Recently, my wife, Geethu, passed the AWS Solutions Architect - Associate SAA-C03 exam. Following her move to the UK from India, she hoped that it would help in her web developer job search as many roles expect some cloud experience and she had only a little exposure to AWS in her previous role. I helped her prepare for it and was surprised by how difficult the multiple-choice exam was. Apparently, the failure rate is above 72% [Certizard]! In this article, I will list the resources she used to prepare for the exam and provide some tips.
In the past, if you wanted to create a web service you would have to buy your servers to host your application. It was expensive and time-consuming. Amazon, in the 2000s, released Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud [EC2] which allows users to rent virtual computers which completely changed the game. Whereas in the past, you'd need a dedicated individual or team to manage infrastructure, these days it is fairly common for web developers to manage their infrastructure themselves. Since then AWS has grown rapidly adding a plethora of cloud infrastructure products.
Whilst she had worked with AWS before, she did not have a ton of experience. A friend of ours recommended AWS certification as a way of addressing the gap in her CV. It was worth a try. She already had an interest in learning about architecture so she picked the AWS Solutions Architect - Associate certification after looking at AWS's various certification paths. She decided to skip the foundational AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner since she already had some experience with AWS and she could lean on me if she needed any help.
Following is a list of some key services that I hoped the certification would cover based on my experience of using AWS. However, if you check out the exam guide, you can see that the certification covers way more. It looks quite daunting.
Overall, it took about 3 months of preparation. Here is a rough timeline.
On her first few attempts, she was scoring less than 40%. After a month, she was scoring 65-75%.
Achieved goal of scoring 80% in a timed test, above the ~72% pass threshold.
The Ultimate AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate SAA-C03 is a highly reviewed online course on AWS. This in itself will not teach you everything you need to know for the exam but will give you a holistic understanding of all of the key areas and services. I would recommend not getting bogged down on any part of the online course. It is best to go through it quickly and go to the next step. If necessary, you can always redo the course or revisit particular sections later.
You do not have to check out every service on AWS, but it is nice to get a feel for what it is like to work with AWS. Even before deciding to go for the certification, she had made a simple application, aws-cdk-example, consisting of a few lambdas, DynamoDb, S3 bucket, SNS and SQS. You do not have to write the infrastructure as code (using CDK) like she did, but instead, you could create the resources directly in the AWS console. Just be wary of usage beyond the AWS Free Tier and remember to delete any resources you create.
Practising mock exams is probably what helped the most. It is worth doing some of the mock exams as timed tests, so you can get a feel for the time pressure and how you are progressing. She was scoring less than 40% on her first few timed tests and got to about 80% by the end of three months which was her goal. When you encounter difficult questions, check out the AWS documentation or relevant YouTube videos/blogs to improve your understanding.
This is a set of 6 mock exams on Udemy from Jon Bonso. You can answer questions interactively and get detailed explanations for each answer. These papers were quite hard and she found them the most representative of her real exam. She went through all of these exams at least twice.
This includes 6 mock exams, tests on specific topics, and one final mock exam. These were less difficult, but still very helpful.
This is a dump of 656 questions out of which around half are free to access.
The questions were relatively easy. Each question also has discussions from
users which is useful. However, there were several questions where users
disagreed with the suggested
correct answer. I would not recommend this
At 150 USD, the exam is quite expensive, and ideally, something you could pass the first time. However, I highly recommend that you do not wait until you feel fully ready to take the exam because having a bit of time pressure could be motivating. You can reschedule your exam later if necessary. She booked the exam after spending two months studying for it and gave herself another four weeks to study.
If you are lucky you may be able to find some discount vouchers online. She got a 50% discount for signing up to an Associate Challenge which is unfortunately now closed.
Another tip, especially if you are a non-native English speaker, is to request an extra 30 minutes of accommodation for your exam. You need to do this before registering for the exam. It only takes a few minutes.
The exam itself was quite tedious to study for. As you might expect, most of the questions are about what might be appropriate services or configurations of services to use for a given problem. However, sometimes it was genuinely difficult to decide between the options and the explanations were not convincing enough. Some questions required knowing such fine-grained detail that is useless in the real world. For example, one question required knowing that for an EC2 instance, the maximum ratio of provisioned IOPS to the requested volume size is 50:1. The pass mark of 720/1000 was also difficult to achieve.
She found the actual exam quite hard and was not confident she had passed it. Fortunately, she found out the very next day that she had passed by a good margin with a score of 803. She also received a verifiable digital badge which is now proudly displayed on her LinkedIn page.
In the weeks following the exam, she noticed a slight uptick in invitations to interviews. One interviewer even mentioned that they were impressed by the certification. Therefore, it looks like it has had a positive impact on employability. The exam did provide a good foundational understanding of AWS, and she felt more at ease having conversations about AWS architecture. This was her biggest gain from doing the certification, as she will be apply that knowledge in her next role.
Even if you already work with AWS, the learning process can help fill some gaps in your knowledge, as it did for me. I couldn't be asked to write the exam myself in the end though so I have no badge to display. 😛
That's all. If you have any questions or anything to add, please do comment below.