Earning Your AWS Solutions Architect – Associate Certification

AWS Solutions Architect – Associate Background

The Solutions Architect – Associate certification, or SA-Associate for short, seems to have been designed for System Administrators and System Engineers that are looking to transfer their skills to the AWS cloud. A lot of the certification and training focuses on concepts familiar to these people such as redundancy, failover and high availability. This certification is the closest thing AWS offers for a broad AWS certification. It’s been described as “a mile wide and an inch deep”. You will need to know the majority of the services that Amazon offers but for the majority of those services you will only need to know what they do and some basic configuration options. The exception to this are EC2, S3 and VCPs. These services are the cornerstone of AWS and coincidentally also the cornerstone of the Solutions Architect – Associate certification.

This exam is challenging because of the breadth of content that it covers but I found the questions to be very fairly worded and easy to understand. The questions were also valuable questions that you would use in your actual job as opposed to memorizing specific metrics or minutia.

Learning & Studying

Prior to exploring the Solutions Architect – Associate certification I had recently completed the Cloud Practitioner training and certification. I highly recommend that if you’re new to AWS that you start there and work up to the Solutions Architect – Associate. I found great value in first earning my Cloud Practitioner certification.

Just as I had for my Cloud Practitioner certification I leveraged the A Cloud Guru course to do the majority of my training. This course is roughly 22 hours of training and can be a slog at times. Make sure to break up your training into sessions so you’re remaining focused throughout the course. Some of this course is repetitive if you took the Cloud Practitioner course but I encourage you to sit through it again as there were new “nuggets” of information and it also helped hammer home the points and topics.

After completing the course I continued to build and break environments to gain exposure to the platform while also working on the exam prep below.

Which Exam Should I Take?

As of March 2018 there are currently two exams for the Solutions Architect – Associate certification. Either exam earns you the same certification and is valid for 2 years. The exam released in February of 2018 seems to be a revamped and updated exam that contains all the latest information on the AWS services.

If you’re preparing by following my guide I would highly recommend taking the February 2018 exam. After completing the A Cloud Guru course and the additional steps below I felt very prepared for the exam. A comparison of the exams can be found here: https://aws.amazon.com/certification/certified-solutions-architect-associate/

Exam Prep Tips

  1. Make sure you actively participate and complete all of the A Cloud Guru labs in the two courses. Don’t just watch Ryan complete them.
  2. Think of real world applications where you could practice the labs further. For example, I moved a personal website to S3 and re-architected this site to run on AWS behind a load balancer.
  3. Take notes throughout the courses. I found it helpful to break them down by topic (i.e. EC2, Storage, Databases etc.)
  4. Read the Certification Blueprint & complete the (free) sample exam questions from Amazon.
  5. Read the Architecting for the Cloud whitepaper from Amazon.
  6. Be familiar with the S3 and EC2 FAQs
  7. Memorize the entire ELB FAQ for all 3 types of load balancers.
  8. Know the types of EBS disks and their corresponding IOPS AND throughput (Very important!)
  9. Memorize the default Cloud Watch metrics that are available (i.e. Memory is not one of them)
  10. Memorize the types of instances and what they would be used for (Not super important)
  11. Review the Well Architected Framework, no need to know it in depth.
  12. Memorize what can trigger a Lambda function and what languages are available in Lambda.
  13. These two discussions didn’t represent my exam topics but they did get me in the right mindset for potential questions: Discussion #1 & Discussion #2
  14. Complete the AWS practice exam ($20). Since the February 2018 exam was so new I opted to pay for this to have the most updated questions and topics.
    1. Keep in mind that the AWS practice exam doesn’t tell you which questions you answered incorrectly and it has limited questions.

Exam Format

  • Somewhere around 65 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes to complete the exam
  • Ability to flag questions and return to them later in the exam
  • No notes or access to electronics

Exam Topics

Below is an approximate breakdown of the topics I encountered during the exam. I found that the exam heavily focused on EC2. In fact, if you look at the chart below and add together EC2 and Auto-Scaling, which is part of EC2 then it was roughly 27% of the exam. Keep in mind that every exam is different so it’s important to study all areas.


You will find out if you’ve passed or failed immediately. However, it will take up to three business days for you to receive you score and breakdown.

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