Due to COVID social distancing, I’m currently working from home. As I no longer travel to and from the office each day, I figured I’d put my newfound spare time to good use - studying.

As I’ve worked on AWS for many years now, I’ve always been interested in doing the certs as a professional challenge. Recently I set my sights on the Solutions Architect cert. After passing it though, I was addicted.

Wanting more, I added the Developer and SysOps certs to my sights too. In the end I passed the three of them in this order:

  • 8th August: Architect Associate
  • 23rd August: Developer Associate
  • 3rd September: SysOps Associate

In this post I’ll share some tips which I feel will aid you with your certification journey.

Tip #1: It’s not a race

If you’re thinking to yourself: “This guy said he did the associate exams in less than a month, but then says it’s not a race. What is he on about?” - I don’t blame you. Let me to explain myself…

When it comes to study material, Adrian Cantrill and Stephane Maarek are two very popular content providers. Though when people see their material consists of 30 - 40+ hours of videos per certification, some feel overwhelmed. Others get annoyed.

It is to these people I say: It’s not a race. You should be studying because you enjoy working with the platform. Therefore you should enjoy the ride, no matter how long it takes. Besides, if you’ve got prior experience, you’ll likely do it in a fraction of the time time anyway.

However, if you have no prior experience, it’s probably going to take you longer. That’s why it is so important that you enjoy the ride. If you don’t, it’s likely one of the following things will happen:

  1. You will lose interest before you get to the end of the material
  2. You will fail the exam
  3. You will pass the exam, but will not have learned as much as you could/should have

So, circling back to the question - “if it’s no a race, then why did you do the certs within a month?” - the answer is, because it was fun. I felt I already had most of the knowledge required for the certs from having worked with AWS over the years. Doing the exams was an enjoyable and challenging way to validate the thought.

Tip 2: Finding questions within questions

How many questions do you see here?

An analytics company is planning to offer a site analytics service to its users. The service will require that the users’ webpages include a JavaScript script that makes authenticated GET requests to the company’s Amazon S3 bucket.

What must a solutions architect do to ensure that the script will successfully execute?

  • A) Enable cross-origin resource sharing (CORS) on the S3 bucket.
  • B) Enable S3 versioning on the S3 bucket.
  • C) Provide the users with a signed URL for the script.
  • D) Configure a bucket policy to allow public execute privileges.

My answer is: It depends.

It depends on whether I know what CORS is. And if I know how S3 versioning works. And if I know what signed URLs are, etc. I not only want to get the answer right, but I also want to know why the other answers are wrong. If I don’t, I’ll study until I do. Doing this arms me with the knowledge I need to answer this question, as well as questions which pertain to the incorrect options too.

If you’re not using practice exams but would like to, I can vouch for Tutorials Dojo. They do a great job of explaining why an option is correct and why the remaining options are incorrect. This means they fit really well with the tip discussed in preceding paragraph.

Tip 3: Spaced Repetition

Everyone has heard of Flash Cards, but not many have heard of Spaced Repetition. If you fall into the latter category, be prepared to have your mind blown!

In a nutshell, Space Repetition helps you retain massive amounts of information in a very short amount of time.

When using Flash Cards, we’ll inevitably find some piece of knowledge easier to remember than others. However, there’s no easy way to control when we next see that card. This means that each time we pull out our Flash Cards, the easy ones are mixed with the difficult ones.

Spaced Repetition on the other hand, gives us complete control. If we find a piece of knowledge easy to recall, we simply select the “Very Easy” option. And just like that, we won’t see that card for a few days.

When we come across a difficult card, we select the “Hard” option. This results in the card reappearing in 1 minute. Upon its return, we might find it a little easier this time so we choose “Easy”. Instead of the card being buried for a few days though, we’ll be seeing it again in 10 minutes. If we still find it easy after 10 minutes, we can bury it again. This time, for one day.

And that my friends, is the beauty of spaced repetition tools such as Anki. The easy cards are buried and the hard cards are repeated until they become easy. This enables us to focus all of our time on the cards we find most difficult.

If you combine this study method with Tip 2, I can guarantee you’ll see the results within one week.

Wrap up

That’s all folks! I hope you found the above tips useful, and I wish you the best of luck with your studies. If there’s anything I can do to help, please feel free to drop me an email or message.

As always, if you have any questions or have a topic that you would like me to discuss, please feel free to post a comment at the bottom of this blog entry, e-mail at will@oznetnerd.com, or drop me a message on Reddit (OzNetNerd).

Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and not those of my employer.

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