How I studied for the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam

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How I studied for the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam

January 20th, 2019 by Jeanne Boyarsky

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%

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