't know the answer, you reduce picking one in four to one in two.
  • Flag questions for review. Don't spend five minutes thinking about the response to a question. Given you have 130 minutes (2 hours and 10 minutes), the average time per question should be two minutes. If you don't know the answer to a question, flag it and skip it. You can go back to it later.
  • Read the questions twice. Read the questions twice to be sure you understand the solution and know what the question is asking. Reading twice is virtually free, and the benefits are infinite.
  • Use questions to solve other questions. It may happen you don't know the solution to a question. You mark it and then review it at the end. It is possible, and I have seen it, that a question has the answer to another one. The question statement is generally correct. You can base your solution on that.

Using all these strategies can definitely help you become a certified Solutions Architect.

Have a strategy to study

It has been proven by psychology many times that mixing up how you study can help you get a deeper understanding. Having notes to review and practice exams lets you mix up how you prepare. Try reading the notes during one day, practicing exams on another, reading the text out loud, having someone test you, or practicing while reviewing answers. There are multiple approaches to studying, so mix them to improve your performance and become a Certified Solutions Architect.

Try out the AWS platform

To be an AWS Solutions Architect, you should have experience working with cloud computing. It is a reality that not everyone might have the option of having worked with AWS in a production environment. Regardless, creating an AWS account is free. You don't need to spend money on the AWS Management Console to try it out.

You can experiment with the console to see the configuration of any service included in the Solution Architect exam. There's no need to spend money on an EC2 to see what's required to configure it. Besides, you can always carefully use the AWS Free Tier to develop an AWS Certified Solution. Trying out the AWS CLI is also an option, which is free to install. Use that to your advantage and experiment with the tools an AWS Solutions Architect works.

Optional: Obtain an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification

Optionally, if you feel uncertain about your preparation for the AWS Solution Architect Certification, you can change the scope to the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner. That AWS certification is less challenging and can give you the confidence to tackle the certified Solutions Architect exam later.

How did I get certified?

I got my AWS Solutions Architect certification on January 2023. I started studying and practicing one month before taking the exam. I'll detail how I prepared for the exam.

As part of my degree, I attended a Cloud Computing course at university. During this course, we used AWS Educate as the platform to get all the knowledge about AWS services. This platform had two main advantages, the first one being that the content was easily digestible, and the second one was the AWS Management Console Simulator. The simulator is a limited version of the AWS Console where you can launch services without worrying about the cost. It can give you a comprehensive, hands-on experience of the AWS cloud and enable you to experiment with building a solution to a problem. The main downside of this course was that, at the moment, the content was for the AWS SAA C02 version of the exam. It required me to fill in the gaps in knowledge with more research. I assume the course is now updated to use the newer version of the Solution Architect certification.

To practice, I bought practice exams from Udemy, which were definitely worth it. They include six practice exams, 390 questions in total. It is the perfect certification training material. The course provides temporary access to the Tutorials Dojo exam simulator, which accounts for roughly 95 more questions. The main advantage of the Udemy exams is that each solution has an explanation. AWS also provides a sample question dataset with responses explained. All this practice material is more than enough for your AWS certification training. I recommend you practice the exams until you consistently get an 80% or more score each time.

As part of my study material, I created a set of notes from where I would study everything. It has all the contents from the AWS Educate course, FAQs, and User Guides I read. Besides, it has a directory with all the services included in the Certified Solutions Architect exam.

Closing thoughts

Becoming a Certified Solutions Architect is a fantastic achievement and proves your knowledge as a Solution Architect. It is regardless of whether you are working with Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, or AWS architecture. Cloud Computing is the future of technology, so getting certified is the perfect way to showcase your knowledge.

I hope this guide and all my tips are helpful in your journey as a future AWS Certified Solutions Architect. You can let me know via email or share this story via LinkedIn to help your fellow future Solution Architect colleagues.