Friday, June 14, 2019

AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional

So I recently needed to re-certify my AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional certification. I tried to keep track of everything I did, found helpful or what wasted my time. Hopefully this can aid someone looking at doing this certification, there is so much content to cover.
I spent roughly 2 months prepping for this certification, I did take a week break in the middle, and did skip a couple days here and there.

Roughly, I did about 100 hours of video content courses and YouTube, 10 practice exams and whole a bunch of reading.

Courses & Video Content

A Cloud Guru:
I have always been a fan of ACG, however I found this course lacking in details to be honest. The actual videos felt like summaries and then you are pointed at other external resources. If you recently did your associate certification, I don't know if you'll get much out of it.
I used this as a a starting point, and it was a good "refresher". The exam simulator as another source of practice, and that is quite good.

Linux Academy:
This course covers a lot of the content in some good detail, and gets you to actually try it out in labs. I would recommend everyone signup for this. The instructor and other students are also quite active on their slack channel. I found some of those discussions and exam feedback useful.

Exam Readiness: AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional (Digital):
Was a complete waste of 3 hours of my life.

You Tube / Re:Invent:
Search YouTube for AWS Re:invent deep dive or 300/400 level for any topic you need to cover.
Here are my playlists:
Level 400s - Watch all of these
Level 200-300s - Watch what required

This is my Architecture:
I generally enjoy this format, quick, real-life examples of working architectures.


I didn't read a single FAQ, I personally don't like the format. I rather used the aws-cheat-sheets from tutorialdojo.

Practice Exams

ACG, Linux Academy:

Both had 1 test each, pretty good, would recommend everyone do them. I just found their explanations only focused on the correct answer, where actually identifying incorrect answers is just as important.

These have a bad rep amongst other people taking the test, and I would agree to some extent, I don't know if they added that much value, except for the practice in reading / dissecting questions at speed, and their explanations on some concepts were useful.

Jon Bonso / Tutorials Dojo:
These were good, I would say a little easier than my actual exam, but again great to practice, great to review explanations for correct and incorrect answers

General Reading

The Exam

Topics covered in my 75 questions (as much as I can remember) :
  • AWS Organizations scenarios - Multi AWS accounts, SCP, SAML IAM  4+
  • Lambda + Api gateway 4+
  • AWS Systems manager - Patch, Run command, automation, maintenance:  4+
  • Amazon Aurora vs RDS vs EC2 hosted: 3+
  • Elastic Beanstalk: 3+
  • ECS & Fargate: 3+
  • Cloudformation - nested stacks, stacksets: 3+
  • CloudFront - Caching & Lambda@Edge: 3 
  • SQS: 3
  • EBS - Provisioned IOPS & GP2: 2+
  • DynamoDB: 2+
  • ELB & Autoscaling : 2+
  • Redshift (one HA / quick recovery scenario) : 2+
  • AWS CodeDeploy & CodePipeline: 2+
  • Cloudwatch / CloudWatch Logs: 2
  • Cloudtrail: 2
  • Direct Connect & Direct Connect Gateway: 2
  • VPN & Direct Connect routing BGP preferred: 2 
  • Data Migration Service:  2
  • AWS WAF & Shield & Shield Advanced (DDoS) : 2
  • Transit VPC vs Transit Gateway / VPC Peering:  2
  • Kinesis - family video, firehose, analytics 
  • NAT Instance / Nat Gateway
  • Route 53
  • AWS Config
  • Application Discovery
  • Snowball, Snowmobile
  • AWS Batch
  • Athena & Quicksight
  • AWS Rekognition
  • Trusted Advisor (Business Level Support)
  • Lex
  • OpsWorks
  • Service Catalog
  • AppStream
  • VPC Flow Logs
  • VPC Endpoints - Private DNS, S3
  • Storage Gateway - File and Tape
  • X-Ray
  • Amazon Connect

My experience writing:

Going to start by saying, I found it harder and the questions less obvious than any of the practice tests. I have a certification exam technique where I flag questions I am not 100% sure of... not necessarily to go back to, but as a counter... I know if I marked less that 20 out of the 75 questions, I would be pretty sure that I would pass.. and can just complete the exam.

I started, Question 1: easy... ok nice can relax, I got this...

I then proceeded to "flag" the next 7 questions due thoughts ranging from "mmm ... unsure" to "I have no clue, wtf?".

Anyways, that trend continued throughout the exam.. couple correct, a whole bunch of "I'm not sure.". I got to the end with around 40 minutes to spare and realised that I had flagged 39 questions, I was quite disheartened at that point, so I went back and tried to review as much as I could.. I got through about 20 flagged questions when I had 9 minutes left, and I resigned myself to the fact that this was my first attempt and starting thinking what should I go back and learn for when I write again in 2 weeks.

Amazingly, I saw the words... "Congratulations, you have successfully passed ... bla bla bla."
I had to read that a couple times.. and actually still didn't believe it until I actually got my score report the following day.
I somehow managed to get: 880

So after receiving my score and re-evaluation my exam, I guess my main piece of advice would be:

The way the questions / scenarios are structured are purposely meant to be a little unclear. Be sure to pay attention to the key words / synonyms / phrases that the question is actually asking for:
cost, fewest changes, fastest processing time, least ongoing maintenance, most secure, highly available, most scalable, least downtime, fastest recovery time... etc
Then apply what you have learnt about the services, even if you're not 100% sure on the actually implementation of the scenario, make sure it satisfies the core requirement.

To anyone reading this and planning to write, Good Luck! This is a tough one.

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