AWS Certification: A Brief Study Guide

The AWS Certified Solution Architect logo

Last week, on the 1st of May, Amazon launched their certification program for people working with AWS. I’d gotten wind that this was coming at some point this year a while back, and had decided I wanted to go for it. In fact, achieving an AWS certification wound up on my goals for the year at Datalynx.

As the 1st was a public holiday here in Switzerland, I took the exam bright and early on the 2nd and… passed! Yay! :D

Afterwards I realised there isn’t a whole lot of guidance material out there yet for anyone who’s looking to take the exam as well, so I thought I’d provide a little run down of the preparation I did, aside from actually working with AWS of course. So, here’s my path to certification;

Take the Training Course

The biggest single investment of both time and money I made was on an actual, official AWS training course. Specifically, I went to the “Architecting on AWS” course.

At present these courses are only available in the US, so I wound up going to San Francisco in February. However if you’re after an AWS certification I’d highly recommend this course. The material was great, there were plenty of hands-on activities, and the instructors were excellent (thanks Chris and Joel!).

Actually speaking to the AWS technical people face-to-face help clarify a lot of things for me and was probably the single most useful step I took toward passing the exam.

Read the Whitepapers

While they can be dry and repetitive, the AWS whitepapers do contain a ton of information which is of use during the exam. The ones I read over the couple of months prior to the exam were (in no particular order);

There’s a whole boat load more whitepapers available for AWS here, and I really don’t think you can read too many of them for exam prep!

Watch some Presentations

AWS have a YouTube channel which, once you ignore the highly ignorable marketing stuff and talking heads, is actually stuffed full of very good technical content. I’ve watched a fair few of these video – I find an iPad and Apple TV are great for the longer ones – but I’d call out a couple of good ones in particular;

Read the Exam Blueprint

Normally this would have come first, however as this only came out the day before I took the exam…

The official exam blueprint provides a good run down of the topics and weightings, and some guidance on the format of the exam. It is of course, essential reading for anyone looking to take the exam!

Last Minute Skim Reading

On the train to Zürich, to actually sit the exam, I also did a final skim through some of the product front pages. Particularly the ones for the various SDKs and scripting tools so I’d have an overview of their differing capabilities in my head. I also flicked through the different EC2 instance types, again so I’d have a snapshot of their differing specs/options to refer to.

What Next

Well, get out there and book your exam obviously!

If you’re unsure about which areas you need to focus your study on, I’d suggest taking a punt and sitting the exam. After you’ve finish you get a breakdown of your performance by subject area via email, and personally I always find this to be the best guide on where to study more.

So, good luck if you’re about to sit your exam, and as always, thanks for reading :)


12 responses to “AWS Certification: A Brief Study Guide

  1. Chris,
    Congrats on your success. Unfortunately not everyone can fly to US to attend training. Since you have successfully completed the exam whats your recommendation for students out there doing self-study.

    specifically in your opinion what constitutes as “complete” self study material ?


    • Hi Maliha,

      Well I have heard that AWS intend to offer their courses in Europe, most likely London, at some point this year, if that helps.

      As to self-study, that’s a tricky one.
      I’m not aware of any books or other written material that I’d clarify as a complete substitute for the course. There’s an awful lot of detail covered in those three days!

      So I suppose the white papers would be your first stop. As I mentioned in the post, the more of those you can read the better.
      While AWS don’t publish much on their underlying infrastructure, I’ve come to see OpenStack as a half decent analogue for study purposes. If you can get familiar with OpenStack, I think that would help you build a deeper understanding of AWS as well.

      You should also read up on cloud principles in general, as a solid understanding of this area is really a must, I’d say. Without wishing to be terribly self-promotional, I’m hoping to publish something on this topic soon (I need to get clearance from my company first, as it was originally written for internal use).

      And also, to state the obvious, actually use AWS as much as you can. Even if its just messing around and experimenting with it.

      Hope this helps, and good luck :)

  2. This is the course content. During the class room training, you get to work on live instances which you won’t get for self study. The exam is not that difficult if you have hands on with AWS. Hope this helps.
    ***Link Removed***

    • Hi Aajagar,

      Thanks for the comment. I removed the link to the course content though as when I attended the training we were asked not to redistribute the content, and the copyright statement on the pages says the same thing.
      Sorry, don’t particularly want wrong side of Amazon, hope you understand :)

      As to access to live instances, even if you don’t go to the course the free tier in AWS let’s you run a bunch of stuff, including micro instances, for free for your first year.

      Hope that helps

  3. I just completed the certification. Its not that difficult. But you should have hands on experience on aws. I went for a course on udemy and that was quite useful for me. The curriculum is designed is such a way that you get exposure to almost each and every service that is important. You get familiar with aws.
    I would seriously recommend everybody to go for this course.

    Here is the link to the course:

  4. Congratulation Chris for passing the AWS Architecting eaxam and really appreciate your valuable notes here – Thanks much. I am based our of India and the Archeticting on AWS training is available here. I have already attended AWS Essentials classroom training some time back and looking for attending Architecting next. My company has some partner tie-up with AWS and we used to get the course for free :-)

  5. Here is the older version (v2.5) of Study Guide available public in AWS cloud: [Link Removed]
    The latest one is version is v.3.0 which has a separate Lab Guide as well. Unfortunately, I don’t have this currently and re-distribution is restricted by AWS (as correctly mentioned by Chris)

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