Eric Hallow

Eric Hallow

AWS Certified in 21 days - Solutions Architect

AWS Certified in 21 days - Solutions Architect

Quick About Me

  • 30 years old, self-taught developer
  • Played poker professionally for the last decade
  • Started learning JavaScript, React, HTML/CSS 8 months ago
  • Became very interested in AWS a few months back, and have been learning ever since

Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified

After going down the rabbit hole of tech twitter, I kept hearing more and more people talk about AWS. With inspiration from many respected Twitter figures, such as Nader Dabit, Johan Rin, Catalin Pit, Andrew Brown, Stephane Maarek, I decided to dive into the vast world of AWS. A lot of research went into deciding which certification to get. Reading countless Reddit threads from r/AWSCertifications helped me make an informed decision on the direction of this journey.

Through this whole testing process, I learned a lot about AWS and even more about the mental process of studying for such a certification. In this article, I will give you an insight into my detailed study plan, the resources I used, my takeaways from my first AWS exam, and the mindest I implemented.

Process

Study Plan

Here is how everything played out:

  1. Udemy Course 1x speed to get base level of understanding
  2. Udemy Course 1.75x speed, to find services that I feel uncomfortable with / find things I missed. Pause + study tough topics
  3. Tutorials Dojo Practice Exams
  4. Rewatch Udemy Course + Make Own Study Guide
  5. Final Practice Exams
  6. Exam Day!!

Totals

  • Days: 21
  • Hours Studied: 125

Setting the Date

After 1.5 weeks, I felt like I had a good grasp of the basic knowledge but I lacked a lot of confidence. Everything felt like a slog at first. There is so much information it was extremely daunting. I was going at my own pace, but I wasn't happy with the amount of time that I put in.

This is when I decided to schedule my test. I needed a deadline. I was okay with the potential of failing the test. This deadline allowed me to shift my mindset and ramp up my studying. I felt more energized. I studied with more intention. This is when things really clicked for me. I put in hour after hour of study with ease. I pushed past certain plateaus in my understanding. You can see the progression in my week by week study breakdown below.

Week By Week Breakdown

  • Week 1: 28 hours
  • Week 2: 25 hours (53 total)
  • Week 3: 72 hours (125 total)

Resources

To find good resources, I dug through about 20 Reddit threads. Every course, practice exam, or study guide has its pro's and con's, but after a few late nights reading about people passing the Solutions Architect on Reddit, I landed on Stephane Maarek's Udemy Course paired with Tutorials Dojo's practice exams.

  1. Udemy Course - Get basic knowledge and is very beginner-friendly. As Stephane likes to put it, making sense of the AWS 'spaghetti bowl'. After one time through the course, I felt like I had a basic understanding of most services. He takes you through Hands-On Labs with the AWS Free Tier. There were still a lot of services I was uncomfortable with after finishing the course, but it was a start.

  2. Tutorials Dojo Practice Exams - These exams are tough and will force you to up your knowledge if you want to pass them. I would say they are considerably tougher than the actual exam (that's a good thing). The secret sauce to the practice exams is the answer explanations. They are extremely thorough. Taking the tests and reviewing WHY you got each question wrong will help you gain a deeper understanding of how all these AWS services interact with each other. These test questions are also extremely wordy and often tricky. You have to be extremely careful while reading over the questions. This will train you on how to read these test questions.

These are the best resources for my study patterns. You may learn in different ways and there are many other great resources out there. The ones listed above cost money. There are quite a few free resources out there too. I broke down a list of many popular resources in the twitter thread below.

Practice Exam Scores

  • Test 1: 61.5
  • Test 2: 50
  • Test 3: 70.5
  • Test 4: 70.5

72 is a passing score.

After the first test, I felt pretty confident about where I stood. It was my first exposure to the types of tricky problems that would be on the test. Feeling confident with what I learned during the process of the first practice exam, I went right to the second a few hours later...that was a mistake. My brain didn't have the capacity to work through all these problems. I accepted my defeat and waited for another day.

After a good sleep and some review of my previous exam answers, I decided to take the 3rd test. This one I did much better on, missing the 72 cut-off by one question. I repeated the process of working through the answer explanations and decided to take the 4th test the next day. That 4th test was slightly disappointing with me missing the cutoff again by one question. I completed this 4th practice test with 3 days left to study for the exam.

This is where everything started to click for me. I went over the Udemy course and with my knowledge of how the practice exams function, I made a study guide tailored to my understanding of each topic. My confidence grew with each hour studied. I utilized Tutorial Dojo's section based practice questions. The last few days of studying were more productive than all the previous studies combined.

Test Day

On test day, I felt confident that I had studied to the best of my ability. I had taken the practice tests and knew what to expect. The actual test ended up being easier than the Tutorials Dojo tests. Despite that, there were times during the test where I questioned myself. The questions are often tricky, and it's easy to overthink it. Just remember to take your time, flag questions for review, and to breathe and relax.

I flagged roughly 20 questions for review. Of the 20, I had answered 15 of them but wanted to re-read the questions. Of those 15, I only changed one answer on the second time around. The last 5 questions I spent a lot of my remaining time bank to think through. I finished the test with 10 minutes left and hit the submit button....and a few seconds later the screen showed: PASS!

So with that amazing news, let's take a look at what I learned from this.

Takeaways

What I Did Wrong

  • In the beginning, I spent way too much time worrying about learning every detail all at once. I didn't get a deep understanding of anything until later on in the process.

  • I waited too long to take practice tests. The real moment everything clicked for me, was after the practice tests.

  • I scheduled the test too early. Yes, I think it was a good decision to set a deadline for myself, but I still would've liked 2-3 more days to study.

  • Took 2 practice exams in one day! I did terrible on the second one. I underestimated the amount of brainpower I used up during the first one.

What I Did Right

  • Set a deadline as discussed above

  • Studied on a consistent schedule

  • Made my own study guide. The act of doing this really engrained a lot of information into my brain.

  • Treated the practice exams like the actual exam

Improve the Process

The #1 thing I will change for my next AWS Certification will be taking some of the practice exams earlier, even if I know I will get a poor score. All the studying I did after taking the practice exams made a much bigger impact on retaining knowledge on all these services. I was able to gain a much deeper understanding with less work. It lined things up in my brain.

The next exam I take will be the Developer Associate, and my study schedule will look like this.

  1. Udemy Course with a focus on understanding the individual section before moving on
  2. Take 2 practices tests + review all the problem explanations
  3. Go over the Udemy Course again at 1.75x speed + make study guide, pause at the points where there is a knowledge gap. Go deeper into those topics.
  4. Prepare as the next two exams are the real one + review

Mental Game

I've played poker recreationally or professionally for nearly 15 years. Over that time, I have learned the importance of having a strong mindset. I wanted to share some tips that helped me along the way.

Any time you are learning a new skill, there are some topics that you will understand very easily. Other topics, you will have a tough time. Over time, you subconsciously will avoid those tough topics, even though they should be the ones you spend the most time on. This is a very easy trap to fall in to.

The big key to learning anything is to embrace being uncomfortable. Every time I get that feeling in my stomach that I want to avoid a certain topic, I write that down. I will accumulate a list of my weakest points. I add in extra study time to go deep on those topics. I try to learn every single detail of the topic no matter how painstaking it may be.

This process is simple but extremely effective. I have used this to build confidence while learning a variety of skills over the years.

Learning = find tough topics + embrace being uncomfortable + consistent study

What's next?

I am currently looking for Junior Cloud positions in the Chicagoland area or remote. After you learn a skill, always make sure to put it in practice. Build. I will be building out a static resume website by taking on the Cloud Resume Challenge.

I plan to continue on with my AWS certifications by taking on the Developer Associate next. Follow along on Twitter for more AWS content.

 
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