I recently passed the Solutions Architect - Associate certification for AWS and thought I’d share notes on preparing for the certification. In a previous post, I covered the overall certification process and general tips. Let’s get to it!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why should I study for this cert in particular?
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate exam provides the best overview of the certifications. It covers how to use most commonly used AWS services to build highly available and reliable services. It’s ideal if you have some experience working with AWS and designing distributed applications, but you don’t need to be an expert in it.
What does it cover?
We’ll cover this in more detail below. In short, it covers the core AWS services that you’re like to encounter. It primarily covers:
- Identity and Access Management (IAM)
- Virtual Private Cloud (VPC)
- Simple Storage Service (S3)
- Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)
- Relational Database Service (RDS)
- Elastic Beanstalk
- Simple Queue Service (SQS)
- Simple Notification Service (SNS)
Which version should I take?
At the time of writing, there’s two versions of the certification:
If you’re starting now, I’d recommend taking the 2018 version as it will cover newer services and includes segments from the Well-Architected Framework material. I took the pre-2018 version because the material I found online only covered that version at the time. Because I studied for the older exam, some of the tips in this guide may not be applicable to the newer exam.
How did you prepare?
I covered my general study recommendations in the Intro to AWS Certifications post, so please check that out. In addition, I consulted posts about other people’s experience taking the exams. In particular, I read through:
One final note is that you should build things in AWS. Reviewing the lectures and reading through docs is helpful, but actually working with the services will help it stick.
How long did it take you?
The test took me longer than the Developer - Associate exam because it was my first AWS cert. I may have overprepared because I wanted to pass on the first attempt. Some numbers:
- LinuxAcademy course:
- ~12 hours: 20 hours of lectures at 1.5 or 2x speed
- ~10 hours: Labs
- 5 hours: 4x final practice exams
- 4 hours: 3x final practice exams from ACloudGuru course
- 5 hours: Reading online resources and other posts
- ~10 hours: Reading the AWS Whitepapers and FAQs
That’s about 46 hours total. It sounds like a long time when I look at the numbers. In practice, I’d often spend an hour or so a night and sometimes a few hours on the weekend. I studied over 2 or 3 months before I took the exam.
What should I know about the test?
- It’s multiple choice or multiple answer.
- For the newer exam (2018), you have 130 minutes to answer 50 to 70 questions.
- It costs $150 to take the exam.
This is roughly ordered in the frequency you’ll encounter topics for the course. For each service, I’ve included a set of questions with reference links for the kinds of things the certification covers.
- What is it and how does it fit in with the rest of the services?
- What’s an IAM user?
- What’s an IAM role and when should you use it?
- How do you generate IAM Access Keys?
- How should you grant permission for an AWS instance to call AWS services?
- What’s a VPC and why would you want one?
- How do you do networking in a VPC?
- What’s a private subnet? Public?
- What’s an Internet Gateway?
- What’s a NAT Gateway?
- How do you build a secure network?
- What is EC2 and why is it useful?
- How do you create a copy of your EC2 instance?
- How can you control what the server does on boot?
- What are some different ways you can purchase instances?
- What’s an instance type?
- What’s a public IP? Private?
- How do you access instance metadata from within the host?
- What are security groups and how do you use them?
- What are the different storage options?
- How do you connect to an EC2 instance?
- If you can’t connect to a server, what should you check?
- What’s an ELB?
- What’s an Availability Zone and how does it differ from a Region?
- When should you use S3?
- What’s a lifecycle policy and how do you use them?
- What limits are there on S3 operations (e.g. reads / writes per second)?
- How do you control permissions for S3?
- How can you host a website on S3?
- What’s CORS and why does it matter?
- What’s CloudFront and how does it relate to S3?
- What kinds of database can you create in RDS?
- What security concerns should you keep in mind?
- What’s a multi-AZ deployment and when should you use it?
- What’s a read replica and how does it help with performance?
- What happens if the database instance fails?
- What are the advantages of DynamoDB?
- How do you control how much throughput your table can handle?
- What’s the difference a Global and Local Secondary Index?
- What’s SQS and why would you use it?
- What does AWS say make about message ordering?
- What’s long polling? Why is it better than the default?
- What’s the VisibilityTimeout parameter? What are the limits for it?
- What’s the maximum retention time you can have on an SQS message?
- What’s the difference between the default SQS implementation and FIFO?
- What can you use SNS to do?
- What’s pubsub?
- What requirements are there for emailing someone through SNS?
- What are the primary uses of Cloudwatch?
- How do you view logs in Cloudwatch?
- What’s the minimum time metric resolution can you select for Cloudwatch?
These are covered in less depth. It’s still helpful to know about them and play around if you have time.
- ElastiCache: When to use, how it can helps with database performance.
- Storage Gateway: When to use, different types.
- Kinesis: What’s a data stream? How long are items retained?
Best of luck getting your AWS Certification! Pace yourself and try to enjoy the process. Please let me know if you get certified and / or if you found this helpful in your studies.