why not to say “it’s easy”; 8 interpretations

I recently took the AWS Practitioner test. When speaking to a number of people who took the exam before me, I heard a lot of “it’s easy.” That simple phrase doesn’t convey much information and has the potential to make people feel bad.

Curious why? Keep reading for the many possible interpretations of “it’s easy”. I’m writing this in the context of a test, but it applies to tasks and skills as well. For example, I find coding “easy”, but many people do not.

Option 1: “It’s Easy; the test covered things I knew”

If someone doesn’t know the material already, he/she will have to study. Which means work and not “easy”.

Option 2: “It’s Easy; there were no trick questions”

Having straightforward questions is definitely easier than trick questions! Saying that conveys more information than “it’s easy”

Option 3: “It’s Easy; the test covered what I studied”

Without knowing what you studied, the listener isn’t likely to have the same experience.

Option 4: “It’s Easy; it’s not technical”

In the case of the AWS Practitioner exam, target candidates include technologists, sales and finance. This means there is a limit to how technical the questions can be. Personally, I like technical questions so non-technical questions aren’t necessarily easier.

Option 5: “It’s Easy; it was mostly memorization”

People vary extensively in their memorization skills. I’m not good at memorizing facts. Understanding things is something I’m good at. Retaining information in a context is also something I’m good at. Remembering random facts, not so much. Which means I’m going to find an exam that focuses on memorization far harder than one that involves coding and rules like the Java certification.

Option 6: “It’s Easy; I forgot how hard it was”

People frequently forget how difficult something seems before they understand or know it. For example, I bet you find it easy to tie your shoes. Now go find a four year old and she if that child finds it easy. This means that an exam is likely to seem easier after the fact. (I *so* wanted to say “it’s easy to forget how difficult…”)

As an author, we constantly need to fight this reason for “it’s easy.” Our readers are unlikely to think everything is easy. We have to remember what it is like to not yet understand the concept.

Option 7: “It’s Easy; I passed”

Sometimes people think that if they can do something, everyone can. Sometimes it comes from how the person views themselves and sometimes from other things. But most exams are set up so not everyone passes. Which doesn’t mean it is “easy” if you passed.

Option 8: “It’s Easy; I want to be seen as smart/knowledgeable”

Sometimes people say something was easy when the person thinks it is hard. The idea is to seem smarter/more knowledgable/more clever in front of others. Like a form of boasting. “Oh, you thought that was hard? I thought it was easy”

In conclusion

There’s at least eight interpretations for what “it’s easy” could mean. So they next time someone asks you how an exam/task/etc is, use more than two words! Conveying actual information will help the person asking. And it will avoid the person feeling bad if it isn’t easy for that individual!

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


  • 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.

Cloud concepts video100%
Core services video60%
Security video50%
Architecture video60%
Pricing & Support video56%
Amazon official free 10 questions90%
Whizlabs free 20 questions85%
Udemy mock #1
Udemy mock #2
Udemy mock #3
Udemy mock #4
Udemy mock #5
Udemy mock #5