The AWS Solutions Architect Professional exam (SA Pro) is known as one of the most difficult IT certifications to acquire. It’s also one of the most sought-after certifications in the industry. It certainly lives up to its reputation.
It’s challenging. Trust me. I know this firsthand.
In August 2019, six months after I joined the Onix team, I successfully passed the test. Because the experience is fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share a couple of important lessons I learned that will help you prepare for and pass the exam, too.
First, here’s some context to help you understand the knowledge and experience I had going into the test. I've worked in IT, mostly in a technical sales capacity for over 10 years. This has been mostly on the networking and data center side of the field, so I am not a developer. I have very little experience writing code.
I’ve also worked with Amazon Web Services solutions for about five years, achieving the SA Associate certification in 2015. As a result, learning advanced material around VPC, VPN, Direct Connect, and EC2 was easier for me than more dev-centric topics like DevOps tooling, Kubernetes and CloudFormation. These were areas where I had to increase my study efforts for the AWS Solutions Architect Professional exam.
Here are my two top takeaways from the experience:
1. Use a Powerful Digital Training Platform
As far as online training platforms go for this exam, there are several choices out there that you can use. You also can attend on-site, live training options through the AWS training partner community.
I always have focused on the benefits of multiple training platforms to provide a wide range of practical training. My favorites to use in preparation for taking the SA Pro certification were always Adrian Cantrell’s Linux Academy and A Cloud Guru’s training program. I used both of these in tandem when I got ready to take the exam myself as each covered different areas and complemented each other.
That said, I’ve had to change my rhetoric a bit. In December 2019, A Cloud Guru acquired Linux Academy and launched a new training catalog in August 2020. From an AWS training perspective, the combined platform now integrates the best of both platform’s training strengths.
You learn how to address specific questions with their appropriate answers and also a sound methodology for breaking questions into manageable parts. The program also helps you understand the use cases for some of the lesser-known AWS services. It’s multi-dimensional and extremely in-depth in light of this recent platform merger.
When I took the exam, I passed with seven or eight questions to spare. That’s why you really need to go through a really stringent training program, like this newly combined one from A Cloud Guru. I believe this blend of information was the secret to my success. Now you can access the AWS training information from both platforms in one place: A Cloud Guru.
2. Practice Time Management
The AWS Solutions Architect Professional exam spans three hours and consists of 75 questions. That means you have roughly two minutes to answer each question.
While that might seem reasonable, some of the questions are quite long and complex. For a few of the longer ones, the question itself might be three paragraphs. And if each answer is also a paragraph, you will need to have practiced a method for dealing with that amount of reading and writing.
Developing your own method for dealing with this is the key to passing the test. At the end of my test, I had a total of eight minutes of testing time left. That’s not much.
Time management is one of those areas that vary greatly from person to person, so the process I used is what set me up for passing the test. If you are just beginning your journey toward SA Pro certification, I’m hoping my experience can give you a place to start.
How I Took the AWS Solutions Architect Professional Exam
- If the question and answers filled the screen, I immediately skipped it. I didn’t read it or scan it; I moved on. That way I didn’t duplicate the time spent reading a question that I would come back to and read later.
- I then read and answered all of the other smaller questions in the order presented on the test.
- If I couldn’t quickly identify an answer (and feel good about it), I’d take my best guess and flag the question for review later. While some people might be tempted to leave it unanswered, supplying a “best guess” at the answer worked better. It gave me an idea as to “where my head was” when I came back to it at the end. Plus, if I started running short on time, I would have at least selected an answer.
- Once I went through all 75 questions, the test automatically took me back to the first unanswered one. I used this time to reassess how much time and unanswered questions I had left. As an aside, every time that I have taken the test I’ve usually skipped about six questions because of their length.
- Lastly, I answered the long questions — and then reviewed the questions about which I was unsure after answering every other question.
Hopefully, this will help you somewhat with developing a strategy for how to approach the exam. Good luck!
Editor's Note: This blog originally published on Sept. 17, 2019. We have updated information about changes to the study platforms to give you the latest information on preparing for this exam.