Cracking the AWS certification exams: How to prepare

Aug 05, 2021 - 14 min read
Erin Schaffer
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Amazon Web Services, or AWS, is an online cloud platform that provides a variety of cloud computing products and services, such as database, networking, developer tools, IoT, and much more. With cloud computing in such high demand, many companies are looking for developers with strong cloud knowledge to help bring their organizations to the next level.

AWS offers a variety of different certifications that will help you build your skills so you can get more out of the cloud. Since AWS is the most popular cloud provider on the market today, getting AWS certified will help you advance your career, boost your resume, and grow as a developer. Today, we’re going to dive deeper into the topic of AWS training and certification and discuss certificate types, benefits of being certified, exam prep, and more.

We’ll cover:


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What is an AWS certification?

AWS is the leading cloud provider on the market today, and it provides valuable, industry-recognized certifications to help you further your career. An AWS certification demonstrates that you have experience with the AWS platform, its services, and its technologies. It shows hiring managers that you can maintain and implement AWS services, products, and technologies into a company’s workflow.

AWS offers training and certification by role and specialty, which allows for a lot of flexibility within the field of cloud computing. The demand for cloud engineers is high and only continues to grow. Over 80% of hiring managers say that cloud certifications make applicants more desirable. Not only will a certification make you more desirable to potential employers, but it will also broaden your career opportunities and most likely will result in a significant pay increase.

Other popular cloud providers include Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. AWS has the largest market share out of the three providers. Many companies today implement multi-cloud infrastructures. If you have experience with another cloud platform, an AWS certification will still benefit you.

Benefits of being cloud certified

A cloud certification shows potential employers that you have strong technical skills, cloud skills, and knowledge of the cloud. It demonstrates that you have what it takes to support and optimize an organization’s cloud needs. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of becoming cloud certified:

  • Demand: As of 2020, over 80% of organizations had at least one application running on the cloud, and 93% of businesses had a multi-cloud infrastructure. Since so many companies are taking advantage of the cloud, there is a huge market for developers with cloud expertise and experience.
  • Growth: Cloud certifications can boost your demand and significantly increase your pay. In 2020, the average salary for developers with cloud computing certifications was $136,659.
  • Flexibility: Cloud certifications aren’t specific to the tech industry, so you have the ability to change your path whenever you want. Additionally, there are many different certification types, so you can showcase your skills in many different areas of the cloud.
  • Impress potential employers: Cloud certifications give employers a way to benchmark your skills against industry standards. You can use your certification to sell yourself as a candidate and to have concrete evidence of your skills.

What types of certifications are available?

AWS currently offers 11 certificates that fall into four different categories: foundational, associate, professional, and specialty. Each category and certification is geared towards a different type of person and requires different background knowledge and experience. The pricing of the certification exams ranges from $100-$300. Let’s dive deeper into the four categories and their certifications.

Foundational

A foundational-level certification is ideal for you if you have about six months of fundamental AWS cloud and industry knowledge. Your preferred knowledge would be an understanding of the cloud, cloud migration, and how AWS works at a higher level. There are no prerequisites for this certification, but six months of experience is recommended. AWS currently offers one certification at the foundational level.

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification is intended for anyone with basic knowledge of the AWS platform. This certification is good for you if you have minimal experience with AWS cloud, but you want to gain more experience and a deeper understanding of it. The exam validates your ability to do the following:

  • Explain the importance of AWS cloud
  • Understand and explain the AWS shared responsibility model
  • Understand AWS security practices
  • Understand AWS costs, economics, and billing
  • Describe the main AWS services
  • Identify AWS services for common use cases

Associate

The associate-level certification is ideal for you if you have about one year of experience using AWS cloud to solve problems and implement solutions. Certifications at this level cover skills such as deploying hybrid AWS systems, hands-on AWS application design, building secure AWS applications, and more. AWS currently offers three associate certifications.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect

The associate-level AWS Solutions Architect certification is intended for people in a solutions architect role. This certification is good for you if you have hands-on experience designing secure, high-performing, scalable systems using AWS. The exam validates your ability to do the following:

  • Design solutions by following architectural principles and using AWS services
  • Provide performance guidance based on AWS best practices

AWS Certified SysOps Administrator

The AWS SysOps Administrator certification is intended for system administrators in cloud operations roles. This certification is good for you if you have hands-on experience with deployment, management, networking, and security on AWS. The exam validates your ability to do the following:

  • Manage workloads and systems on AWS
  • Manage incidents
  • Support and maintain workloads within the AWS architecture
  • Implement architectural requirements
  • Perform disaster recovery
  • Perform operations using the AWS Management Console and AWS CLI

Note: The SysOps Administrator certification is considered to have the most difficult associate certification exam. It’s recommended that you finish the associate-level certifications before moving on to the professional-level certifications.

AWS Certified Developer

The AWS Developer certification is intended for people in a developer role. This certification is good for you if you have:

  • One or more years of hands-on experience with AWS applications
  • In-depth knowledge of at least one programming language
  • Foundational knowledge of the core AWS services
  • The ability to use AWS service APIs, CLI, and SDKs to write applications
  • Etc. The exam validates your ability to do the following:
  • Understand core AWS services, uses, and architectural components
  • Demonstrate the ability to develop, deploy, and debug cloud-based applications using AWS

Professional

A professional-level certification is ideal for you if you have about two years of experience using AWS cloud to design, operate, and troubleshoot solutions. Certifications at this level cover skills such as cost-optimization, monitoring and logging AWS systems implementing scalable systems on AWS, and more. AWS currently offers two professional certifications.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect

The professional-level AWS Solutions Architect certification is intended for people who are in a solutions architect role with two or more years of experience working with systems on AWS. This certification is good for you if you have:

  • Familiarity with Windows and Linux environments
  • The ability to explain and apply the five pillars of the AWS Well-Architected Framework
  • Experience with architecting continuous integration and deployment processes
  • The ability to evaluate cloud application requirements and make architectural suggestions
  • Familiarity with AWS CLI, APIs, CloudFormation, Billing Console, and Management Console
  • Etc.

The exam validates your ability to do the following:

  • Design and deploy scalable, available, fault-tolerant, and reliable applications on AWS
  • Select and implement relevant AWS services to manage an application
  • Migrate complex applications on AWS
  • Implement cost-control strategies

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer

The AWS DevOps Engineer certification is intended for people who are in a DevOps engineer role with two or more years of experience working in AWS environments. This certification is good for you if you have:

  • Coding experience in at least one high-level programming language
  • Experience building automated infrastructures
  • Experience managing operating systems
  • An understanding of development and operations processes

The exam validates your ability to do the following:

  • Implement and manage continuous delivery systems on AWS
  • Implement and automate security controls, management processes, and compliance validation
  • Deploy monitoring, metrics, and logging systems
  • Implement available, scalable, and self-healing systems on AWS
  • Design, manage, and maintain tools to automate operational processes

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AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam Prep


Specialty

A specialty certification is ideal for you if you have about two to five years of experience and advanced knowledge of AWS in a particular specialty area. Specialty certifications cover skills such as designing and maintaining Big Data, using AWS to automate data analysis, designing secure machine learning solutions, and more. The specialty certifications dive deep into their individual domains. They are designed for someone with many years of hands-on, professional experience. AWS currently offers five specialty certifications.

AWS Certified Advanced Networking

The AWS Advanced Networking specialty certification is intended for people who have five or more years of experience performing complex networking tasks. If you’re looking into this certification, it’s recommended that you already have the Cloud Practitioner certification or one of the associate-level certifications. This certification is good for you if you have:

  • Advanced knowledge of AWS networking concepts and technologies
  • Experience working with advanced networking architectures and interconnections
  • Developing automation scripts and tools
  • Experience with CIDR, sub-netting, and IPv6

The exam validates your ability to do the following:

  • Design and maintain cloud-based solutions and network architectures with AWS
  • Leverage tools to automate AWS networking tasks
  • Implement core AWS services

AWS Certified Data Analytics

The AWS Data Analytics specialty certification is intended for people who have at least five years of experience with data analytics technologies and at least two years of hands-on experience working with AWS. It’s recommended that you have experience and expertise working with AWS services to manage analytics solutions.

The exam validates your ability to do the following:

  • Define AWS data analytics services and understand how they work together
  • Explain how AWS data analytics services fit in the data lifecycle

AWS Certified Database

The AWS Database specialty certification is intended for people who have at least five years of experience with database services and technologies and at least two years of hands-on experience with AWS. It’s recommended that you have experience and expertise working with on-premises relational and non-relational databases.

The exam validates your ability to do the following:

  • Understand and explain the differences between key features of AWS database services and technologies
  • Analyze needs to suggest and design relevant database solutions using AWS

AWS Certified Machine Learning

The AWS Machine Learning specialty certification is intended for people who are in a development or data science role. This certification is good for you if you have:

  • One or more years of experience working with ML or deep learning workloads on AWS cloud
  • The ability to explain basic ML concepts and algorithms
  • Experience performing hyperparameter optimization and working with ML and deep learning frameworks
  • The ability to follow model training, deployment, and operational best practices

The exam validates your ability to do the following:

  • Select and justify relevant ML approaches for businesses problems
  • Identify relevant AWS services to implement ML solutions
  • Design and implement reliable and secure ML solutions

AWS Certified Security

The AWS Security specialty certification is intended for people who are in a security role with at least two years of hands-on experience securing AWS workloads. This certification is good for you if you have:

  • Experience working with security controls for AWS workloads
  • At least five years of IT security experience designing and implement security solutions

The exam validates your ability to do the following:

  • Understand and implement specialized data classifications, data protection systems, data encryption methods, and secure internet protocols using AWS services
  • Experience with production deployment using AWS security services
  • Ability to make relevant decisions regarding cost, security, and deployment

Note: For more in-depth information about each certification, you can visit Amazon’s Training and Certification website.

What types of jobs benefit from an AWS certification?

There are many jobs that benefit from an AWS certification. Not only will an AWS certification make you more desirable when applying for roles at Amazon, but it’ll also make you more desirable for roles at many other companies.

Let’s take a look at some of the most relevant and in-demand jobs along with their average salaries:

  • Solutions Architect, $130,000
  • SysOps Administrator, $130,610
  • DevOps Engineer, $122,670
  • Advanced Network Engineer, $126,900
  • Cyber Security Engineer, $137,822
  • Machine Learning Engineer, $150,579

How to prepare

The AWS certification exams are known to be difficult, so it’s very important that you engage in some kind of certification training prior to your exam. Let’s take a look at some ways that you can prepare for your exam:

Familiarize yourself with exam structure and content

Use Amazon’s provided exam guides to familiarize yourself with the exam structure. There are different exam question types, such as multiple-choice, multiple-response, and exam labs. The exam guides for each individual exam will outline what types of questions you’ll see on the exam along with detailed information about the content of the exam. It also explains the scoring for your exam.

Training courses

There are free and paid training courses that you can use to help you prepare for your exam.

AWS whitepapers and FAQs

For each individual exam, AWS attaches the relevant documentation. You can use these resources to develop a deeper understanding of some of the concepts that will come up on your exam.

Attend webinars

AWS hosts online and in-person events that help you learn more about different aspects of the AWS cloud. There are many webinars you can attend to help you develop a deeper understanding of the certification exams.

Practice the sample questions

Use the provided sample questions to gain a clearer understanding of what kinds of questions will appear on your exam. These practice documents also come with answers.

Take a practice exam

There are many practice exams available online. Take advantage of these resources!

Practice exam questions

The questions you’ll practice will depend on the certification you plan to get. We took a look at some of the certification sample question guides and pulled some questions from them. Sample questions include:

Foundational AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam

How would a system administrator add an additional layer of login security to a user’s AWS Management Console?

Associate AWS Certified Solutions Architect exam

A customer relationship management (CRM) application runs on Amazon EC2 instances in multiple Availability Zones behind an Application Load Balancer. If one of these instances fails, what occurs?

Professional AWS Certified DevOps Engineer exam

A company is using AWS CodeBuild to build its application. Company policy requires that all build artifacts be encrypted at rest. Access to the artifacts must be limited to IAM users with permission to assume the operations role. How can these requirements be met?

Specialty AWS Certified Machine Learning exam

A data scientist uses logistic regression to build a fraud detection model. While the model accuracy is 99%, 90% of the fraud cases are not detected by the model. What action will definitively help the model detect more than 10% of fraud cases?

Note: Check out the AWS sample question guides for additional questions and answers for your exam.

Wrapping up and next steps

An AWS certification will help you advance your career, boost your resume, and grow as a developer. The exams are designed to be difficult, so it’s important to take an appropriate amount of time to prepare for your exam. To practice for the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam, check out Educative’s AWS course AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam Prep. This course will help shortcut your study time and help you maximize your chance of passing the exam on your first try.

By the end of the course, you’ll be prepared to crack the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam. Once you get your certification, you can add it to your resume and LinkedIn to stand out from the competition!

Happy learning!

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WRITTEN BYErin Schaffer

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