The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam is the perfect start if you consider getting your first AWS cloud certification. Not only is this certification highly sought after, many consider it one of the most valuable certifications in the entire tech space. According to Glassdoor, the AWS Solution Architect can effortlessly get a six-figure salary in the US. And according to PCMag, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification ranked third in the top 10 most valuable certifications in 2022.
This post can help you understand the certification preparation process, better prepare yourself for the study and provide lots of study materials, exam guides, and links to practice exams. After studying all the suggested materials, you can confidently pass the certification and begin your journey as the AWS Solutions Architect.
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AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate – Exam Overview
How to become AWS Certified Solution Architect - Associate (SAA-C02)
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect course and certification is a very lucrative opportunity because it opens many doors for developers, DevOps, and tech resources looking to get into the cloud and AWS space. A Solutions Architect – Associate certificate on a resume instantly appeals to potential recruiters and employers.
While theoretical knowledge and paid courses are good, nothing beats hands-on experience with compute, networking, storage, and database AWS services, especially for the SA-Associate course. Since this certification is the gateway to being an AWS Solution Architect, one needs to know each AWS Offering, how and when one should use them, and how to use the AWS ecosystem to create infrastructure and environments on AWS.
If you already have experience with the AWS platform, passing the AWS SA Associate certification allows you to show off your achievement and achieve recognition. And you would be pleasantly surprised to pick up some new tips and knowledge regarding AWS during the AWS Certification Preparation.
As with most AWS Certifications, you can attempt the examination in a physical testing center or a virtual test from the comfort of your home. The certification consists of 65 Multiple Choice Questions, which are either single-choice or multi-choice answers. Most questions will be simple; however, some questions are lengthy and describe a scenario of an environment or a configuration, which can take time to read and understand. Word of caution, be careful to have sufficient power and internet backup, as well as a high-spec laptop/PC, as the software can be very taxing on low-end machines.
AWS likes to utilize terms they refer to as Distractors. These are tricky words purposely mentioned in the text of the question to trip up or confuse the applicant. For example, a question could check your knowledge of fundamental cloud computing topics or architect a solution regarding AWS EC2 and lead to choosing the most evident option – EC2 On demand. However, in the text of the question, they will slip in the term Cost Optimized which might change the answer choice to Spot Instances. Likewise, the question might make you think the obvious answer is a Spot instance. Still, the question will have a distractor calling for the solution to be fault tolerant, which eliminates the likely correct option. (Fun fact, when I attempted my AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate, I had flagged 50 of the 65 questions!!) therefore, you are strongly advised to use the entire 130 minutes, use the flag option in the exam browser to mark questions you are concerned with, and revisit them.
AWS Solutions Architect Associate is the entry-level SA certification. Therefore you are asked to be knowledgeable about most of the AWS Services used for creating solutions. You can find a complete list of services in AWS’s exam guide.
So now that you have an overview of the certification in general let’s jump into the fun stuff. How to start learning about the many services and topics that will be covered under the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate Certification
Top Instructor Lead Courses
Nothing beats good hands-on experience for attempting the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate course. AWS recommends at least one year of experience working on AWS, creating applications and infrastructure before attempting the certification. However, even with experience, you will be best served with some study and coaching tailor-made for attempting the certification.
Stephane Maarek is highly recognized in the AWS certification coaching scene. His courses are well thought-out, consistently updated to reflect AWS changes, and cater to various students. No wonder he has around 1.5 million registered students in his courses.
For the AWS Solutions Architect course preparations, We highly recommend his AWS Solutions Architect – Associate Course on Udemy. At the time of writing, the course is available for $16.99 (A discount of 80%). The course is fully updated to include the newer AWS services in the certification. The course touches on all AWS fundamentals, so you can understand the basics if you are starting or brush up on your knowledge if you have experience. The practice labs cover 10+ real-world architectures and keep you excited to progress.
A Cloud Guru is a website most people that have attempted or are trying to attempt a certification will be familiar with. Ryan Kroonenburg has been an AWS hero since 2016, having looked at the absence of good quality coaching material regarding AWS and created Acloudguru to help people learn about AWS and educate people regarding AWS certifications. A Cloud Guru (ACG) has taught more than a million students each year and continues to create new and exciting content for AWS offerings.
The A Cloud Guru AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate course keeps the working person in mind. Most videos span anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. The explained, short, and sweet training videos ensure little to no mental exhaustion while studying, and the exciting, real-world examples pique your interest and get the student involved in the course. The fast-paced courses quickly bring someone up to speed with the services covered under the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification. A Cloud Guru constantly updates the course to reflect changes within AWS so you can be sure that the knowledge you are learning is up to date. Additionally, the course contains hands-on labs where you assemble AWS solutions using the AWS console.
In addition to free hands-on labs, we recommend creating an AWS free-tier account to get even more experience.
Top Self-Paced Courses
Any aspiring applicant to the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate examination will also need to go over AWS Documentation and self-study guides. Luckily we have the resources you need to learn about the course and what is expected in the examination.
AWS provides a list of rules and guidelines titled the “Well-Architected Framework Review.” The AWS WAFR is an essential document all solution architects need to understand and practice to create cost-optimized, secure infrastructure and environments on AWS that are efficient and reliable. You can learn about the Well-Architected Framework review at AWS’s official documentation.
Keenan Romain’s GitHub is a treasure trove of valuable information if you feel you are lacking in one area. It has general information regarding the certification, like exam breakdown and topic weightage.
As always, The AWS Official page for the certification has a lot of helpful material you can use for your self-paced study. From exam guides, sample questions to practice exams (even a mock exam that mimics the real one) are available for free.
Free Training Materials
Not all resources must cost an arm and a leg while preparing for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate training. There are a ton of great, free resources that you can use to supplement training for the certification.
Our top pick is Beau Carnes’s free course, available at freeCodeCamp. Beau Carnes is a software developer and teacher at freeCodeCamp. In his expert course, he runs down AWS major services and guides any students on the proper way to architect applications and infrastructure in AWS using AWS-managed services. The 10-hour course on YouTube is the perfect course to sit back and absorb the knowledge.
The tutorial was released in 2020 and will have some missing information on the newer releases on AWS owning to the videos not getting updated. Using the above resource to supplement your knowledge is recommended rather than focusing all your preparation on them.
If you want to supplement your knowledge of Core AWS services such as S3, RDS, DynamoDB, and EC2, a free course on udemy caters to that. The roughly 2-hour Amazon AWS Core services – EC2, VPC, S3, IAM, DynamoDB, and RDS video tutorial give a crash course on the most used core AWS services and is the perfect free resource for last-minute revision.
As always with AWS Certifications, AWS reInvent is a great source to watch keynote addresses and learn about the new services as they launch. Keynote addresses and demos are delivered by AWS Developers and Solution Architects responsible for creating the services. They provide a ton of value in understanding the reasoning behind creating them and why to use them.
Finally, over 500 freely available AWS resources are available on the AWS Training website.
Hands-on Labs and Practice Exams
Great, you’ve gone through all the self-study and instructor lead courses and are brimming with knowledge and eager to give the certification. Before you attempt the actual certification, it’s a best practice, and strongly advised against attempting practice exams first. A practice exam helps you gauge your knowledge in a controlled, safe environment before the exam and allow you to see which areas you lack.
A tip I’ve learned while preparing for my fourth certification is to use practice exams and see which questions I repeatedly fail. I mark those services and do a once-over on them in the courses and with AWS documentation and whitepapers.
You can find excellent Practice Exams for AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate certification prepared by Stephane Maarek and Abhishek Singh, a 9x AWS Certified engineer, on Udemy. The exam questions quiz you on your understanding, presenting questions you would encounter in the examination. The best part of these practice questions, and why this blog recommends them, is the detailed explanations of correct and wrong choices. This demo exam and provided explanations can prepare you for the real exam.
Whizlabs has a whole section devoted to the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate training, which provides three individual options, around 900 practice questions, 70 hands-on labs, and 220 video lectures. They provide the complete package if you opt for a complete hands-on learning experience. They also have a practice test that you can try to see if you find value in purchasing the course.
Finally, TutorialDojo’s AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate practice tests are recommended. The questions are crafted based on reviews of over 100,000 students and are the closest to the actual questions in the examinations.
Certification related books
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate stresses knowing the many AWS Services and understanding how they work. A common tripping point for my students is the many similarities between each service. Therefore there is a need to understand the different architectural points that would prompt you to go for one service over another (why would you choose EBS over S3? Or why use EFS vs. FSx).
Therefore a good book that can help guide you through each service is a godsend. I spent a considerable time pouring over the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Study Guide by Xtremelabs. The book covers basic and advanced topics, and the plethora of labs and practice questions, and scenarios will have you prepared and ready to go to attempt the certification.
Suppose you’d like to understand how to do real professional work in the Solution Architecture space. In that case, we highly recommend you to check out the “Solutions Architect’s Handbook: Kick-start your career as a solutions architect by learning architecture design principles and strategies, 2nd Edition” book. This book explains solution architecture and how it compares to agile enterprise practices. It will guide you through the process of solution architecture design by covering design pillars, advanced patterns, anti-patterns, and cloud-native elements of modern software design in depth.
Also, I recommend you check a list of the best AWS-related books for cloud professionals.
Before attempting the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate certification, I had around one and a half years of experience working with AWS and creating applications and large-scale infrastructure on AWS. You don’t need to have AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification to attempt AWS SAA certification. That being said, my study guide and the way to tackle the certification are as follows.
I spent a considerable time with Stephane’s Udemy courses, going over the training videos, which helped me plug in the missing pieces of information from my hands-on experience (I honestly did not know what EC2 hibernate did until I went through the training courses). I also went over the A Cloud Guru course, which was easy since the videos are short, to the point, and designed keeping the working individual in mind.
Having augmented my hands-on experience with AWS Command Line Interface tools and AWS management console with instructor-lead knowledge, I focused on attempting the practice exams. My first attempts were horrendous. I could barely score above 50 Percent on the first attempts (you need more than 70% to pass the examination). However, I bookmarked all the topics that I was routinely getting wrong. I read the explanations provided by the course authors and perused through AWS documentation of each service, and I managed to get over 90% in each reattempt.
In my leisure time, I glossed over the Xtremelabs AWS Guidebook, focusing on the services I knew were my weak points. I scheduled my certification when I knew I could attempt above 95% in all my practice tests and easily passed my certification with more than 900 scores.
Currently, the AWS SAA exam covers the following knowledge domains:
- Domain 1: Design Secure Architectures
- AWS security best practices for IAM users and root users, multi-factor authentication [MFA]
- Using IAM users, groups, roles, and policies to build a flexible authorization model
- How the AWS Security Token Service [AWS STS], role switching, and cross-account access
- Using AWS Control Tower and service control policies [SCPs] for managing multiple AWS accounts
- When and how to use resource policies
- Directory service (AD) and IAM roles federation
- Security groups, route tables, network ACLs, and NAT gateways in VPC design
- Public vs. private subnets
- AWS Shield, AWS WAF, AWS SSO, and AWS Secrets Manager
- AWS Config, Security Hub, and other security services
- VPN vs. Direct Connect
- AWS Key Management Service [AWS KMS] for data encryption at rest
- Access policies for KMS encryption keys
- AWS Certificate Manager [ACM] for data encryption in transit
- Data backups and data replication
- Data access policies, data lifecycle, and protection
- Domain 2: Design Resilient Architectures
- Architectural design principles
- Event-driven vs. microservice vs. multi-tier architecture
- Scaling strategy for architecture components
- Loosely coupled AWS services
- Containers (AWS ECS and AWS EKS) vs. EC2
- Serverless cloud services and patterns
- Picking up compute, storage, networking, and database based on architecture requirements
- Highly available and/or fault-tolerant architecture in AWS Global Infrastructure.
- Backup strategy
- DR strategy
- AWS services for legacy applications
- AWS deployment automation
- Domain 3: Design High-Performing Architectures
- Choosing storage services that meet performance demands
- Decoupling workloads for independent scalability of architecture components
- Identifying metrics and conditions for auto-scaling groups
- Selecting the appropriate EC2 instance types, AWS Lambda function sizes, container sizes
- Designing database architectures
- Picking up a correct database engine (e.g., MySQL v.s. PostgreSQL)
- Picking up the appropriate database type (e.g., Amazon Aurora vs. Amazon DynamoDB)
- Caching services
- Network topology to support global, hybrid, and multi-tier workloads
- Scalable AWS networking configurations
- Load balancing
- Data lakes
- Data streaming
- Data transfer
- Data visualization
- Data processing (e.g., Amazon EMR)
- Data ingestion to the cloud
- Domain 4: Design Cost-Optimized Architectures
- AWS Budgets controls
- Storage auto-scaling
- Storage size based on workload
- Data transfer costs
- S3 lifecycle policies
- Backup and/or archival solutions
- Data migration services
- S3 storage tiers and their cost implications
- Application Load Balancer [L7] vs. Network Load Balancer [L4] vs. Gateway Load Balancer
- Horizontal vs. vertical scaling
- Lambda vs. Amazon EC2 vs. Fargate
- Production vs. non-production workload
- EC2 instance families
- EC2 instance sizes
- DynamoDB vs. Amazon RDS vs. serverless technology
- Time series vs. columnar DBs
- DB schema and data migration to different locations and/or different DB engine
- Content delivery networks (CDNs) and edge caching
- Network optimizations for existing workloads and throttling strategies
- Network bandwidth allocation (single VPN vs. multiple VPNs vs. Direct Connect)
Don’t be scared by lots of required topics, the certification exam is straightforward. Most questions are simple and to the point, though you can expect distractors in each of them. A few questions will be lengthy and describe scenarios and existing configurations. They will ask you either a better way to architect or to find and resolve a problem with the configuration. These questions take the longest and are designed to waste the most time.
The most common service that will be quizzed upon heavily is the Amazon VPC (Virtual Private Cloud).
The Amazon VPC is the building block of all architecture on AWS, and you need to have a decent grip on how to create VPC, Subnets, Configure Security groups and NACLs, and configure and troubleshoot routes. If you do not have previous hands-on experience, it is STRONGLY advised to learn how to build a complete VPC configuration from scratch. Also, it is worth reviewing AWS VPC flow logs and Network Reachability Analyzer that help troubleshoot AWS infrastructure networking services.
Also, storage and efficient, cost-optimized storage options are critical components in the certification, be prepared to answer at least five questions about storage options. To prepare, you should review the AWS Storage Overview Whitepaper and familiarize yourself with crucial differences and options.
A strategy for attempting the questions in the certification is to read the question carefully, search for the distractor, and use that eliminates the most obvious option. Using this strategy will allow you to eliminate two wrong answers immediately. Then it’s a simple process of using the distractor to determine the correct choice.
Additionally, you must understand AWS Global Infrastructure and its impact on cloud solutions design using AWS technologies.
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate is one of the most valuable and highly sought-after certifications because of the recognition it commands and the multiple career avenues it can open for successful candidates. Using the resources in this blog, you can confidently go through your learning process and utilize the tips and tricks to conquer the SA – Associate challenge.
As soon as you successfully pass the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification, don’t stop your certification journey and try to pass other AWS certification exams. For example, you can head to the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional study guide to prepare for the next one.
4x AWS Certified Solution Architect and DevOps Engineer. Passionate about the written word regarding everything AWS and DevOps