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How to Best Prepare for your Cloud Certification Exam

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In my previous post, I gave tips for preparing for your Cloud Certification exams. In this one, I’ll lay out the best preparation materials I could find and get you ready for those critical two or three hours of the exam.

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Stay focused, even if the next test taker over is noisily slurping energy drinks

Preparation Resources for Cloud Architect Certification Exams

Next, I’ll point you to the good preparation materials I’ve found, with a focus on practice test sets.

In the good practice tests, the questions are similar to the real exam. That means that questions and answers are clearly written in good English and often quite wordy. Each correct answer and incorrect answer has an explanation. And in some, the exam author is available to answer questions on the forum with short turnaround time.

For Google Cloud Architects

  • Google’s own Practice Exam is free and is naturally the best simulation of the real exam, but there are only 20 questions.
  • Richard Kopeikin offers test sets at Udemy. Best of all, for one price you get the material rearranged in three ways for different kinds of drills; by service category, difficulty, and mixed like the real exam.
  • The Official Google Cloud Certified Professional Cloud Architect Study Guide by Dan Sullivan has review exams inside the book, and also in an online interactive version accessible from the book. You can rearrange the questions into tests. The chapters are linked to the exams for tight iterations of learning and testing.
  • With an innovative approach to understanding how certain you are in your guesses, Dr Shiyghan Navti is developing a quiz system, now in alpha pre-release, for learning the Google Cloud Platform based on confidence levels.

For AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate

If you are taking any of these exams, you have probably come a way in your career and no longer have words like “Associate” on your resume. But I suggest you do this before the Professional exam. It is much easier — at about the level of the Google Cloud exam — and so makes for a temporary prize until the Professional certification, which is particularly valuable if at first you fail the Professional exam.

The Associate preparation material also makes an essential basis for studying for Professional, which is especially valuable considering how much material is available for the former and how little for the latter.

Also, once you achieve your Associate certification, you get a free practice Professional test and a Professional exam at half price.

In choosing prep materials, watch out; a new version of the exam (SAA-C02) was released in March 2020, so many of the products are outdated. Still, most of the knowledge remains the same, and awareness changes in AWS is itself part of the learning process.

The Associate certification has far more preparation materials than the other two exams.

The items named below are updated for the new exam version.

  • Neal Davis offers an excellent set of practice exams. It’s also available direct from Digital Cloud Training with flexible practice options: seeing the answers after every question or after every test; or reordering the questions by topic or randomly.
  • The test set from Jon Bonso at Udemy, or direct from TutorialsDojo with flexible practice features, is likewise high quality.
  • TutorialsDojo’s Cheat Sheet, and the training notes from Digital Cloud Training are focused summaries.
  • A Cloud Guru has a set of tests as part of its course. The test platform has flexible options for getting feedback after every question or few questions.
  • AWS offers a 10-question mini-exam.
  • On mobile, beyond the Udemy app, you will find plenty of free apps on the Google Play Store, like KnowledgeHut, Simplilearn.com, and AWSPro. They are at various levels of detail and some may be out-of-date, but worth using if you are looking for more drill material to use on the go.

For AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Professional

There is far less preparation material available for the Professional exam than for the other two exams.

  • Your top resource and only high-quality sample test set is by Jon Bonso, available at Udemy or direct from TutorialsDojo with flexible practice features.
  • AWS offers six sample questions. Not much, but the closest free offering to the real exam. Get an answer key in a Japanese version: excellent spoiler-prevention 😊!
  • AWS’ official practice exam costs $40, much more than Tutorial Dojo and with far less material. But it’s free if you passed the Associate exam first. I suggest reserving this test as a realistic simulation as opposed to high-speed training. Set aside one hour for it, at the point where you have practiced a lot and start wondering if you are finally ready.
  • If you want a course, Linux Academy has a good one, with some practice test sets.
  • The course from AWS is free and has some sample questions, though not similar in structure to the real exam.
  • Retrain on the Associate exam; what you learn there is relevant here.

Get into the zone

In software development, all your good work is done in a flow state. When exam day comes, you must get into that state and stay there. Get some sleep. Come hydrated, but not too hydrated.

During the exam, work at a good rhythm. Don’t skim questions, but don’t dawdle. Calculate the time you can spend per question, while still leaving 40% for review, then every few questions check that you are on pace. Time is short, but you’ll have far more opportunity to think than when you were speed-practicing and multi-tasking during your preparation.

Don’t skip any questions; there is no penalty for wrong answers, and you have a decent chance with an educated guess, especially if you exclude obviously wrong answers.

Mark any question about which you are uncertain using the exam system’s flag feature. Once you have answered all the questions, review the flagged items. You’ll be amazed at how much clearer some questions are on second reading, and other questions can give ideas. Then, if you have more time, review all of the equations.

Look for keywords like “cost savings” or “latency”, and don’t be tempted to optimize for an unlisted goal just because it is generally a good idea.

Trust your intuition. There will be some questions that you just can’t figure out. So flow with your instincts, and guess. Years of experience and hours of pre-exam training give you a feel for the right answer. As in engineering, you take best-but-not-perfect where necessary, so even if all answers seem wrong, just choose the least bad.

As in your day job, keep it smart but not over-complex. The questions are purposely designed to be nitpicky — otherwise, a multiple-choice exam would be no challenge. But don’t get so tangled up in outwitting them that you reject the right answer as a trick; the exams are meant to be difficult, not deceptive.

The day has come, and you’re ready: You’ve done enough practice tests, and you have a good idea of the scores you can achieve. You feel confident in the parts of your day job that you’ve practiced the most: You can feel confident today.

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