I recently had the great achievement of earning two AWS certifications (Practitioner and Solutions Architect Associate) in the span of one week. In this post I will share the experience of studying for both exams at the same time.
The Begining of the Journey
At the time of writing, I have five years of software development experience; of which I have just over two years working directly with AWS. In that period, the scope of my knowledge in AWS was limited to services used on a day-to-day basis as a software developer (services such as EC2, Dynamo, SQS, Lambdas…)
I took the logical decision of starting with the entry-level exam - which is Practitioner. Upon studying, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling happy on a personal level about the content of the exam. Since I had more hands-on knowledge, studying for Practitioner felt shallow and a waste of time, of sorts.
With that, I came up with the idea of taking SAA exam, which is way better aligned with my career planning and has content more aligned with what I wanted to learn as a professional. As a bonus, I could recycle the knowledge acquired in this process to take the Practitioner certification!
Practitioner vs Solutions Architect Associate
It was interesting to compare the content of the two exams to find out how similar the two exams were. Comparing the exam guides, it’s possible to notice that more or less 70% of their content is similar. Some of Practitioner content that is not covered in Solutions Architect Associate: a few services, AWS Well-Architected Framework, best practices and advantages of using the cloud, AWS Support, Shared Responsibility Model, among others.
Let’s Do It!
With the objective set, it was left to select sources to use on my studies. AWS has many services and each one of them has its particularities, so it was very important to find a course that remains within the scope of the exam and that delivers an interesting level of depth in the content.
Based on that feeling, I used Sthephane Maarek’s courses on Udemy. These courses are very focused on explaining the content that is covered by the certifications in a succinct and didactic way. In addition, Sthephane provides the slides used in the course, which are very helpful for a quick review of the content or for remembering some key concepts. I watched all the SAA videos, taking the quizzes at the end of each chapter. When was all said and done, I had a pretty bad revelation when I went to take my first practice exam: I sucked!
Learning How to Learn
Since I hadn’t studied in “serious mode” for a while, let’s just say I was rusty. In this study process I realized something curious about myself that I had not noticed before: I have difficulties learning by watching videos, or absorbing content orally. It was a shock for me to realize that I couldn’t retain much of the content - which yes, is extensive in itself, but I had this reality check when realizing that I have this extra difficulty and that I would have to change my combat strategy.
I applyed a technique that ancient dinosaurs used: I did a review writing down concepts in a notebook, which helped me to carry out a synthesis of each of the topics. Another trick that helped me was formulating mental scenarios: For example, what would I use to connect my on-premises infrastructure to AWS? Having this critical thinking and associating the content with my daily reality helped me a lot to assimilate the contents. Finally, in addition to the courses, I also used the AWS Whitepapers and FAQs, which helped me Answering questions I didn’t even know I had!
With that, I made a total of 7 practice exams. The grades started low (I was getting around 50-60% on the first practice exams), but then gradually increased, reaching 70-80% on the last attempts. Another interesting detail that helped me was reviewing the practice exams well and understanding why the right answer was right and why the incorrect ones did not work for the context of the question. In total, I believe I studied one month, with sessions of more or less one to two hours a day. It was also essential to take breaks and review already seen content in the interval of each week for fixation.
Ready, Aim, Fire!
And in the blink of an eye, exam day arrived! I did SAA first and Practitioner on the following week as a bonus round. I chose to take the exam at home and found out that the process is very smooth, as I had a quiet space available to take the exam - which I scheduled for 7am precisely so that there was no chance that I was going to get distracted by external noises. The exam was easier than the practice exams, which is great - better to be super-well prepared than underprepared. I think the worst part of all this ordeal was nervousness around the process of taking the exam and waiting for the result.
Then, after 24 hours, the email arrived with my badge and the approval result. 🥳🎉
With the first certification taken, I took the 6-day interval to study to take the Practitioner. I hadn’t focused on the topics before this week as I found the content manageable over this one week period. It was easy to memorize the content, but I confess that I was very tired of cramming content 🥲
After SAA, taking Practitioner was a piece of cake! The result came out instantly - no suspense this time. And that’s how I got my first two AWS certifications!
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