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Blog: Breaking down the questions on AWS Certification exams

In 2020, I was looking for a career change that would expand beyond software testing to building cloud solutions. I saw a post on LinkedIn about the Amazon Technical Apprenticeship program, which helps members of the military community—veterans and their spouses—transition to careers in cloud computing. Amazon’s commitment to support military veterans and their spouses resonated with me because my husband, Jeremiah, is a veteran. After connecting with a few of the Amazon Technical Apprenticeship program managers, and interviewing, I was offered a new role in 2021 with Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a cloud consultant apprentice, which I happily accepted.

In my cloud consultant apprentice role, I was required to earn the AWS Certified Solutions Architect –Associate certification. After doing so, I quickly realized that certifications not only build my expertise and confidence, but they’re recognized industry-wide, meaning my cloud skills can be easily validated. So far, I’ve earned four AWS Certifications (i.e., AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate, AWS Certified Developer – Associate, and AWS Certified Database – Specialty) and plan to earn all 11 currently offered. They’ll increase the depth and breadth of my cloud knowledge—a true investment in my future.

The road to earning AWS Certifications requires hard work, determination, and perseverance. The exam questions are complex and there’s a lot to consider when answering them. There are several tools you can use to support your learning, including the AWS Certification exam guides. In this post, I’ll share some of the test-taking strategies I’ve used. Specifically, I’ll share my strategy for breaking down each certification exam question into three parts. By doing so, I’m better able to identify the right answer and avoid wasted mental energy and time.

Breaking down exam questions into three parts

Before we get into my question-answering method, a bit of my perspective on exam time management. AWS Certification exam durations can vary anywhere from 90 to 180 minutes, depending on the AWS Certification. With this in mind, I set a self-imposed time limit of 45-60 seconds to read each question. If I’m confident about the answer, I choose it and move onto the next question. If I have any doubts, I flag the question to come back to it later and move on. Once I reach the end of the exam, I circle back to the flagged questions before submitting. With this approach, I answer all the questions I am certain of first, ensuring I leave plenty of time for questions I’m not as comfortable with.

My method for dissecting the exam questions is as follows. When I read each question, I answer these three key questions:

  1. What requirement(s) does the question put in place?
  2. What’s the condition?
  3. Following AWS best practices, what’s the best solution?

Examples of breaking down practice exam questions

Now, let’s look at a few examples of this approach in action. I took the following practice exam questions from an AWS Training Partner, Tutorials Dojo, with their permission. 

Question 1:  You have created a Node.js Lambda function that updates a DynamoDB table and sends an email notification via Amazon SNS. However, upon testing, the function is not working as expected.
Which of the following is the BEST way to troubleshoot this issue?

Multiple choice answer options:

A. Use AWS X-Ray
B. Use Amazon CloudWatch
C. Use Amazon Inspector
D. Use CloudTrail

Three points to identify:

  1. What does the question require? Needs best troubleshooting service that can debug communication in between AWS services.
  2. What’s the condition? There’s a serverless application—Lambda updates a DynamoDB record using SNS.
  3. Following AWS best practices, what’s the best solution? Use AWS X-Ray

Answer and explanation:

I chose AWS X-Ray because it helps developers analyze and debug production distributed applications, such as those built using a microservices architecture. With X-Ray, you can understand how your application and its underlying services are performing to identify and troubleshoot the root cause of performance issues and errors. X-Ray provides an end-to-end view of requests as they travel through your application and shows a map of your application’s underlying components.

Question 2: An online learning platform, which is hosted in Elastic Beanstalk, has a lot of new features
being deployed every month. Their users are complaining that whenever there is a new deployment, the platform experiences outages or intermittently switches back between the old and the new version. Upon checking, this was caused by partially completed deployments which occurs when a rolling deployment fails after some batches have already completed. Which of the following is the BEST deployment method to use to prevent these issues from happening?

Multiple choice answer options:

A. Use the All at once deployment method
B. Use the Rolling deployment method
C. Use the Rolling with additional batch deployment method
D. Use the Immutable deployment method

Three points to identify:

  1. What does the question require? Needs the best deployment plan to minimize experiences outages or intermittently switches back between the old and the new version.
  2. What’s the condition? Application hosted in Elastic Beanstalk; new feature gets deployed every month an outage occurred as this caused partially deployment failed.
  3. Following AWS best practices, what’s the best solution? Use the immutable deployment method.

Answer and explanation:

Immutable deployments perform an immutable update to launch a full set of new instances running the new version of the application in a separate auto-scaling group, alongside the instances running the old version. Immutable deployments can prevent issues caused by partially completed rolling deployments. If the new instances don’t pass health checks, Elastic Beanstalk terminates them, leaving the original instances untouched. Immutable environment updates are an alternative to rolling updates. Immutable environment updates ensure that configuration changes that require replacing instances are applied efficiently and safely. If an immutable environment update fails, the rollback process requires only terminating an auto-scaling group. A failed rolling update, on the other hand, requires performing an additional rolling update to roll back the changes.

If I can do it, you can, too

Completing the training to prepare for these certifications has involved learning many new tools, resources, and technology services, which are very different from those I worked with in the past. I encourage you to take advantage of the multitude of resources available, including this blog with tips to prepare for the AWS Certified Developer – Associate exam.

I look forward to continuing my AWS Certification journey, and will always invest time to improve my technical skills and knowledge. I hope this post has inspired you—you have what it takes to push yourself farther than you thought possible. Take it from me, the AWS Certifications are worth it. I wish you all the best in your pursuit of your (next) AWS Certification.