Preparing for AWS Certifications

Currently I have 11 AWS certifications. I took my first AWS certification exam back in 2014. Since then I’ve re-certified and taken well more exams than the 11 certifications shows. I get asked a lot how do you prepare for the exams? What study materials do you use? So I thought I’d try to share my experience hoping it will help others.

I know it is not the answer you are looking for but I have never used any study materials or exam course to prepare to an AWS certification. I have only ever relied upon experience. There is no replacement for simply using AWS to prepare yourself for an exam. The trick is to use AWS without the idea that you are trying to prepare for an exam. Use AWS in your job or use it for a personal hobby project. You will get great experience in the process and you will be preparing yourself for the exam without even knowing it. If you use AWS for purposes of studying it will feel tedious.

My AWS certifications.
Jeff’s AWS Certifications


A good trick is to find reasons to use an AWS service that is covered on one of the exams. If you are wanting to take the Certified Developer exam then you should find reasons to use CodeBuild, CodeArtifact, and other Code* services. If you can’t do it as part of your job then set up a CI/CD pipeline for a hobby project. Just be sure to approach the hobby project like you would at work – take things seriously and do things right. Taking shortcuts in your practice won’t help you on the exam. Each AWS certification has an exam guide as a downloadable PDF. The guide lists the concepts and AWS services that are fair game for the exam. This exam guide should be your very first resource.

Another very important thing to do is read the AWS documentation. Read each service’s FAQ and as much as the documentation for it as you can. This will be extremely valuable for your exam and make you a better AWS engineer overall.

Back in 2014 when I took my first exam I don’t think there were paid exam courses. Now they are everywhere. I don’t need to list any names here because I’m sure you are already well aware of them. The idea is you pay for their materials and they give you learning content and sample exams. The problem is you have no idea how good their exam content is or how well it actually reflects the content of the AWS exams. Out of curiosity I have looked at some of the paid practice exams. I have found nearly all of the paid practice exams to have questions that are so much unlike actual AWS exam questions you are honestly wasting your time and money. (If you disagree please let me know in the comments. I would love to learn that some exam materials are of a higher quality.)

Anyone who has taken an AWS exam can attest to the style of the AWS exam questions. There is a distinct style that is achieved by a very rigorous test development methodology adhering to strict exam guidelines. The questions on purchased practice tests don’t have any quality control other than perhaps a second review by the person who wrote the questions.

So, skip the paid course materials and practice tests. Use that money to pay for your actual AWS experience. Use AWS services. Practice. The money you would have spent on a low quality practice test would likely cover many months of AWS costs of your hands-on practice even though the free-tier will cover most things.

If this is your first AWS exam then be sure to try the official AWS practice exam. For around $20 you can get the feel of an actual AWS exam easily from your own computer. If this is your first AWS exam and you do not have a very technical background or you just want to get your feet wet first, check out the Cloud Practitioner certification. This foundational exam is designed primarily for business-minded professionals but can serve as a nice introduction to the style of AWS tests for anyone who is curious.

Lastly, just having a certification doesn’t do you a lot of good. If you buy the materials and the practice test and then pass the AWS exam you still don’t have the necessary experience. A good hiring manager will find that out very quickly. However, if you prepared for the exam by actually using AWS, you will have lots of experience to share during an interview.

Are certifications actually valuable? That’s an entirely separate blog post. 🙂

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