Last week, I took and passed the foundational AWS certification, the Certified Cloud Pracitioner exam. These tests are fairly challenging, so I wanted to outline the techniques and tools I used to prepare for the test. I’ll also share what the experience was like using the testing center (during coronavirus!) and things to keep in mind for taking the exam in person.
Reasons for Taking the Exam
Given that this exam is the “foundational exam,” you may ask why a developer would spend any time trying to pass it. The reasoning that one hears mostly goes like this:
- You should take the exam because it’s a confidence booster.
- You should take the exam because it’s a good start on studying for the subsequent exams.
- You should take the exam because it’s a good intro to AWS.
- You should take the exam because you get a discount on the next exam if you pass this one.
Given my experience, I would agree with all of these stances. Transparently, I found the exam prep and exam itself to be far more challenging than I thought it would be, but nothing you couldn’t overcome with a couple of weeks of fairly focused study.
How I Prepared
I started preparing about three weeks before the test, and throughout the process I mostly used a flashcard software called Anki. If you haven’t heard of Anki, it’s built on the idea of spaced repetition, which basically just means that it surfaces old flash cards right as you’re most likely to forget them. The idea is that the more you study those cards, the deeper the connection formed in your brain. As they say, “neurons that fire together, wire together.”
I first learned about Anki through Ali Abdaal’s Skillshare course. I watched the first section and then started making my own deck for the Cloud Practitioner exam, using the Cloud Practitioner wiki and a few other free resources.
Anki was good to start, but I waited a little long to actually test my knowledge. The problem with Anki (for me), was that it presupposes that you have weeks and weeks to prepare. Because Anki is slanted towards resurfacing old material, I realized I hadn’t made it through my whole deck by the time I decided to take a practice test.
A week before the exam, I decided to buy Jon Bonso’s bundle of practice tests on Udemy which was a great purchase. I failed the first test with a 64 (passing is 70), and realized there was a fair amount of material that I didn’t know. From that point on, I took a practice test every day and then circled back around to the exams I had failed to retest myself.
The Testing Center
The testing center was in a super nondescript office buiding. There were (of course) added precautions due to the coronavirus, mostly wearing masks and sitting at least one space apart in the exam room.
The exam I took was given on a computer and was very simliar to the practice tests on Udemy. It’s pretty self-explanatory, you pick your answers and can flag questions you aren’t sure about. The interface was a bit unfamiliar, but it’s nothing you couldn’t figure out.
I was fairly stressed leading up to the test because I failed 2/4 practice tests on first take and barely passed the others. After the exam, I got the pass/fail status immediately upon completion and was so relieved to see the PASS on screen. When I got my full results back, I saw that I scored a 94.5 on the test. So much for worrying!
- Start studying at least several weeks before.
- Watch this video course to get a basic idea of AWS and its services (if you haven’t used it before).
- If you use Anki, make sure you get all the way through your material before the test.
- Take practice tests. I highly recommend the Bonso exams linked above. I would have failed the exam without taking these.
That’s it! Feel free to reach out if you have questions that I didn’t cover or want to chat specifics.