Getting AWS Solutions Architect Associate (CSAA) certified is a great first step into the huge world of Cloud Computing. Here’s how I did it in 24 days. (Passed on 12th July 2019 with a score of 924/1000)
Day 0: The Strategy
Prior to beginning my studies, I intended to develop a strategy to crush the exam in the quickest time I could. There were a couple of reasons for that:
- You start forgetting what you had studied earlier.
- AWS technologies updates too frequently, and hence what you had studied could be outdated before your exam.
- Unforeseen events could prevent you from studying and impair your progress.
I began scouring the Internet to narrow down on the resources I wanted to utilize before I begin studying. Of course, I found this:
Full disclaimer, I had already attained AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner before embarking on AWS CSAA. So naturally, I went to find out more about the “Architecting on AWS” course. Turned out it costs over $2000 to attend on my own, and there was no way I’m paying that much money for this. So I looked elsewhere, and I found A Cloud Guru.
Blogs, forums and Reddit seem to maintain that A Cloud Guru (ACG) provides simple to understand lectures and labs for people who are unfamiliar with the cloud. Linux Academy came up quite frequently as well, but I decided to give ACG’s free trial a go before establishing if I want to make a switch.
However, the general consensus from the people who had cleared the exam in the past was that ACG just was not detailed enough. They have had to augment ACG with official AWS FAQs and practice exams.
And with that, my strategy was finalised:
- Lectures & Labs
- Going through AWS FAQs and recommended study material
- Practice exam
Day 1 to 12: acloud.guru AWS CSAA 2019 course
I embarked on the journey with ACG’s fantastic AWS CSAA 2019 course. As the course clocks in around 12.5 hours, I had probably spent approximately an hour a day on average on it. I paused quite often while following the lab lessons as some parts required time to provision or load.
Do not skip any part of the lesson and lab, and don’t forget to take a look at some of the questions other users post at the sidebar. It is absolutely crucial to follow the labs step-by-step, and not just watch Ryan demonstrate it on your screen. Through a hands on approach, confidence and familiarity on every small detail of configuration will be built.
Exam Tips at the end of each lecture will help to reaffirm your understanding. We will be using the Exam Tips again towards the end.
Day 13 & 14: AWS Exam Readiness lecture and Well-Architected Whitepapers
If you haven’t done so, download the Exam Guide and Sample Questions from the official certification preparation page.
I was actually unaware that there was a AWS digital lecture for AWS CSAA exam readiness until I visited the exam prep page again.
I highly recommend going through this free digital lecture, as it will present you a taste of what to expect during the exam.
When that has been done, start going through the Well-Architected Whitepapers recommended by AWS. As it is unnecessary to commit these to memory, just have a quick read through and understand some of the services AWS recommends to tackle the various architecture components.
Day 15 to 19: AWS FAQs and Exam Booking
In my opinion, this was the toughest part of the entire study process. The FAQs are extremely lengthy, dry and boring to read. However, it was essential to cover all the gaps left out by ACG.
I started off with the FAQs recommended by AWS and branched into other services which I felt I was particularly weak at. In the end, I covered the following FAQs:
- EC2 (skipped the parts on the different Instance types)
- Route 53
- DynamoDB (skimped out on this and wished I had studied more)
I also utilized a free AWS CSAA practice exam voucher from my Cloud Practitioner exam a few months back. I honestly did not find it that helpful. Skip this if you do not have the voucher.
I went ahead to book the exam for 5 days later after completing the practice exam.
Day 20 to 23: ACG Exam Tips, Labs & Final Revision
At this point, you should be very familiar with all the AWS core services and possess good understanding of the different options within them. At this point, I followed ACG Ryan’s advice and practiced the VPC lab until I could virtually build one out in my head.
I went back to go through all the ACG Exam Tips once more and re-watched the lessons that I felt I was particularly weak at. If you feel the need to reinforce your learning, always look to that particular service FAQ on AWS.
I have read many comments online on purchasing Whizlab and Udemy practice tests and felt that it was very helpful to passing the exam. I, however, did not purchase or attempt any of them. On the other hand, since I was on ACG subscription, I gave the ACG practice tests (at the end of the course) and the ACG exam simulator a try.
In the end, I did not finish the practice test because I felt that the questions deviated a lot from the content taught and were also largely outdated. I did complete the exam simulator and felt that it was a lot better compared to the practice test. Nonetheless, it was not really ideal in terms of content concurrency.
Day 24: Exam day
On the exam day, head over to the exam venue early and be confident of your hard work over the past few weeks. Bring a jacket in case the venue is too chilly and do not over hydrate yourself before the test.
My strategy during the exam was simple: Do not dwell on a question for too long. If you have any uncertainty, choose the answer that pops out to you first and flag the question. If you follow this approach, you will have more than enough time to revisit the questions you have flagged.
Flag the questions unless you are absolutely certain that it has the clear correct answer. I flagged nearly 20 questions for review during my first run of all the questions. If you follow this approach, it will leave you with sufficient time (I had around 40 minutes) to review the questions after your first run.
You could probably cut your exam prep time even more if you are studying it full time and are able to clear the ACG lessons more quickly.
I don’t intend to stop here. I will attempt the SysOps and Developer associate exam in due time as well. So stay tuned for that.
I wish you luck for your exam and may you pass on your first attempt. All the best!