My AWS Solution Architect Professional Certification Experience

I recently passed the AWS SA Pro Exam, and can confirm that it is indeed as tough as everyone makes it out to be! That does not mean that it is scary or too daunting to even consider. If I was able to pass it, then I am confident anyone reading this is also more than capable. It just takes a lot of effort and the right mindset to be successful.

Like many others on their AWS certification journey, I began with the A Cloud Guru AWS Certified Solution Architect – Professional 2020 course taught by Scott Pletcher (@Scott Pletcher). I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between this course and the one on Linux Academy (which is now ACG?), but I had access to this particular one through my company and therefore can not contrast versus the LA course. I did very much enjoy this course and thought that the instructor was concise and engaging. It was a valuable tool to use for SA Pro, but by no means was it a one stop shop. I considered it more of a recap of SA Associate basics along with some deeper dives, in addition to expanding into more services and how things relate to the SA Pro exam. As someone who works with more than just AWS, it was a good way to put blinders on and focus on the AWS landscape a bit more than my day to day allows.

The most important aspects of the ACG course outside of the material itself are the Exam Tips and links to corresponding whitepapers and re:Invent videos on YouTube. During the course I made sure to keep OneNote open and take notes along the way, always jotting down every one of the Exam Tips as well as linking to the relevant whitepapers for quick access. Scott also lists a few re:Invent sessions that are noteworthy, yet optional. Study time can be hard to come by, so watching 60+ minute sessions may not be of value to everyone, but I have compiled all of these videos in a SA Pro YouTube Playlist for anyone who is interested.

I did spend some time at least skimming over most of the suggested white papers. One in particular that was very valuable was the AWS Storage Options white paper, specifically the anti-patterns portion of each storage option. Some of the other white papers will be familiar to those who have looked at the Well-architected Framework, and some others were just too long for me to read beyond a quick skim. I’d focus on any that refer to concepts which are new to you and take away the important bits.

A great resource I found during my associate level study is Jayendra’s Blog and certification paths. Jayendra does a great job of giving what I call the “cliff notes” study guide for exams and AWS services. This was really useful during the couple of days before my exam. As I went through my notes or practice exams and ran into something that was unfamiliar, I was able to quickly get a concise overview from this blog. This saved a lot of time versus trying to comb through online videos or going down the rabbit hole of a Google search. Even if I didn’t have a deep understanding of that topic (for example AppStream or Athena), it was beneficial to at least know about it on the surface, rather than being completely confused if I it was mentioned exam.

Practice tests are an extremely important study tool for this exam. In addition to the official AWS SA Pro sample questions, I purchased the AWS SA Pro practice tests on Whizlabs. These are NOT brain dumps and the questions will NOT appear on your actual exam. The purpose of these practice tests is for you to get used to the types of questions/answers as well as the length and format of the exam. I’ve seen lots of comments by people who spent 6 hours a day for a week going through practice exams to prep. I just don’t have that kind of time, and one certification is not worth being disowned by my family! For me, it was very useful to go through maybe 20-30 questions at a time, end the exam knowing it would fail, but review the questions I missed and why. One big thing for me was the realization that I missed many just by reading through the question too quickly and answering incorrectly because I missed what the question was truly asking for. More than a handful of “oh yeah, duh I should have gotten that” moments will teach you how to focus when you do sit the exam.

The big key to the SA Pro isn’t necessarily technical knowledge, rather the aspect of time management and knowing what the question is truly asking for. If the question only asks for the most cost effective solution, that may mean the answer isn’t highly available. Make sure you read and understand the question before looking at the answers. In regards to the answers, many can be almost as long as the question. Quickly skim the answers to see if you can easily rule out two. Lots of times you will see two answers that say something like use a database running EC2 and two that say use RDS. Rule out the two that don’t make sense as it pertains to the question, and then look for the differences within the last two that may help choose the correct one. From a time management perspective, expect to use the full 3ish hours on the exam. You will generally see a recommendation about taking an average of 2 minutes per question. That is a good benchmark, but don’t stick to it religiously. I had that in the back of my mind and certainly noticed questions where I went over 2 minutes. I made sure to answer with my best guess and mark that question for review. When I got 60% through the exam, I realized that I would have to pick up the pace a little bit. Not so much that I was in trouble, but enough that I had to be conscious of it. Keep track of your pace and make a mental note every 10 questions or so. I completed the final question with about 4 minutes left, so rather than reviewing and second guessing myself, I ended the exam. Marking questions for review is still a good idea, but make sure you at least take a quick stab at an answer before moving on.

I hope that these tips are helpful for anyone who may be prepping for this exam. If so, please drop me a comment, and best of luck on your SA Pro!

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