Roughly ten days ago, I passed my Amazon Web Services Certified Cloud Practitioner exam. This is the story of how I managed it.
I first started “Studying” for this over a year ago, when it was made clear that my place of employment was looking to include AWS in its future plans. I took Amazon’s Cloud Practitioner Essentials curriculum during roughly the middle of last year, and augmented that with some PluralSight courses both about AWS Fundamentals and about actually taking the exam.
It wasn’t until about 2 weeks before my September 30th exam, though, that I got serious about studying for the exams. To that end, I purchased (On sale for about $12) a set of practice exams from Udemy. There were six exams included in the package, and I took the first one beginning in roughly the middle of September.
This is an accurate re-enactment of me immediately before, during, and immediately after taking that first exam.
To take a step back, Amazon’s certification exams work similarly to the SATs. The score range is 100-1000, on a scale, and you need a minimum score of 700 to pass. The scale is based on the fact that the actual exam draws from a bank of thousands of questions, and some questions are harder than others. The practice exams considered 70% to be a “passing” grade, even if a 700 doesn’t necessarily correspond to getting 70% of the questions correct, and the extract for the exams recommended trying to get 90% or better on the exams to not have any issues with the actual exam.
My score on the first practice exam: 69%.
The part of me that will eternally be in middle school thought “Nice.”
The part of me that wanted to actually pass this exam to advance my career thought “Uh oh.”
The good news about the package of exams I bought is that it was an excellent teaching aid on its own. Of course the review told you what the correct answers were. But it also went into a lot of detail about why they were correct. Even more importantly, it detailed why the incorrect answers were wrong. This helped me get a feel for the types of wording to expect on the actual exam, and how to filter out wrong answers.
I took to making flash cards with key concepts. Rather than just the answers to the questions, I would make a card with, say “What is Service A?” or “Contrast Service B with Service C”, with a sentence or two about each–just enough to cover key concepts I might be asked about. The good news about the Cloud Practitioner exam is it emphasizes breadth over depth. There are a lot of services to know about, but as long as you know a brief summary of each (What it is, what it does, a potential use case or two–IE “Amazon Simple Storage Service, or S3, is a method of storing files on EC2 instances. It’s best used for static files, or static assets of a dynamic website like pictures. It can also be used to hold backups of databases, but isn’t good for storing live databases themselves”), I found that that’s enough to get you through the exam.
Still, there are a lot of services, so even working up enough knowledge to get that far took a while from where I started. After the embarassment of “failing” the first practice exam, I resolved to work on the other five, one per day, studying what I got wrong so I could hopefuly fix it.
Practice exam #2 yielded a score of 70%. Well, at least I “passed”. I guess you could say I improved as well, technically.
Exam #3 was a hard one. I failed that one too, with a 67%. This was where I started panicking a little bit, as it felt like I wasn’t remembering or recalling what I needed to.
For Exams 4 and 5, I felt that begin to change, as I scored a 78% on both. Still not great, but I was at least trending upward.
Exam #6 was just hard, and I barely “passed” it with another 70%.
Still, the exam was in about a week now, so I re-took between 1 and 2 of the practice exams per day. One thing about the course I picked is that it re-shuffles the order of the questions in each test, lessening the chance of being able to pass the practice exams by just memorizing or writing down the answers.
Nonetheless, my second attempts at the tests went a lot better–I improved anywhere from 15 (a 78 to a 93 on test #5) to 23 percent (A 69 to a 92 on test #1) on a given test. Test #4 remained the easiest–I only missed some question on it, giving me a 98, while Tests 3 (67 to 86) and 6 (70 to 87) remained the hardest. Because of my method of study, I was fairly sure I was retaining the concepts, but my scores, while well above 70%, were below the 90% recommended to “pass with confidence” about half the time. Plus, I still had the worry in the back of my mind that I was just memorizing question answers, which I was definitely guilty of on a couple questions.
Taking the Exam
I opted to take the exam via online proctoring through Pearson VUE. Online proctoring for the exams is pretty strict–you’re required to take pictures of your test space, you can’t have notes or anything else up, and you’re not even allowed to use multiple monitors. For these reasons and more, I opted to take the test from my bedroom. Even then, I had to cover a mirror in the room.
The other thing is that once the test starts, you’re not allowed to leave the field of vision of your webcam until you’ve finished the test and shut down the testing software.
The good news is that you know basically right away if you pass the test or not. I finished the 65 questions in roughly 35 minutes…
And obviously, I passed! I later found out that my score was 893, which sounds about in line with “Yes, I actually remembered the concepts and not just the answers to specific questions”.
So I’m happy. The next step is Amazon Cloud Architect Associate certification, which I’ve already started working toward and would like to get in the next six months or so. We’ll see how that goes…