On Passing the AWS Associate Exam

Today I passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect exam at the associate level. I passed it on my first try, which is not what I expected. This article covers things I did and at least one thing I didn’t do which I would recommend for future takers.

tldr: Slay practice exams from multiple providers and you should be gtg. Don’t be surprised if you have to attempt 2-3 times though.

First, I joined a Capital One AWS Cohort. I’m not sure exactly how I caught wind of the existence of this program. I give essentially no credit to this cohort program, which I found to be low-utility. The program did bring the existence of a Capital One partnership with Linux Academy to my attention, and that was somewhat helpful, but Capital One employees can directly utilize Linux Academy through without participating in a cohort.

My key learning tools were personal experience, PluralSight, and Udemy. I have 18 months or so of AWS experience. My experience covers many commonly used products including S3, Dynamo, RDS, EC2, ECS, CodePipeline, IAM, Route53, Cognito, and many others, but there are a variety of specialty services which I had never touched including Kinesis and RedShift. I completed the PluralSight Path for the exam, and all of the sections were excellent with the exception of the poorly done course on cost optimization.

When I was about halfway done withe PluralSight path I began taking practice exams everywhere I could find them. PluralSight’s path is associated with some Kaplan practice exams. Linux Academy has at least one practice exam. Udemy has some as well. My favorite pack of practice exams came from this Udemy course. I can’t recommend it enough due to the high quality of the explanations.

I practiced the Udemy exams for mastery learning. By this I mean I took and re-took the first exam until I scored 90%+ on it, and then I would proceed to the next exam. Once I made it through all of the exams I then took the Linux Academy practice exam. I occasionally re-took prior exams to make sure I was maintaining that information. Once I was scoring 90%+ on all of these exams I scheduled my actual exam. A tip on practice exams: try to take them under even higher pressure compared to what you expect the actual exam to include. Don’t google while you take these exams. I tried to finish well ahead of the allotted time to allow for review time.

One additional practice test source is WhizLabs, which was recommended to my by Kien Do​ within just the past two days. I only completed the practice exam of 20 questions, and I used that same practice exam as a warm-up prior to the exam itself. I recommend it to you, and I also recommend you consider using their larger library of 600+ practice exam questions. I didn’t end up using those, but if I had failed my exam today those would have been a next step for me.

Another thing I did which was somewhat helpful was to look through blog articles of other people who have previously passed the exam, including blog articles from other Capital One employees who had passed the exam.

Here are some of my actual test day tips:

  1. I fully expected to fail the actual exam. Somewhere I heard that the pass rate is around 25% but now I can’t find a citation, so that might be fiction. In any case, it did help lower my stress level to go in fully expecting to try my best, fail, and learn about the experience to help prepare for another round.
  2. Every 15 questions or so, pause for a minute, clear your mind, and take a deep breath.
  3. Use the “flag for review” liberally.
  4. Try to finish with 30+ minutes remaining. Commit to spending 15 minutes reviewing your answers, even if you are confident in the answers.
  5. Sleep well and set the time of the test for your most alert time of day. I set it for 1:30 PM. Make sure hydrate and eat an appropriate meal including non-simple carbohydrates for sustained energy, but don’t overeat. This is not the day for you to be dieting.
  6. Get your nootropic stack in order. In addition to #5 above, take some steps like the below, but keep in mind that I weigh ~190 lbs and I am not sensitive to caffeine:
    1. Drink 2-3 cups of green tea in the morning. Green tea has caffeine but it also has theanine which reduces caffeine jitters and improves cognition along independent biological mechanisms.
    2. Drink 2 cups of coffee for additional caffeine-based alertness.
    3. Drink a 5 hour energy for energy derived from b vitamins. This should positively interact with the consumption of non-simple carbohydrates described in step 5.
  7. Before taking your exam, review 5-20 questions from your practice exams as a quick refresher.
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