Last week I took the AWS practitioner exam and passed it. Here’s my thoughts on the exam and tips that may help you when it’s your turn to take the plunge.
You’ve been revising for the past couple of months. You’ve answered a million mock exam questions and right now you think you know more than Andy Jassy about AWS. Your exam date is booked and you’re ready to go. This was me 2 weeks ago. Since then I’ve passed my AWS practitioner. If you continue reading this article you’ll learn all my tips and tricks for putting yourself in the best possible position for passing the AWS practitioner exam.
What should I do to prepare for the practitioner exam?
If you are reading this then I’m assuming you’ve already done some revision for the AWS practitioner exam. Not only that, you’ve probably booked your exam. Or at the very least started to think about setting a date for it. With that assumption I want to focus this section purely on the best approach for exam preparation and not the curriculum you need to learn.
You might be thinking this sounds a little contradictory and I understand where you’re coming from. Here’s my thinking behind this strategy. Answering questions in the exam itself and the process of learning about the topics the exam covers are two different things. You’ll need to do both in other to pass the exam. By practicing answering the types of question you’re likely to encounter in the exam you put yourself in a much between position when it comes to exam day.
For me the best way to do this was through mock exams. Lots and lots of mock exams. I found that not all mock exams are created equal and after trying a few companies, I would highly recommend the WhizLabs mock exam package. You get 3 complete mock exams comprising on 65 questions each. The exams themselves are not simple PDFs. Instead they closely follow the conditions you’d find in the real exam in an eLearning style multiple choice software package. Not only that, upon completing the exam you get a detailed writeup on each question and this really helps you understand where you went wrong on a particular question.
This might sound a little proverb but you can learn a lot more from the questions you get wrong than you can from the ones you got write. After all that’s where the room for improvement is.
What should I do on exam day?
Some of the advice I’m going to give here might sound obvious. But it’s the obvious things that people often overlook and if you overlook several of them then it could spell disaster on the day of the exam. All the revision and mock exam prep in the world won’t help you if for instance you show up 20 minutes late at the test centre. So, when you read these please know it’s coming from a precautionary and positive mind set with no intended condescension.
Map out your journey
Seems obvious, but it pays dividends to make sure you’ve allotted enough time to travel to your test centre. There’s no guarantee that the test centre is in the same city as you. For me the closest one available was 60 miles away from my home town. This took 2 hours to drive to and guess what I hit traffic! I got stressed and worried I would miss the exam start time. Luckily, I allotted plenty of travel time and the traffic soon cleared. This could of easily been a problem if I hadn’t taken this into account.
Should I revise on the day of the exam?
I have mixed feelings about this. Why part of me wants to say a categorical YES cram in as much revision as you can. The other side of me says no, you know what, Relax. You’re not going suddenly learn a bunch of new stuff 2 hours before the exam starts. Worse yet, by spending too much time revising on the day of the exam you could find yourself forgetting the other potentially more important things to check off. Such as leaving for the exam centre in plenty of time or getting a decent healthy meal a few hours before taking the exam.
Timing your food is really important
I was going to title this sub section “Food is really import” instead I added the “Timing your” part to the start of the title. Why you ask? Well let’s start with the original title. You really should eat a decent meal before taking the exam and drink plenty of fluids. Food is energy and your brain needs plenty of it on a normal day, never mind a day your taking an exam. However, the timing of when you eat is also important. If you eat a big meal a short time before taking the exam then you may feel lethargic and while your body is busily trying to process the meal you just had, your brain is franticly trying to stay awake. There’s a reason a lion takes a nap after eating its prey.
Tactics and techniques to use when taking the exam
First off, before you can even set foot in the exam room. You are going to have to show some ID. AWS recommends both a driver’s license and a none photographic card i.e. a credit card. If you don’t have a driver’s license then a passport should work fine too. This formality takes a few minutes so I recommend turning up for your exam with some time to spare, 10 – 15 minutes should be fine.
Once you’ve done this the examiner will walk you into the exam room and log you into your terminal. They’ll input your AWS number, don’t worry you don’t need to know this number. Then they’ll briefly run you through the steps you’ll go through for answering the exam. After that, it’s all up to you!
The method I like is to allocate 1 minute per question, knowing that this method will allow for some time at the end to review my answers. Don’t get me wrong, if you come up against a question and your like “I know this answer, I don’t need to spend 60 seconds on it” then that’s great! 1 minute is basically just a rough guide and prevents you from spending too much time on questions that you don’t know the answer to.
This technique follows nicely onto what I call the review stage. Let’s say you’ve followed the 1-minute rule and you’ve got a bunch of time at the end of the exam to use. This is a great opportunity to go back through the questions and re exam ones you weren’t so sure about on your initial run. In order to do this effectively then you need to keep a record of questions that require extra attention. You can do this as you go along using the supplied pencil and paper.
My last tip in the section is more methodical and a technique that could be applied to any setting where you have multiple choice exams. When you are presented with 4 potential answers to a question, go through them methodically and eliminate the obviously wrong ones first. You might immediately remove 2 of the 4. Now you’re left with 2 potential answers. This allows more time to review these 2 potential answers in greater detail. If after all that you still can’t chose between the 2 then well a 50/50 chance is better than a 1 in 4 chance.
Clicking submit and getting your results
The questions are answered, you’ve reviewed all the questions you had second thoughts on and you are ready to click submit. Gosh. If you are like me, you’ll hesitate at this moment. But take a deep breath and hit submit.
Wait, I have to do a survey now? Yes, I was surprised to find out that after submitting my exam the interface asked me to complete a short survey of 8 questions. This was fine, they ask questions about the exam and the test environment. I’m not sure if this happens for everybody or if it was just a random thing for me. But if it does show up on yours, just wizz through it and submit your answers.
Ok this is the part. The part where you find out if all that effort has been worth it. You are presented with a screen that basically tells you immediately if you have passed or failed the AWS practitioner exam. You don’t get your exact score. That comes later. For me I found out around 4 days afterwards. I’m not exactly sure why there’s a delay, but I guess it’s no big deal.
Now what should I do?
The AWS practitioner exam is at the lowest rung of the AWS certification hierarchy. You could quit now while you’re ahead or if you’re like me. Set your sights on the next course. Namely the AWS Architect Associate. Stay tuned and I’ll post my experiences taking this exam soon.
Feel free to browse the site, we have a bunch of learning materials that will help you learn more about AWS and pass your certifications.
I have another blog on the practitioner exam here, if you are after learning materials and the booking process then it’s the place to look.