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Annkur Agrawal
Annkur Agrawal

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Preparation Tips - AWS Certified Database Specialty exam

Based on requests from many people over LinkedIn/topmate/offline contacts, here I am trying to share as much information possible that will help you to go through the exam.

Let’s start…

When I started working as a database administrator, the relational database was only in boom and predominant technology. Lots of stuff to do and everything was so challenging doing on-premises i.e., a kind of preparing food from completely raw material not ready to cook (AWS) 😊.

I worked mostly on commercial databases like Oracle/MSSQL and open-source databases like PostgreSQL. And every application was dependent on a relation database whether it’s Oracle/MSSQL/MySQL/Postgres etc.

Today, modern applications application architecture constitutes a broader set of database technologies aligned to the type of data like relational or non-relational, access, and processing patterns required by businesses they support in terms of better performance.

Here comes an AWS database with multiple database options to select from, according to the business requirement starting from relation databases (Oracle/MSSQL/Postgres/MySQL/MariaDB/Aurora) to key-value, document, in-memory, graph, time series, and ledger databases.

Now certification “AWS Certified Database – Specialty” validates a candidate’s expertise in depth on all the database options mentioned above to pick one best suited for your use case and analyze requirements considering multiple AWS Well-Architected frameworks and design databases appropriately.
I recently prepared and cleared the “AWS Certified Database – Specialty”, my previous background as a database administrator helped me a bit.

Definitely, this was a tough one, after all, it’s specialty and testing your expertise specifically only on databases from a range of different database options AWS provides.

First, I give you a glimpse of the percentage each domain constitutes of.

Image description

For more details, check out the exam guide.

This is really important to go through, even when online courses explain it, though you should go through it and understand each and every domain and percentage.

Starting point I started with digital training “Exam Readiness: AWS Certified Database – Specialty” from AWS skill builder. These 4 hrs. of training were really good.

Sharing links found useful while preparing to start from digital courses to practice exams to blogs/FAQs.

  1. Understand which workloads are best suited to each of the purpose-built database services on AWS. Image description References:
  2. Understand strategies for disaster recovery and high availability. Image description
  3. Understand how database solution deployments can be automated. Automation of everything is called to be best practice to avoid human error that may occur especially during repeated work. Here IaC (Infrastructure as a Code) tools are handy and fit best to perform activity whether it’s AWS CloudFormation or Terraform.
  4. Determine data preparation and migration strategies. Image description Here exams focus on the understanding of migration strategies, for which you definitely need to understand the different methods we use to backup, restore, and replication options keeping in mind “Which option from multiple is best? And why?” to maximize efficiency. Also need to understand the data sources/targets, Schema conversion using tools like DMS/SCT.
  5. Determine backup and restore strategies
    Image description
    Backup and restore is one the important requirements to ensure
    Business Data is protected and ready to face challenges or able
    to recover in case of any disaster. But strategies will vary
    according to AWS database services. This may include manual
    backup, Automated or continuous backup, but again it changes as
    per the requirement of RTO/RPO.

  6. Manage the operational environment of a database solution.
    Image description
    Now AWS provides fully managed database services, where AWS manages the many aspects of database management on your behalf like applying patches to the database and underlying operating system, and performing scheduled backups with ease. Definitely, this is good decreasing admin overhead on the other hand may restrict your control. So you need to understand, How these individual database services handle updates and configuration changes as these varied with databases.

  7. Determine monitoring and alerting strategies.
    Image description
    Monitoring and alerting is not hidden requirement these days, this is one of the critical services that is required in each and every environment. Similarly, AWS has its own services like CloudWatch, CloudTrail, and the collection of custom metrics which makes monitoring more flexible and approachable to handle the application efficiently.

  8. Understand how you can optimize database performance.
    Image description
    Here exam checks your understanding/ability to troubleshoot database performance issues, tunning databases, and how you identify tools and use them considering the cost per database scenario.

  9. Encrypt data at rest and in transit.
    Image description
    Security is always on high priority these days and encryption both at rest and transit belongs to data protection. AWS provides a unique service for the encryption of data and implementation may again vary. AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) for encryption key management to create encryption keys and define the policies that control the use of these keys.

  10. Determine access control and authentication mechanisms.
    Image description
    Now the last part, which is Authentication service in AWS i.e. AWS Identity and Management Service (IAM). You need understand the way of authentication in different databases and how they work? And other supporting service like AWS Secrets Manager. AWS Secret manager allows to create secrets and use them instead of hard coding in application or Infrastructure as a code (CloudFormation/Terraform).

Study Material Referred:
(1) Udemy Course - Ultimate AWS Certified Database Specialty 2023
(2) Cloud Academy – AWS Certified Database Specialty.
(3) Udemy - AWS Certified Database Specialty Practice Exams.
(4) AWS APN - Exam Readiness: AWS Certified Database – Specialty

AWS FAQs – I suggest a few to must go through as it is having a higher percentage in exams.

There are FAQs for other AWS database services as well to refer to.
Some important pointers to consider before taking the exam to focus on:

(1) Provisioning database
(2) Backup strategy
(3) Unencrypted/Encrypted databases.
(4) Sharing database backup between AZs/Regions/Accounts.
(5) Restoring database.
(6) High Availability – Multi-AZ
(7) Latency – Read/Write and different options.
(8) Migration – DMS, SCT, Database Native Tools.
(9) Authentication and Authorization mechanism

I must congratulate you at this point because you have gone through the above preparation part. This simply means you are really passionate about this certification accomplishment.

Now I start by giving some information about the exam structure and tips.

The Exam: Structure
• Taken in a testing centre or online proctored
• Exam duration is 180 minutes
• There is a total of 65 questions
• There will be 15 unscored questions
• Questions are all multiple choice or multiple response
• There is no penalty for guessing
• You can mark a question for future review
• Before submitting, you can review all of your answers
• Reported as a score of 100-1000(minimum passing: 750)
• Certification lasts 3 years
• For more information, refer to the Exam Guide

Exam Tips
•Read both the question and the answers in full, one time through.
•Look for specific words that are doing the “heavy lifting”. Questions won’t deliberately be left ambiguous.
•Pay attention to qualifying clauses such as “in the most cost-effective way”, or “will best fulfil”; these clauses are likely to eliminate certain answers.
•Try to find out the distractor using key words observed from previously.
•Lastly, you may feel tense in first go through, but complete this phase asap

Now comes the next and final important part – the actual exam. Remember, preparation is key but it's not the only thing that will determine your success. You need to approach the exam with a positive mindset and confidence in your abilities.

Here are some tips to help you ace the certification exam:

  1. Relax and stay calm: Don't panic before the exam. Take deep breaths and calm your nerves.

  2. Read the instructions carefully: Before starting the exam, read the instructions thoroughly. Ensure you understand the format of the exam, how long it takes, and how many questions are there.

  3. Time management: Make sure you manage your time well throughout the exam. Don't spend too much time on a single question as it can impact the rest of the exam.

  4. Answer all questions: Make sure you answer all the questions. If you're unsure about an answer, make an educated guess.

  5. Double-check: After answering all the questions, double-check your answers. Ensure you haven't missed any questions and that you've answered them correctly.

  6. Stay focused: Avoid distraction during the exam. Focus on the questions and avoid any external factors that can impact your concentration.

  7. Celebrate your success: Once you've completed the exam, celebrate your success. It's a great achievement, and you deserve to be proud of yourself.

In conclusion, passing a certification exam requires a combination of knowledge, preparation, and the right mindset. With these tips, I'm sure you'll do great on your exam. All the best!

In case any help is required connect me over LinkedIn and topmate.

Please share your thoughts/Questions in the comments or if anything you observed missing and found in the exam.

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