I procrastinated taking the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certifications for more than a year after passing my first one. So I finally decided that if I were going to get the AWS Certifications, I would do it as fast as possible. I ended up passing 7 AWS Certification exams in 7 weeks. This is what I learned.
Don't get me wrong. Certifications alone won't cut it. You have to know the subject material, but more importantly, you must have experience. In fact, to pass these certifications, especially this quickly, you should already be very familiar with AWS, systems, and security as well as have:
- 2 to 3 years of working experience with AWS
- Considerable systems experience, especially in scaling
- Experience with core building blocks like EC2, VPC, and S3
- A love of IAM policies
Here are the seven back-to-back AWS Certification exam dates:
- SysOps Administrator, Associate - April 26, 2018
- Developer, Associate - May 3, 2018
- DevOps Engineer, Professional - May 10, 2018
- Security, Specialty - May 17, 2018
- Big Data, Specialty - May 24, 2018
- Cloud Practitioner - May 29, 2018
- Solutions Architecture, Professional - May 31, 2018
Note: Before starting this challenge, I had already passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect, Associate exam on February 8, 2017.
If you look at the order of these tests closely, you see that I took the Cloud Practitioner exam near the end. Of course, most people should take this test first, but it just worked out that way for me.
Weekly Schedule Overview
For each of the seven weeks, my schedule was:
- Sunday, Monday, Tuesday practice tests and study the missing answers, which took me 2 to 3 hours each day.
- Wednesday was a mental rest day.
- Thursday was Test day, and each averaged 130 to 170 minutes. After the test, I would schedule the one for the following week.
- Friday and Saturday were a celebration.
This was a grueling schedule on top of my regular 40-hour workweek plus time with my family. The plan isn't impossible, but it does require commitment.
I took practice tests on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays and studied the questions that I answered incorrectly. I used the Whizlabs practice tests.
The study time for each of the practice exams:
- Associate exams: 2 hours 10 minutes
- Specialty exams: 2 hours 50 minutes
- Professional exams: 2 hours 50 minutes
After each practice exam, I spent about another hour reviewing the results. In the end, I had taken 12 practice exams and spent over 43 hours studying.
Are you ready for the exam?
Once you pass the Whizlabs taps with 75% or greater, you should be good to go. You are not going for perfect. You don't need an A. This isn't high school honors. This is pass-fail. For the scores, my lowest passing score was 72%, with my highest being 85%?
I am fortunate to have a couple of testing locations near me. One of the places where I tested was horrible. It was in an old building with noisy window air conditioners that cycled on and off. And, you had to be escorted to the bathroom. It was quite a contrast to be taking a high-tech exam in such a rundown facility! But, as I said, I'm fortunate to have a choice. So, research your facility before you go if you can. Find an authorized AWS testing site at Pearson or PSI Online.
Update (2020-08-01): You can now take online-proctored certification exams. But, and it could be a giant BUT, you can not take any breaks, including trips to the bathroom or have any family interruptions. So before signing up, read over their 5 tips for taking an online proctored exam.
- Cloud Practitioner exam: 90 minutes
- Associate exams: 130 minutes for 65 questions
- Specialty exams: 170 minutes for 65 to 80 questions
- Professional exams: 170 minutes for 80 questions
(1 90) + (2 130) + (2 170) + (2 170) = 1,030 minutes
My total time was 970 minutes, or just over 16 hours. If you're checking the math against the full test time, you notice that I came in under the scheduled time. No, I didn't rush through these tests as quickly as possible. However, since I took the Cloud Practitioner test near the end, I finished it in only 30 minutes. I recommend using the allotted time for every test.
And, after each test on Thursday, I scheduled the next exam. By the way, if you fail an exam, you must wait 14 days before you can retake the test, but no limitations exist on the number of attempts. You receive the test results immediately upon completion of the exam, in addition to an email confirmation.
My costs were as follows:
- WhizLabs Practice exams: $105
- Cloud Practitioner exam: $100
- Associate exams: $150
- Specialty exams: $300
- Professional exams: $300
So, for the 7 exams, I spent $1,705.
Recommended order of certification
I admit that I followed an unconventional order to the exams, but I have a lot of experience with AWS. Therefore, when people ask my advice, I suggest the following order because a fair amount of the content is duplicated, and each exam builds on the previous one.
NOTE: At the time, I took the certifications the associate level was required before taking the professional. Since this is no longer the case, I have marked the associate certifications as optional.
- Cloud Practitioner
Taking this certificate should be super easy if you already have experience with AWS. I recommend taking it, however, because it will provide exposure to the exam format, you can scope out the testing facility, and you earn an easy badge.
- Solutions Architecture - Associate (Optional)
- SysOps Administrator - Associate (Optional)
- Developer - Associate (Optional)
- Security - Specialty
Security is part of all the exams, so focus on it sooner rather than later.
- Big Data or Advanced Networking or Machine Learning - Specialty
Take these in any order you want, based on your experience.
- DevOps Engineer - Professional
- Solutions Architect - Professional
What happened next
The Professional Systems Architecture test wasn't my final test. The following week, I took the Advanced Networking exam, but I didn't pass for a few reasons. First, my study schedule didn't work out for a couple of reasons. Second, WAN networking is not an area, and a lot of the network specialty is about direct connects and WAN routing. And finally, I was tired of studying. Studying, on top of everything else, was grueling, and I was ready for a break. So, I only took one practice test instead of three, and I did poorly on that one.
In a way, this failure validated my approach for passing the exams and that Whizlabs tests are a good benchmark. I highly recommend them. If you continue to check my math, I spent $1,900.
Not everyone needs AWS certifications. But if you decide to take the exams, follow my suggestions for studying, so you don't waste your money.
Footnote: The details contained in this article were accurate when first published in May 2019. Please see the AWS website for the latest information.