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”.
This was my advice when I choose the Developer exam to take first. I completely agree with it now that I’ve taken both!
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!
Checking the version numbers
As of September 2020, the current version is the SAA-C02. I do not recommend using materials for the SAA-C01 unless you are using them in very specific ways (ex: to learn a specific topic)
I wanted to finish working on our second OCP 11 book first. I was ok with taking the AWS cert at the same time we were working on our practice tests book.I find the practice book easier to work on because questions are independent (well mostly) so I don’t need as large a chunk of time to make progress.
I also wanted to wait for the robotics competition season to be over as I was going to busy with that 4/8 weekends in March/April. I turned out to only be busy one of those weekends. Then COVID-19 hit NYC. For the first 11 weeks, I was barely a functioning person. I know some people were able to use those weeks of isolation to study. I am not one of them. it was a miracle I could get up and do my job (well most of it) every day.
In early summer, I still wasn’t considering taking the exam because testing centers in NYC were not open yet. I am not willing to take the exam online. In mid-August, I noticed testing centers were open. I still didn’t feel up to it, but I studied anyway.
I went into the Practitioner and AWS Developer not knowing I’d pass and figuring I’d take it again if I failed. That won’t work here because Oracle announced the 1Z0-819 exam for Java and I’m taking that on 9/26. So this was my only attempt.
What was different at the exam center
There was a sign on the door saying that the door was locked and do not enter. The sign said the proctor would come out at the exam start time (9, 11:30, 1, and 2) to let you in so they could clean. So I stayed outside. A few minutes to 1:00, someone walked right in. I went in and there were 4 people in the waiting room. I might have been waiting outside forever.
Only some exams are requiring a picture. (I don’t remember if AWS did last time either) Mine did not, but people taking a picture did have to remove the mask for a minute
I didn’t have to sign anything.
They took everyone’s temperature before letting you into the exam room. (But not before letting you into the waiting room)
The first computer he was going to assign me to didn’t work. He moved me to a different computer that was right across from someone not wearing a mask (maybe 4 feet away). I said something and the proctor made her put the mask back on.
I was given paper and pencil. (I don’t remember if I was given that for the AWS Associate. I might have been)
Why this was the hardest exam (for me) to study for
While things have been better since Memorial Day, I don’t know if I’d all them good. One of the problems I have with working from home full time during pandemic is remembering stuff. I remember things spatially. And apparently, I can only remember so much that happens in the same place in a day. So during the week, work “takes” all of that. So I’ve found it incredibly difficult to retain anything and had to learn the same things over and over and over…
Last year, I was given a choice of which Associate exam to take. I picked Developer. It matches my background and interests best which makes it easier to study for. Alas, that means this one is harder to study for. I work for a large company. I’m not going to be personally designing a 100 petabyte data transfer or setting up the VPN. So it’s hard to convince myself this is important for me to know.
The practice materials (ex: A Cloud Guru, John Bonso) test you on a lot of details and number. Which suggests you need to know them. At least on my exam, this was not the case. The only numbers that were important had to do with data migration. Luckily, I got enough questions on the topic that I could “reverse engineer” the answers by cross referencing the questions.
I also got frustrated during (practically) every mock exam when I couldn’t remember stuff I knew I “should” be able to. This gave my brain the opportunity to freak about about all the other stuff I’m worried about (going back to a coronavirus winter and the like)
How long was the exam
You get 130 minutes. I used 70 minutes on my first pass. (I had to stop a few times to relax though due to frustration about not remembering stuff I felt I should. I just closed my eyes for a few minutes in the exam center and then continued. I then spent 5 minutes switching answers where I got the answer based on a question later in the exam. Finally, I spent 5 minutes starting to review my answers. I stopped because I was worried about changing a right answer to the wrong answer.
This was a good amount longer than the Associate Developer took me. Probably because there was more reading in some of the questions.
The actual exam
I got 5 questions on one topic (Direct Link and Storage Gateway). I also got two questions on SQS that were almost the same. Luckily this was a topic I felt comfortable answering so I know I got both. But AWS has a big test bank. That doesn’t feel representative. But I didn’t get a ton of questions on VPCs (one of my least favorite topics) so who am I to complain.
As I went through the exam, I noted which questions I was unsure of. The answer was 35. Which was more than half of them. Enough of those I was able to narrow down to two options though so statically I should have come close to passing.
Test taking techniques
Applying test taking techniques definitely helped my score. In particular:
Write down facts that I’m unsure of. That lets me go back to that question if another question in the exam answers them.
Process of elimination. There were *many* questions where you could rule out two of the four answers without even reading the question. For example, there is no such thing as a LIFO queue. (That would be a stack).
Look for keywords in the question. For example, if the question manages cost or performance, you know what to look for.
The surprise at the end
I pressed “End test” and nothing happened. The countdown kept going. Well “something” happened. I could no longer click previous/next or anything else. I showed the proctor. He closed the window and said he’ll look at it. He closed the browser and told me to wait in the lobby, he did something with the computer and said that I passed. I don’t see that from Amazon online yet (it takes a few days) so I’ll take his word for it!
So phew. I don’t have to take it again. However, this meant I was separated from my notes for longer than usual at the end so don’t have as good a grasp of what I wanted to remember from the exam. Luckily I passed so it isn’t that important. Or I should say, I allegedly passes. The proctor saw the “pass” result, not me.
Did I think I passed?
The AWS exams have been interesting in terms of whether I thought I passed when I clicked the “end test” button:
Practitioner – I had no idea -> Passed
Associate Developer – Confident that I passed -> I did pass, but didn’t do as well as on the Practitioner.
Associate Architect – Didn’t think I passed -> passed. (I replied more on test taking skills than knowledge)
Something I learned during the exam
Around the middle of the exam, I learned that the “side effects” of working form home full time during pandemic are going to follow me back to work for a while. It wasn’t as intense as when i was at home practicing, but I definitely felt the frustration of not being able to recall info that I studied umpteen times. Which means when I go back to working at the office, I’m likely to feel the same on information I should be learning now. Sigh.
What I used to study
Wiley’s AWS Associate Architect Kit – Note that I used the version for the previous exam (SAA-C01) even thought I was taking the SAA-C02. I like learning from books. And now that so much of life is online, I’d like to spend less time on the computer, not more. So I figured I could read from the old book while sitting outside and make what I needed to learn on the computer easier. Wiley is publishing a SAA-C02 version of the book soon. The books definitely helped me understand the material even if I wasn’t retaining it as much as I’d have liked. It would have been easier using the right version of the book though. (Note: I write a book in this series for Java)
The A Cloud Guru course – I like that they added subtitles and transcripts to the videos. (And that they’ve always let you speed up the videos). This makes learning from video somewhat better for me. My employer paid for the description. I paid for myself last year and crammed everything I wanted to watch into a month. I did notice the “practice test” had a bunch of questions from each module. Which made it feel like an inaccurate reflection of how I was doing. Also, they added SAA-C02 videos after the course existed. Which means some sections have the original video which says you don’t need to know things or it is the last video in the section when it is not.
Follow on with the labs hands on. I started doing that for the Associate Developer and stopped. It’s a good way to learn the content. It’s a terrible investment of time (for me) to retain stuff for the exam. So this time I didn’t even try.
Play with the A Cloud Guru sandbox. It looks really cool. And I’ll definitely use it when I want to learn something. But studying for an exam requires a different skill set for me.
Read the A Cloud Guru recommended FAQs (S3 and ELB), whitepapers, Re-Invent videos, etc. I did that for the Associate Developer. It was a terrible use of time. They are interesting, but reading a long FAQ feels a little like “read the dictionary; you’ll learn to spell.” That’s why I paid money for a book/etc. To not read everything. Similarly for Java, one could read the entire Java Language Specification or they could read my book. Besides in this case, I couldn’t even retain the stuff in the study guides. Adding more to that pile was never going to help.
What I did the last minute
Since trying to learn the material and get it into my long (or even medium term) memory wasn’t working the day before the exam, I:
Didn’t do anything technical/problem solving at work to store up energy. (One of the parts of my job is to be our team Scrum Master. The day before the exam was sprint planning day so a good part of the day was SM stuff anyway. Then I did some paperwork in the afternoon and left early)
Went for a walk with someone in the neighborhood. (I find that my brain works better when i haven’t been alone for days on end and don’t have that to look forward to)
Read my study notes
Did full mock test in Wiley practice test book
Read my study notes
Do last Wiley online practice test
Watch all the A Cloud Guru summary views and do the practice questions for each section.
Read my study notes
Final Bonso exam
Read my study notes
And the day of my exam:
Read my study notes
Try to convince myself I am ready
Repeat A Cloud Guru challenge exams
Spend two hours at the local park weeding and throwing out trash. (I actually rescheduled my exam from 9am to 1pm to do this). Another thing to help convince my brain things are “normal”
Read my study notes
Walked to exam center. I had to wait. So… read my study notes
Like last AWS exam, I’m sharing my scores because it’s hard to determine if you are ready.
ACG – 10K Foot Overview
ACG – IAM & S3
ACG – IAM & S3 (2nd quiz)
ACG – EC2
ACG – Databases
ACG – Route 53
ACG – VPCs
ACG – HA Architecture
ACG – Applications
ACG – Serverless
ACG – Challenge Quiz 1
ACG – Challenge Quiz 2
ACG – Practice test
Wiley Assessment Test
Wiley Chapter 1
Wiley Chapter 2
Wiley Chapter 3
Wiley Chapter 4
Wiley Chapter 5
Wiley Chapter 6
Wiley Chapter 7
Wiley Chapter 8
Wiley Chapter 9
Wiley Chapter 10
Wiley Chapter 11
Wiley Chapter 12
Wiley Chapter 13
Bonso Test 1
Bonso Test 2
Bonso Test 3
Bonso Test 4
Bonso Test 5
Bonso Test 6
Wiley Practice Chapter 1
Wiley Practice Chapter 2
Wiley Practice Chapter 3
Wiley Practice Chapter 4
Wiley Practice Chapter 5
Wiley Practice Mock Exam
Wiley online practice exam 1
Wiley online practice exam 2
Oracle free sample questions
Oracle official practice exam
And when I studied
7/30 & 8/4
First four chapters of Wiley (was traveling) including assessment test
Wiley chapter 5
Wiley chapter 6
Wiley chapter 7
Wiley chapter 8
ACG Intro + Wiley chapter 9
ACG – 10K foot overview + Wiley chapter 10
ACG – Start IAM & S3 + Wiley chapter 11
ACG – Finish IAM & S3
ACG – EC2
ACG – Databases + Wiley chapter 12
ACG – Advanced IAM + Wiley chapter 13 + Bonso test 1