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AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam Study Guide & Resources

After about 5 weeks of steeping myself in the AWS ecosystem and platform, labbing like crazy, and attending a compressed AWS training course, I finally sat the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam last week and passed.

I’ve described my experience and thoughts on the exam itself here:
#AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam Prep & Experience

Study Materials

In preparation for the exam, I used the following study materials:

Best of luck with your exams!!! 🙂

AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam Prep & Experience

AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam Prep & Experience

Historically I have been well aware of AWS and understood the key services at a high level, but recently this has become a key strategic focus for my employer, and I was asked to get down and dirty with the platform. So after about 5 weeks of steeping myself in the AWS ecosystem and platform, labbing like crazy, and attending a compressed AWS Solutions Architect training course, I finally sat the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam this week, and am happy to say I passed!

It has been a pretty intense number of weeks, and my wife has been less than impressed with hardly seeing me for a month, but it has certainly been worthwhile!

TLDR: Loads of exam resources coming in the follow-up post. Learn to speed read! ACloud.Guru and official QA AWS courses are both good. The exam itself was reasonably tricky for an intro level exam, but not too bad. List of prep materials is here:

AWS Solutions Architect Exam Prep Process

I will post a follow-up list of resources shortly but for now, I will concentrate on the process!

My exam prep and training was largely centred around the ACloud.Guru and official QA AWS Accelerated courses, with a load of additional reading preceding and following them.

I am also a copious note taker and I spend significant amounts of time labbing to make sure that whatever I am designing for a customer, or whatever I am being tested on, I have generally done it at least once! More detail on these in the study materials post.

7 days before the AWS exam

Having spent several weeks labbing I spent my last week predominantly reading through the recommended whitepapers and reading the AWS FAQ documents, along with a number of articles from the AWS documentation site.

2 days before the AWS exam

I spent this time solidly doing practice questions, reading AWS documentation to fill in any blanks from the practice questions, and reading through my notes from the two courses.

I found the sample exam and practice questions very useful. The same goes for the practice tests in the ACloud.Guru course. Whenever I came across a question I was not 100% confident on, again I hit the AWS documentation site to fill in the blanks.

1 day before the AWS exam

One thing I did the night before the exam was to read through all of my ACloud.Guru notes, specifically concentrating on the “Exam Tips” which Ryan had noted throughout the course, as well as all of the end of section summaries.

Similarly during the QA course, every time the trainer mentioned something which is a likely exam topic I made a specific note of it. I took some time to review the list prior to the exam and look up AWS documentation and articles on the relevant features.

#AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam Prep & Experience

AWS Solutions Architect Exam Experience

The exam itself is obviously under NDA so I obviously cant go into any detail about the content. Amazon also provide an FAQ about the exam which is worth reading.

The exam centre I used was not one I had used before for Prometric or Pearson Vue. It certainly looked the part, very modern etc, but in reality, it was actually quite sub par. I was lucky enough to be sitting on the opposite side of a paper thin wall from a very noisy chap in a meeting room! Fortunately, the exam centre did provide ear plugs. Can’t say I have ever even felt the need to wear earplugs in an exam before, but there’s a first time for everything!

I felt the time allocation was reasonable. I finished after roughly 75-80% of my allotted time so very similar to a number of other industry entry to mid level exams I have taken in the past.

In terms of difficulty, I would equate the Solutions Architect Associate exam to being of a similar level to a reasonably tricky VCP / MCP, but definitely not as hard as a VCAP. I passed reasonably comfortably, but had to really think hard about quite a few of the questions. I was really glad I managed to get a bit of time to read some of the FAQ documents in the days before the exam, which were not originally on my resource list, but turned out to be very good exam prep!

Every time I hit next there was a very long pause until the next question is displayed. I can only guess the questions are being requested on the fly as you progress, as the pause was so long I cant think of any other reasonable explanation! I would guess I lost at least 3-5 minutes over the course of the exam, staring at the next question loading! Not ideal if you are pushed for time, and had I been, I may have found this more frustrating.

The submit button (which ends the exam) is frankly stupid! It appears on every single page of the exam. Do they believe people are going to answer the first 3 questions then hit submit?!? This is just asking for trouble IMHO.The test system vendor they use feels dated / clunky compared to other systems I have used recently, e.g. for Microsoft and VMware exams on Pearson Vue, which are pretty dated in and of themselves!

As this post is now getting rather long I shall end it here and provide a second post with a rather sizable list of my study materials!

In the mean time…

AWS Solution Architect Associate Exam Prep and Experience


AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam Study Guide & Resources


Windows Server 2012 MCSA Upgrade 70-417 Study Guide and Exam Experience

Sat and passed the 70-417 exam this week so thought I would get a few thoughts down for the benefit of the handful people who may still be planning to sit it. Yes, I know it’s Windows 2012, and I am writing this in 2016, but I’ve been a bit busy the last few years doing “other stuff”. 🙂

Preparation Materials

The list of materials I used to prepare for this exam were relatively few, and were certainly very inexpensive!

  1. Upgrading Skills to Windows Server 2012 Jump Start on Microsoft Virtual Academy – not massively in depth, but a great introduction to the new features in 2012.
  2. What’s New in Windows Server 2012 R2 Jump Start on Microsoft Virtual Academy – again, a good overview on the new changes. This of it as the foundations on which to build your new skills!
  3. Pluralsight training: Dipped in and out of the 70-410 / 70-411 / 70-412 courses for areas I needed additional knowledge. The quality of course material on Pluralsight is second to none and they are always my go-to video training provider. The only shame is that they don’t have a specific 70-417 course, which you can get on their biggest competitor (CBT Nuggets).
  4. Pluralsight: Windows Server 2012 Remote Desktop Infrastructure.
  5. Exam Ref 70-417 Upgrading from Windows Server 2008 to Windows Server 2012 R2 (MCSA) by J.C. Mackin. This was by far the single most effective aid to learning all of the new features, as well as passing the exam! If you only have time to use one study aid, this is the one to invest in. It’s also only just over a tenner! I will definitely be investing in these official guides for my future MS exams (if I do any – see below!).
  6. Followed the blueprint on the MS 70-417 site, to confirm that I had a reasonable understanding of each of the areas tested.
  7. Spent a number of hours installing and configuring as many of the different new / updated features in Windows 2012 R2, on my home lab (Intel NUC Nanolab). In terms of getting to know what the different configuration options and processes are, this is invaluable!

Exam Experience and Tips
This exam is unlike most other MS exams (or indeed other vendor exams) in that it is broken down into three distinct sections, covering each of the three equivalent exams (70-410/411/412). Once you complete each section, you cannot go back to the previous one. Personally this is not a massive issue for me as my exam technique is to answer and move on. If I’m unsure, I go with my gut feeling as this is probably more likely to be right than anything I come up with spending 10 minutes wavering back and forth between answers!

Taking this three section element a step further, your final grade is actually based on the lowest score of each section. Worse still, if you don’t meet 70% in any one section, even if you ace the other two, you fail the exam. No pressure then! I believe it varies, but I had less than 60 questions, roughly split three ways between the sections.

Everyone is going to have their strengths and weaknesses but I personally found the middle section the trickiest, passing by relatively small margin, but the first and last were not too bad.

It felt to me like the typical mixed MS bag of easy marks from simple questions, and the insanely difficult “how would you know that one setting or feature unless you had implemented it in some obscure use case”. This is perhaps where I feel sometimes MS exams are not very realistic, and don’t actually test your real world understanding / skills. This has become even worse in the past few years, as you are now expected to memorise literally hundreds of PowerShell commands, many of which you will probably never use, or could check using the ISE when you need to.

In terms of tips, my number one suggestion is that you definitely make sure you know all of the key PowerShell commands required by the blueprint / exam guide. Beyond that practice as much of the configuration as you can in your home lab, as you will be expected to know which “nerd knobs” to turn and buttons to click to achieve some activities.

Closing Thoughts on the Current State of Microsoft Exams
I have stated this openly previously, but I will say it here again. I strongly object to the concept of certifications which are linked to a specific product version, having an expiry date. There is absolutely no benefit to the individual, or indeed the industry to have someone take the same exam over and over again every couple of years, and any particular version is only “current” for 3-5 years anyway.

Do employers of vocational degree graduates expect you to go back to University every couple of years and re-take your finals to prove you understood the content? Of course not! They take your degree as proof that you understood the subject matter at the time, and that you have gained skills and experience both from that time and subsequently.

The other joke here is that the technical certifications themselves do not actually prove that you truly know how to do the job anyway, especially with the prevalence of brain dumps, and IMHO are only a gateway and aid to recruiters. Unless you’re a contractor, the further you progress in your career, the less potential employers actually seem to care about these certifications anyway. They appear to me to be seen as a “nice to have”, but your experience and skills are far more important.

For this reason I have decided that even as a self professed certification junkie, it is very unlikely that I will take my new MCSA 2012 and upgrade it all the way to the MCSE, largely due to the 3 year time limit and re-certification requirement. I would far rather spend my limited time learning other new technologies (for example AWS, Docker, Vagrant, etc) with or without certification, and using those new skills to progress my career.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the new Microsoft is making a great many positive decisions under Satya Nadella’s leadership, but the organisation’s decision to expire certs is not one I can get myself behind.

VCP6-DCV Delta Exam (2V0-621D) Study Guide and Exam Experience

Having successfully completed the VCP6-DCV Delta Exam (2V0-621D) this week, I thought it would be worthwhile jotting down a few thoughts on the exam, and noting the resources I used to prepare for it.

I’ve previously completed the VCP3, VCP4 and VCP5 “DCV” exams, however being specifically a delta exam, this one was a little different. The exam primarily covers the differences between vSphere 5 and vSphere 6, with a handful of seemingly more general questions.

For summary impressions of the exam (i.e. the TLDR), jump to the end of this article! 🙂

I used the following resources in prep for the exam:


The Exam
The exam itself was different to any previous VCP exam I’ve done. I would say that because the scope of the exam was much narrower, the depth of the questions seemed to me to be significantly more, with a few really tricky ones thrown in there.

Over all if I was to do it again (and when it comes time to do the VCP7 in a few years) I would probably just do the full VCP exam, rather than the delta. That way you can be sure of a decent number of the easy peasy questions which will probably be on stuff you’ve been doing for years, as well as the new stuff you may not know quite as well.

Obviously having not done the full VCP6 exam I can’t say this for sure, but I would say it’s a pretty good bet.

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