Certification Tips from an AWS Hero

Certification Tips from an AWS Hero

Tips on navigating the certification process and how to study and then actually take (and pass) the exam.

Published Apr 1, 2024
Earning an AWS certification is a great way to validate your cloud skills and advance your career. You should keep in mind that getting a certification isn't enough to get you a job. You need experience to do a job, and the certification should be seen as validating that experience rather than replacing it.
Also, the exams are challenging and require dedicated preparation. Here are some study tips I've used to get both AWS Professional certifications, the Data and Security Specialities and the (now deprecated Alexa specialty)

Take an Initial Practice Exam

Before you start studying, take an initial AWS practice exam to get a baseline score and identify which areas you need to focus on. The practice exams from sources like Tutorials Dojo closely mirror the actual certification exams in terms of question style and difficulty. Your initial score will likely be low, but that's okay - it will show you which domains need more work.

Take a Class from an AWS Expert

While you can self-study using the free resources on the AWS site, many people find it valuable to take a structured course taught by an instructor who is recognized as an AWS expert. Courses from providers like Cloud Academy and Linux Academy provide in-depth coverage of the exam objectives and include hands-on labs. An expert instructor can explain complex topics and share insights from real-world experience. Personally I'm a huge fan an classes by Adrian Cantril, Stephane Maarek and Neal Davis.

Take Notes by Hand

As you go through your training course or other study materials, take notes by hand rather than typing them. The physical act of writing has been shown to improve learning and retention. Use a notebook or loose-leaf paper, and write down key facts, definitions, diagrams, and anything else that will help cement the concepts. I've become a huge fan of the reMarkable tablet for note taking. The reMarkable is just for note taking, you can't check email on it and it has no browser. That is it's strength ... it doesn't allow you to get distracted. Writing long hand is much slower than typing but that gives your brain more time to incorporate the concepts.

Use GenAI if you are confused

Don't be afraid to ask your favorite chat bot (mine is Perplexity.ai) to explain things to you. Sometimes just reading something that is phrased differently can make all the difference in understanding. Try prompts such as "when should I pick Kenesis Firehose rather than Kenesis Data Streams".

Take Practice Tests in Review Mode

One of the most effective ways to study is by taking practice tests in review mode so you get immediate feedback and explanations. Go through each practice question slowly and use both correct and incorrect answers as a learning experience

Analyze Questions You Missed

For any practice test questions you get wrong, go back and analyze why you missed them. Write out in longhand the reasons your incorrect response was wrong, and explain why the right answer is correct. This reinforces the underlying concepts. Don't just skim over missed questions - dig into them deeply.

Also, dig deeply into the questions you get right!

For each of the incorrect answers you will get a reason why the answer is wrong. You can use the factoid in other questions. If an answer is wrong because Service A can't be a source for Source B, you can keep that in mind for all following questions.

Revise your notes

In the US we say study but in the UK they use the term "revise". The key difference is that studying often just means re-reading your notes which is a rather passive activity. Revising by contrast, involves actually re-writing your notes. You might for example have gotten several questions wrong about Kinesis and the corresponding notes are spread out across multiple pages of notes. Taking the time to revisit these notes and gather them together forms a stronger memory map than just re-reading them all.

Review Notes and Repeat

Repeat this cycle of practice testing and reviewing notes until you consistently score above the passing mark. By following this study plan using practice tests, expert-led training, handwritten notes, and focused analysis of missed questions, you'll build the knowledge required to earn your AWS certification. The effort is challenging but extremely rewarding.

Where to take the exam

Keep in mind that these exams can take over three hours. If you opt for a remote testing experience you must
  • have a completely clear desk
  • no external monitors
  • no food or drink
  • no bathroom breaks - actually you can't even stand up
  • you are not allowed to speak or even move your mouth - because you might be giving information about the test to a hidden recorder.
If you choose this option put a sign on your door saying no interruptions and hope that your kids and pets can read! Your local library might be a better bet for a venue for a remote exam.
If there is an exam center near you that is often a good option. You are allowed a bathroom break and can bring in water (in a clear, sealed bottle).