In my last blog post, I talked of my discovery of speed chess and drew parallels between speed chess and taking AWS certification exams.
Just to wrap up the speed chess discussion, I’ll draw a few more parallels. I can play all the speed chess I want for roughly $30 a year but can be an expensive hobby with regards to time. How do you get better? Practice! You’re probably catching on to me by now and know where I’m going with this. Don’t just read about AWS, play AWS!! Play around in the console, try things from the command line, and most importantly, use the resources we provide at Linux Academy (Hands-On Labs and Cloud Playground). This investment of your time will serve you well on the exams.
Mastering speed chess…and AWS
I win more chess games than I lose but, as I said before, I’m far from a Master. I suspect that I’m nearing the peak of my chess prowess, given the time investment I’m willing to make (a couple hours a week at most between playing actual games and solving puzzles). I do think that the amount of time is a good investment in keeping my brain sharp and scratching my still strong competitive itch without any risk of broken bones. But my free time and hobby time is limited because I’ve gotten into a profession that is ever changing.
It seems like AWS changes at least one service daily. But I love it and I love the continuous learning. I love to read – I’m constantly reading something – and that is sometimes to my detriment. I’ll throw myself under the bus here and admit that I’ve been guilty at times of reading about AWS services rather than getting into the console and playing around with those services. The retention is unquestionably better. So in planning your preparation for an AWS Certification exam, factor in time to “play” in the console. Or better yet, use the course scheduler in the Linux Academy course to do it for you.
Practice makes perfect
One thing I highly recommend is to just go into the console and create a VPC and all of the elements that go into it such as: Internet Gateway, Route Tables, subnets, security groups, etc. Create instances and make sure you can SSH (Linux) or RDP (Windows) into the instances. If you can’t, why not? Figure it out. Did you create an Internet Gateway and attach it to your VPC? Do you have a route to your IGW in the Route Table? Do an internet search. If you get stuck, post on the Linux Academy Community forum. This is the time investment that will pay you back on test day, and we have labs that allow you to test your skills with these kinds of setups without creating your own resources.
I sometimes fall in the trap of thinking I don’t have time to go into the console and play around with a service. And yet when I think about having to read concepts several times before it sinks in, it surely takes less time just to do it once and remember.
Words are key
One of the things I relied on heavily for AWS Associate level exams, and still rely on to this day, are keywords. So, when I get in an exam and I’m reading scenario questions, I’m looking for keywords that are going to point me in the right direction or better yet scream at me what the correct answer will be. And this technique can be helpful in eliminating incorrect answers which becomes crucial when you aren’t sure of the answer on a particular question. I think the first time I used this technique was with RDS replication. It was very straightforward to know that a Multi-AZ architecture replicated synchronously and read replicas used asynchronous replication. You will be asked about this distinction fairly often at the Associate level. One of the things I’d recommend when starting your studies at the Associate level is to find an already established flashcard set and study it frequently. Just 15 or 20 minutes each day will work wonders.
The Linux Academy site has flashcard sets for every exam. I’d also recommend starting your own set. When you come across a concept that gives you trouble, start tabulating your weak spots and from this, you can build your own flashcard set. Even if it is a small set, it will contain weak areas that can quickly become strengths. And when I created my own set, much of it contained keywords and their associations. A good example would be high availability. Knowing which services promote high availability will serve you very well on any AWS exam. How about fault tolerance or eventual consistency, or any number of other keywords. As you move forward in your studies you can compile a petty big list of keywords and their associated services. Just be careful when you take practice exams or the real test to read the question carefully and make sure there isn’t a twist in the question to change the answer. But if you know the keywords and the services that apply to the keywords, you’ll also know the services that don’t apply to the keyword.
Strategies for crushing your exam
I recall when preparing for the Associate level exams that I was always working towards taking a practice exam to see where I stood and if I was prepared for the real thing. And the Linux Academy practice exams are certainly a good indicator of readiness. But there should be more to it than a score. You will have less than 2 minutes per question on the actual exam. For a majority of the questions, that is plenty of time. But there will be questions that certainly push the limit and maybe go over the limit.
Time management is the other benefit of taking practice exams. Know how much time you have per question, set your milestones throughout the test, and practice hitting your milestones. The added benefit is that as you become more prepared for the test and spend less time on questions you will easily hit your milestones (just as an example, 20 questions in 30 minutes). But set your own milestones and make sure they are reasonable and don’t place added stress on you.
As I’ve already stated, I don’t spend a lot of time on the more difficult questions until I absolutely have to answer them at the end. So if I see something about a question I don’t like, I quickly mark it and move on. This goes a long way toward making sure you stay on schedule and hit your milestones. And as you do this you become more confident, more relaxed, and a relaxed mind is a smart mind. How you practice is how you will perform on the real exam. So make a plan, hit your milestones, practice good habits and techniques, and you will be ready to crush the real exam!
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