My AWS Solution Architect Professional Certification Experience

I recently passed the AWS SA Pro Exam, and can confirm that it is indeed as tough as everyone makes it out to be! That does not mean that it is scary or too daunting to even consider. If I was able to pass it, then I am confident anyone reading this is also more than capable. It just takes a lot of effort and the right mindset to be successful.

Like many others on their AWS certification journey, I began with the A Cloud Guru AWS Certified Solution Architect – Professional 2020 course taught by Scott Pletcher (@Scott Pletcher). I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between this course and the one on Linux Academy (which is now ACG?), but I had access to this particular one through my company and therefore can not contrast versus the LA course. I did very much enjoy this course and thought that the instructor was concise and engaging. It was a valuable tool to use for SA Pro, but by no means was it a one stop shop. I considered it more of a recap of SA Associate basics along with some deeper dives, in addition to expanding into more services and how things relate to the SA Pro exam. As someone who works with more than just AWS, it was a good way to put blinders on and focus on the AWS landscape a bit more than my day to day allows.

The most important aspects of the ACG course outside of the material itself are the Exam Tips and links to corresponding whitepapers and re:Invent videos on YouTube. During the course I made sure to keep OneNote open and take notes along the way, always jotting down every one of the Exam Tips as well as linking to the relevant whitepapers for quick access. Scott also lists a few re:Invent sessions that are noteworthy, yet optional. Study time can be hard to come by, so watching 60+ minute sessions may not be of value to everyone, but I have compiled all of these videos in a SA Pro YouTube Playlist for anyone who is interested.

I did spend some time at least skimming over most of the suggested white papers. One in particular that was very valuable was the AWS Storage Options white paper, specifically the anti-patterns portion of each storage option. Some of the other white papers will be familiar to those who have looked at the Well-architected Framework, and some others were just too long for me to read beyond a quick skim. I’d focus on any that refer to concepts which are new to you and take away the important bits.

A great resource I found during my associate level study is Jayendra’s Blog and certification paths. Jayendra does a great job of giving what I call the “cliff notes” study guide for exams and AWS services. This was really useful during the couple of days before my exam. As I went through my notes or practice exams and ran into something that was unfamiliar, I was able to quickly get a concise overview from this blog. This saved a lot of time versus trying to comb through online videos or going down the rabbit hole of a Google search. Even if I didn’t have a deep understanding of that topic (for example AppStream or Athena), it was beneficial to at least know about it on the surface, rather than being completely confused if I it was mentioned exam.

Practice tests are an extremely important study tool for this exam. In addition to the official AWS SA Pro sample questions, I purchased the AWS SA Pro practice tests on Whizlabs. These are NOT brain dumps and the questions will NOT appear on your actual exam. The purpose of these practice tests is for you to get used to the types of questions/answers as well as the length and format of the exam. I’ve seen lots of comments by people who spent 6 hours a day for a week going through practice exams to prep. I just don’t have that kind of time, and one certification is not worth being disowned by my family! For me, it was very useful to go through maybe 20-30 questions at a time, end the exam knowing it would fail, but review the questions I missed and why. One big thing for me was the realization that I missed many just by reading through the question too quickly and answering incorrectly because I missed what the question was truly asking for. More than a handful of “oh yeah, duh I should have gotten that” moments will teach you how to focus when you do sit the exam.

The big key to the SA Pro isn’t necessarily technical knowledge, rather the aspect of time management and knowing what the question is truly asking for. If the question only asks for the most cost effective solution, that may mean the answer isn’t highly available. Make sure you read and understand the question before looking at the answers. In regards to the answers, many can be almost as long as the question. Quickly skim the answers to see if you can easily rule out two. Lots of times you will see two answers that say something like use a database running EC2 and two that say use RDS. Rule out the two that don’t make sense as it pertains to the question, and then look for the differences within the last two that may help choose the correct one. From a time management perspective, expect to use the full 3ish hours on the exam. You will generally see a recommendation about taking an average of 2 minutes per question. That is a good benchmark, but don’t stick to it religiously. I had that in the back of my mind and certainly noticed questions where I went over 2 minutes. I made sure to answer with my best guess and mark that question for review. When I got 60% through the exam, I realized that I would have to pick up the pace a little bit. Not so much that I was in trouble, but enough that I had to be conscious of it. Keep track of your pace and make a mental note every 10 questions or so. I completed the final question with about 4 minutes left, so rather than reviewing and second guessing myself, I ended the exam. Marking questions for review is still a good idea, but make sure you at least take a quick stab at an answer before moving on.

I hope that these tips are helpful for anyone who may be prepping for this exam. If so, please drop me a comment, and best of luck on your SA Pro!

25 thoughts on “My AWS Solution Architect Professional Certification Experience

  1. Hi Adam, suprised I’m the first to comment but this is a really excellent and helpful post.
    Thanks for posting

  2. Awesome read! I haven’t taken any of the AWS certs yet, but I am looking forward to preparing for the first of possibly many. Just got done with my Master’s in Data Science.

    Definitely an eye opener. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Adam,

    Very insightful post. I am planning for Pro in the month of Aug. Started preparations. I have completed acloud guru course. I have purchased Tutorial Dojo, pracice questions. Lrts see how it goes. I have booked the exam for 31st Aug. Hopefully things will be ok till then. I think this much time is sufficient aprox 16-17 weeks? Also going thru the reinvent videos. Thanks for compiling and making this handy.

    Any plan for Specialty Certification?


  4. Really useful summary, thank you Adam.
    One question I had was about the youtube playlist you provided.
    Videos are mostly from reInvent 2017. Was there any particular reason you didn’t use later ones?
    Thx again.

    1. I can’t take credit for choosing the videos, I simply linked the ones that are recommended within the A Cloud Guru SA Pro course. I will say that even the the SA Pro exam has the year 2020 in it now, much of the information from 2017 and later is still very much relevant in not only the exam, but the specific videos in this playlist. Thanks for checking in!

  5. Would you mind sharing the focus areas of the exam not violating the NDA ? I am planning to take up the exam soon. Also appreciate if you could let me know the areas to concentrate in the last 15 days before attempting the exam

    1. The exam consists of a large pool of questions, so the exam I received may not be indicative of what someone else would get. I’d say your best option is try sometime like whiz labs which has many practice exam available. As you finish each one you will get insight into what you need practice on and can focus on those topics specifically.

  6. Great Adam, Thanks for the detailed summery. I have cleared the sysops and associate exam , how difficult it is from associate exam and what extra topic i should cover ?

    1. I haven’t taken the associate exam recently but I’ve heard it has become harder than it was a few years back. I’d say focus on the topics that you already know are your weakest. And definitely get some practice exams in ahead of time to get an idea of where you may need some extra study time.

  7. Hi Adam,

    Excellent post. I just passed the SA Pro this weekend and could not agree with you more. The test isn’t just a test of your technical know-how, it’s about time management and your ability to quickly eliminate the least correct option. Notice I did not say incorrect.

    In my approach, during the initial walk-through, I did not answer any of the questions that asked for multiple answers I just marked those for review along with some of the longer single choice questions. This way I got through the “easier” ones while effectively managing time and building up my confidence. As you pointed out, being in the correct mind set is key.

    Also, I used both Whiz Labs and Udemy practice exams to prepare. The practice exams prepared me for what to expect rather that actual test questions.

  8. This is a great post, thanks Adam for sharing your experience. Do you recommend any course from Linux Academy along with Scott’s course on Cloud Guru, and of course the white papers and the reinvent videos. Thanks.

    1. I don’t have any experience with the Linux Academy courses. I’ve heard great things about them though, so I’d think either that or A Cloud Guru would be great options. And certainly going through both could help if you have the time for it.

  9. Amazing post – I have just certified for the AWS SA exam and now preparing for the SA pro – This is a one stop get all blog which is extremely helpful. Thank you

  10. Thanks for sharing your experience!! Do I need to have hands-on experience to complete this Professional level exam??

    1. This is the type of exam where you don’t absolutely NEED hands-on experience to pass, but it is highly recommended to prepare with the mindset of getting hands on experience if you don’t already have it. The more experience you have, the better your results will be.

  11. Wow! excellence post! you have written this really for others to gain confidence. God bless you! people like you are the reason why earth is still finds some healing.

    I’m also following Scott Pletcher’s training. so that’s gives me a confidence. just wanted to know how the exam focused ? in technical aspect or design architect angle ? for example, Network load balancer persist client’s IP when forwarding the traffic to the listeners. now, I didn’t know that! but I know the use cases when you will choose Network LB over ALB & best practice etc but I’m worried that I can always miss those in detail technical aspect.

    have you experienced such similar technical detail question or design question please ?

    1. everyone’s exam will probably be a little different. i’d say to expect both technical and design detail, while my experience was slightly heavier on the design aspect.

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