Big Changes to the AWS Certification Exams

With AWS re:Invent 2019 just around the corner, we can expect some early announcements to trickle through with upcoming features and services. However, AWS has just announced some big changes to their certification exams.

So what’s changing and what’s new?

  • There is a brand NEW certification being released, the AWS Certified Database – Specialty, making it the 12th available AWS certification. 
  • The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam is being updated with new content to align with the latest features and services released by AWS.
  • The current AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty certification will be renamed AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty AND the exam will be updated.

In this article, we’ll take a look at each of these in greater detail, starting with probably the biggest news: the new certification. If you’re interested in getting AWS certified, check out Cloud Academy’s AWS Training Library. Since the best preparation for certification exams is practical experience, our certification training is more dynamic than other learning paths. By mixing theory and practical work, you are able to absorb all the information you need to pass the exam and start gaining real-world experience. 

AWS Certification Learning Paths

NEW: AWS Certified Database – Specialty Certification (DBS-C01)

As the name implies, this is suitable for those who have an active role working with AWS databases, and it’s recommended that you have at least five years of experience working with common database technologies. It has been designed to assess the candidate’s ability and understanding of the design, migration, deployment, access, maintenance, automation, monitoring, security, and troubleshooting across all database services (relational and NoSQL) offered by AWS.  As a result, we could expect to see questions covering the following services:

AWS Services

This is aimed to prove and validate your knowledge in being able to identify and differentiate the differences between the AWS database services, and how to use those to implement and architect different database solutions to fulfill specific needs and requirements. 

AWS is expected to have the beta version of this certification available between November 25, 2019 – January 10, 2020. As with all beta certifications, there will be a period of approximately 90 days between the beta end date and the general availability of the certification. With that in mind, this is expected to be available around April 2020.

The content of the exam itself is as usual as per all AWS certifications, defined by a series of domains. These domains are as follows and carry the associated percentage weighting for your final score:

  • Domain 1 – Workload-specific Database Design (26%)
  • Domain 2 – Deployment and Migration (20%)
  • Domain 3 – Management and Operations (18%)
  • Domain 4 – Monitoring and Troubleshooting (18%)
  • Domain 5 – Database Security (18%)

The assessment points for each of these domains are as follows:

Domain 1: Workload-Specific Database Design

  • 1.1 Select appropriate database services for specific types of data and workloads 
  • 1.2 Determine strategies for disaster recovery and high availability 
  • 1.3 Design database solutions for performance, compliance, and scalability 
  • 1.4 Compare the costs of database solutions 

Domain 2: Deployment and Migration

  • 2.1 Automate database solution deployments 
  • 2.2 Determine data preparation and migration strategies 
  • 2.3 Execute and validate data migration 

Domain 3: Management and Operations

  • 3.1 Determine maintenance tasks and processes 
  • 3.2 Determine backup and restore strategies 
  • 3.3 Manage the operational environment of a database solution 

Domain 4: Monitoring and Troubleshooting

  • 4.1 Determine monitoring and alerting strategies 
  • 4.2 Troubleshoot and resolve common database issues 
  • 4.3 Optimize database performance 

Domain 5: Database Security

  • 5.1 Encrypt data at rest and in transit 
  • 5.2 Evaluate auditing solutions 
  • 5.3 Determine access control and authentication mechanisms 
  • 5.4 Recognize potential security vulnerabilities within database solutions

To gain further insight into this certification, please see the official AWS exam guide.

Updated: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (SAA-C02) Exam

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification is arguably the most popular exam currently available with AWS, and so these changes will resonate with a lot of people looking to achieve this certification.

This updated exam is still designed for those who play an active role as a solutions architect and will still assess the candidate’s ability to be able to implement, architect, and secure applications and architectures across the AWS platform. By achieving this certification, it validates your expertise and knowledge in being able to define specific solutions using the appropriate services and features, maintaining best practices to meet the requirements of both business and customer needs.

For this update, AWS is going to refine the requirements needed to pass this exam. This includes updated domains and new assessment points within these domains.

For those who are looking to take this certification, you will want to know that the beta period for this new and updated exam is expected to be released on November 4, 2019, and run through November 29, 2019.  As a result, the expected general availability of this new certification is March 2020.  

However, do be aware that the current AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam will still be available to sit and take during this beta period and up to March 2020. The current exam, which is available today, will then cease to exist when the new updated exam for this certification is made generally available. This means, for a short period in November, you can either take the current exam or new beta exam version.

So what’s changing between the two exams? Looking at the exam guide issued by AWS, I can see the following changes:

Current Exam Updated Exam (2020)
Domain 1: Design Resilient Architectures (34%) Domain 1: Design Resilient Architectures (30%)
Domain 2: Define Performant Architectures (24%) Domain 2: Design High-Performing Architectures (28%)
Domain 3: Specify Secure Applications and Architectures (26%) Domain 3: Design Secure Applications and Architectures (24%)
Domain 4: Design Cost-Optimized Architectures (10%) Domain 4: Design Cost-Optimized Architectures (18%)
Domain 5: Define Operationally Excellent Architectures (6%)  

Looking at this table, the following points are the main domain changes to be made aware of:

  • There will only be four domains in the new exam, instead of five domains
  • Domain 5 of the current exam is being retired; however, the remaining four domains are very similar in category, some are even the same in the new exam
  • The percentage markers for each category have changed, so be aware that some have gone up and others have gone down

The below table shows a comparison between the current and the updated exam assessment points.

Updated: AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate (SAA-C02) Exam

Looking at these points, I can summarize the following changes:

  • All assessment points within Domain 1 of the new exam appear to be very similar in its requirements compared to the current exam.
  • Domain 2 probably has the most differences between all of the domains, although the domain title itself is very similar.  Applying caching to improve performance is no longer mentioned as an assessment point. Also, the elasticity and scalability point has been refined to focus purely on compute resources. Finally, you will now also be required to be able to select high-performing networking solutions for a given workload.
  • Domain 3 no longer specifies the requirement of knowing how to define the network architecture of a single VPC application. Instead, you will need to understand how to define secure access to your AWS resources. Other assessment points within this domain remain similar.
  • Domain 4 encompasses all the requirements of the current exam, but with an additional point of being able to demonstrate how to design cost-optimized network architectures.

To gain further insight into this certification, please see the official AWS exam guide.

Updated: AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty (DAS-C01)

There are two updates to this certification. Firstly, a new name. This certification is currently known as the “AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty” certification.  Secondly, along with this name change comes an updated exam (much like I just discussed with the Solutions Architect – Associate). 

AWS explained that the name has changed due to the fact that Data Analytics and Big Data currently represent a rapidly changing field within the cloud, and the term “data analytics” more closely aligns with language heard and discussed within the industry. 

This updated certification has been designed to demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of how to use different AWS services to design, build, secure, and maintain analytics solutions.  You will also need to understand how to collect, process, and store data to be used within your solutions. Therefore, it’s aimed at individuals who have a role that centers around data analytics with a minimum of one year of experience in designing available, cost-effective, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on AWS.

Again, this exam will go through a beta period, which is expected to start on December 2, 2019 – January 10, 2020, with a generally available date expected of April 2020.  

Much like with the updated AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam, you will still be able to sit and take the AWS Certified Big Data during this beta period and up to April 2020.  The current Big Data cert will then cease to exist when the new updated exam for this certification is made generally available.  

Let me now take a look at what’s changing in the exam, starting with the domain structure:

Big Data Exam Data Analytics Exam
Domain 1: Collection (17%) Domain 1: Collection (18%)
Domain 2: Storage (17%) Domain 2: Storage and Data Management (22%)
Domain 3: Processing (17%) Domain 3: Processing (24%)
Domain 4: Analysis (17%) Domain 4: Analysis and Visualization (18%)
Domain 5: Visualization (12%) Domain 5: Security (18%)
Domain 6: Data Security (20%)  

The main changes include:

  • There will only be five domains in the Data Analytics exam instead of six domains in the current Big Data exam
  • Domains 4 and 5 of the Big Data exam are being combined into a single domain for Data Analytics
  • There are no new categories of domains
  • The percentage markers for each category have changed, so be aware that some have gone up and others have gone down

The below table shows a comparison between the current and the updated exam assessment points.

AWS Certified Data Analytics - Specialty (DAS-C01)

Looking at these points, I can summarize the following changes:

  • In domain 1 for Data Analytics, most of the assessment points remain the same. However, the point of “Explain the durability and availability characteristics for the collection approach” has been retired.
  • Domain 2 shows a number of changes. For Data Analytics, you will be required to demonstrate how to define a data lifecycle based on usage patterns and business requirements, in addition to determining an appropriate system for cataloging data and managing metadata.  You will not, however, be assessed on evaluating mechanisms for capturing and updating and retrieval of catalog entries.
  • The key difference in domain 3 for Data Analytics is that it introduces an assessment point focusing on automation: Automate and operationalize a data processing solution. Automation is not mentioned in the Big Data exam domains assessment points.
  • Domain 4 of Data Analytics now covers the categories domain 4 and 5 from Big Data, and effectively covers the same assessment points.
  • From the Data Analytics perspective, in domain 5, you will no longer be assessed on regulatory requirements. However, you will still be assessed on encryption techniques, data protection, governance, and compliance, in addition to authentication and authorization mechanisms which is new on the Data Analytics exam.

To gain further insight into this certification, please see the official AWS exam guide

Moving forward

You should hopefully now have a better understanding of the AWS Certification changes that are coming into force. Here at Cloud Academy, we have already started building out new Learning Paths covering all assessment points in these new exam guides to ensure that you will be prepared to sit and take these certifications with confidence when they become generally available.

If you are looking to take any other Cloud Academy Learning Paths, check out our current list of all our Certification Learning Paths covering all major public cloud vendors. 


Written by

Stuart Scott

Stuart is the AWS content lead at Cloud Academy where he has created over 40 courses reaching tens of thousands of students. His content focuses heavily on cloud security and compliance, specifically on how to implement and configure AWS services to protect, monitor and secure customer data and their AWS environment.

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