Are AWS certifications hard?

Are AWS Certifications Hard? – My Definitive Answer

Answering this question is always going to be subjective and will depend on who you ask! But if you’re after the textbook answer then here’s how I’d quantify it.

While determining difficulty of an exam is always going to involve an element of subjective opinion. It’s fair to say that the exams increase in difficulty as you progress through the AWS certification hierarchy. With the Cloud practitioner being the easiest and the professional level exams posing the most challenge.

I’ve read through a whole host of forum posts, AWS faqs and accounts from people who have passed one of more of the AWS certifications as research for writing this article. So if you’re interested in finding out exactly what work is involved in passing the exams and which AWS certifications you can bag in the shortest amount of time then keep on reading.

Not all exams are created equal

I touched on this in the intro, but I thought I’d go through this again just to state the obvious. The higher you progress through the exams typically you’ll find the difficulty and the amount of study required to get a passing grade will increase. That being said, there are options and strategies you can take and specifically an order in which to take the exams that gives you the best chance to pass them first time.

I’ll go into more detail on this in the What I’d do in your shoes section later on in the article, so take the time to read the whole post as it will help.

Currently AWS offers 7 regular and 3 speciality certifications. With the regular certs being the ones you’re most likely to take at first. The regular certifications are split into 3 distinct learning paths with an emphasis on what skills AWS feel would be beneficial to a particular job role. Those roles are Architect, Developer/Engineer & System Administrator/Engineer.

The AWS certification road map. Split between foundational, Associate and Professional.

So which is the easiest exam?

Which is the easiest AWS certification?

Taking the Cloud Practitioner exam will give you a foundational understanding of AWS services. You’ll answer questions about the shared responsibility model, amazon’s pricing strategy, support plans and simple scenario questions on what AWS product best fits a particular situation.

Although amazon recommends at least 6 months of prior experience. I’d say that was way over the odds. If you were to start cold from knowing absolutely zero about AWS but had either an existing understanding of another cloud providers solution i.e. Azure or if you had a development/testing background then you could simply pick up the online learning materials from either amazon themselves or a third party and pass this exam

So if you’re intention is to get AWS certified as quickly as possible and with the least amount of study time then this is definitely the exam for you.

In terms of costs, the exam itself is around $150 dollars along with $20 for an online course and a $20 mock exam.

Total cost $190

What are the most popular exams to take?

Undoubtedly the Architect associate and Developer associate are the most popular exams people generally take. Unlike the Professional and Engineer level exams there are no prerequisites and you can sign up for them straight away. Whether or not that is a good idea is something I touch upon later in the article.

I think the reasoning on why these are the most popular is that students view them as presenting enough difficulty to warrant a large amount and have a certain level of prestige attached to them. You also find that a lot of people taking these certifications come from a developer and architect background and since those pools of people are generally large than just specifically dev ops you’re likely to have people who are more comfortable taking an exam with ‘developer’ or ‘architect’ in the name of the exam.

Learning time for these exams is around 6 months of part time study. Obviously that goes down if you already have considerable working knowledge of AWS.

In terms of costs, the exam itself is around $150 dollars along with $20 for an online course and a $20 mock exam.

Total cost $190

Which is the hardest AWS certification?

This question is tough to answer, not only because difficulty is affected by a number of factors including how hard you study! (Any exam that is taken without prior preparation is likely not to end well) But also because you need to find someone who’s passed most if not all of the exams! Which is easier said than done.

Luckily enough Krishna Srinivasan CEO of Whizlabs took the time to evaluate the difficulty of all the regular exams and here’s what they had to say:

Solutions Architect Associate Medium
Developer Associate Medium
SysOp Administrator Associate Little Hard
Solution Architect Professional Hard
DevOp Engineer Professional Very Tough

After reading Krishna’s evaluation of these certifications I realised this coincided roughly with Ryan Kroonenburg (founder of aCloudGuru) evaluation in which he stated that the SysOp certification path was the most difficult of the 3 options presented by AWS.

Passing the DevOp Engineer Professional will require considerable effort and I highly recommend not only passing the prerequisite SysOp Administrator Associate course but also the architect associate and architect professional certs before taking this one one.

In terms of costs, it doesn’t differ to much from any of the other exams. so around $150 dollars for taking the exam along with $20 for an online course and a $20 mock exam.

Total cost $190

Study time however will be considerably longer and I’d recommend both passing several of the other certifications but also at least a year’s hands on professional use of AWS.

What I’d do in your shoes

my shoes aws certification difficulty

These are my actual running shoes. Think I’m going a tad left field with the metaphors

First off, I think I should point out that I’m in the middle of taking my AWS certifications now! So when I give out this advice I really mean it. In fact I’m following it!

If you’re serious about getting AWS certified then given the way the exam hierarchy is structured I think it makes more sense to gain several certifications than just the one. The Pareto principle of 80/20 comes into play here.

Why is that? Well for instance, if you study to pass either the Architect Associate or the Developer associate certifications then there’s a massive amount of cross over in these exams.

So simply by studying for one you have put yourself in a really good position to pass the other. aCloudGuru estimates with as little as 2 hours additional study and a few mock exams you could pass the Developer Associate exam. Assuming that you have passed the Architect Associate of course.

Not only that, if you’ve passed either or both of these exams then you might as well go take the Cloud Practitioner exam. Or in my case, what I did was study for the Architect Associate exam and then take the Practitioner exam beforehand. After studying for an more difficult exam, taking this one felt easy!

I was in an out of the test center in less than 40 minutes and this gave me a huge psychology boost when it came to taking the architect associate since I was much more comfortable with the test conditions and procedure.

Advice on a certification path – depends on your role, tester, developer, architect, business analyst etc…

What certification should I take first?

From the previous section you might of guessed what I’d say here. So without any big surprise my advice would be to take the Cloud Practitioner exam first, however I’d recommend you study for the architect associate and then buy quality mock exams for the practitioner exam.

Studying the architect associate is overkill for the practitioner but it will cut your overall learning time down because you won’t need to go through 2 courses. I.e. one for each exam. This is the approach I took and it worked well for me. Again everyone is different and the title of this posts is are AWS certifications hard. Adopting tactics like this can subjectively reduce that difficulty.

After that progress to the Architect Associate and possibly schedule your developer associate afterwards.

Further study

If you’re interested in seeing what the kind of questions you’ll get in the cloud practitioner exam then checkout this post where I offer 25 completely free exam quality mock questions.

The day of your exam can be a little overwhelming, so I wrote my account of passing the practitioner exam. Take a look it has tips on how to prepare and how to put yourself in the best possibly position when you enter the test centre.

After that if you still want more, check out my 10 reasons why you should get an AWS certification.

If you are a tester and are confused which test is right for you then I wrote an article answering that and provide links to learning resources.

Ok that’s it for now, stay tuned for more AWS articles!

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