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Sagar Uprety
Sagar Uprety

Posted on • Originally published at sagaruprety.com.np

Scoring 961 out of 1000 on the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam: My Experience ๐Ÿš€

Introduction

If you've landed here, you're likely familiar with the AWS landscape and planning to add that certification to your portfolio! If that sounds like you, you're in the right place. To be honest, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate is not a walk in the park unless you have 1-2 years of professional experience and can visualize AWS architecture in your head.

However, it's not overly difficult either. I like to think of it as both challenging and rewarding. As someone who scored 961 out of 1000 on the exam with just over 4 months of professional experience (at the time of the exam), I am eager to share my experiences, learning approach, resources I used, and insights to help others pursue this certification.

About the Exam

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate (SAA C03) exam is designed to assess your knowledge and skills in building scalable and reliable AWS solutions. It covers a range of topics, including designing and deploying systems, implementing cost-effective solutions, and understanding security best practices. They also test you heavily on the AWS Well Architect Framework. So yes! you need to be aware of various AWS services and be able to decide the best combination depending on specific scenarios.

Instead of focusing deeply on the code level or infrastructure implementation and debugging (which is mostly the case with the Developer Associate exam), the SAA C03 exam focuses on how you approach the given problem keeping in mind the six pillars of AWS Well Architect Framework. The four major domains for the exam are:

  • Domain 1: Design Secure Architectures

  • Domain 2: Design Resilient Architectures

  • Domain 3: Design High-Performing Architectures

  • Domain 4: Design Cost-Optimized Architectures

The format for the exam is 65 Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) and you get 130 minutes to complete it. It will cost you about $150, and you can take it online at your home or from a verified testing center. Find more details about the exam on their official page.

Learning Approach

Well, now you know about the exam and what it tests! Let's take a look at the learning approach I used. The preparation took me around 1.5 months studying about 1-2 hours per day alongside my full-time job. This might be more if you are just setting your footprints in AWS and less if you are already a pro.

1. Set Clear Goals:

Before diving into study materials, define your goals and why you need the certification in the first place. Is it a part of your job, are you trying to get hired or improve your portfolio? You also need to make sure that you align yourself with the exam objectives. Maybe there's another certification that's more suited to you. This is what will motivate you to study.

2. Structured Study Plan and Consistency:

Develop a structured study plan. Allocate specific times each day or week to cover different topics. Identify the areas where you need to work more. For me, this was cost-optimization and serverless domain. Remember that consistency is key here.

3. Hands-On Practice:

Apply theoretical knowledge that you have gained through hands-on practice. This is super crucial. Unless you don't apply what you learn, you can't relate the pain points and the problem you are solving. YES! I understand you can't use every AWS service that's out there and what exam tests you on. But, you need be be at least proficient with common services such as EC2, S3, VPC, Lambda, IAM, Cloudformation, ECS, RDS, etc, and be aware of others. Note that AWS offers a free tier that allows you to experiment with various services without incurring charges.

4. Use Multiple Resources:

Don't rely on a single source. Combine official AWS documentation, online courses, and practice exams to gain a well-rounded understanding and consume diversified content. This is the single most important tip for you all.

5. Join Forums and Communities:

Engage with the AWS community. Participate in forums, and discussion groups, and attend webinars. You can also watch the content from AWS YouTube where they post really interesting videos on various AWS services and architectural patterns. I found their This is My Architecture Playlist very helpful.

Resources - Official

Alright! Now you know the approach to ace your exam. But hey, can you also tell me the resources you used? Sure, here's the list of the official resources I used. These are also the free ones.

  1. AWS Technical Essentials: For clearing basic concepts on all the major topics (Recommended if you are getting started)

  2. AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate Exam Guide: Has clear documentation on the EXAM domains, the specific skills they are looking for, and the relevant services you need to focus on.

  3. AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate Sample Questions: 10 questions to give you an idea of the questions and their complexity.

  4. AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate Official Practice Question Set: 20 additional questions that supplement the sample questions

  5. Exam Prep: AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate: 3-hour free course on SkillBuilder directly from AWS themselves.

  6. WAFR WhitePapers: Take your time to read this. It is more than 800 pages, and you do not need to learn everything. Just focus on understanding the six pillars and how you can incorporate them.

    (Below are the recommended resources though I did not use them personally for my exam)

  7. AWS Power Hour: Architecting on-demand - Twitch Recordings with six episodes that cover various domains from the exam with great use cases

  8. AWS Service FAQs - Whenever you use any AWS Service, try to also read the FAQs such as the EC2 FAQ. I found some questions on the exam that were answered in the FAQ Section.

Resources - Others

While official resources are the source of truth and are highly recommended, many of us prefer a guided approach with dedicated courses, practice sets, and a community to discuss and share learnings. I am no exception. Here's the list of third-party resources I used:

  1. Stephane Mareek Udemy Course: Simply the best and my go-to resource for learning the exam contents. His way of explaining things in simple terms is phenomenal. If there's one course you want to purchase, this would be the one! He also got the five full-length Practice Sets though I found them to be a bit tougher than what's tested on the exam. But this will prepare you well.

  2. Examtopics Question Bank: They have an arsenal of exam-like questions and almost half of the questions are available for free. Highly Recommended to consume those. I found the exam questions to be very similar to the ones here.

  3. WhizLabs Practice Sets: Again, this is a great source for practice sets. If you already have a WhizLabs subscription, do try out this. They have several full-length sets where you can test your skills. Take this as an optional resource if you don't want to buy it.

  4. r/AWSCertifications: A great community for interacting and engaging with other test-takers and experts. They do joke around a lot, but sometimes even the joke teaches you a lot (chuckles)

Below are some additional resources worth mentioning, as recommended by my colleagues and the community, though I did not personally purchase them:

  1. Tutorials Dojo Udemy Course

  2. Neal Davis Udemy Course

Exam Day Experience and Tips

I took my exam on 7th August 2023 and you can see my results below.

Exam Score

To be honest, I was not expecting to score that high, but was happy when I got those scores back in about 8 hours. I took my exam at a testing center and it was scheduled at around 11 AM. Overall, it was a pleasant experience as the center was not very crowded and there were no distractions at all. Here are my tips for D-Day.

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PRO TIP: Give your exam at a dedicated center if there's one nearby. Though rare, AWS sometimes cancels your exam if you have a network connection issue while taking it at home

1. Request for an additional 30 minutes

If you are from a country where English is not the native language, you can request AWS for an extra 30 minutes for your exam during registration. DO NOT miss out on this opportunity if you are eligible (ESL +30).

2. Reach your test center early

I reached my center about 25 minutes before the exam. My center was pretty calm with not much crowd. Also, I was the only test taker at that time slot, so the ID Checks and verification process went smoothly. But, this might not always be the case for you. So, try to reach your test center at least 30 minutes to provide you ample time for smooth check-ins.

3. Flag and Review

Manage your time wisely during the exam. Some questions are intentionally more difficult than others and may require more thought. So don't spend too much time on a single question. Just choose the one that your instincts suggest, mark it for review (yes! You can flag them), and come back to it later on.

4. Read Carefully:

Pay close attention to each question. Most questions are scenario-based, and sometimes missing a crucial detail such as cost in the phrase "clients want the most cost-effective solution" can lead to incorrect answers. An example could be the use of EC2 in Multi-Region for high availability. But this is not a cost-effective solution.

5. Stay Calm:

Stress can hinder your performance, I for sure was stressed about 8-10 questions that I had doubts about. But not spending too much time on them, taking deep breaths at times, and analyzing them later on with a fresh perspective helped.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading! Achieving AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate status is both challenging and rewarding. A structured study plan, diverse resources, and hands-on experience are the keys to acing your exam. Remember, the journey doesn't stop here. Continuous learning and active engagement with the AWS community will further enrich your experience and knowledge. As we conclude, I'm curious to know your favorite resources for the SAA-C03 Exam. Share them in the comments below.

Best of luck on your path to AWS Certification Success! Stay tuned for more insights and guides by following my blog and subscribing to my newsletter. Don't forget to check out my YouTube channel for informative videos on DevOps and Cloud!

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