How I Passed the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional (SAP-C01) Exam

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Foundational Certifications

I first passed the Associate Level Exams, using Linux Academy/aCloudGuru and Digital Cloud Training (found the practice exams on Udemy and more on the main site)

AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional vs Associate

While the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate requires knowledge of Kinesis products to some degree, it’s about as far from the core network/security/database/storage/compute services as you get in the Associate exam, and you can definitely get by without knowing Kinesis things very well and still pass.

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional, on the other hand, requires detailed knowledge of migration, costing, and organization architecture in order to pass. You’ll need to know Direct Connect and other services that you won’t be able to use on a personal AWS account level, and how to architect for them.

Wait. You Took HOW Long?

Almost exactly a year. I actually postponed for a month or else it would have been closer to 11 months. However, I ran into a bit of fatigue over having so many new things lobbed at me in the courses and lost a bit of motivation in the early months, causing me to have to refresh some of my SAA-C02 knowledge as well.

With the fairly low amount of daily exposure I get to AWS services, it probably should have taken 6 months. If you’re actively using most of the services and/or have participated in a recent AWS migration, you might be able to get it done in under 3 months. A lot of my mental blocks were around migrations, AWS Organizations, multi account, and Direct Connect because I had no real exposure to those in the real world.

Main Learning Track for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional

I initially took Adrian Cantrill’s Linux Academy course for my AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate training, so when his course at learn.cantrill.io was recommended to me for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional training, I knew that I needed to subscribe.

His course covers the Associate level fundamentals in depth in addition layering on the Professional level details, so you understand better why on top of what. His lab exercises walk through various aspects of pretty much the same example, so that you can take a journey through one “organization”s usage of AWS as you follow along and implement it.

You don’t absolutely have to follow along in your own AWS console, but the more time you spend clicking around in the console, the more you’re going to be able to visualize things in time for the exam. Take the quizzes along the way until you are 100% at them… they are basic knowledge that you must have down.

Once you finish the course, repeat the 25 question exams until you’re 100% on each, reviewing and noting your weak spots and looking up the details on things you miss.

Reinforcing Course and Exams

I bought Neal Davis’ Digital Cloud Training course and practice exams through Udemy (Udemy app works a little more uniformly between devices than web-based). I took each one of the practice exams and reviewed the incorrect answers on each turn. After the first two exams, I listened to the course, which is way more concise and hits upon some of the highlights that are key to the exam. I also grabbed the Tutorials Dojo Udemy practice exams and used my existing aCloudGuru subscription for additional practice.

Score progression for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional practice tests. cantrill.io ones I repeated until 100%

Over all that excessive practice, I realized that about I was missing about 10-12 percent of the questions just by not noticing a nuance to one of two usually similar answers. If you’re not spending an average of 2 minutes (probably even 3 on the longer ones), you’re potentially making careless errors.

The key benefit of the variety of practice exams for me was having a lot of practice seeing “gotcha” patterns in the questions and answers, which you could also accomplish by breaking down every practice question carefully. The AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional passing score is a 75% so a lot of those “near misses” could have been passing with a little more awareness of pitfalls and better attention to detail.

Practice Tests Ranking

  1. Cantrill.IO – these are untimed and you get immediate feedback (at least on the 25 question mini-exams) this is really good for going through your first couple passes and taking notes on what you’re deficient in.
  2. Digital Cloud Training (Neal Davis) – the Udemy version of these exams were 6 25 question timed exams, and you can filter on incorrect answers to read through explanations.
  3. Tutorials Dojo (on Udemy) – 4 full-length practice exams, with same opportunity to review as Neal Davis’ exams.
  4. aCloudGuru – The questions are good for exposure to less frequently covered services, but the review interface for your tests is not that great and your progress and history is device specific.

Practice Helps Visualization – the Key to “Muscle Memory”

One excellent usage for aCloudGuru is their Cloud Sandbox environments (Digital Cloud Training has them as well). With an AWS cloud sandbox, you can practice building a lot of the things you need to know within a time-limited environment that tears down itself, preventing you from forgetting about it and getting a perpetual bill. There are a few things that you might need to practice that will be blocked by the cloud sandbox policy, but you can actually get most of the way through the creation interface and see what’s available on a lot of those things without actually creating the resources (which is where you *will* get denied).

One thing that you can’t experience in a cloud sandbox is AWS Organizations. However, you can mostly practice SCPs and Organizations without creating objects that will trigger billing: Just practice policies and organization but create minimal resources (like S3 objects).

You don’t absolutely have to have a lot of practical experience in AWS for the exam, but you’ll spend a lot more time memorizing definitions and concepts if you can’t visualize working through them in the AWS Console, so any practical exposure you can get really helps.

Taking the Test

I took the test remotely, which had gone well for the previous three exams. However, this exam will definitely require more of the allotted time than the Associate exams. Be sure to spend 3 straight hours in the space you plan to use without getting up before exam day. I had a fan blowing near me and it got me a bit too cold and then the coffee that I had that morning made sitting still for the longer exam a little more challenging.