AWS SysOps Certification – The New Exam

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The new version of the AWS Certified SyOps Administrator Associate exam was recently released in a beta testing phase. The new exam code is SOA-C02 and the beta runs from February 16th to March 26th 2021. During this time and following the beta – up until the final release of the SOA-C02 in Q3 2021 you can still take the SOA-C01 exam.

I recently sat the beta exam for the AWS SysOps Certification and in this article, I want to share my general exam experience. The big change with this exam is that AWS has introduced exam labs which are a hands-on component to the exam. This is the first certification for which AWS has introduced a hands-on testing experience which is common with other vendors.

Exam Tip: Check out these FREE resources for preparing for the AWS SysOps exam:

Click the image above to watch Neal’s video from our youtube channel

The New Exam Structure

The beta exam consisted of two sections, the multi-choice question section and the exam labs section. The overall length of the exam was 225 minutes but this could be different by the time the final exam is released. There were 55 questions in the multi-choice question section and 3 exam labs in final section. The exam labs section is about 1 hour long so they recommend you take about 20 minutes per exam lab. The exam labs make up 21% of the score for the overall exam.

Multi-Choice Questions Section

The multi-choice question section had me a little surprised. I often assume that AWS are going to make major updates to the question format and release entirely new questions. I was wrong! I recognized the first several questions from previous exams and if they were at all different it was only very slightly. Overall, I’d say there were at least 20+ questions that were almost identical to questions in the SOA-C01 exam.

The content that is being tested on is also very much the same. There were a couple of services for which the questions went a little bit deeper than the old exam such as Amazon Athena and quite a few questions on Amazon Elasticsearch. Other than that the content isn’t much different than the SOA-C01 so you can easily pass by studying my existing AWS training courses.

The general feel of the questions was a bit easier. The incorrect answer choices were more obvious and the question length was generally short with just a handful of longer questions. I think AWS are making a good effort towards improving the quality of the questions and – like the updates to the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate (SAA-C02) – the questions were less ambiguous and confusing.

I also feel that AWS are working towards ensuring the difficulty of questions aligns with the different levels: foundational, associate, and professional. They used to be a bit more mixed in difficulty but they are now more consistent – which is a good thing.

Exam Labs Section

When you finish the multi-choice section you must confirm that you’re ready to submit your answers (you can’t go back) and then you can move on to the exam labs section of the exam. You are presented with a Windows 7 virtual desktop and when you login you see the AWS Management Console. On the right-hand side of the screen, you see the instructions. You are given a set of instructions for how to complete the lab and at the end, you must leave it all running (presumably some kind of automated checking happens).

The first lab was a total failure for me. Not that it was hard, but the service (AWS Config) was generating “extremely high load, try again later” errors and even after several attempts I was unable to save my config. I had to give up and move on. I suppose I could have asked the proctor, perhaps they can generate another test, I have no idea. But I didn’t complain, I just moved on, as I was only there to check things out and I already passed the AWS SysOps certification exam recently. The other two labs went fine and were fairly simple configurations. There was no AWS CLI required for any of the labs.

The general feedback is that the difficulty of the labs was low. You do of course need hands-on experience to be able to do these labs but as long as you’ve put some time into working in a free tier account as part of your studies you should be fine. This is why I make sure to focus on a broad range of labs in my AWS SysOps training courses for almost every service I teach. That way you’ll be able to find your way around when it comes to the test.

Final Thoughts

Of course, I can’t reveal much more than I have as I’m bound to the exam conditions and don’t want to compromise the AWS SysOps Certification exam in any way. If you’re already planning to take this exam soon, I recommend sticking with the existing exam until the final version of the SOA-C02 is released. In the time between now and the release I’ll be updating study materials, practice questions and hands-on labs to ensure my students are well prepared. I expect AWS will roll out exam labs to other certifications in the future so you can no longer rely only on practice questions to pass, you absolutely must get hands-on exam training.

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