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Amazon AWS Certified Solutions Architect: What to Study, Tips and Resources

UPDATE August 2016: Cloud Academy recently published a complete and updated learning path with 19 hours of content, 7 video courses, 300+ questions and explanations and 15 hands-on-labs to prepare for AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate level. We usually update our AWS Certifications paths every month or two months to reflect changes and new products now included in the certifications.
It is available with all of our subscription plans. You can start using it with a free 7-day trial.
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This article explains what to study, and how to pass the AWS Certification exams, like the AWS Solutions Architect exam (Associate Level). Cloud Academy has specific courses and learning paths included in every subscription plan that help you study and pass the certification exams for AWS Solutions Architect (AL) and AWS Certified Developer (AL).
Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect
It is a well-known fact that AWS is the leading IaaS provider across the world. In addition, due to its aggressive and innovative offering, AWS leads the race for Infrastructure Cloud by miles in comparison to its peers. Considering its popularity, AWS started the AWS certification program of April, 2013. AWS certification focus on three career streams:

  • AWS Architects 
  • AWS Developers
  • AWS SysOps.

With all Cloud Academy subscription plans you receive AWS Certification learning paths, video training courses, hands-on labs, and quizzes that help you study and test your skills before taking a Cloud Computing certification. You can start a free 7-day trial and see what you think of our instructors and tools.
The exam for an AWS Architect – Associate level, was launched in April, 2013. More than 2100 associates have cleared the exam. I was the #2052. Below, I share my journey towards obtaining the AWS Certification for the AWS Solution Architect – Associate Level.

Your technical background and Amazon AWS Certification

I possess 12+ years industry experience in various streams. In addition, I have more than 3 years experience with AWS. I’ve written a white paper on Amazon Web Services as well as trained numerous people in AWS. I’m proud to say that I have been part of multiple engagements on AWS and am an active blogger and content writer for them.
Don’t be intimidated. You don’t need as much experience or familiarity with AWS as I had to clear the AWS exams. The AWS certification exam for Solution Architect is targeted for associates with the following criteria:

  • Sound knowledge of the AWS services
  • Good hands-on experience with AWS
  • Understanding of AWS HA, DR, and security requirements

I would like to concentrate on the above mentioned three points.
I would first and foremost recommend registering for an AWS certification.
This will help you fix a target date to start the preparations.  I recommend you study the above-mentioned information, as it should be part of your AWS preparation cycle.  I believe that the second most important step is to understand the exam structure.
Read about the structure and the focus areas. You may feel that all the AWS topics have been covered, but it is still important to have clarity and hands-on experience around the basic concepts of AWS.

How and what I studied for Amazon AWS Certified Solutions Architect

Let me now share my journey of obtaining the AWS certification, which is divided into four sections.

  • Based on my experiences, I felt I had good knowledge on EC2, RDS, storage and scaling services. However, concerning VPC, I was a little naive. Thus, I focussed more on VPC and gained some hands-on experience for VPC scenarios #1 & #2. The key areas to understand are VPC networking and routing.
  • After VPC, I focused on Route 53, Cloudformation, and ElasticBeanstalk as these are important areas where I needed more hands-on experience.
  • Next, I studied the practical aspects of areas, such as EC2, RDS, storage, and scaling service. The focus areas included, how to use, when to use, and what are the points should be considered.
  • After completing all the hands on work, I went through the whitepapers of AWS. I learned new concepts and prepared myself for the exam. A few whitepapers, such as AWS Cloud Best Practices, AWS DR, AWS HA, AWS Security Best Practices, AWS Storage Options, etc., were very useful.

Which Amazon Web Services products you should focus on

  • First, study the AWS basic services, such as EC2, S3, EBS, ELB, AutoScaling, and Cloudwatch as the basic services.
  • Next, study VPC thoroughly. You can expect many questions on the concepts of VPC.
  • After you have covered the basic services, go through RDS and DynamoDB.
  • Understand the reasons why Cloudformation, ElasticBeanstalk, SWS, SQS, SES and SNS are necessary.
  • It is absolutely essential to be familiar with the whitepapers!

Tips for passing the exam of Amazon AWS Certified Solutions Architect

  • I understand that AWS has a wide variety of offerings and you can anticipate questions in all streams. However, one of the most important things is, don’t waste time searching for AWS dumps/questions. As per the AWS certification agreement, people will not share the questions.
  • There are a few sites available and I don’t think my questions matched the questions listed on those sites. You can refer to those sites just for the purpose of last minute verifications. Alternatively, go through sites, such as Cloud Academy which gives various practical exam questions.
  • Understand the AWS exam structure and follow it. It is important to obtain hands-on experience with the AWS console, specifically for EC2, scaling services, VPC and storage services. This will give you the necessary confidence for learning what you need to know.
  • Use the AWS FAQs for last minute preparations. The FAQs cover areas, such as the purpose of the service, offerings, and some key salient features. On the last two days before the exam, I recommend that you go through as many FAQs as possible.
  • Your questions will only be practical. Based on my experience, and some forums, AWS asks questions only for practical cases, and not numeric figures, such as how many buckets can you have in one region, etc?
  • There are various AWS forums on LinkedIn where people share their experiences.

Materials and resources to study

  • There were many sites available and I preferred to refer to the AWS documentation and white papers. I found them the best source of information. Use the AWS console to gain hands-on experience.
  • I enjoyed Cloud Academy as most of the questions are practical. I recommend Cloud Academy as one of the most important resources to prepare for your exam and to learn how to use Amazon Web Services in general. You can start using Cloud Academy, with scenario-based quizzes, explanations for every quiz, video courses, and laboratories. The product has a free 7-day trial to start and you can review the pricing on the same link.
  • There are sites, such as CBTnuggets as well as learning videos by AWS too. If you are not familiar with some of the AWS services, you can refer to the AWS training site or AWS video channel for more study.

Preparing your AWS Certifications with Cloud Academy

In Cloud Academy  you have different products to study for AWS Certifications: a dedicated series of learning paths with scenario based questions for the 4 AWS Certifications is probably the most effective instrument to start.
If you need to start learning from scratch, you can use our Solutions Architect—Associate Certification for AWS (2016). It is included with every Cloud Academy plan. We suggest our Professional Plus subscription for maximum value.
Included with a Basic or Professional plan, are video courses (on AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform) and labs where you can start a real cloud instance in Amazon within Cloud Academy.  You’ll build and use the real thing without having to setup an Amazon account, or pay for usage.
Cloud Academy has multiple payment options. You can pay month to month with a Starter Subscription ($25/month) or Professional Plan ($59/month) or the Professional Plus ($495/year)–for best value. There are AWS Certifications learning paths included with all plans.
Every subscription plan features new, updated courses regularly. Just follow the roadmap.
Below is an example of the dedicated AWS Certifications Learning Paths:
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Inside every AWS Certification path, you can repeat questions, restart a batch of 250 quizzes with explanations every time–if you like. You may take quizzes in test prep mode or study mode and track your results. When you click statements, you will review all the quiz explanations.
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Above is what a real scenario based question looks like in a specific AWS Certification path at Cloud Academy.
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Above is the long explanation about a single quiz in the Certification path. You also see a link to the AWS documentation for further researach.
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Above is a list of learning paths you can access in Cloud Academy to prepare for AWS certifications.
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Above is a sample of showing some of the AWS courses from our content library.
In conclusion, I feel that the AWS certification is definitely one of the best certificate exams to take for your learning and hands-on experience. Though you may not need deep knowledge for the associate level exam, I recommend you don’t take any shortcuts; instead, follow the path suggested by AWS.  I encourage you to really understand AWS and its best practices because this will help you in achieving your AWS goals.
This article has been written by  Taral Shah.
Taral-Shah-Amazon-AWS-Solutions-ArchitectAbout Taral: I’m a Cloud Solutions Architect at Tata Consultancy Services LTD. I’m currently working as a Cloud Computing Architect. The role involves, consulting for cloud computing, evaluating different tools, moving / migrating applications to cloud.
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