Study Guide: AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate (SSA-C02) Exam

Welcome to my guide on preparing for and passing the AWS Certified Solutions Architect SSA-C02 exam on your first attempt. In this article, I am going to walk you through all the steps that you can take to make sure you pass this exam with flying colors. This is a full preparation guide, so by the end of this, you will have all the resources necessary to be completely prepared to pass the exam on your first attempt.

To become a manager or senior IT staff member, you need to be able to architect solutions to real-world business problems. By becoming an AWS Certified Solutions Architect, you have proven that you have the hands-on experience and practical day-to-day knowledge needed to architect appropriate cloud-based solutions to solve any of today’s IT needs.

An Overview of the AWS SSA-C02 Exam

Becoming an AWS Certified Solutions Architect means you’ve mastered the art and science of creating and deploying the correct AWS services for any particular scenario. This is the kind of certificate that IT managers and decision-makers should have if they’re working with AWS solutions for their business needs.

The number one key to success in passing any certification is proper preparation. This means understanding exactly what is on the exam so that you can devote the necessary time and resources to study the subject. To that end, let’s start by taking a look at all of the topics and each of the sections that are covered in the SSA-C02 exam.

Domain% of Examination
Architecting Resilient Solutions30% of your grade
Architecting High-Performance Solutions28% of your grade
Architecting Secure Solutions24% of your grade
Architecting Cost-Effective Solutions18% of your grade

Since this is an Associate level certification, you’re expected to already have a grasp of the fundamentals of AWS before pursuing this cert. While optional, anyone pursuing Associate certs is recommended to have already completed the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner CLF-C01 exam before moving up to the AWS SSA-C02 material. If you haven’t completed that cert, it’s not a deal-killer, but you are still expected to know everything that is covered by that exam. That means even if you don’t take the CLF-C01 exam, studying the relevant material is a good foundational backbone.

There are four sections to the AWS SAA-C02 exam, with each one accounting for slightly less of your overall score as the section before it. However, even though all sections are not equally weighted for your test score, they are equally important in terms of becoming a good AWS Solutions Architect. Let’s deep dive into all four of these sections to outline exactly what each one covers.

Architecting Resilient Solutions

Designing resilient solutions means that they are robust, redundant and failsafe. The SSA-C02 exam starts with a section of questions designed specifically at your knowledge of implementing resilient systems using AWS. This section of the test accounts for 30% of your grade, so technically it is the most important when it comes to your test score.

In this section, you will need to show off your ability to design solutions using AWS that have multi-tier, high availability and/or fault tolerance implemented. In addition, you must architect decoupling mechanisms with AWS. The section ends by ensuring you know how to select resilient storage that is appropriate for various use-case scenarios.

Architecting High-Performance Solutions

Moving onto the next section, the SAA-C02 shifts it’s focus from resilient designs to high-performance solutions. This part of the test is all about maximizing performance by architecting solutions with room to grow and by keeping raw execution speed in mind. This section accounts for 28% of your test score, so it is about as important as the first section in terms of the overall grade.

This section starts by testing your knowledge of available AWS solutions, specifically asking you to pick the right AWS product for high-performance compute in various business-case scenarios. You will be required to show your knowledge of the solutions available that provide elastic and scalable computing resources. The majority of the content in this section focuses on hypothetical usage scenarios, followed by questions about which storage, network, or database solutions are the highest performing for each particular workload.

Architecting Secure Solutions

When you place critical compute services out onto the internet you are exposing them to security risks. This section of the exam is all about your ability to assess those risks and then implement practical solutions to ensure your AWS services do not get compromised by hackers or disgruntled ex-employees. This section of the tests is worth 24% of your grade on the exam, so it is weighed almost as much as the previous two sections.

The security portion of the exam opens by asking you to secure access to all AWS resources. Next, the exam requires you to architect secure application tiers. The section concludes by running through a lot of different real-world usage scenarios and asking you to choose the most appropriate data security solution to protect your AWS resources.

Architecting Cost-Effective Solutions

The final section of the SAA-C02 focuses on designing solutions that are cost-effective. This means you need to know all about the billing of various AWS resources so that you can choose the combination of services that is most appropriate without wasting money. The final section of the test accounts for 18% of your grade, which is the lowest of all the exam sections, yet still high enough that you’re going to want to pass it.

To begin the final portion of the test, you will be presented with many different usage scenarios and asked to pick the most cost-effective AWS solution that solves the problem. This continues for basically the entirety of the section, but the focus shifts from storage solutions, to compute and database solutions, before ending with a focus on network architecture cost optimization.

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How to Pass the AWS SSA-C02 Exam on Your First Attempt

The AWS SSA-C02 exam takes over 2 hours and costs $150 USD each time you take it. That means if you end up taking the test multiple times, you’re spending more time and money then necessary. The better way to approach the exam is to make sure you pass it on the first attempt. While this may seem easier said than done, I’ve actually found a way that allows me to pass any cert exam on the first attempt, which I am going to share with you now.

The key to passing any test is to first know what content you’re going to be tested on, and secondly to find a teacher who has already passed the test and who is teaching exactly the subjects required for you to do the same. Next, you need to throw yourself into your studies and learn everything the teacher has to offer. Finally, with all the knowledge you’ve acquired, take some practice tests. If you pass the practice tests, then you’re ready to take the real test, but if you don’t pass the practice tests, then at least you didn’t waste time and money on the real exam and can instead go back and study until you do pass the practice tests.

This article has done a good job in step 1: helping you to know what is on the exam. Now we’re going to find some teachers who are already AWS certified so that we have resources to learn everything we need to know to pass the exam.

One such teacher is Stephane Maarek who has developed a complete training course that over 100,000 people have enrolled in, to learn how to become an AWS Certified Solutions Architect. The course is available through Udemy, which I reviewed here, and features 23 hours of videos, tons of articles, quizzes at the end of each section and a practice test at the end of the course. The inclusion of a practice test is essential, because if you pass it at the end of your training, then you’re ready to take the real test. Otherwise, it is an indicator that you need to study some more before attempting the real deal.

Another option is this in-depth Udemy course on SSA-C02. While the first course is appropriate for almost anyone, this course, in particular, is good for those who really need to deep-dive into everything. In fact, if you learn best by learning all the underlying details, then this is the better course for you. This course has over 80 hours of video tutorials, so it is much more exhaustive and in-depth. The only real issue I have with this course is that it doesn’t include any practice tests, which naturally leads me to…

This is a set of 6 practice exams for the AWS SAA-C02I recommend anyone who wants to pass the real exam on their first attempt to at least pass a couple of practice exams first. This is especially useful if you end up picking up a course that doesn’t include any practice tests. It also makes sense if you fail a practice test, to try a different one instead of the same one multiple times, which is why the inclusion of 6 different practice tests in this pack is ideal.

Another great option for learning the AWS SSA-C02 material is this complete course. This is a much quicker deep-dive into the subject matter. I recommend this for people who have some previous AWS experience and who don’t want to sit through weeks of courses, but who instead want to condense the work down into a few days. This particular course comes with 2 practice tests, which makes it that much more appealing.

Similar to the last course I recommended, there is also this great Udemy course on AWS SSA-C02, which can be completed in 2 to 3 days and also includes 2 practice tests. This course is better suited for those who have some previous programming experience, although that is not a hard requirement. Like the previous course, this is one I recommend to experienced AWS users who are looking to brush up on everything covered on the AWS SSA-C02 exam.

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Preparing for the Actual AWS SAA-C02 Exam

If you’re an absolute beginner to AWS, but have the goal of eventually becoming an AWS Certified Solutions Architect, then you should first complete the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner CLF-C01 exam before moving up to the much more difficult AWS SAA-C02 exam.

For those of you who already have a firm grasp of the fundamentals, and ideally a year of hands-on experience with AWS or who have already finished one of the courses I recommended. So, you’ve taken a course or two and passed a couple of practice AWS SAA-C02 exams, now what? In my opinion, once you’ve passed the practice tests, you’re ready for the real thing. However, there are a few more things to keep in mind which I’ll cover now.

First of all, you are going to need to schedule your exam in advance. You have two options: you can either take the exam at a licensed testing center, or you can install proctoring software on your computer and take it from the comfort of your own home or office.

Let me throughout a word of caution about taking the test from home: don’t take it at home if you will be distracted. Specifically, if you have kids you’re responsible for, or animals who will constantly interrupt you. These are the things that can get you off track and cause you to fail the test. The test is just over 2 hours in runtime, and you will need most of it, so any unscheduled distraction runs the risk of derailing your test. Make sure you’re alone and/or undisturbed for the entirety of your test.

Another thing that you should be aware of is that the test consists solely of multiple-choice or multiple answer problems. Don’t let that fool you though, because it doesn’t make it easier. In fact, it kind of makes the test harder if you’re not totally comfortable with the subjects. That is because the wrong answers often look correct, and only by having a deep knowledge of the subject can you choose the actual true answer.

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Studying Advice & Other Exam Preparation Tips

When you’re studying for a higher-level technical certificate like this, there are some things to keep in mind. Ideally, you should learn at your own pace and use methods that work best for you. Only you know what works best for you, so give yourself every edge and advantage you can by optimizing your learning experience in a way that is tailored towards you.

For instance, if you learn best by doing things yourself, then you should select a course and as you’re watching the videos, pause them each time an action is performed so that you can directly repeat it in AWS yourself. This will ensure that you absorb the material you’re learning so that it doesn’t go in one ear and out the other.

Some people retain knowledge more consistently when they take notes. This is another benefit of on-demand video courses because you can pause the videos and take amazing notes without fear of falling behind. If taking notes hopes your retention then you need to take good notes.

It is also important to follow some basic learning best-practices. For instance, don’t stay up until 2 am if you’re planning on waking up and studying at 6 am. Studies show that people who are well-rested retain knowledge much longer than those who are exhausted and sleep-deprived. The same thing applies to other basic necessities, meaning you need to eat right, drink plenty of water and avoid drugs and alcohol if you want to maximize the effectiveness of your studies.

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Final Advice & Concluding Thoughts

Amazon has cemented its place in the business world with the success of AWS. This, in turn, has created tremendous opportunities for IT professionals who are willing to step up and learn the required skills to properly utilize AWS. This is why becoming an AWS Certified Solutions Architect is so lucrative in today’s IT world.

Properly preparing for the AWS SAA-C02 exam is simple, just find a teacher who covers everything on the test, study your brains out, and after passing a practice test or three, take the real exam. This is a proven methodology to acquire any professional certification and it happens to be extremely easy if you put your mind to it and do the necessary leg-work.

If you’re serious about advancing your career in the world of IT and cloud computing, there are few certificates as valuable as the one you acquire with the AWS SAA-C02 exam. However, it is a technical exam that requires you to actually be an expert on the subject, so you must figure out a method to learn the required knowledge. Hopefully the courses I recommended in today’s article fill that need for you. Thanks for reading and have fun learning how to become an AWS Certified Solutions Architect!

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