Preparing for your Associate Level AWS Certifications

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It’s official, I now hold all three associate level AWS certifications. After procrastinating for the last three months, I finally passed my SysOps exam and completed the trifecta of AWS associate level certifications: AWS Certified Developer, AWS Certified Solutions Architect and AWS Certified SysOps Administrator.

Here are a few thoughts and suggestions for those of you considering taking any or all of these exams.

Know what you’re getting into

The AWS certifications exams are constantly changing, both in terms of the specific questions that you might see on an exam (coming from larger pools of questions you might be asked the day of the exam), as well as the larger context and scope of material you might be asked about. I strongly recommend that you review and prepare for the specific version of the exam you would like to take.

For example, make sure to understand if you’re signing up for a beta exam, an older already-existing version of the exam or a newly-released version. Each of these exams will have different material and potentially different lengths. For a Beta exam, AWS will typically introduce newer services or add additional depth of material for existing services. The main thing is to target your preparation for the specific exam version you decide to take.

The month before the exam

After you’ve selected the version of the exam you’d like to take be sure to prepare specifically for that exam version and give yourself ample time to study for the exam. The amount of time will really depend on how familiar you already are with the material. But even for those with some AWS experience already I would suggest taking 3-4 hours each week over the course of a month to study.

Here are a few suggestions for what to do during that time:

  • Read the exam description provided by AWS
  • Read over the white papers suggested by AWS as they usually contain information used in exam questions
  • Look for courses and material that are tailored to the specific material tested on the exam
  • If you’re aiming to take the AWS Certified Developer certification you can check out my newer CDA course that covers all the material on the most recent version of the exam as of 2018.

The day of the exam

Make sure that you know exactly where to go for your exam and to give yourself time to get to the exam center on the day of the exam - you never know when traffic might get the best of you!

Before going into the exam room

Before you go into the exam room, head to the bathroom to save yourself a few minutes that you might otherwise need during the exam.

Before pressing the start button on your exam

After you get to the exam center and get to your computer in the exam room, take a moment before you press the start button. You should have at least a few minutes to settle into your space and there’s a few useful things to do before pressing start.

  • First, if you are as easily distracted by noise as I am, some exam centers will provide earplugs for you. Go ahead and put those in - I’ve always found it helps me to focus.
  • I’d also suggest you follow a great piece of advice that I heard from a colleague. Before you press start, take 5 minutes and write down everything you can think of that might be useful for the exam. The exam center should provide both a pencil and a sheet of scratch paper so go wild! Draw diagrams, write down formulas, list out features and limits you remember. Basically put down everything you can think of. When you’re done, then take a breath and start the exam.

As you take the exam

As you take the exam there’s a few useful techniques I’ve noticed that I think apply equally well at least to all the Associate Level exams.

  • First, remember that the exam is timed and you want to be sure to at least try to answer every question
  • With that said, you don’t want to spend too long on a single question. So if you’re unsure about a question and it’s taking you more than a few minutes, just flag it in the system and come back to it later
  • For question you are unsure of, write down a short note on a specific part of your scratch paper in case a future question comes up later and reveals some additional information or you remember something
  • Keep an eye out for questions where knowing something about the subject can help you eliminate one or more of the potential answers - when you don’t know the correct answers on these questions you can at least eliminate the incorrect answers to give yourself a better chance of guessing the correct answer

After passing the exam

I’ll assume that with all your hard work and preparation you’re able to pass the exam. Now what? Well I think there’s a few things you might want to consider doing to get the most out of your new certification.

  • Add the certification to your LinkedIn profile - some companies and recruiters specifically look for this as they evaluate you for AWS-related positions.
  • Write a quick LinkedIn post on your new certification too. You’ll not only feel great after your network congratulates you for your new accomplishment, you also might get some interested recruiters or colleagues reaching out to you.
  • Even if you’re not looking for a new job consider how you might be able to bring this new credential up during a review process or use this to help persuade new clients of your experience.

I hope this helps you get the most out of your own AWS certification experiences and best of luck with your Exams!