AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Beta 2019 — My Impressions

This Monday, November 4th the brand-new version of the “AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate” exam was released. Because my AWS certification expires next June, I decided to take advantage of the beta offering, refresh my knowledge, and challenge myself with a new version of the exam. While waiting for the exam results (for beta it could take up to 90 days) I decided to describe my impressions, share some preparation materials, and help you decide if you are ready for the new version.

What changed

In comparison to the exam I took four years ago, I noticed the following changes with the new one:

  • More emphasis on storage optimization. A lot of questions about storage classes, S3 life-cycle policies, and S3 versioning. Use case questions that test an ability to pick between block, file, and object storage. Questions about Amazon FSx, which is a new storage service — I hadn’t heard about it until I sat for the exam.
  • Questions about Lambda and Fargate. The questions were mostly about choosing the right options between Lambda, Fargate, and EC2. No questions about technical details for Lambda and Fargate.
  • Almost no deep container questions. There was only one question that asks about ECS configuration. Almost every use case presented on the exam talked about layered applications that are slowly becoming legacy now.
  • More networking. There were a lot of questions related to NAT Gateways, use cases of Direct Connect, PrivateLink, and Peering.

How to prepare

This time, I decided to be a bad student and did not spend too much time preparing for the exam. I reviewed documentation and watched some re:Invent videos. If you have been using AWS daily for at least several years and are simply re-certifying, rigorous preparation isn’t necessary. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to spend some time studying. Check out the section below for a list of resources that will help you prepare most effectively for the exam.

Official exam guide

At the time of writing this report, this is the only official resource for the certification. There are no practice exams, LinuxAcademy, or ACloudGuru courses. You can download the exam guide here. In the study guide, you can see that the 4 test domains, or “pillars” of the “AWS Well-Architected” framework, are resiliency, performance, security, and cost-optimization.
More details about “AWS Well-Architected” framework is here

Documentation

The problem with documentation is that it covers every aspect of each AWS service in as much detail as possible. This level of detail is not something that is useful on the AWS Solution Architect Associate exam. As a starting point, I suggest the following docs:
https://d1.awsstatic.com/whitepapers/architecture/AWS-Security-Pillar.pdf
https://d1.awsstatic.com/whitepapers/architecture/AWS-Reliability-Pillar.pdf
https://d1.awsstatic.com/whitepapers/architecture/AWS-Performance-Efficiency-Pillar.pdf
https://d1.awsstatic.com/whitepapers/architecture/AWS-Cost-Optimization-Pillar.pdf
https://d1.awsstatic.com/whitepapers/architecture/AWS-Operational-Excellence-Pillar.pdf

The following pages will be also very helpful since there were a lot of questions covered by this material:
https://aws.amazon.com/fsx/
https://docs.aws.amazon.com/AmazonS3/latest/dev/storage-class-intro.html
https://docs.aws.amazon.com/vpc/latest/userguide/what-is-amazon-vpc.html
https://docs.aws.amazon.com/vpc/latest/peering/what-is-vpc-peering.html

Breakout sessions from re:Invent

During my previous exam experience I noticed that use cases described during the breakout sessions on re:Invent are sometimes presented as exam questions. This makes sense as people who speak on stage often contribute to the exam questions. It’s not possible to watch all the sessions — but in general, the more sessions you watch, the higher your final score will be. Following this rule helped me to achieve 8 AWS in the past. Recordings of almost all re:Invent sessions are available on YouTube

LinuxAcademy and ACloudGuru courses

Even though I mentioned that there are no videos yet, both LinuxAcademy and ACLoudGuru have decent preparation materials related to the previous version of the exam. Since there were no groundbreaking changes introduced, it’s ok to use old videos to prepare for the new version of the exam.

Final word

I see that AWS is moving forward and slowly updating their exams with new services and technologies. Having a new exam isn’t a revolutionary change. Yes, there are new services — but it is still the same good old AWS Certified Solution Architect. Whether you are new to the industry or an expert who needs to refresh knowledge, this exam is the perfect fit. The beta is still in progress — so don’t miss your front seat ticket. If you decide to try, get back to me and share your feelings.

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