“Failure doesn’t mean the game is over, it means try again with experience.”
— Len Schlesinger
After recently passing my Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Architect Associate Exam, I decided to pursue my AWS Certified Developer Associate Exam and also passed that. In my previous post, I went over how to pass the architect exam whereas in this post, I will go over how to pass the developer exam. The two exams have some overlap but there are some differences to keep in mind, some study tricks I used to pass the exam and some resources I used to prepare for the exam that I will go over in this article.
Similar to the architect certification, the developer certification can help you start a career in cloud computing. Therefore, if you are looking to upgrade your skills or want to pass the exam for professional reasons, this post is for.
For my previous certification, my boss asked me to pass the architect exam as a job stretch goal. Once I passed that certification, the developer associate exam started to seem like a very low hanging fruit which it was. However, in this post, I am not going to assume that you have passed any other AWS certifications. If you have, you will find this certification easier but the tips I provide will help you pass the exam regardless of your skills with AWS.
If you are facing the chicken and egg problem (needing a job to get certified and needing a certification to get a job) then read on, I faced it as well and in this post, I will discuss how I broke that pattern.
When I started studying for the AWS developer exam, I was no longer new to AWS space so that helped. Similarly, if you have experience with AWS or even a certification, you will be ahead of the game when pursuing the developer associate certification. For all people who are starting out with AWS, I highly recommend that you first take and pass the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification. You can easily pass that certification after taking the following two beginner curriculum from AWS.
Head on over to AWS Certification and Training and register for a training account.
Add this to your learning module: AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials. Be sure to complete them in the recommended order.
Next, head on over to Coursera and audit this course: AWS Fundamentals: Going Cloud Native. Don’t worry, auditing is free.
After taking these two courses, you should be ready to take and pass the cloud practitioner certification. Don’t worry, that certification is very easy but I would recommend you not taking this exam just yet. We will get to that.
While the AWS certification exams are challenging (especially the questions in the architect associate exam are designed to be confusing), the developer exam was not nearly as confusing. Just like the architect exam, rote memorization won’t help you. The questions are scenario driven and you will have to think about the questions and you must have working knowledge of the subject to pass this exam.
Similar to the architect exam, I’m approaching this post as an outline of a general procedure for passing technical exams. I will be using the AWS Certified Developer Associate Exam as a blueprint, but this method can be used to pass any technical exam. The method consists of distinct steps, with each step culminating in a milestone, and each milestone guiding you to your destination of passing the exam.
So, let’s break down the steps and how each one will get you closer to your goals.
Step 0: It’s All Dark
Like all good programmers, we will start counting from 0. In step 0, you will have limited-to-no knowledge of AWS and its different technologies, just like I did when I began preparing.
Since you are a beginner at AWS, you must first get some exposure to the basics. Don’t worry about the hundreds of technologies out there yet, as your goal in this step is to simply not be in the dark. Let’s create some light, shall we?
If you have already registered and completed the curriculums I mentioned above, you are through step 1. If not, go ahead and do so and complete the two beginner curricula mentioned above.
There are many other beginner curricula on the AWS cloud that you can take, but these two are fairly comprehensive and cover a lot of ground. If you think you need additional help, feel free to use any other beginner curriculum.
At this point, you are simply trying to come out of the dark, so resist the temptation to sign up for a course or take a practice exam.
At the end of this step, your milestone is that you will have finished both of these courses and have a slightly clearer picture of what AWS is.
Step 1: Clear as Mud
In this step, you are not clear on most concepts and technologies of AWS. However, you have some clarity on the different terms of importance in AWS such as region or availability zone. You are now ready to make your first purchase.
Head to Udemy and purchase the following course: AWS Certified Developer Associate by A Cloud Guru. (Don’t pay more than $15 dollars. Just wait until the next major U.S. holiday and it will go on sale.)
Remember, learning does not come from reading books but by doing the work.
During your “Clear as Mud” phase, you must finish this entire course. The reason I am recommending this course is because Ryan Kroonenburg guides you from one step to the next, and with each video lecture there are multiple hands-on labs.
Do not skip any of the labs and follow along in the labs with Ryan. I cannot emphasize this enough. Since you are still hazy on how AWS works, the best way to get your head around development in AWS is to actually develop.
Following along with Ryan and he will show you a little of what you need to know to pass the exam. Only a little? Then how come I am recommending this course? I am glad you asked.
No course you take (and there are plenty of them out there) can possibly cover all the topics you need to know to prepare for the exam. The best anyone can do (which Ryan does a fantastic job of) is to familiarize you with AWS and get you to not be afraid of the console anymore.
Do not take any end-of-lecture quizzes or exams yet; we will come to that. This includes the quizzes that are included in the course at the end of each section. We will attempt those in the next step.
Your milestone in this step is to watch each and every video and to do each and every lab in this course once without taking any quizzes.
Remember the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam? Once you are done going through the entire developer associate course at-least once, you will be ready to take the cloud practitioner exam so go ahead and take that exam. It will give you some confidence in passing the exam and get you over some of your test anxiety.
Step 2: Translucent Phase
The reason I call this step the “Translucent Phase” is that you now know some of the terms, you are no longer afraid of the AWS console, and you have gotten your hands dirty with a lot of exercises.
Now that you have finished the course, go ahead and attempt the end-of-section quizzes. Since you did not take these quizzes the first time, you will have forgotten most of the content and most likely do poorly. That is the point. You are not ready yet to go on to the next level.
For every quiz that you achieve a score of less than 80%, watch the section videos again and redo the labs. Once you are done with the revision upon revision, you are now ready to take your first practice exam.
Go ahead and attempt the first practice exam included with the course. WARNING: You will likely not do well if this is your first exposure to AWS. When I was taking the practice exams for this certification, my scores were all over the place (more on that later) but it is likely that you won’t score well if this is your first practice exam.
Don’t be disheartened by the results. We are only at half-time. The game is not over yet. Just relax and you will get there, I promise.
Step 3: Do While Loop…
Now that you have your first exam score, you are ready for the next step, which I like to call the “Do While Loop….” This step will take you the longest.
You will have the exam questions you missed and the explanation of each exam question answer. For each exam question you got wrong, you should do the following:
- Read the questions and first understand what was being asked and why you got it wrong.
- Google the topic and read the AWS documentation related to that topic.
- Find a video on the topic that you have not watched before and watch it. YouTube is your friend here.
- Find a blog post that describes how to do what the question asked you about, then actually do it in your AWS console.
- Find a lab on the topic through Google and do the lab. If the lab does not involve actually doing something in your AWS console, it is not a good lab.
For example, one of the questions that I missed in the practice was related to identity and access management (IAM). Here is what I did:
- I watched this video from SimpliLean on IAM.
- I did this qwiklab on the IAM.
- I read AWS documentation sections on the topic.
So, where is the while loop? Here is your algorithm. If your last exam score was less than 80%, you must do steps 1-5 above for each question you missed. Then go ahead and take another exam. Never take the same sample exam twice.
If your exam score for the next exam is also less than 80%, then do steps 1-5 for each question missed for that exam and attempt another exam. Lather, rinse, and repeat. For each sample exam you take, you can expect to study around 20 to 40 hours while improving your score roughly 10-15%. Here is what my schedule looked like:
|Exam Number||Percentage Scored||Total Number Of Hours Studied|
If this is your first time attempting an AWS exam, your schedule is much more likely to be similar to my architect exam study schedule of scores.
Notice the pattern of these scores. There does not seem to be any. This gave me lots of trouble as I was hesitant to sit for the exam based on these scores. Will I pass or won’t I? The scores were not giving me a conclusive answer so I spoke to a colleague of mine who passed the developer associate exam already. He mentioned that he had a similar experience in that his score on the practice exam was around 60% every time he took a practice exam but he passed the actual exam easily.
My experience was similar to his. Notice how my practice exam scores were all over the place but when I sat for the actual exam, I scored a 91%. So if your experience is similar to mine, go ahead and take the actual exam even when your practice exam scores are around 60% because it turns out that the developer practice exam are not a good representation of the real exam.
Here are some other resources to help you along the way:
Brain dumps are actual exam questions that are copied from real exams in violation of the non-disclosure agreement every student signs when taking an exam. Be sure not to use any brain dumps from the internet. If you have already taken the two exams included in the course above, spend the money and purchase a sample exam from a trusted provider such as PearsonVue.
Brain dumps devalue your certification and you cannot possibly get or keep a job based on an exam you cheated on. In real life, you will not know the answer, and once you get outed as an exam cheat, you will likely push your career back a decade. So don’t do it. Read about brain dumps here.
Other resources I used:
The exam was heavily focused on certain technologies and tools. Knowing more about and doing some additional reading on these topics will definitely help you pass the exam. Here is the exam topic/technology and roughly how many exam questions I saw on said topic.
- Amazon X-Ray – 7 to 8 questions
- Amazon ElastiCache – 4 to 5 questions
- AWS Key Management Service– 4 to 5 questions
- Amazon S3 (featured prominently as it did in the architect exam )- 7 to 8 questions
- Amazon Cognito – 4 to 5 question
Notice that just these topics were roughly 50% of my exam which is quite significant.
Take the AWS Certified Architect Associate Exam With Confidence
At this point, if you have followed all the instructions above, you should take the exam and likely pass it on the first attempt.
There you have it. If you are looking to change careers or break into the cloud computing field as an IT professional, the AWS Certified Developer Associate credentials is a great way to highlight your skills. With the steps outlined above, you should pass the exam and with it be able to pursue many exciting new opportunities. Good luck on the exam.