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Taking AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate, current and beta versions back to back

In the run-up to re:Invent, my colleague Mark Richman strongly encouraged me to sit at least one certification exam before the conference. The primary reason for doing so in the context of re:Invent is that holding one or more AWS certifications unlocks access to the Certification Lounge. The Lounge offers some extra goodies and provides some space to catch your breath from all the activities that are happening throughout the day at the conference.

Before joining the team at Linux Academy I worked for AWS Premium Support, and prior to that, I worked for a local university for almost a decade. Part of my transition from academia to AWS was studying for and sitting the AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate exam. I used the Linux Academy course -which was then taught by our Founder and CEO, Anthony James. As I’d already passed the exam once, and having spent a few years assisting people with AWS issues, I felt fairly confident in my ability to successfully sit the current version of the exam. To prepare, I took the practice exam that’s currently available in our AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate course and reviewed any services or features that I clearly didn’t understand well enough, or had not seen before.

Preparing to sit the exams

I work better under a deadline, so before I started preparing I headed over to the AWS Certification site (https://aws.amazon.com/certification/) to schedule my exam. I chose to schedule with Pearson VUE because they had more flexibility for scheduling, but the testing center I went to also services PSI, so ultimately at that testing center the experience would have been the same. Then I gave myself three days to prepare; feeling fairly confident that this would be sufficient having sat the exam successfully before, and working for AWS previously in a role that utilized most of the knowledge being tested by the exam. In the process of scheduling for the current exam, I noticed that the SAA-C02 – AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Beta was available. As we will be updating our AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate course as quickly as possible when the new version of the exam is released, adding experience and knowledge of the beta to our internal data is very valuable. With that in mind, I also scheduled to sit the beta version of the exam back to back with the current version.

With my exams scheduled I set to making sure I’d have a good chance of passing. This mostly consisted of reviewing our current AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate course for any subjects that I knew weren’t fresh for me and taking the practice exam provided at the end of the course at the end of each study session to guide the next day’s study. 

Sitting AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (SAA-C01)

The day before sitting the exams, I made sure to have a good dinner, did some light review, and went to bed with ample time to let my mind wind the day down. On the testing day, I did not touch any review material, I’ve found that doing this puts that information in the forefront and makes it harder to remember anything not reviewed the day of the exam. I did my normal morning routine and headed to the testing center. There’s a couple of things to do before fully checking in to the exam center: check to see if you need a parking pass (most testing centers will provide one if you need it), and use the restroom even if you don’t think you need to. You can’t stop the test timer once it’s started so while you are able to take a break mid-exam to use the lavatory it can significantly harm your chances of passing.

When you check-in you’ll be provided with a locker for your personal things; the only item you are allowed to bring into the testing environment is the key to this locker. With my personal items stored, the test center personnel had me sign in and took my picture, and before going into the room asked me to turn out my pockets to show that they were empty. With the preliminaries out of the way, I was led by a staff member to a computer in a cubicle where the staff member logged in to initiate the exam. A dry-erase note board was provided along with over-ear and in-ear (new) earplugs were available in the cubicle. The testing environment was mostly quiet for my first exam so I did not make use of these. 

As the stakes were higher for the current version of the exam were higher I felt more pressure on this one, and I did flag several questions for review. Generally, the strategy of going through all of the questions on the exam answering them as quickly as possible and flagging any you are not sure of works well and will remove the anticipation of encountering hard questions when time starts running down. You are able to freely move through the exam and change any answers you choose within the time limit, and you are provided with an opportunity to go back to any flagged or unanswered questions once you reach the end of the exam. This takes a lot of pressure off of getting questions right the first time compared to other exams where you have a single opportunity to answer each question. Sitting the current version took me roughly 55 minutes, and I’m happy to say I passed with a much better score than the first time I sat the exam. 

Sitting AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Beta (SA1-C02)

With the vital work of achieving a certification before re:Invent 2019 out of the way, I signed out of the test center, and immediately back in to sit the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Beta exam. This was a much more relaxed experience for me with the exception that the child care center next door to the testing center started their late-morning recess. With earplugs in place, I fired up the exam and took my time to really ingest as much information from the exam as possible. Without violating the lengthy non-disclosure agreements I signed to be able to sit the exam, I can say that at least the beta version of the new exam is not as difficult if you know the material. The style of the questions is different in a good way where the objective of the exam is more aligned with the content. There are several new services presented and if I failed the beta exam it was because of these new services, as I essentially sat this one cold. Failing the exam for me was a totally acceptable outcome as I was there for the experience of sitting the exam.

See you at re:Invent!

This was an excellent challenge and experience for me. The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate was my first experience with Linux Academy and how I started my journey learning AWS. I feel very blessed to now be able to be part of the Linux Academy team helping all of our wonderful learners grow their technical knowledge, and this was a way to bring that full circle. If you will be attending re:Invent this year please visit us at booth 1837!

1 Comments

Image of Raja Kakayadi
Raja Kakayadi
2 weeks ago

Some good tips in here for taking exams…Well worth a read!!

Image of LauraArguijo
LauraArguijo
1 week ago

Thank you Raja! Did you attend AWS:reInvent this year?

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