What I wish someone had told me about pursuing an AWS Certification: Tips & Tricks for Self-Study

I was working with AWS everyday for over a year when the thought of pursuing an AWS Certification came to my mind. Why get certified?

Validating your existing knowledge, challenge yourself and enhancing your resume are always good reasons to do so, but in addition to those, I was really interested in exploring further the AWS ecosystem.

My thinking is that when you choose to move into a Cloud provider such as AWS (or GCP or Azure) you really want to make sure you are leveraging to the full extent it’s managed services such as message queues, analytics, storage, etc. On the other hand, your project may have a valid technical reason not to use some AWS services, but the mindset should always be so that you explore that AWS provided service first and find out what are the technical limitation (or business such as cost) that justifies not using it.

Studying for the AWS certification allowed me to get a really good overview of the ecosystem and in the process to take a deep dive into some services that I was not using (or leveraging properly).

My first impression of the certification process was positive yet daunting. There are different certifications and a lot of good content; yet, I was struggling to understand where to start. One obvious and easy avenue was to find a training partner and get an intense in-person classroom course, but that would easily cost hundreds of euros for a single certification (plus the exam fee) and didn’t sounded like the best option for me. I knew then, that self-study and self-paced was going to be a lot harder but it would force me to really understand the content and save some money in the long run.

What Certification are you aiming at?

There are several different AWS Certifications, divided in different groups: Foundational, Associate, Professional and Specialty. Each certification path targets different roles and domains, so it is important that you pick the right one for you.

AWS Certification Path (from https://aws.amazon.com/certification/)

If you are new to AWS Certifications, my advice is that you aim towards one of the Associate level certifications before you move towards a Professional or Specialty. This actually used to be a pre-requisite, but AWS removed it in October 2018, so right now you can start with any certification you want.

Also, you might be wondering about the Foundational level certification (Cloud Practitioner). I personally find that level a bit optional and more suited for people without technical background and/or any prior hands-on AWS knowledge, but if that is your case then you definitely should consider it.

How to (Self) Study?

I always start by reading carefully the certification overview page (e.g. AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate ) and the certification preparation guide. Since there are so many AWS services (and certifications), this is quite useful because it will point to the Whitepapers and Service FAQs that are relevant to the certification you are aiming at.

My preferred way to study is by using acloud.guru. It is a fantastic subscription service that will provide you all the materials for pretty much any AWS Certification you pick. It’s not free (~ 29 euros / month) but it’s not that expensive for all you will get in return.

With your acloud.guru subscription, in addition to the AWS certifications content, you also get tons of other interesting courses such as Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Ansible, Kubernetes, etc. Also, you gain access to Exam Simulators for some selected certifications that will help you test your readiness.

I have a lot of hands-on experience. Can I skip some content?

When you have a lot of hands-on experience in AWS you will be tempted to skip some topics. I will strongly advice you against that. As you will find out in the exam simulators, there is a fair share of nitty gritty details that the course content point out and summarizes nicely.

However, to save some time, I found a nice way to quickly skim through those topics and make the best of it. You can simply increase the playback speed of the video and still get a lot from it.

Adjusting Playback Speed in acloud.guru

Depending on the person reading the content, you will need to find the optimal value that matches their voice pitch without loosing the core message. It may take a few attempts but in my case, I found the best values to be 1.5x for Ryan Kroonenburg and 1.75x for Faye Ellis.

Am I ready to take the exam?

When you finish going through all the materials you are left wondering if you are prepared or if there are certain topics that you should recap. How ready are you?

One of the most useful resources you have at your disposal are the practice exams. There are multiple places where you can get them — including from AWS itself — but my personal favorites are Whizlabs and acloud.guru.

While I can assume the ones from AWS are more realistic, the price (e.g. 36 Euros + VAT in Europe for the AWS Certified Security Specialty — Practice) is a bit steep compared with the alternatives.

Based on my personal experience, Whizlabs practice exams are quite good and with realistic questions, although the real exams were a bit harder as a whole. The price is quite ok and they often have bundle promotions. For your own reference, I purchased all the Associate level certification practice exams (Solutions Architect, Sysops Admin and Developer) for 29.90 euros.

With acloud.guru the exam simulator is relatively new, but based on my experience I would say they are good yet a bit easier than the real exams and Whizlabs practice exams. However, the fact that this is already included in your acloud.guru subscription and there is no extra cost makes it quite appealing to use.

What is a good training score?

I was constantly getting between 95–100% in the acloud.guru practice exams and 90–95% in the ones from Whizlabs. In the real exam I got 85% (obviously, stress during the exam also plays a role here).

The most important thing with practice scores is consistency and learning from failure. When reviewing the practice exam result, pay attention to all the questions you failed: write down the correct answer and understand why you missed it.

Scheduling the Exam

Scheduling an exam is quite straight forward and like the AWS practice exams mentioned above, it can be done via the AWS Training and Certification Portal.

You will be able to find and book the appointment in the nearest or most convenient testing center for you. One thing that you should take into account while booking is that it doesn’t seem to be possible to schedule an exam for the next day. Also, keep in mind that in certain testing centers the exam will be remotely proctored, ie, you will be monitored and supervised by someone that is not physically there.

Conclusion

I hope you found this article useful and it will help you achieving an AWS certification ! Please share your feedback and thoughts.

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Bruno