These are the three keys to get certified on AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional Level
So, do you want to get certified? Have you already taken any of the basic exams (perhaps “AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate”) and, once you’ve started looking for documentation to prepare the next level, you have realised how little you have found?
At CAPSiDE we have a large number of certified people due to Amazon Web Services’ partnership agreements. Therefore, quite a few of us have faced certification. Let me give you some of the tips we give each other when someone has to prepare its own.
To start: it’s a very different exam compared to the one you’ve already taken. Despite the dynamics are still the same (a multiple-choice test, incorrect answers aren’t penalised), in Associate levels you have short and specific questions that almost always refer to a single service which you probably have previous experience with. The answers are also concise and, if you know what they are talking about, there’s usually no doubt about which one you should mark. It’s not that it’s an easy test, but it’s an honest one.
AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional is much more… um… sophisticated. Let’s leave it there.
The question is always a scenario that includes the implicit or explicit use of several interconnected services. For that reason, you will have to read a lot more and, at a certain moment, you will surely have to outline it all to remember the pieces which it refers to. But don’t worry, you can use paper and pen on this exercise.
1. AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional: the exam
On the other hand, the answers aren’t short. And sometimes, they differ in just a single word. If you do your math you will realise that, if you have a maximum of 170 minutes to answer 60 questions approximately, on average you won’t be able to dedicate more than 3 minutes to each. But don’t worry too much about it, a relatively high percentage of them can be answered almost immediately (maybe one in five), so you’ll probably have some time to review.
At CAPSiDE, some people have rushed until the last moment reviewing answers while others have left after two and a half hours. Yes, I have less patience than it looks.
In any case, it’s a considerable physical effort. In my case, I set an appointment at Kryterion test centre after eleven in the morning, meaning I slept eight hours. I had a little sandwich for breakfast and a latte (with a double shot). I also brought a water bottle with me: staying hydrated is important if you don’t want to lower your performance. Also, as long as it’s bottled water, you won’t have any problems. There’s no need to carry a whole 1,5l bottle with you. Otherwise, your bladder will have a hard time.
If you haven’t prepared an exam in a long time, setting a routine is important: study a few hours a day during a reasonable time period, so you can get your brain used to be focused continuously. The study hours you will need will depend on your background; in my case, I was planning to dedicate about 80 hours. But because of the workload I was going under, I had to reduce my goal by half. Other teammates have passed the exam spending way less time studying, although it’s true that they have more field experience than I did.
Something that might surprise you is that the majority of the answers you can choose from are, many times, all correct or at least feasible. In this case, you have to focus on the priority the scenario outlines, usually in the last sentence of the question. They are “minimising the solution costs” kind of restrictions.
But hey! This is an exam on architecture, so it makes perfect sense you get asked about this type of business determinants.
It also happens the other way around: as soon as you get proposed deploying a php-based web application, you image the typical scenario with ELB and Autoscaling Group… just to immediately realise that no answers talk about them. Again, focus on the options provided despite thinking there are better alternatives out there: at the end of the day, not every business requirement gets solved with the same old recipe.
2. AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional: syllabus
Which topics are popular? Well, in theory, they could ask you about any existing service. But in the end, it seems there’s a certain preference for some. To no one’s surprise, you will have to be very clear about the role of network components, and I am not only talking about VPCs and subnets: you will also have to know how a VPN is created and how Direct Connect works in detail.
You will see many questions related to high availability and Disaster Recovery. In these, you have to be very clear about the concepts of RPO and RTO because, at first glance, all the solutions seem reasonable. Take your time to see how you can leverage RDS (multi-az and “read replica”) to improve both points. Also, take a closer look at the operation of Storage Gateway: a very interesting service that usually goes unnoticed. For example, you may not be aware that you can transform SG volumes on EBS through snapshots (with limitations) or that you can boot one on EC2.
Just like on the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate certificate, if the word DynamoDB appears in any of the answers, there’s no need to look further: that’s the correct one. Well, nearly always. They also often present SQS as a tool to manage DynamoDB peak loads when you aren’t willing to increase the writing ability of the database.
If these services or patterns don’t sound familiar to you, you might consider dedicating a few weeks to check out the AWS Youtube channel, even though you’ll save up time by registering on our official preparatory courses. In particular, Architecting on AWS is a very interesting training and so far over 300 satisfied students have done it.
In the official description of the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional exam, you’ll see that they recommend reading all the published whitepapers. The truth is, most of them are quite dispensable and generally, terribly boring. Do check them out, especially those that may be useful in your day-to-day, but focus on the FAQs. You will find many corner cases and applications of the existing services that aren’t totally obvious. You will learn a lot from these, guaranteed.
3. AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional: questions
Alright, what about the exam format? Is there any practical way to prepare it?
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam is $150, and I always say that, once you’ve had the experience or you’ve prepared any of their trainings, the best way to know if you’re prepared is to sit it and see if you pass. However, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional exam is $300, meaning retaking it becomes a very important money investment. So, I would tell you to cover your bases as much as possible.
One way is signing up for a mock exam. It’s a very affordable option ($40), that way you’ll get to train the mock format. The downside is that you won’t get any good feedback on the questions since there is no explanation on the correct answer. You only get the scores obtained for each block. Also, do keep in mind that the exam will probably bring you down, as the difficulty is higher than the actual test. On the other hand, AWS provides you few questions so you can get an idea of the general style. Make sure you memorise them well, as they usually come out on the exam.
PFor this reason, I would suggest you come over to the workshops we organise from time to time. In one day, we review advanced architecture concepts and play a trivia game with questions that are almost identical to those on the exam. It not only serves to pass the exam, but it’s also a way to get to know the details of not so common services. And it’s fun! We also hand out some review flashcards we have come up with (about 200 questions with their respective answers), so it’s easier for you to memorise little details. Email us to join one of our editions.
Lastly, remember it’s just an exam. You’ve probably taken many throughout your life, and even though I was the first one walking into the classroom being nervous, I soon realised I understood most of the questions. That’s when I relaxed and started enjoying the experience. After a while, I was pretty convinced that I had answered about half of the questions correctly. And even though the exact number of correct answers to pass isn’t public, it is clear you don’t need a 100%.
In my case, I got an 84%, which is way lower than my Associate grade but way more satisfactory. So good luck and go for it! Rock’n’roll.
If you’re looking for a place to get certified at and you live near Barcelona, do it at PUE. I have worked with them for a long time now, they are really nice people and the facilities are very good.