AWS Certification Exams: What to expect

I have taken and passed all 5 of the AWS Certification Exams. This is what it is like to schedule and sit for one of the tests.

You Have Skills. Now What?

After deciding to develop professionally in your technical career, you pursue AWS Certifications as a means to demonstrate knowledge, and, maybe even get a raise. You found yourself on CloudAcademy.com for the interactive labs, video courses, and practice quiz questions. You spent time honing your skills to a razor’s edge. After investing this time in learning, you’re ready to take an exam and earn a certification.

Do you know what steps to take so you can sit for an exam? What to expect when it comes time to take the test?

Let’s walk through some tips and tricks that will help you succeed when the big day comes.

Get Exam-Ready

If you have been studying diligently on CloudAcademy.com and taking practice quizzes, you will have a firm grasp of the subject material. However, passing one of these difficult exams requires more than just an understanding of AWS – you must also make sure you can handle the exam format, types of questions, testing system, and test environment.

Types Of Questions

All questions state a **scenario** or **requirements** to consider before selecting an answer. This is usually a paragraph of text that describes a situation wherein you must imagine working for, or advising, a company using AWS services. The question may also include one or more flowchart-like diagrams, and/or one or more tables, such as a VPC Route Table Route listing set.

The successful candidate must quickly and carefully read these questions, as they are intentionally ambiguous or non-specific at times. This approach tests the depth of your knowledge. **Never** make any assumptions beyond information that is presented in the question and information in AWS’s documentation or whitepapers (which you might have learned on CloudAcademy).

For all questions, realize that there may be more than one answer that is not *wrong*, but you usually need to select the best response or responses.

Each question on the Certification Exams can be one of three formats:
1. Multiple Choice
2. Multiple Response
3. Sample Directions

Multiple Choice questions present 4 or more possible solutions to the scenario, and you must choose the single best answer.

Multiple Response questions present 4 or more options, and ask you to select 2 or more of the best answers. This means that there will be several correct or most correct answers.

Sample Directions questions ask you to select all of the options that complete a statement or answer a question, from a set of 4 or more possible options.

Exam Format

All AWS Certification Exams come in the same format. The Exams are on the Kryterion WebAssessor platform, which shows you one question at a time, similar to CloudAcademy’s tests.

When you are presented with a question, you have the option to “mark for later”, which marks the question with an asterisk.

At the end of the exam, once you have navigated through all of the questions, the system will present you with a list of every question that you answered. Each question will display the option you selected as letter(s) A-Z (though usually just A-D). Any questions you “marked for later” will display with an asterisk next to them, allowing you to quickly revisit the tougher questions and check your work.

Associate Level Exams are comprised of 60 questions, and you will have 80 minutes to complete the exam. This means that you have 80 seconds per question – so make sure you’re quick!

As for Professional Level Exams, they’re even longer, having 80 questions and allowing 170 minutes to complete them – meaning you have 127 seconds per question! Many test takers fail because they are not prepared enough to answer so many difficult questions so quickly over such a long period.

aws certification exams

Test Environment

Since Kryterion administers the tests through their network, AWS Certification Exams take place in hundreds of different locations throughout the world every day. At most testing centers, you can take an AWS Exam any day that they are open.

You schedule online at https://www.webassessor.com/aws by selecting a geographic area, selecting testing center(s) in the area where you are willing to take the test, and then selecting a day and time at one of these facilities.

Associate Level AWS Certification Exams cost USD $150, and the Professional Level exams cost USD $300.

When arriving at the test center, you must bring a special code that Kryterion emails you after purchasing and scheduling the exam. Make sure to show up about 15 minutes early with your special code, so the testing center is able to get you set up on time!

The AWS Exams are very strict, so you cannot enter the test room with anything – no food, no drink, no phone, no wallet, no notes of your own… Most testing centers will provide a lockable container for your personal belongings while you are in the exam. You will be provided one pencil and two sheets of blank A4 size printer paper, which you must turn in to the procter before leaving – they are serious about security, so they do not want anyone to leave the room with test questions written down!

The Aftermath

After taking the exam, the Kryterion system will immediately notify you of your score. You will know if you passed or failed in near real-time. AWS uses a statistical method to determine if you pass, so there is no single passing score, but it is roughly 70% based on my experience taking lots of official practice exams for research.

Since the exam tells you immediately if you passed or failed, you will know if you need to take the exam again or not. If you need to take it again, you must wait 30 days before retaking the same exam. As of the time of this blog’s publication, you cannot take the same exam more than three times in one year — from the date of your first exam.

If you pass, congratulations! AWS will email you your certificate and a supportive message, along with some image assets you can use on your LinkedIn profile and a link that adds the certificate to your profile. All certificates have a number on them, which represents the number person you are to pass the exam. Take pride in your new certificate, you will know exactly how few people ever pass the exams, out of the million-plus monthly active AWS user base!

Sanket Dangi wrote a good post last year about Choosing the right AWS certification for your career and I think it is still worth reviewing if you’re in the research phase of this endeavor.

Good luck! And study hard!

Cloud Academy provides excellent preparation materials in learning paths, courses, labs, and quizzes (all at various levels: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced). The quizzes are optimized for standard and mobile use, so review when you have time. Additional resources you might review are two free eBooks that you can download and ready quickly. Share your experience below and help the community with tips you found helpful or traps that hurt.

Andrew Templeton

Andrew Templeton

Nothing gets me more excited than the AWS Cloud platform! Teaching cloud skills has become a passion of mine. I have been a software and AWS cloud consultant for several years. I hold all 5 possible AWS Certifications: Developer Associate, SysOps Administrator Associate, Solutions Architect Associate, Solutions Architect Professional, and DevOps Engineer Professional. I live in Austin, Texas, USA, and work as development lead at my consulting firm, Tuple Labs.

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  • emil@lerch.org

    I have also taken/passed all five. My experience was nearly identical but one exception was that the associate level exams did not include pencil and paper, only the pro level exams allowed that. My associate level exams were taken in winter 2015.

    • Khoi Thinh

      Would you mind sharing some of your experiences and preparation for level Associate? I’m taking the exam in July and kind of confused with the huge content of AWS’s document as well as whitepaper.

      • Dev

        emil@lerch.org would you please share ur some experience with exam it’s really hard to go in right way with more and more content for study.

  • GMan

    I’ve taken the SA-Associate back in April 2014 and just recertified in April 2016. One in Las Vegas and one in Chicago. Neither facility allowed me to use a pencil and paper.