Proven AWS Study Guide

AWS Solutions Architect Study Guide

I achieved my AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate certification back in September of 2020. You can check out my badge here. I wrote about my experience on Medium and my blog but wanted to share my actual study guide so that others can get certified just like me. I'd recommend checking out my first post on getting AWS Solutions Architect certified to decide if you're ready to commit to studying. The test isn't easy and there are no quick paths, getting certified requires 80-120 hours of studying and even then there's no guarantee you'll pass. I spent 7 months studying, for a total of around 100 hours and felt shakey during the test. I'm listing my study guide at the bottom of the article but read my explanation of it in the paragraphs below. You should also feel free to adjust this guide as needed. I came to AWS with some serverless knowledge so I spent very little time studying those services. If you have specific AWS service knowledge you'll be able to skip some study time in that area.

One final note about the Solutions Architect exam. Remember to make sure you're doing this for the right reason, it's hard work and the purpose should be to build knowledge. There are quicker and easier ways to get a promotion or pay raise and that's not even a guarantee. When I completed my exam I got a congratulation from one person on my team, no pay raise, and no promotion but what mattered to me was the knowledge I had gained on using AWS. That's the mindset I recommend bringing to this exam, one of I'm bettering myself not one of I'm getting promoted.

lightbulb in a thought bubble

Overview of AWS Course (10-20 hours)

This is one area you can save some time depending on your AWS knowledge. If you're new to AWS this step will probably take the full 20 hours if not longer. I used A Cloud Guru (not affiliated) for this and thought it was good but a little overpriced. The course updates often. By the end of the course, I had a good grasp of what services are on the AWS Solutions Architect exam. The quizzes and tests they provide were much easier than what you can expect to see in the actual AWS certification exam. My advice here is to power through this course, don't get hung up on any section or quiz. Make sure you understand the content but then move on. The take away from this part of your journey should be that you know what services the Solutions Architect exam will be testing you on.

White Papers (5-10 hours)

I see a lot of study guides recommending reading the white papers but I avoided these for the most part. I did read the AWS Services Overview whitepaper that lists every AWS service with a brief description.This one is valuable for getting exposed to all the random services that aren't covered anywhere else. My thinking was that if I ran into any of those random services on the exam I'd be able to remember them from this paper.

I also read the AWS Well-Architected Framework paper. I see this one recommend in almost every study guide and for good reason. To me, this white paper is the foundation of AWS. It drives home the reasons for using a cloud provider. Any exam questions on this paper are freebies related to "why use the cloud" but it's essential to an AWS Solutions Architect. If you can't explain the 5 pillars provided in this paper it's going to be hard to convince others you know the cloud.

magnifying glass

FAQ's (20-30 hours)

I spent a little too much time studying these but they do contain a lot of great information, I'd say read the FAQ of every service you feel 80 percent or less confident on. If you can absorb the AWS FAQ information it will save you some re-reading during the Tutorial Dojo step. I had a hard time retaining all the FAQ information due to how dry it was. If you also have this problem keep reading, the information will stick after a few re-reads. Pay close attention to the description paragraph, pricing information, durability and uptime, and any unique features of the service. The unique features of a service sounds vauge but as you study more you'll pick up on them. Unique features are things like S3 having read after write consistency, or what the different EBS volumes are best for.

The FAQ's are the area that came back to bite me in the exam. Every question and every detail in the FAQ's is fair game, I promise you'll run into some obscure question that makes you wonder who the hell knows the answer but the answer is somewhere in an FAQ. This is why I spent so much time reading the FAQ's. At the end of the day, each FAQ is a massive block of information it's impossible to absorb it all, but do the best you can. Take your time with the FAQ's but realize that at a certain point you'll have to say good is good enough and move on.

Tutorial Dojo(30-40 hours)

This is the secret weapon right here, I’m not affiliated with Tutorial Dojo the material is that good. I can’t recommend their practice tests enough. The tests are brutal, the hardest ones I took during my studying, like demoralizingly hard. By the time I reached this step, I was already 60 some hours into studying and I still failed all these tests. There are only 6 tests provided so treat these like precious nuggets of knowledge. Take one test and, regardless of passing or failing, read every single answer and the attached notes. If you fail, retake the same test a day later when the information has faded some. Keep repeating this process until you pass the test then move on to the next test and repeat. I got through about 4 of these tests using that strategy before I decided I was ready for the real exam.

The score I was making on these practice tests was the score I ended up getting on the real exam. Don't get cocky here! You’ve studied a lot but if you keep getting 70’s on these practice tests you’ll get a 70 or worse on the real exam. The value of Tutorial Dojo is the difficulty is very similar to the AWS Solutions Architect exam.

Use this step to find your strengths and weaknesses. I found I was missing Aurora questions so I took a day to read through the Aurora FAQ. I also noticed I almost always got serverless questions right. I was able to use this knowledge on the AWS exam to speed through serverless questions and spend the time I saved double-checking Aurora questions.

Limit yourself to one test a day. This simulates some pressure to pass the test. I always wanted to pass the test so that I could keep moving and I knew I only had one chance to pass every day. The test only takes about two hours so I would review the test answers I missed for the rest of my study time that day. If you’re doing a thorough review this should take up your entire time allotment of studying if not several days. Many weeks I would take the test on a Saturday morning and end up reviewing that test all week.

The Study Guide

Establish a baseline:

  1. Introduction to AWS style course, preferably with some kind of checkpoint quiz and final test
  2. Read the AWS Well-Architected Framework white paper
  3. Skim the AWS Services Overview

Dig deeper into the common services:

  1. Read FAQ on EC2
  2. Read FAQ on Lambda
  3. Read FAQ on Elastic Load Balancer
  4. Read FAQ on EBS
  5. Read FAQ on EFS
  6. Read FAQ on S3
  7. Read FAQ on Storage Gateway
  8. Read FAQ on Aurora
  9. Read FAQ on RDS
  10. Skim DynamoDB documentation
  11. Read FAQ on VPC
  12. Read FAQ on Route 53
  13. Read FAQ on Kinesis
  14. Read FAQ on Identity and Access Management
  15. Read FAQ on Key Management Services
  16. Read FAQ on SNS
  17. Read FAQ on SQS

Start Tutorial Dojo Practice Exams:

  1. Take 1 test a day during this step
  2. Re-read notes of any questions you got wrong
  3. Re-read the FAQs of any services you are consistently missing
  4. Move on to the next test after you get 80%

Go Ace the Exam