How I recommend studying for the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam

Studying for the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam? Keep reading for what to expect as Janeice DelVecchio and I share our tips for passing the exam on the first try *and* making the best use of your time. Also see:

 

Official Study Guide/Outline

Amazon has two pages that describe the AWS Cloud Practitioner exam. While they are mostly the same, they link to different versions of the whitepapers they recommend you read!

The current exam page links to the 2018 versions of the whitepapers. (It also links to the study guide pdf that still references the older versions of the whitepapers.) The older exam page links to older whitepapers. The older one also includes a 2012 paper that they no longer recommend. We aren’t 100% sure, but we think Janeice got a question that was covered in the newer versions of the whitepaper and not the older one.

In any case, be sure to read the exam PDF that covers the format and what to expect.

Janeice & Jeanne’s Study Guide

If you only get one thing out of this post, I hope you download this PDF!

Janeice & Jeanne’s AWS Practioner Study Guide

Videos

  • Starting with this unofficial 34 minute video helped us tailor our study. If you prefer learning by reading, skimming our study guide serves the same purpose. If you prefer learning by video, this is a brief one!

Free practice exams

  • Amazon offers 10 questions with the study guide. They represent the easier end of difficulty of questions on the actual exam.
  • Whizlabs offers 20 questions free They also represent the easier end of the questions on the actual exam.

Optional: Whizlab mock exams

Janeice and I both like learning from mock exams. We both recommend Whizlabs ($15 for 3 practice exams) if you do as well. Whizlabs gives you information on the right/wrong answers and groups your score by category as well. It covers about 75% of the topics on the exam.

Personally, I find that actually exercising my brain to think about the material in a sample exam format helps me more than anything else. It also lets me use the questions as a sort of “flash cards.” Finally, as a mock exam author myself, thinking about questions this way, really gets me focused on the key points!

Other resources that we used (tried to incorporate into study guide where possible)

Other resources that exist (but we don’t recommend)

  • Amazon offers a 30 minute online exam for $20. There’s only 20 questions, so that’s a lot of money per question!
  • Udemy mock exams – I bought this for $10. (The price seems to range from $10-15 depending on the discount of the day.) At first, it seemed better than Whizlabs because there were twice as many exams. While the English isn’t great, that didn’t impede learning. The reason for not recommending it is that some of the questions were *way* out of scope for the exam. It’s one thing to ask harder questions to “toughen you up” for the exam. It’s another to distract you by asking about concepts you don’t need to know.
  • ACloudGuru – This is a course with video and quizzes. It’s $100. That’s what the exam costs. I think taking the exam and failing would be a better investment of $100 because at least you’d know what to study! It’s Scott recommends this site heavily. It’s also available for $29/month. There is a 7 day trial. I’d want to save that in case I ever want to take the associate exam though! While I haven’t used this site, it appears better for the associate level where it includes mock exams.

How I studied for the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam

This post describes how I studied (and passed) the exam. It is not how I recommend studying. Also see:

Constraint 1: Why I took the exam in such a rush

  1. In early January, my employer told me I had to take this exam in the first three months of the year. (Scott suggested I ask if I could take the associate instead. Given the constraints in this post, I don’t think that would have been a good choice!)
  2. In early March, I’m giving two conference presentations (a full day lab that I’ve never given before) along with a separate presentation that includes Java 12 (which isn’t even final yet so requires reading.) Later in the month, I’m going on two trips with the FRC (FIRST Robotics Challenge team.) And when I get back, I’m putting the finishing touches on being Volunteer Coordinator for the NYC FRC competition in April. So I clearly don’t want to take the exam in March!
  3. The third week of February, the FRC robot is “due”. The programmers get the most time with the robot leading up to that so I want to spend as much time and energy in the lab as possible. And right after that, I have to get ready for the early march conference. So I clearly don’t want to take the exam in February!
  4. Finally, on January 3rd, Oracle has posted on Twitter that
    @jeanneboyarsky @thewiprogrammer @javacert New Java certs coming in early 2019. We hope to have more to post soon!
    I don’t know Oracle defines “early 2019”. But once the OCA 11 objectives come out, I want that to be the only cert exam in my head!
  5. All this means I was heavily motivated to take and pass the exam as soon as possible.

Constraint 2: Why I wanted to minimize my study time

Amazon/AWS has four levels of certifications:

  • Foundational
  • Associate
  • Professional
  • Specialty

The higher you go in the list, the harder the exams get and the more experience you have. The Foundational exam describes itself as targeting:

useful for individuals in technical, managerial, sales, purchasing, or financial roles who work with the AWS Cloud

That’s quite a span of skillsets. Which suggested to me what the exam would either be easy or a pile of memorization. (Spoiler: it was the later).

Given that the exam is only $100, I decided to take it quickly. I’d either pass or know what to study for a retake. While I passed on the first try, I don’t think it was by much. Also, Janeice DelVecchio took the exam a week before and scared me into studying more. Which is good. I absolutely would have failed with my original plan!

Constraint 3: Videos are not my preferred mechanism for learning

Most of the exam materials around are videos. I don’t like learning from videos. I like learning from either reading or something interactive. The Amazon videos were even worse for me than your average video, but more on that later.

This means I used a suboptimal study plan to avoid having to watch seven hours of video.

How I actually studied

Here’s how I studied along with my comments on how long I spent on each step and commentary. (not including time spent writing the study guide or these blog posts) Remember to see the linked post if you want to see which resources I actually recommend. I’m posting this because it was hard to find out what anyone actually *did* to study or how long they needed. (Remember I take mock exams really quickly when reading this!)

For the official videos, I read the transcript and then clicked through every few minutes to find the demos to watch. I did watch one video in full because there was no transcript. It was hard to pay attention. There’s no option to view at a faster speed. Watching a cartoon to read to me is not my idea of optimal learning.

While I’m complaining about the official videos, lack of speed up wasn’t my biggest problem. Amazon has the videos set up to pause if you go to a different browser tab. So if becomes difficult to search for more detail while the lecture is going on. And they send you two emails for every video you view.

DayWhat Studied/How longComments
1/8-1/11Read three whitepapers and comparison of support plans listed on exam page
Spent: 6 hours? (didn’t time this, but I know how long my commute is)
The whitepaper listing all the services is long and dry. It covers over 200 services. I should have found out which services were important before reading. The other readings were good even as a starting point.
1/12Unofficial 34 minute video with suggestion on how to study and overview of the most important services.
Spent: 20 minutes
I don’t like learning from video, but Janeice strongly recommended this. It was good. And at least youtube allows you to watch videos on 2x speed.
A number of people have reported getting more than 12% of the questions on billing/pricing.
Started Study Reference
1/13Started creating list of all services
Spent: 90 minutes before abandoned
Realized there were 150+ services and this wasn’t useful.
1/13“Watched” official video: Cloud segment
Spent: 10 minutes
Read the transcript instead of watching the video.
1/13Udemy mock exam #1
Spent: 40 minutes
Clearly I wasn’t ready yet. But I wanted to do one a day to focus my studying and treat them like flashcards.
1/14“Watched” official video: Pricing
Spent: 10 minutes
Read the transcript instead of watching the video.
1/14Did free official 10 questions and Whizlabs free 20 questions
Spent: 30 minutes
Since it was less than a week to the exam, I wanted to get another point of view on what I should be trying to learn
1/15Udemy mock exam #2
Spent: 40 minutes
Still nowhere near ready, but skipping a day would invite all the material to fall out of my head.
1/16“Watched” official video: Security
Spent: 10 minutes
More transcripts
1/16Udemy mock exam #3
Spent: 40 minutes
More practice
1/17“Watched” official video: Architecture & bonus materials
Spent: 40 minutes
I actually watched the bonus materials video in full. This one had a presenter who was actually interacting with the content. Figures that the video I liked the best was out of scope!
1/17Udemy mock exam #4
Spent: 40 minutes
At this point, I was starting to feel ready. (I wasn’t. This was an illusion because all the available practice materials were easier than the exam.)
1/18Watched” official video: Core services
Redid all end of video questions
Spent: 2-3 hours
This freaked me out. I did significantly worse on the end of video questions than after my first attempt proving I didn’t retain the important stuff.
1/18Udemy mock exam #5
Spent: 40 minutes
Don’t take this one. It has so much out of scope material, that all it does is scare you!
1/19Udemy mock exam #6
Spent: 40 minutes
This wasn’t as scary as exam 5 but it also had a lot of stuff that was out of scope
1/19Redid exams for muscle memory/review
Udemy mock exam 1-3
Amazon’s 10 practice questions
Whizlabs 20 questions
Repeated end of chapter questions until I had them memorized
Spent: 3 hours
This was helpful. Both to review facts and get things loaded into my short term memory the morning of the test.
1/19Skimmed study guide one final time
Spent: 15 minutes
Last minute subconscious

Other studying – I have no idea how much time I spent with these:

  • Studying from my study guide: I brought my study guide with me everywhere the day before the test. I looked at it on and off on the subway and at the 5 hour robotics meeting. I don’t know how much time I actually spent looking at it. I also carried around pieces of it at robotics meetings earlier in the week.
  • Verbalizing facts – I added some facts I needed to memorize to conversations to help retain them.
  • I had signed up as “backup” at the Toastmasters meeting two days before the exam. The day before that, i was assigned a speaking slot. On the subway ride home that night, I wrote a speech that was “sort of ” an entertaining story about clouds, mentoring, speaking and Amazon keywords. I wasn’t able to deliver it without notes because it had the flow of Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole. But again, I was saying the keywords out loud which makes them more memorable.

How I did on the mocks

Many people find it useful to compare how they are doing on mock exams to how someone else did to see if they are “ready” and gauge studying.

There are multiple scores for each representing multiple attempts.

SourceScores
Cloud concepts video100%
100%
Core services video60%
80%
100%
Security video50%
40%
70%
100%
Architecture video60%
100%
Pricing & Support video56%
77%
100%
Amazon official free 10 questions90%
100%
Whizlabs free 20 questions85%
95%
Udemy mock #1
81%
92%
Udemy mock #2
71%
98%
Udemy mock #3
72%
87%
Udemy mock #4
82%
Udemy mock #5
60%
Udemy mock #5
68%

Jeanne’s experiences taking the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam

Yesterday, I took and passed the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam. Also see:

Registering for the exam

Registering was pretty easy. You enter your zip code and it tells you the next available exam date of the nearby centers. You can click on each one to see actual dates/times. There were both weekday and weekend choices which was nice.

The exam center

I took the exam at “Forest Hills Brainseed.” Being able to walk to the venue was nice because I could leave “unnecessary objects” at home!

The center had a locker for your stuff. You hold the key during the exam. They weren’t strict about what you put in the locker. I kept my credit card and tissues in my pockets. (Some centers have made me empty my pockets.) The center keeps your drivers license while you are in the exam room.

Like most exams, you are entitled to a writing utensil and something to write on. This center uses paper and pencil. I haven’t gotten physical paper at an exam in ages. It was *so* nice.

This center also provides ear plugs which I didn’t need.

The center had two rooms of 10 computers each. My room was less than half filled, but it was still hot. Luckily, I wore a short sleeve t-shirt under a sweatshirt so could just remove my sweatshirt.

The actual exam

The software didn’t log me in at first. The center had me change computers and then it worked.

After 22 minutes, I had completed my first pass of the exam and was 100% confident on 44 of the answers. (Passing is a little higher than that.) Luckily I was 50% confident of others. I did some more review but turned it in with about 50 minutes left. (I always finish cert exams quickly.)

After you click “End test”, you get 6-9 survey questions. Then you get your pass/fail result. One to five days later, you’ll get an email with your actual score. (Janeice and I both got the score one day later). Given that this is a pass fail exam, the score isn’t important to me. That said, I did get a good score – 895 (out of 1000)

How to view your score

  • Sign in to the AWS Training and Certification Portal.
  • Click the ‘Certification’ tab.
  • Click the ‘AWS Certification Account’ button.
  • Click “Previous Exams”
  • Click “Download” on the right hand side