How to wing the AWS certification exam

Solutions-Architect-AssociateA couple of months ago I undertook the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate exam, which I happily passed with a score of 85%.

Whilst I went into the exam with almost no preparation at all, I’ve put together some tips to best prepare yourself for the exam.

Please note that when you undertake the exam, you are required to sign a NDA, which forbids from sharing the contents of the exam questions.

The certification

AWS certifications are valid for 2 years and are useful to test your knowledge, boost your credentials plus you get access to the Amazon Partner Network.

The next level after the associate exam is the professional exam. The main differences between the two are:

Associate level

  • Technical
  • Troubleshooting
  • Common scenarios

Professional level

  • Much more in depth
  • Complex scenarios

The associate exam duration is 80 minutes whilst the professional exam duration is 170 minutes. You are taken into the exam room (you cannot bring anything at all with you), the questions are multiple choice answers. At the end of the exam you are immediately presented with the results on the screen.

If you fail the exam, you’ll have to wait 30 days before you can try again.


The exam questions are well written, it’s not an exam you can just study for and hope you’ll pass, you need to have plenty of hands-on experience. And the best experience you can get is in your profession.

Some tips to best prepare yourself:

  • Practice, practice, practice !
  • Read the AWS whitepapers
  • Sign up to Cloud Academy
  • Sign up to Linux Academy
  • Read the AWS sample questions and discuss them with your colleagues
  • Undertake the AWS practice exam (US$20: 20 questions / 30 mins)

The Cloud and Linux Academy have online courses and lots of quizzes. The official AWS practice exam is useful to undertake last, as you get to practice against the timer which can be distracting.

AWS Solutions Architect – Associate exam

The scoring breakdown for the exam I undertook is:

  • Designing highly available, cost efficient, fault tolerant, scalable systems
  • Implementation / Deployment
  • Security
  • Troubleshooting

My impressions are:

  • It’s not easy, the questions are well composed for architects with plenty of experience
  • Some of the questions are long
  • AWS states one year minimum experience, it depends on how many services you got exposed to. Despite having used AWS extensively since 2008, I found some of the questions challenging
  • The questions are high level but also hands-on
  • The exam covers most main AWS services

For the AWS services covered, whilst each exam is different, they cover roughly:

  • 75% EC2 (ELB, EBS, AMI…), VPC & IAM roles
  • 25% other services (Storage Gateway, Route53, Cloudfront, SQS, RDS, SES, DynamoDB etc…)

Exam gotchas

For the Solutions Architect exam:

  • There are architecture for totally different scenarios
  • Be mindful of cost effective vs best design vs default architecture
  • Security is very important to know (e.g. Security groups, /ACL statefull/stateless etc…)
  • Good practice with troubleshooting is essential
  • Some questions can be easily answered by elimination

Exam tips

Some tips for when you sit the exam:

  • Prepare yourself
  • Take your time
  • Don’t pay too much attention to the timer
  • Read the questions carefully
  • Mark questions for review later
  • Leave at least 10/15 mins to review

The AWS certification exam can be stressful but also fun, good luck if you intend to undertake it !