AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate Study Guide
What is the AWS Certified Certified Solutions Architect — Associate exam?
The AWS Certified Certified Solutions Architect — Associate (AWSSA-A) is one of 3 certificates corresponding to 3 career paths for personnels working with the AWS platform, including Solutions Architect, Developer, and SysOps Administrator. Each career path has 2 levels of profession: Associate and Professional.
When working on projects utilizing AWS, knowledge obtained from the AWSSA-A exam will give engineers and architects an overall view on available AWS resources and the ability to design and select suitable cloud set-ups for their need per best practices.
You will find knowledge on the test useful when:
- Debug networking issues of your AWS application
- Select the most cost-effective storage option that guarantees high performance
- Route traffic to your applications
- Build serverless applications in the cloud
Amazon consistently updates and makes changes to the exam to ensure it always stays up-to-date with their services, so the information below will only be relevant at the time of this article (2021).
- The AWSSA-A exam consists of 65 multiple-choice questions, each with one or more correct answers
- Time allowance is 130 minutes (an average of 2 minutes per question), with a possible addition of 30 minutes for those who English is not their native language
- The benchmark to pass the exam is 720/1000 points
- You will be tested on a large variety of AWS services
- The exam can be taken at an authorized AWS testing center or at home
There are a wide range of online courses on platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, … that is suitable for people with no previous experience working with AWS:
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate 2021 by A Cloud Guru
- Ultimate AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate 2021 on Udemy
The two I listed above are those I have experienced and highly recommend. What you would want to do is to pick just ONE (yeah, either is enough) of the two courses and spend roughly a month on it. Each of those already covers most of the knowledge you need to ace the exam.
Taking practice exams is an absolutely important part of preparing for any exam. It helps you acquaint yourself with the structure of the test and kinds of questions asked. There are two sources of practice tests that I highly recommend:
Taking 5 or 6 practice tests before taking the real one is generally enough to give you a good sense. Don’t worry if your scores on those tests aren’t good. They are made to be incredibly hard to make the real one easier, so just make sure to review every questions and read about the associated resources.
AWS also offers practice tests but they come with a relatively high price, so I would not recommend if you have a limited budget, but you can purchase them here. If you don’t want to pay for those official practice tests, it’s totally fine, the two I recommended above are enough.
AWS Service FAQs
Per the official recommendation of AWS, you should read the FAQs of the following services:
A few details in these FAQs will come up on the exam, typically 4 or 5 questions.
Amazon has an official study guide book for the AWSS-A exam, but I would not recommend it since it was written a long time ago and many details in the book are outdated.
When studying the courses above, it’s highly important that you set up a Free Tier AWS account to actually do the work in the videos so you will understand the concepts better. Most of the operations you need to do are under the Free Tier, so it would not cost anything. Sign up for an account here.
Additional Useful Documents
- Official exam introduction and sample questions by AWS
- J Cole Morrison’s article on VPC, in which he explains core VPC concepts in an interesting analogy with a city
What is on the exam?
The AWSSA-A exam covers a wide range of services, but you don’t have to have experience using them all. For many of them, you only need to know what they are and when to use them. Listed below are the core services and concepts related to each one that you need to know before taking the exam:
- General: Region, Availability Zone (AZ), Edge location
- IAM: Policy, Role, User, Group, MFA, AWS Directory Service, Resource Access Manager, IAM Certificate Store
- S3: Storage Classes, Transfer Acceleration, Object Lock, Encryption, Versioning, Lifecycle Management, Multipart upload, S3 Select, Cross-region replication, DataSync, S3 Signed URL, Snowball family, Storage Gateway, Athena, Redshift Spectrum, Event Notification, OAI
- CloudFront: CloudFront Signed URL, CloudFront Signed Cookie, TTL
- Data Security and Audit: KMS, Encryption types, Macie, CloudWatch, CloudTrail, WAF, AWS Shields, Cognito, CloudHSM, Parameter Store, Secret Manager
- EC2: Pricing models, Instance types, Security Group, EBS, Instance store volume, Snapshot, ENI, ENA, EFA, Hibernate, Placement group, High Performance Computing (HPC)
- File System: EFS, Amazon FSx for Windows, Amazon FSx for Lustre
- Database: RDS, Redshift, ElastiCache, Backup, Multi-AZ deployment, Read Replica, DynamoDB, Database Migration Service, Aurora, Elastic MapReduce
- Route 53: Record types, Routing policies, Health check
- VPC: Subnet, Network ACL, VPC Peering, Route Table, Security Group, Internet Gateway, Egress-only Internet Gateway, NAT instance, NAT Gateway, VPC Flow Logs, Bastion Host, Direct Connect, Global Accelerator, Site-to-site VPN, VPC Endpoint, PrivateLink, Transit Gateway, VPN CloudHub
- High Availability: Load Balancers, Auto Scaling, Multi-AZ
- Apps: CloudFormation, Elastic Beanstalk, SQS, SWF, SNS, Kinesis, Amazon MQ
- Serverless: API Gateway, Lambda, Lambda@Edge, ECS, EKS, Fargate
The night before the exam, open this article, make sure you have heard of and familiarize yourself with each of the keywords listed above. If that’s the case, you’re all set!
During the Exam
- You can flag questions you feel uncertain about to review at the end of the exam
- The result will be informed right after you click Submit, and detailed score report will be available after 5 days at most
- The questions could be really long and contain redundant information. My strategy is to read the last sentence first (the one with the question mark), then read the available choices, then read the full prompt at last. Doing this would give you a sense of what the question asks for quicker and more direct.
The AWSSA-A is one of the first steps for engineers and architects who wants to learn about and work with AWS. After getting your AWSSA-A certificate, you might want to do the AWS Certified Developer — Associate and AWSSA-Professional exams.
I passed the exam with a score of 811/1000 after nearly two months of study without much previous experience with AWS, during which I took the course by A Cloud Guru and then did 6 practice tests from Jon Bonso’s Udemy course.
I hope this article can assist you in your quest for the AWSSA-A certificate in some ways. Good luck!