On Friday 7th October, I sat and passed the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Solution Architect exam. I passed the exam, but I probably would have achieved a higher score if I had actually used AWS before. I started studying for the exam without any prior exposure to the technology, and I spent 6 days studying before I sat the exam.
How did I pass, with no real-world experience? I would say that my experience in VMware technologies really helped – the grounding in virtualisation, virtual networks, and hardware abstraction all helped. Also, my years of experience and exposure to the concepts of IaaS, PaaS and DBaaS all helped me hit the ground running.
Does this mean that the exam is too easy? No. I still had to study and learn the technologies, and importantly the AWS terminology, capabilities, restrictions and limits. It’s not the type of exam that you can do with no study at all – most of the questions are about specifics of AWS service offerings.
Does it mean that I am a super-smart exam-passing expert? Not really (but thanks for thinking that). I still put in 6 solid days of study, reading hundreds of pages of FAQs, whitepapers and documents. I was nervous going into the exam, and still thought there was a possibility of a fail. Most of the questions are scenario-based, so even if I just learnt the facts and product names, I would have had trouble with the scenarios if I didn’t understand the scenario requirements.
Did I cheat, or use exam question dumps? Nope, I find that extensive use of sample questions does not help with the understanding of the concepts, it only helps you to learn the answers to the sample questions that are given. I did use some sample questions, which highlighted some areas that I needed to study more (and some of that time was wasted, because the concepts in the sample questions were not in the exam). Some of the sample questions (in a free mobile app) I tried were written in bad English, and the answers were wrong, so they were actually a distraction.
Did I study only to pass the exam? Unfortunately, yes – that was my focus. However, it now means I can move forward to learn the real world use of AWS. I feel that if I had lots of real-world experience of AWS, that it may have actually impacted on my ability to pass. In the real world, you gain experience in how to perform activities in a way that you feel is the best for your situation, with the capabilities you have. However, for an exam, this may not be the best approach, as the exam is all about the AWS answer; not what works, or what you would do. I did this because of my experience with other certification exams – particularly my Microsoft certifications. Many exams are not about the best answer for your situation, it’s what is their answer.
How can you pass your AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam? I find that most multiple-choice exams have a similar approach;
- If the answer states “all the above” or “none of the above”, and you can find more than one of the other options that supports that – select it.
- Often the longest answer is the correct one, because the test-writer would be trying to be very specific and correct. It’s harder to write a long answer that is wrong.
- If the option is supporting or encouraging that you utilise or purchase more of the vendor’s product, choose that option.
- Use the “flag for review” function, because sometimes a later question will define or help clarify an earlier question. For example, one question could be to ask what an acronym stands for, and then a later question actually defines the acronym, or makes it clearer.
If you are doing the exam, don’t do what I did. Study more, use it, understand it, learn their answer.