How to Pass 9 AWS Certifications in 14 Months

Here is how I passed 9 AWS certification tests in 14 months. Oddly the practice testing is not the most critical step. All of these steps are needed. Let me know if you try them out and how they work for you.

tldr: Process

  1. Be clear on WHY you are taking the exam(s)
  2. Set a goal of WHICH exam(s)
  3. Set a goal of WHEN
  4. Register for the exam
  5. Tell everyone about the exam
  6. Take PRACTICE tests
  7. Pass the exam! 🎉

Why

A WHY is important to keep focused and make sure you optimize for the outcome you are looking to achieve.

I would not recomend this challenge for someone who thinks they will get a job out of it, or a promotion. I did find it useful to understand a broader array of the AWS service offerings and it forced me to nail the basics.

At a past job, as a way to challenge myself and my team to dive into studying AWS I took on the challenge of passing all the AWS certification exams within 12 months. I used some elements of Ultralearning (a strategy for aggressive, self-directed learning) which I was reading at the time.

My WHY was:

  • Create a forcing function for me to learn AWS better
  • Inspire my team to learn AWS better
  • Test some techniques of Ultra Learning

Which

AWS is constantly changing the line up of their certifications. Depending on the current offering and your skills you may want to pick a different starting point.

I only picked the next test or two at a time. This was my order:

  • Developer - Associate
  • SysOps - Associate
  • Solutions Architect - Associate
  • Big Data - Specialty
  • Security - Specialty
  • Machine Learning - Specialty
  • Advanced Networking - Specialty
  • DevOps Engineer - Professional
  • Solutions Architect - Professional

In general I would recommend completing all the Associate level before moving onto the Specialty. With one exception, I found the Networking Specialty exam the hardest of any of the exams. I managed to pass the first time I took it but only barely. Unless you come from a Networking background (I installed networks as a summer job in high school and admin'ed a call center and corporate lan/wan first job out of college) jump first to the Professional certifications then circle back to complete the Advanced Networking.

When

Pick a date that gives you a realistic chance to do it, but not so far out that it has no sense of urgency.

For me the WHEN was usually 4-8 weeks out from when I was scheduling. At the time I had to take the tests in person which meant getting a time slot that was convenient for my schedule. It took about that amount of time for the center to have a slot I wanted.

Register

Picking a date is only real if you then register.

For me my employer paid for any certification tests I took. Also, after I passed the first one AWS issued discounts on future exams.

Tell

This is probably the most important step. Tell everyone. Tell anyone. This is the equivalent of tying your self to the mast.

For me the TELL was scheduling it on the office calendar and announcing each exam to my colleagues. In my personal life it meant scheduling with my wife to coordinate childcare and usually having a play date. This meant I had multiple sets of people who were going to ask me the outcome of the test. Don't underestimate the power of feeling embarassment in going back on your assertions with your family, friends or colleagues.

Practice

You now have no choice but to pass. Better get to it :)

For each certification I purchased a collection of practice exams. I then did the following exam process for each of the three practice tests:

  • If I don't have uncertainty, continue to next answer
  • If I have uncertainty about an answer
    • Pick the answer I think is most correct
    • Make note of the question number
    • Go research the answer. It is best to read the AWS documentation. All questions are derived from the docs so all the answers must be in the documentation.
    • Reread the question and check if I still think my initial answer is correct
  • Once complete the practice exams would give my score, they would also give me the option of looking at each wrong answer.
  • Re-read each question I got wrong.
  • Read the practice exam's description of why the correct answer is correct.
  • Read the documentation link from the practice exam's description of the correct answer.

Repeat for all three practice exams.

The first exam usually would take 4-6 hours of work till the process was complete. Often I would break this across two study sessions. The second exam got faster, usually taking 2-4 hours. I could usually get the third down to 2-3 hours.

This whole practice process usually took me about 2 weeks.

Pass

This was my process for taking the test:

If I confidently know the answer:

  • Select the answer.
  • Reread the question, then double check just the answer.
  • Note: often the answers can be exactly the same except for a single negation of part of the answer.

For the intro level tests there is usually one answer (possibly two) that is clearly wrong. If you can confidently eliminate one or two answers, then select the one that seems the best.

If I don't have confidence in the answer:

  • Keep a list of the questions I'm not certain about
  • Eliminate at least one answer
  • Select the best answer from the remaining 2-3 answers
  • Move on

Once I completed all questions I would run through the same process with the list of questions I'm not confident on the answer to. I would continue the process till I ran out of time or I eliminated all questions from my list.

Pass!

I'm sure you did great. Let me know what you think @seekayel

Cheers.