How to get started with AWS Certification

AWS Certification Exam
Are you keen to get AWS certified and confused with all the options available? Here’s a practical guide to help you identify the best path to take

Why get certified in the first place?

Certifications are a great way to demonstrate your skills to potential employers or to get a promotion into your target job role. With AWS dominating the world of cloud computing and many companies moving services into the cloud, AWS certifications are some of the most sought-after certifications.

Training for certifications also provides knowledge that you can practically use in your current role. Most IT roles today involve some level of exposure to cloud computing (and very likely AWS). If your role doesn’t, it probably will very soon. Therefore, it’s wise to get ahead of the curve and make sure your skills are relevant in today’s market.

Which certification is right for me?

As an instructor and author of AWS certification resources for Digital Cloud Training, many people ask me what the best way is to get started with learning AWS. The certification tracks include the Cloud Practitioner certification and the Associate and Professional certification levels as well as the specialty track.

There are no longer any prerequisites and you can get started with any certification you choose. However, the path you should take really depends on your background, goals, and the type of role you perform.

The image below shows the role-based certifications at the foundational, associate and professional levels:

Foundational Level

The foundational level includes a single certification: AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner. This certification is focussed on basic cloud concepts including a high-level understanding of AWS cloud services and their typical use cases, support, pricing, architectural best practices and the AWS global infrastructure.

Those who are new to cloud computing or whose job roles does not require a deeper level of knowledge may choose to get started with the AWS Cloud Practitioner certification. This might include sales, pre-sales, 1st line support staff and managers.

The Cloud Practitioner exam is composed of 65 questions and you have 90 minutes to complete it with a passing score of 700 points out of 1000. The questions that are asked are straightforward; these are not the scenario-based questions you will find in other certification tracks.

Associate Level

If your job role requires a deeper level of knowledge there are then three associate level tracks. These are the Solutions Architect, SysOps Administrator and Developer Associate. You should choose which track to follow based on your job role.

For example, if you work in the systems operations space you might choose the SysOps Administrator – Associate and if you are a Solutions Architect you would choose the Solutions Architect – Associate.

The associate level exams are a big step up in difficulty from the Cloud Practitioner but nowhere near as difficult as the professional level. The scope of the associate level certifications is broad, but the depth of knowledge required is relatively shallow.

Though the Cloud Practitioner is suitable for those with no AWS experience, it is recommended that you have at least one year of hands-on experience with AWS before you take the associate level exams.

The exams are composed of 65 questions in 130 minutes, and all questions are scenario-based. You must score at least 720 points out of 1000. The scenarios are usually just one or two paragraphs long.

As with the Cloud Practitioner exam, the format for the questions is one of the following:

• Multiple-choice: Has one correct answer and three incorrect answers (distractors)

• Multiple-response: Has two correct responses out of five option

The difference with associate (and higher) level questions is that the distractors (incorrect answers) are options that may be correct but are not the architecturally best options.

This makes the associate level questions harder as you need to understand the performance, design, security, availability and operational implications of each answer and select the best solution available.

Professional Level

The next level is the professional level which is the highest level of certification on AWS technology (the specialty certifications sit alongside professional level).

The professional level certifications cover a broad scope but at a much deeper level than the Associate certifications.

It is recommended that you have at least 2 years of hands-on experience designing and deploying cloud architectures on AWS before taking this exam.

The same three tracks are available as with the associate level: Solutions Architect – Professional, SysOps Administrator – Professional and Developer Professional. You should choose the track that most closely matches your job role and experience.

The professional level is another big step up in difficulty. The exam is also scenario-based with the scenarios being lengthier and more complex.

You get 55 questions and 170 minutes to complete the exam with a passing score of 750 points out of 1000.

Many examinees struggle with time management in this exam due to the difficulty of the questions. The distractors are often difficult to eliminate as they provide viable solutions, and you need a solid understanding of the service’s limitations, use cases and best practices.

Until recently you needed to pass the associate level certification from the relevant track (Solutions Architect, SysOps Administrator, Developer Associate) before you could take the professional level exam. This prerequisite was recently removed so if you have the knowledge and experience you can get straight into the professional level.

Specialty Certifications

These certifications sit alongside professional level in terms of overall difficulty but focus on much narrower topics with a deeper level of knowledge required. Make sure you know everything there is to know about your subject before taking one of these exams!

The three specialty certifications are: Advanced Networking, Big Data, and Security. The image below shows the three specialty certifications that are currently available.

The prerequisites can be quite high for these certifications. For example, with the security specialty AWS recommend a minimum of 5 years of IT security experience with at least 2 years of hands-on experience securing AWS workloads.

The exams include 65 questions and you get 170 minutes for completion with a passing score of 750 points out of 1000.

What training resources are available?

A good start for finding resources is to head over to the AWS website and read the exam blueprint for the certification you’re planning to take. The exam blueprints provide links to recommended training courses and reading materials such as whitepapers.

There are also a number of courses available from various providers that provide a good combination of theory and guided practice labs.

At Digital Cloud Training we provide instructor-led video courses along with exam-specific training notes and practice questions for multiple AWS certifications. These include AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate. 
Check out the high-quality training resources on our website.

Got Questions?

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