The AWS Solutions Architect Associate (SAA) certification is one of those exams where you’ll leave the room feeling you just had an all-out fight for your life. However, when you find that you passed, it was one of the most euphoric moments of my life and I felt like I was on top of the world. This exam is as rewarding as it is challenging.

Overall testing tips

If you haven’t already, I would recommend you take the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner (CCP) before Solutions Architect Associate for two main reasons. First is because the CCP is an introduction to what AWS is and a high-level overview of the AWS services.

Second is because all of these AWS exams build on each other, so the SAA exam is all about how you should implement AWS services to design a combination of four types of architectures within an AWS environment; designing resilient architectures, designing high-performing architectures, designing secure applications and architectures, and finally designing cost-optimized architectures.

Every question contains a lengthy scenario that describes either what an example company wants to do or what they are currently doing and wants to change to something else. Your objective on each question is to provide the best AWS service to fulfill their requirements.

Make sure to pay attention to specifically what the question is asking. There will usually be a particular word in the question that signifies the thought process that should be used such as, “what is the most cost-optimized solution?”, “what is the most efficient option?”, “how should a solutions architect secure this application?”.

You should always be able to narrow down the answer choices to two possible solutions then focus on that keyword in the question.

The exam focuses on a variety of services but mostly from four ‘service groups’; database services, storage services, security services, and services that contribute to global distribution and content delivery. Below is a list of each service and a link to the correlating AWS cheat sheet.

Database Services

DynamoDB~ highly scalable, highly durable, fully managed NoSQL database, can handle frequent schema changes

RDS~ asynchronous (read replicas) and synchronous (multi-az) replication, used for MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Oracle

Aurora~ fully managed relational database compatible with MySQL and PostgreSQL

Storage Services

S3~ object storage, highly available, highly scalable S3 lifecycle policies, bucket policies

EBS~ block storage, 4 types: general purpose (SSD), provisioned IOPS (SSD), throughput optimized (HDD), Cold (HDD)

EFS~ file storage, highly scalable, highly durable, supports NFSv4, can be used by ECS, EC2, and Lambda

Security Services

IAM~ roles, users, groups, IAM policies

WAF~ layer 7/application firewall monitors HTTP/S traffic, protects SQL injection and cross-site scripting

Shield~ primarily protects against DDoS attacks

Content Delivery & Global Distribution Services

Cloudfront~ uses edge locations to increase distribution speeds of static and dynamic content

R53~ highly available and scalable DNS web service

Global accelerator~ improves the performance of your application for global users

API Gateway~ create, manage and secure restful, HTTP, and WebSocket APIs

Resources

This exam took me about three months of studying before I felt comfortable enough to schedule the exam. This was primarily due to the extensive knowledge and hands-on experience that AWS expects you to have for this certification. The resources I used did an excellent job of preparing you for what to expect on the test.

SAA Course: This is a very extensive course that is taught by an AWS expert named Adrian Cantrill. He goes into substantial detail about all of the AWS services that will be mentioned in the exam. Cantrill also provides at least one hands-on lab for each service so you can get some experience poking around and using the different services.

Acloud Guru: This website provides hundreds of labs of varying difficulty to allow you the ability to use a variety of different features for each service in AWS.

TutorialsDojo: This gives you access to several timed practice exams, section quizzes for each type of architecture that AWS expects you to know how to design. This site is pretty crazy because you may see questions that will appear directly on the exam so be sure to fully understand the ‘why’ behind each correct and incorrect answer choice.

Hands-On: I spend most of my day working on AWS here at ByteChek. This helped me out a ton because I was able to apply the concepts I learned above to our environment and helping our customers. Most of our customers are hosted on AWS so I interacted with AWS on a day to day basis talking and helping them with their cybersecurity programs.

What’s Next?

Passing the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam was an immaculate accomplishment for me and my career. I plan on riding this wave for the next few weeks as I will begin studying for the AWS SysOps Administrator then the AWS Developer Associate. My goal is to have earned a total of four AWS certifications by the time 2021 is over. This achievement marks the halfway point for me and I can't wait to dive back into learning!

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