How to Pass the AWS Solutions Architect Professional Exam

Posted by Joe Langley, Cloud Solutions Architect, - Sep 17, 2019

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, 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 Multiple Digital Training Platforms

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. For this post, however, I’m focusing on the online resources; they’re all I used to prep except for reading whitepapers and watching AWS re:Invent educational session videos.

As far as online training is concerned, there are two major platforms you can use to prepare for SA Pro certification. Both are often hotly debated in the industry: Linux Academy and A Cloud Guru. When you compare the two platforms, that’s usually where the discussion quickly ends.

Linux Academy

Adrian Cantrill’s Linux Academy course (weighing in at over 52 hours of video training) is by far the best resource providing a comprehensive curriculum of all the information you need to know to pass the AWS Solutions Architect Professional exam.

So that’s exactly where I started studying in my journey of becoming AWS certified.

Adrian is an expert at this. It still baffles me how he can cover as much ground as he does in his course. Fifty-two hours may seem like a lot of time to spend reviewing. But once you get a sense of the sheer volume of information included in the exam, you'll see what I mean and realize how necessary it is. I promise you won’t regret the time spent on this program.

A Cloud Guru

But there are other knowledge dots worth connecting along this journey. That’s why I also enrolled in Scott Pletcher’s, A Cloud Guru course, weighing in at a light nine hours.

I quickly realized it was exactly what I needed. It got me even more up to speed.

Scott does an amazing job helping you answer specific questions with their appropriate answers. He also offers a sound methodology for breaking questions into manageable parts and helps you understand the use cases for some of the lesser-known AWS services.

When I took the exam, I passed with seven or eight questions to spare. That’s why you really need to go through both platforms because they truly complement one another through the material each offers. I think the combination of both was the secret to my success.

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

  1. 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.
  2. I then read and answered all of the other smaller questions in the order presented on the test.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

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