Studying for an AWS Certification may seem like an arduous task, especially if one isn’t expecting to take any more tests now that college is finally over. However, the certification doesn’t have to be long and tedious—it can be accomplished in as little as three months or less.
I had started working in the middle of August as a DevOps engineer at a major financial services regulatory firm, and at the suggestion of my peer mentor, pursued the Developer certification—which I earned by the second week of November.
Having recently graduated from college, I had no exposure to cloud computing, let alone Amazon Web Services (AWS). However having ventured into a DevOps role, I quickly realized that in order to contribute to my job, I needed to gain a solid understanding of AWS—preferably as fast as possible. My studying time was a mixture of evenings at home, daily commutes on the train and spare time at work. In total, I would estimate a total study time of 40-60 hours. I believe that by allocating the time and following the procedure listed, anyone can accomplish a similar feat.
I would break the procedure down into three separate stages: broad overview, documentation and exam specific details. After all, in order to learn any subject well, a broad solid foundation is essential before narrowing down to the minute details.
As someone who was starting with almost no understanding of anything related to AWS, I needed a way to pick up as many of the different services as possible and understand how they relate. Thankfully, my company offered an online teaching environment called Linux Academy that included a course on the Associate Developer Certificate. At this point it may be tempting to assume that I passed the exam simply by following the course. However, I personally believe that although the course helped provide a foundation, it was nowhere near sufficient in covering the full material required.
The course (approximately 12 hours including some basic labs) provided me with an overview of the major services related to the exam as well as the connection between different components. The course also came with practice quizzes and a final exam, that although were helpful, were not at the level of the AWS exam. The only questions I felt were incredibly helpful were in regards to Read and Write Capacity for RDS. There are four combinations: Read with Eventual Consistency, Write With Eventual Consistency, Read with Strong Consistency and Write with Strong Consistency. Each had a slightly different computation and I would recommend looking up example questions even if you do not use the course.
Since the course was used more as an overview than to teach everything on the exam, it may be possible to skip this section if you already know some of the material or do not want to pay for any online courses. Simple YouTube videos may be able to provide a similar level of detail.
This is the core of the studying and the most annoying but inevitable. From my personal experience, the exam is not passable without reading the white pages. Each certification has a list of suggested white pages to review on the AWS’s provided exam guide. I recommend starting with the one titled AWS Overview, the ordering of the rest is less consequential. Although I did not have the time to, I would recommend going over each white page twice. The Basic Overview is particularly important because it describes more services than what was introduced in Linux Academy and also goes into detail on services. It also helps to differentiate between the Amazon Kinesis services.
Knowing the Exam
Finally, after gaining a pretty good foundation and understanding of the services it is important to focus on our objective—tailoring our studying for the AWS exam. “Well, what was everything above this for?” While it is true that it is important to understand the different services that AWS offers, the key to passing the exam is to answer the questions correctly.
As with any exam, knowing the proper format and types of questions is important. It is important to figure out what level of detail the AWS certification expects as well as what topics are most likely to be emphasized. The easiest way to do this is to take the practice exam offered by AWS. Because the sample exam is offered by AWS itself, it is much more similar question-wise to the actual exam than Linux Academy or other sites I had looked up on the internet. For $20, it provides information that is hard to find otherwise. Furthermore, those questions make it easier to look online and find study guides with questions that will actually resemble the certification and provide answers.
It is noteworthy to mention that the AWS practice exam only provides guidelines on percent correct for each category but does not return the correct answers. After seeing the results, I recommend focusing on the area that is weakest if only one or two categories are lagging behind. However, if all of the scores are relatively close, I would recommend focusing on the highest one, because it is the subject you most likely have the easiest time understanding. Obviously, if all scores are incredibly high then any remaining studying is your prerogative and if they are all low, then it may be necessary to go over the material again.
One advantage I had while studying for the exam is that my work was related to learning AWS and I gained exposure to ECS, EC2, Lambas, Step Functions and the AWS CLI. However, although this experience provided me with a little more familiarity with the products, I would not consider this crucial to my passing the exam.
There are questions about the correct API calls and I had an incredibly difficult time finding the APIs even on Google—the API calls are located in the documentation under actions. Also, since there are so many API actions, I would advise finding general rules and using those on the test—for example, most calls seem to be singular except list actions which are plural.
From what I can recall, at the time of November 2019, it seemed that the questions I faced had an emphasis on serverless services such as Kinesis, Lambda, API gateway and much less on IAM which the Linux Academy Course seemed to focus one.
Final thoughts include: from what I have seen online, on average, a 70% is required to pass the exam but can oscillate according to the difficulty. If you want, it may also be good to start by taking the practice exam to provide a direction for the rest of the studying. White page reading is monotonous but critical to learning all the information required. However, thankfully the writers were quite proficient and presented the information as efficiently and casually as possible.
Although the steps provided were the ones I used to pass the AWS Associate Developer, I use a similar series of steps on other exams, whether AWS or not. Start by skimming the entire material in order to warm your brain up to the information, effectively providing it with some reference material and footholds for in depth studying. The inevitable part of studying is the reading of denser material. Admittedly, not everyone learns best through reading but it provides a much faster and more efficient way of learning than auditory, which can take much longer. As you read the material more thoroughly, try to map out connections between different aspects and services. Also, try to find any interesting information that comes across, sometimes the examiner will also find the same information interesting and therefore it is more likely to appear. Lastly, it is important to take advantage of any practice material from the source. Even if they do not contain answers, you can probably search them and potentially learn an answer that may reappear on the exam. Furthermore, it allows you to find similar problems and helps you accustom yourself to the format and questing style of the exam.