Getting Ready for AWS Certified Solutions Architect Exam – (AWS-SAA-C02) – Part I

I sat for AWS Solutions Architect Associate (AWS- SAA-C02) exam in Sep 2020 and cleared it as well.

This had to be done so as to qualify for upcoming work !

After clearing 7x AWS Certifications and knowing the drill it was still nerve-racking for initial part of my exam.

I am sharing my experience so it may be useful for anyone taking up AWS-SAA-C02 exam.

Looking back in 2013

I had cleared my first AWS exam in 2013 to become AWS CSA. This was the year when AWS launched their global certification program. Check out the AWS announcement from 2013 at https://aws.amazon.com/about-aws/whats-new/2013/04/30/announcing-amazon-web-services-global-certification-program/

First let us take a look the AWS Certification which was I received in 2013.

  • I was probably 1225th person to become AWS Certified as can be seen from the certificate ( AWS-CSA-1225)
  • Date : Aug 29 , 2013

This was an AWSSome experience as cracking the exam was hard for two reasons. AWS Certifications were just launched and very few people were certified so the know how on cracking the exam was limited.

However certification trend has really picked up with AWS over the last few years and is growing at rapid pace!

Now if you take a look at the certificate issued in Sep 2020 you should notice at least three major additions.

Amod Kadam AWS CSA 2020

  • Expiration Date
  • Validation Number
  • Validate at URL so that one can check the validity of the certificate

There are other changes such as logo , wording and place of signature as well.

What is the difference in AWS-SAA-C01 and AWS-SAA-C02 exam !

If you are appearing for AWS SAA Exam for the first time then you don’t have to worry about the differences.

However if you have already cleared AWS-SAA-C01 exam earlier and planning to appear for AWS-SAA-C02 then you may be interested in knowing the differences.

I have used a visual differences tool to compare these two exam guides.

If you are unable to view this here checkout the following link:

https://draftable.com/compare/nvMeynVEIMzT

Quick Comparison of Key Aspects

AspectAWS-SAA-C01AWS-SAA-C02
Typical Number of Questions6565
Time130 minutes130 minutes
Passing Score (Out of 1000)720720
Domains%ge of Exam%ge of Exam
Domain 1: Design Resilient Architectures 34%30%
Domain 2: Define Performant Architectures24%28%
Domain 3: Specify Secure Applications and Architectures26%24%
Domain 4: Design Cost-Optimized Architectures10%18%
Domain 5: Define Operationally Excellent Architectures6%
Total100%100%
Table 1 – Key Comparison between AWS-SAA-C01 & AWS-SAA-C02

At first glance you will notice that Domain 5 is not there in SAA-02. However Operationally Excellent Architecture do have elements from all the other domains so it is spread across other domains. So don’t be under the impression that it is gone completely from the exam.

Let us look at approximate number of questions you may get under each domain and subdomain.

In order to pass the exam you need to score 720 out of 1000 so 72% can be considered as passing %ge.

In order to pass the exam you need to get correct responses for at least 47 questions out of 65 questions.

If you look at the other way then you can err on around 18 questions in the exam.

Which Services are covered in Exam ?

If you closely look at the exam guide it does not mention the name of any of the services ! That looks bit odd at first glance.

However you should see that exam guide focuses on Domains rather than prescribing the AWS Services on which you should focus. As the exam is for ‘Solution Architecture‘ it tests your ability to choose the appropriate services and define solution to meet the given requirements.

Secondly the AWS platform evolves over the time and AWS introduces many services and features under each category. You should be upto date with those services. However AWS will not add any questions in the exam unless the service or feature is available for some time. ( At least for six months after the service / feature is available) .

Exam guide focuses on following categories.

  • Compute
  • Storage
  • Database
  • Networking

There is more than one service under each category and you need to have broad understanding of various services & key features.

  • What is the service/feature ?
  • When to use the service/feature ?
  • What are the pros and cons of using service/feature ?

Exam tests your ability to Architect the Solution across all the domains and how you design the solutions at scale which is resilient, secure, performant by keeping a tab on cost domain.

Glimpse on Service Areas for AWS-SAA-C02 Exam !

This is not a complete list and I will cover this in another post. This list should be used as a pointer for the list of services to focus. This is purely based on my experience with recently cleared exam.

  • Compute
    • EC2
    • ELB
    • AutoScaling
    • Lambda
      • Execution role
  • Storage
    • SnowBall 
      • Ensure that you understand the capacity limits of Snowball device
      • Understand whether Snowball can be directly used to connect to S3 or Glacier 
    • S3
      • Know about all S3 Storage Classes
      • Know all about Encryption options with S3
    • Storage Gateways (Quite Heavy ) 
      • Quite a few questions on Gateway so be thorough with storage gateways
      • Work through scenarios where you want to transfer data from on-premise to AWS ( e.g. transferring 800 TB from on-premise to AWS)
  • Networking
    • CloudFront – Know when to use it and concept of Origin and Cache behaviours
    • Global Accelerator  
    • Route 53
      • Know all routing policies and know which one to use when
    • VPC (Quite Heavy)
      • Quite a few questions on VPC Security Groups , NACL , Routing
      • Gateway Endpoint (more than one question on GatewayEndpoint)
    • API Gateway
    • Direct Connect
    • Hybrid Network
  • Security
    • KMS – Need to understand when to use customer managed key vs default key
    • IAM 
      • Be thorough with IAM policy , Role , Trust Policy , Switch Role concepts
  • Database
    • RDS
      • Secret Manager and Parameter Store with RDS 
    • DynamoDB
      • Global Tables – When to use
  • Other topics
    • Kinesis Use Cases 
    • ElastiCache 
      • Memcached vs Redis
      • Redis features of Snapshot ,Replication and Multi AZ 
    • Resource Access Manager – Sharing
    • AWS Organizations

In my next part of the blog I will focus on how to prepare for the exam !

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