How I passed the AWS Solutions Architect Associate (SAA) Exam on my first attempt
— DevOps — 6 min read
AWS is the most popular cloud platform out there. There are so many startups and companies which use AWS either wholly or some services of AWS for the greatest benefit it provides - Cost Optimisation. Getting certified in it would open a lot of career opportunities for me, and increase my value in the company I am/will be in. I am very intrigued by cloud computing. Getting certified in Kubernetes was my very first step and I loved it. I wanted to go deeper and embrace a cloud platform. The popularity and demand for an AWS Solution Architect led to this path. In this blog post, I will highlight how I prepared for and passed the SAA exam on my very first attempt.
My preparation plan was very similar to what I had followed for my CKA since it worked very well. But unlike CKA, this is a multiple choice exam, with few questions and even multiple responses, I am not as good at such exams when compared to practical ones.
I prepared for around 1 month, and soon after I did CKA. My schedule was the same for this exam - study for around 2 - 3 hours on weekdays and around 6 - 8 hours on weekends. It was well planned as I could give 100% to my job, and spend some invaluable time with friends and family when required.
I was adamant to do this certification back in June 2019. Since my job started in July shifting my focus I did buy this amazing course from a Udemy sale going on then.
This course is very well structured. It has hands-on lab sessions as the course goes by which you should do as you watch. There are also some demonstrations that the instructor advises you to not do since you can modify some critical aspects of your AWS account. I did them anyway, without breaking anything as I followed along carefully step by step.
This course starts shallow, then with each subsequent video on the same topic, it does in-depth. Furthermore, it has one or two lab sessions or demonstrations associated with it. It has a full-length practice test at the end of each section.
Wait, did I mention that this course covers 4 AWS Certifications? AWS Cloud Practitioner, and all AWS Associate level exams (Not a sponsor, just an honest student who loved the course 😄).
I love taking notes for any exam I give, no matter its importance. This is because it reflects my own understanding, which I can add to if I learn more about the topic, and at the same time serves as a good resource to revise from, a few hours before the exam. Once again, like CKA, I made a new Microsoft OneNote Notebook and began taking notes as per the Udemy course.
I use OneNote as it syncs across my devices which I can refer to at any time! Also, since it is in the cloud, safely kept away. I don't have to worry about losing it like the hardbound notebooks I used back in college.
Read the FAQs
The Udemy course does not cover every nook and cranny of a particular service that AWS offers. Although it does its best to do so, and it does deliver, questions on the exam are based on nuances that one can be oblivious to by just studying from the videos. Solution? Read the FAQs. I recommend reading the following FAQs at least (open them in a new tab) :-
- Compute: EC2, EC2 AutoScaling, Elastic Beanstalk, Lambda, and ELB
- Storage: S3, EBS, EFS, Glacier, Snowball, Backup and Restore, and Storage Gateway
- Database: Amazon Aurora, RDS, DynamoDB, and ElastiCache
- Networking & Content Delivery: VPC, CloudFront, Route 53, API Gateway, and Direct Connect
- Management: AutoScaling, CloudFormation, CloudTrail, and Trusted Advisor
- Analytics: EMR, Elasticsearch, Kinesis, Kinesis Video Streams, DataPipeline, and Redshift
- Security, Identity, and Compliance: IAM, Cognito, Inspector, KMS, Organizations, Shield, and WAF
- Application Integration: SQS, SNS, SWF, and Step Functions
Wewf, that is a lot 😓! But don't worry, you do not have to memorise it. Just know it. I skimmed through these one day before the exam. I can assure you that there will be at least one question based on some question in the FAQ which you would only get to know about if you read it, or have some previous experience with the service.
AWS Well-Architected Framework
The Solutions Architect exams (both Associate and Professional) revolve around this framework. All questions test you on the application of this framework.
Take the Exam Readiness Training within a week before the exam. It will give you a good insight into the Well-Architected Framework and has some sample questions to mimic the types on the exams. Moreover, this training has text axioms associated with it which serve as good points to keep in mind.
Just to give a brief idea about the framework - it talks mainly about architecting Reliable, Highly Available, and Fault Tolerance systems through AWS services. Security is an important aspect of any organisation which has to be kept in mind at every step of the architecture. Cost optimisation by having billing alerts in place and downgrading/terminating sub-optimal resources. Performance efficiency by using managed services thereby reducing the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and responding to changes in demand, on demand. Operational Excellence through small, incremental changes which makes change management easy and continuous improvement of the system.
- Take mock tests from KnowledgeHut. Just register (using a fake account, or a real one) and take the 5 free mock tests. These are very well written but the answering format is horrendous - you can't answer multiple-response questions at all. Though the purpose is to give a better idea about the actual exams, do not worry about the final score which it tells (but doesn't fall too short either).
- AWS promotes its own products. If you have an option between choosing an Aurora instance vs MySQL for RDS. Choose Aurora (keeping the requirements in the question in mind, obviously).
- Keep calm and flag 🚩 questions whose answers you don't know! Revisit them in the end. I had flagged most of the questions. Just in case I had an epiphany leading me to the correct answer to the question.
I finished my exam in about an hour and revisited all questions once more in the time that remained. I did change answers to one or two questions. I received the certification with 840 marks. Not the best, but it sufficed and granted me the certification (scaled passing marks was 720).
As for CKA, I write this blog to refer to it again when I either re-certify myself in SAA or go for the Professional level certification - Solutions Architect Professional (SAP), after this one expires.