How I recommend studying for the AWS Associate Developer Exam

Studying for the AWS Associate Developer Exam? Keep reading for what to expect as I share my tips for passing the exam on the first try *and* making the best use of your time. Also see:

Choosing the Right Associate Exam

There are three Associate level exams. The Architect and Developer exams have a lot of overlap. The Sys Ops one is very different. Which means those reading this page are probably deciding between the Architect and Developer exams!

If you look online, different people will say each of the associate exams is the “hardest”. The problem with “hard” is similar to the problem with “easy”.

In a nutshell, I’d say developers will probably find the developer one more interesting. Those with a networking or architecture background will probably find the architect one more interesting. Another tip is to look at the ACG (A Cloud Guru) outline for the architect and developer exams to see which you find more interesting. For example, Dynamo was one of my favorite topics and VPCs one of my least favorite so Developer was clearly the right choice!

Official Study Guide/Outline

Amazon’s main AWS Associate Developer exam page gives an overview of what is on the exam and links to the official exam guide pdf.

The exam prep page links to the two hour exam readiness video.

Jeanne’s Study Guide

My study guide is meant to supplement your other study resources – especially ACloudGuru!

Jeanne’s AWS Associate Study Guide

If you are reading this in Sept 2019 or later

There’s an official study guide book coming out!

A Cloud Guru (ACG)

  • The A Cloud Guru developer course is excellent. It contains good videos, practice questions and a mock exam. It is free for 7 days and costs $30 for the next month. Just remember to cancel before the month is up so you don’t get billed for a second month.
  • See my blog on how ACG prepares you

Amazon’s free questions

  • The official Architect practice questions are relevant to the Developer as well.
  • The official exam readiness video has the official Developer practice questions.
  • If you’ve taken another AWS exam (like the Practitioner), you get to take a 20 question timed practice exam for free. Go into the cert dashboard using your login to get a coupon code for this.

More free practice questions

How I Studied for the AWS Associate Developer Cert

This post describes how I studied (and passed) the exam. It is not how I recommend studying. I got a 809 (with passing at 720). I needed more hands on experience and experimenting to score higher. Just like the Practitioner, I got “meets competencies” in all areas.

Note: I missed the email about my score being available. I got it by going to “previous exams” in the AWS Cert console and downloading my score report.

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

  1. In early January, my employer told me I had to take the AWS Cloud Practitioner exam in the first three months of the year. I did and here’s my thought process in planning for the practitioner . Scott had suggested I ask if I could take the Associate instead. I was busy and decided not to. Shortly after that, I found out my employer wanted me to take the Associate exam in the first six months of the year. Oh well, so much for not taking it.
  2. February and March aren’t good for me because of robotics and speaking at the DevNexus conference. April I’m traveling at least one and hopefully twice. In May, I’m speaking at Oracle Code (but that one’s local and a talk I’ve done before). And in June I’m traveling again and the Java track lead for QCon New York.
  3. In January, Oracle has posted on Twitter:
    @jeanneboyarsky @thewiprogrammer @javacert New Java certs coming in early 2019. We hope to have more to post soon!
    It seems like this will be any day now. We are running out of early 2019! And once the OCA 11 objectives come out, I want that to be the only cert exam in my head!
  4. So I gave it another go at trying to get the AWS Associate cert done before Oracle publishes the Java 11 objectives. And I did it!

Constraint 2: Why I wanted to minimize my study time

My original plan: Given that the exam is only $150, I decided to take it quickly. I’d either pass or know what to study for a retake.

My updated plan: Some people online scared me into thinking the exam was crazy detailed and I did some extra studying the week of that I hadn’t planned on. You do not have to memorize APIs for the exam. This “advise” was unwarranted.

Constraint 3: Videos are not my preferred mechanism for learning

Like with the practitioner of the exam materials around are videos. I don’t like learning from videos. At least A Cloud Guru does a good job with the videos.

The actual exam

I spent 40 minutes going through my first pass and 10 minutes on my second. I take exams quickly so the absolute times aren’t the point. The 40 minute figure was just under twice as long as the first pass for the Practitioner. So if you didn’t have a boatload of extra time when taking the Practitioner, you’ll need to practice with mock exams to get faster, look for buzzwords, etc.

How I actually studied

Unlike the Practitioner, I didn’t keep track of how much I studied. It was a lot though. Maybe 3-4 times as much as the Practitioner level Although I’d say about 25% of that was unnecessary.

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.

See below the table for what I thought about each of these.

DayWhat Studied/How long
2/1-2/16Read Packt Book
2/10-2/16Start A Cloud Guru videos
2/17-2/19Brought my study notes to robotics lab and memorized key facts
2/20-2/22Recover from robotics
2/23Two mocks from Packt book and resume ACG videos
2/24Finish A Cloud Guru videos, do free official sample questions for architect, watch official developer readiness video
2/25Free unofficial questions online, ACG mock exam simulator (two attempts)
2/6Whizlabs trial and exam 1
2/27Read exam FAQ, do official practice exam, Whizlab exam #2, ACG Simulator
2/28Read whitepapers linked from exam guide
3/1Re-read my study notes, ACG simulator, Whizlabs #3 and #4,
3/2Whizlabs exam #5, All ACG end of module questions, final review of my study guide

A Cloud Guru (ACG)

Scott had told me A Cloud Guru (ACG) was the best resource nad he was right. There are well designed videos, review questions and a mock exam simulator.

The videos have a number of important features:

  • Can adjust speed from .8x to 2x. I watched most videos at 1.5x speed and some at 2x speed.
  • The videos are designing around retaining information
  • Each video is short.
  • Many videos are labs that you can follow along with (muscle memory). I did about half the labs and watched the others.
  • Each module ends with key points
  • Each module ends with practice questions
  • They update the videos periodically to keep them current.

You can do the review questions for each module multiple times and it randomizes the order each time.

The mock exam simulator gives you a few different questions each time. But most are the same. I wish there was a way to get all the questions. This was the only thing I didn’t like about them.

There’s also a forum where you can ask questions if you get stuck. You can also read about the experience of others with the exam. However, this caused me to overstudy! People posted as if ACG didn’t prepare you sufficiently for the exam. I dsagree. See my blog post as to why.

AWS Official Sample Questions

It’s traditional to have some free sample questions for an exam. Oddly, Oracle’s vary extensively for the Associate level.

  • Architect – There’s a nice PDF with the sample questions and answers. Since there is a lot of overlap between Architect and Developer,
  • SysOps – There’s a PDF of free sample questions. However, there are no question number or answers.
  • Developer – Instead of a PDF, the questions are in an official “exam readiness video” I have a few issues with this.
    • There’s no transcript or speed up so you have to watch them. (You could just skip the lecture parts and go straight the video, but the content itself is good. Also, it’s a lot of clicking to just do the questions.
    • Since the questions are organized by topic, knowing the topic gives you an advantage. A PDF wouldn’t do that.
    • The video attempts to explain how to use the process of elimination on answers. It’s a sound idea and works in some cases., In others, they say things like “you can eliminate D because it’s not the answer we are looking for”. That’s not a reason you can use on the test to eliminate something!

Official Practice Exam

The official practice exam from AWS is $20 for 20 questions. Unless you already hold an AWS cert. Since I already passed the practitioner, it was free. The questions were good practice, but definitely not worth twenty bucks!

Packt Book

I don’t recommend Packt’s AWS Developer book. It targets the previous version of the exam and costs $50 (which is a lot for a cert book). I bought it so I could study on the subway. It did save me time in that I remembered the content from the A Cloud Guru videos faster. But so does my study sheet (now) and that’s free. So it’s not that it was bad. It just wasn’t worth $50. (That said if you work with me and want to borrow it, stop by!)

The Packt mocks were more like a review of the book and less like exam questions.

Free Questions Online

My Study Notes

Bringing my study notes around with me did help me use free moments to study. Even in the robotics lab where I didn’t have a lot of time.

On some level, this was the equivalent of putting something under your pillow and hoping you retain it. But I did pick up my notes periodically during some downtime and memorize things. So it wasn’t useless. And I certainly used the notes shortly before the exam!

Whitepapers & FAQs

The whitepapers and FAQs were recommended my Amazon. Maybe for people not doing the ACG course? They were also recommended by people in teh ACG forums. Maybe those trying to get a perfect score?

Whizlabs

Whizlabs has been good in the past. In fact, Janeice and I even recommended them for the Practitioner. In this case, I was disappointed.

Nineteen or twenty of the 20 questions from the official AWS practice exam appear to be copied word for word into the Whizlab free sample exam or the Whizlab paid practice exam #1. There were also at least a few questions that appear to be copied word for word from ACG questions. I reported this to both AWS and ACG.

It’s unfortunate, because the questions were helpful in preparing. And some clearly were written by Whizlab staff. But some weren’t and that’s a problem.

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
ACG Basic IAM100%
86%
ACG EC292%
100%
ACG S367%
87%
ACG Lambda73%
91%
ACG Dynamo92%
88%
ACG KMS100%
75%
ACG Other Services78%
91%
ACG Developer Theory
100%
84%
ACG Advanced IAM
100%
100%
ACG CloudWatch
100%
100%
ACG Simulator72%
82%
86%
89%
Packt Exam #1
80%
Packt Exam #2
64%%
Whizlabs free80%
Whizlabs Practice Exam #1
77%
Whizlabs Practice Exam #2
74%
Whizlabs Practice Exam #386%
Whizlabs Practice Exam #474%
Whizlabs Practice Exam #572%
AWS Free Architect80%
AWS Developer Official Readiness70%
AWS Developer Official Practice Exam90%
TechTarget70%
CloudThat50%
CloudWorks63%
VMExam70%
Thinkific60%

Does A Cloud Guru (ACG) prepare you for the AWS Associate Developer exam?

I thought I was ready for the AWS Associate Developer exam. Then I went into the forums of A Cloud Guru (ACG) and panicked. Reading the forums, you need to know a lot more than what ACG covers, read whitepapers, read FAQs, have tons of hands on experience, etc.

That wasn’t my experience. I can think of a few reasons for this discrepancy.

Target score

If you are aiming to pass, ACG has enough. If you are aiming to get a perfect score, it does not. Luckily, I was aiming for a pass.

Un-scored questions

There are un-scored questions on the exam that Amazon is piloting. By definition, these are likely to be things that are hard/aren’t covered. And this is ok. They aren’t scored. But seeing a question on X, doesn’t even mean X is in scope for the exam.

Scenario Questions

Scenario questions tell a story. Like any good word problem, the are extra words in the question that don’t affect the answer. For example, “Suppose you are working on a Docker application and want to store the source code in a repository. Which do you use?”

Yes, this question mentions Docker. But it isn’t *about* Docker.

Distractor Answers

Similarly to the previous item, an incorrect answer doesn’t mean the question is about that. So if AWS Neptune is an answer, it doesn’t mean the question is about databases, let alone graph databases.

Logic

Sometimes you can figure out a question from what you do know. For example, “Suppose you are building an application with technology Foo and it runs too slow. What can you do to speed it up: a) reduce memory b) add ssl c) add an index d) none of the above”

You should be able to tell that the answer is C without knowing what Foo is. (Which is good because I made it up).