How I passed my AWS Cloud Practitioner certification exam.

Why the Cloud Practitioner Certification?

I’d used some Amazon Web Services (AWS) products personally, such as their simple storage service (Amazon S3), years ago as part of a backup solution called JungleDisk, but that and a passing experience in a previous job role was about it.

I wanted to get a clearer overview of the massive array of products now available through AWS and what they can do for my own edification and that it’s got so much mindshare in business these days.

The entry level AWS Cloud Practitioner [CP] exam is definitely a good way to see that. It seems to be designed as both a gateway for technical people coming to start learning the Amazon Web Services way, but also for business managers needing an overview of what’s available.

Amazon have several other certifications which build on the CP, and then also some speciality ones on the side, so there’s a fair few tracks available. At some point I’ll be looking at the Architect Associate level exam.

Again, this is just what I used, and how much value I got from these resources - there is a mass of AWS based training and preparation materials out there, and I can’t possibly cover it all here.

Resources

As I mentioned, are a lot of resources available for all of the AWS courses and exams, and this includes the basic CP. There are of course video courses at the usual places like LinkedIn Learn, Udemy and many other 3rd party providers.

It’s worthwhile mentioning that Amazon themselves have a lot of materials to help you prepare, and whole pages dedicated to how to ramp up your learning for the exam.

In hindsight, I would say you could pass the CP purely on the free Amazon resources, with the possible exception of practice tests.

FWIW, here’s how I did it and what I think worked, and what didn’t.

Amazon’s Cloud Practitioner Essentials Course

Probably the best place to start on AWS for the CP is the Cloud Practitioner Essentials Course. This is a ~6 hour video and web page series which walks you through the basics of AWS. However, you couldn’t pass the exam just from this as far as scope is concerned.

I’ll be honest, it took me closer to 8 hours to finish this Essentials section. I might be slower than most when reading, but I was also starting an Anki deck for reference later. Be sure to take a note of all the other products mentioned - many you won’t be studying, but may be answers or distractors on the exam.

Amazon’s web / PDF resources.

There’s a lot of PDFs, whitepapers and webpages available to help. Several pages such as the ramp up guide(.pdf) have lists of recommended reading and other courses. You should review some of the FAQ and whitepapers, specifically the Overview documents, Support plans and pricing.

It seems like there’s a page with a high level overview for every one of the AWS products. Many of these summaries ended up in my Anki deck. For example, just knowing that Amazon Athena is a serverless interactive query service that makes it easy to analyze data in Amazon S3 using standard SQL pretty much got me a mark on the exam.

It’s worth looking up each product you hear mentioned, or even as an alternative in a question and check out it’s overview.

Practice Questions / Exams

This was the one place where I spent some money outside of the exam itself. On Udemy, I paid 2,400JPY (19 Euros or 17 GBP) for a course with DigitalCloud Training. The course had two practice exams and a 5 hour video walking through another set of exam questions to highlight the question styles and things to look out for. That company also has some videos on YouTube which are worth a look.

I think practice exams are vital to understand how questions are structued, and what kind of distractors you can expect. For the CP there are only two forms of questions - those which are single choice, and some which require two choices. Be sure to not miss that second choice, as you’ll lose the whole mark.

Studying

I did a balance of study styles in my run up to the exam which I’ll note here along with how effective I thought they were in terms of exam preparation.

Flashcards - I used the Anki application to make a single large deck. I did plan to break it down, but never got to it. Cards were mainly to test acronym knowledge, the product overviews, and also some of the deeper architectural items AWS uses.

For example, the Well Architected Framework has sub-lists which are referenced in multiple questions. Unlike for some other tests, I often Previewed the cards, meaning reading them as a reference, rather than doing the spaced repetition learning style you normally would with Anki. This was so I could get through each equally, and in some cases in sequence.

Videos - The AWS ~Essentials course was useful, but not worth reviewing again if you take good notes from it the first time and follow up on the various product pages. There are also some videos on LinkedIn Learning which were quite good; I did one by Hiroko Nishimura but it seemed to be more a summary of the AWS course itself for non-technical people, but there are others to try if you’re more technically experienced.

Ramp-Up - Use the ramp up guide to see if you’ve covered all the areas suggested. It references a few good whitepapers which are likely to come up in the exam, and on test exams.

Study Plan - As I mentioned above, I did a combo of video, flashcards, white papers and then test exams. The test exams also gave me the names of more products to look up, if only so I knew what they were so I could eliminate them as possible answers on future questions.

The Exam, Location and Question Style

I did my exam at a local PearsonVUE accredited location. It was small (a 6 person room) with a noisy air conditioner and plenty of noise from a nearby street.

The AWS system is quite simple, with just the questions, a comment option and the ability to flag questions you want to return to later. This was much simpler that the previous PMI CAPM test I’d done which required a calculator and highlighter/strikethrough options. There are no formulas to remember for the CP as far as I could tell, and no questions asked for calculations to be performed.

The staff at the location were friendly and down to business, and the day I was there there was a steady flow of people in and out but despite this there was no fuss or distraction.

How was your score?

You don’t get a percentage score as such, but you do find out straight away if you passed, but with a caveat that the exam may be checked and expect to wait up to 5 days for other notification. I got a confirmation with my digital badge entitlement within 24hours, but I don’t think there’s a certificate PDF to print out.

What’s Next?

Good question. I’m planning on doing the ISC^2 CISSP next. It’s a much heavier exam by the read of it, so we’ll see how it goes. As far as AWS os concerned, I expect to be doing the Associate level Architect exam next.