Preparing for the AWS Solutions Architect exam

I completed an Amazon Web Services (AWS) certification recently, namely ‘AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate’ and decided to put together a blog post about my preparation for and experience of the exam.

Types of Certifications

AWS currently offer a bunch of different certifications for

  1. Architecting
  2. Developing
  3. Operations
  4. Specialties

The first three offerings consist of an Associate level certification as well as a more advanced Professional one.

Both the Architecting and Developing certifications are good starting points and there is a 60–70% overlap between the training material. If you can complete one, its quite likely you’d be able to complete the other one too. As I work within the Technology Architecture space, for me, the Solutions Architect exam seemed like the natural choice.

Pre-requisites

According to the AWS website, eligible candidates for the Solutions Architect exam should have

‘one or more years of hands-on experience designing …systems on AWS.’

Whilst I didn’t have any AWS-specific experience, I did find that I was able to leverage a lot of my previous experience which proved useful in terms of understanding AWS specific components and services:

  • I’ve worked with relational and non-relational databases which helped in understanding specifics of AWS databases, namely Relational Database Service (RDS) and DynamoDB.
  • I’ve worked with message queues for a while which made Simple Queue Service (SQS) fairly…well simple.
  • I’ve worked extensively with APIs which meant I didn’t have to spend too much time on the API Gateway section.

And so on, you get the idea.

Preparation

My main preparation for the exam was completing the A Cloud Guru training course, which consists of 22 hours of videos including quite a few labs. The instructor assumes no prior knowledge of AWS services and all concepts and components are extremely well-explained.

I also signed up for a free-tier AWS account and completed the labs side by side to gain some hands-on experience.

I took notes throughout watching the online videos and before jumping into any more training materials, I made sure I knew everything in my notes inside-out. This meant that when I moved onto the 500 page official study guide, it seemed much less daunting and I could skim-read it to fill gaps in my knowledge.

Th study guide also has a bank of approximately 250 questions which are great practice as they are similar to the exam questions in terms of format and level of difficulty so I would definitely recommend doing these. Some sample questions are also available on the AWS website.

AWS recommends potential candidates also review the online FAQs as well as study AWS whitepapers as part of their exam prep. Due to time constraints, I chose to only review FAQs for services I didn’t know overly well and only study whitepapers I found interesting.

The two whitepapers I did read were AWS Well-Architected Framework and Architecting for the Cloud: AWS Best Practices and not surprisingly, looking at my exam score’s breakdown by topic, my highest score was in questions relating to ‘Designing highly available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, scalable systems’ so it is more than worthwhile going through the FAQs and whitepapers.

Finally as a last measure, I did a timed practice exam which consisted of 20 questions to be completed in 30 minutes, to gauge how much I knew and only decided to sit the final exam based on my practice exam mark.

To summarise, resources I found useful during my prep included:

  • A training course
  • Labs
  • Official Study Guide
  • Sample Questions
  • FAQs
  • Whitepapers
  • Practice Exam

Exam Format

The exam consists of 55 Multiple Choice questions to be completed in 80 minutes.

Although there were no ‘trick’ questions, most questions involved a fair amount of thinking as to why one option would be preferred over another and this is where a deeper understanding of the services as well as hands-on experience comes in handy.

Overall, despite the sheer amount of material covered, this is one of the few exams I genuinely enjoyed studying for and would definitely recommend it for anyone looking to do an AWS certification.

Good luck!