Study Guide: AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate (SOA-C01) Exam

In this article, I am going to cover everything you need to know to be prepared for the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate Exam (SOA-C01 exam.) By the end of this article, you will have all the tools, knowledge and resources needed to fully prepare yourself for the exam. Since this is a high difficulty exam, the key to success is to fully prepare yourself so that you pass on your first attempt.

Passing the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate Exam SOA-C01 on your very first attempt is not hard, just make sure you know these topics very well:

  • Monitoring and Reporting
  • Scalability & High Availability
  • Provision Resources & Deploy
  • Managing Data & Storage
  • Compliance & Security Considerations
  • Networking & AWS Connectivity
  • Optimization & Automation

Aspiring to become an AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate is a good goal to have because it means you’re a master at deploying, managing and operating systems on AWS. The word “sysop” is an abbreviation for “system operator” and it refers to the ability to perform administration tasks in a networked environment. When you apply that to AWS, the largest cloud services provider, this certificate proves that you’re the right fit for a high level IT positions.

How to Prepare for the AWS Certified SysOps Exam

When you’re fully prepared for this exam, you will know it. If you doubt whether or not you’re ready, then you’re probably not ready. That’s alright, because this article is here to get you up-to-speed. First off, if you haven’t reviewed the test page and the official exam guide, then you should take the time to read them both.

By the time you take the exam, you’re expected to have mastered systems administration for AWS services. That means, you know how to configure, deploy, operate, maintain, manage and decommission high-availability systems on AWS. In short, you’re expected to not only know the entire AWS product stack, but also how to effectively use it.

In fact, you are required to know everything from the CLF-C01 AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam, which is also a recommended certificate to get before moving onto the AWS SysOps exam. Regardless, you need to know the ins-and-outs of the AWS platform, including available services, pricing and billing options, and how to run day-to-day operations utilizing AWS services.

If any of that seems above your knowledge level, don’t worry. I am here to show you how to fully prepare for the exam. First, if you’re not intimately familiar with AWS, you should probably consider the CLF-C01 exam I mentioned above, as that is recommended by Amazon for anyone seeking an Associate certification.

If you are familiar with the AWS product stack and have had some practical experience it with it, you may consider skipping the CLF-C01. Either way, the best way to be prepared to take the AWS SysOps SOA-C01 exam is to follow a course created by someone who has already acquired the cert. One such course is this exhaustive Pluralsight course, which will take you from beginner to certification in no time.

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What Subjects Are Covered on the AWS SysOps Exam?

You will be tested on your ability to set up, use and manage high availability, fault-tolerant systems using AWS. You must implement data flow and controls to and from AWS. You will be required to show that you know which AWS services are best for different scenarios, including data, security and compute centric tasks. You must show throughout the exam, that you follow AWS best practices and that you can estimate pricing and control billing. The final thing that the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate Exam covers are your ability to migrate on-premises systems to AWS.

The actual exam is broken down into 7 categories, which are:

Domain% of Examination
Monitoring and Reporting22% of your grade
Scalability & High Availability8% of your grade
Provision Resources & Deploy14% of your grade
Managing Data & Storage12% of your grade
Compliance & Security Considerations18% of your grade
Networking & AWS Connectivity14% of your grade
Optimization & Automation12% of your grade

Monitoring and Reporting

The exam begins with a section all about keeping track of your AWS services. This is actually the most important section on the exam, as it accounts for 22% of your score. Obviously, when you’re monitoring online services, you don’t want to look at all the data all day long. Instead, you want to find key metrics that are important to you or your client and then set up reporting so that you’re alerted when key metrics are achieved.

To that end, the exam opens by testing your ability to construct and maintain reporting alarms, which are tied to key metrics that you defined. The section is heavily focused on CloudWatch, where you must demonstrate your ability to set up basic metric monitoring and alarm reporting. In addition, you need to clearly show that you understand which metrics are performance-based, and which metrics are related to availability. After that, you must show that you can fix any performance or availability issues, by using and monitoring the metrics before and after discovering and fixing an issue.

Scalability & High Availability

The second section of the exam focuses on setting up elastic applications on AWS, or in other words, applications that can scale up or down as needed on the platform. In addition, there is also a focus on AWS Load Balancing as a method to attain the high availability of your service. This portion of the test only accounts for 8% of your grade, largely due to the fact that it is the shortest portion of the exam.

To start this section, you are required to consider various customer use-case scenarios, and then implement scalability and high availability as appropriate. You will need to be able to clearly communicate all the various options for scalability on AWS, as well as all the elasticity and resilience tools at your disposal. This means you need to know all the ins-and-outs of AWS Auto Scaling and AWS Load Balancing options.

Provision Resources & Deploy

Moving on, this portion of the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate exam focuses on provisioning and deploying infrastructure on AWS. This section accounts for 14% of your grade.

In this section of the exam, you will start by selecting the appropriate infrastructure services to deploy in various scenarios. You will need to illustrate that you understand the provisioning and deployment process every step of the way, from initial concepts through deployment, and everything in between. This means you need to understand how to create a complete infrastructure-based environment. Not just that though, as you also need to deploy applications to AWS. To finish this section, you’re going to need to show that you completely understand CloudFormation, OpsWorks, and AWS CodeStars.

Managing Data & Storage

The next section of the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate exam shifts the focus to data storage, including storage options, management, security, and retention. This section of the exam accounts for 12% of your grade.

To start off, you will need to show off your ability to create appropriate data storage solutions. This means you should have a firm grasp of everything from basic plain text data storage, all the way up to data lakes and warehouses, and really, everything in between. You must clearly demonstrate your ability to manage data retention in different usage scenarios. Finally, you must show your mastery of data protection by accounting for capacity requirements and by encrypting sensitive data.

Compliance & Security Considerations

This section comprises 18% of your grade, and as such, is the second-highest weight towards your score. In addition to that, there is no arguing that security and compliance are important since one data breach can cost millions or even billions of dollars in damages or fines. This makes the security and compliance section a very critical section to thoroughly understand.

The exam will test your ability to comply with standard AWS security best practices and to follow all mandatory compliance laws. You are also required to show that you understand how to implement, configure and use security policies on AWS for your own purposes. Since most businesses have multiple users accessing AWS resources, you must also clearly show your skills at implementing access controls for different user levels. Finally, you will need to rely on your knowledge of the shared responsibility model to differentiate between roles and responsibilities.

Networking & AWS Connectivity

Nearing the end of the exam, the next section focuses on AWS networking features and connectivity between AWS services. This section accounts for 14% of your grade on the test.

To pass this section of the exam, you will collect and analyze network troubleshooting information and use that to help diagnose issues and present solutions. You must show your ability to implement AWS networking features, such as Elastic Load Balancing and Route 53 DNS. Finally, you will also need to show your knowledge of Virtual Private Clouds, CloudFront, and the AWS API Gateway.

Optimization & Automation

The final section of the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate exam is all about automating and optimizing your AWS services. This concluding section of the test accounts for 12% of your overall score.

Since AWS is often billed by the hour, it makes sense to suspend AWS services that are not currently actively working. This section of the test ensures that you know how to access your current resource utilization so that you can manage AWS services effectively. To this end, you will be required to make cost-optimization decisions to reduce unnecessary billable hours and to develop long-term cost-saving strategies for the most efficient use of resources. The test comes to close with a final look at automation, which requires you to convert repetitive manual-labor tasks into an automated process that runs on their own volition.

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How to Pass the Test on Your First Attempt

Each time you take the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate exam, it costs $150 USD and takes over 2 hours of your time. This means if you fail the test and then take it again, well, now you’ve paid $300 dollars and spent 4 hours of your time. This is why you should do the necessary homework to ensure that you pass the SOA-C01 exam on your first attempt.

Easier said than done, right? Wrong. In fact, I know a 100% fool-proof way to always pass this exam on your first attempt. It’s a simple 4-step plan, but it never fails:

  • Find someone who literally teaches everything required on the exam
  • Absorb that material, put it to use, do your homework, and then…
  • Take practice exams until you pass them without much trouble, and finally…
  • Take the real test, because you already know that you’ll pass it.

Okay, so let’s start with step 1, finding someone who teaches everything that is on the exam. Luckily, we have several options to consider. There is the Pluralsight course I recommended at the beginning of the article, but here are a few more options to consider from Udemy instead.

Here is a great course that teaches everything you need to learn to become an AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate. This course goes over all the fine details and includes over 17 hours of on-demand video, several articles and a practice test at the end to double-check that you’re ready to pass the real exam on your first attempt.

Another option is this Udemy course, which also exhaustively covers everything you need to know to become an AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate. Like the previous course I mentioned, this one also has about 17 hours of video tutorials, multiple articles to study, and also concludes with a practice test to help gauge whether or not you’re ready for the real exam.

Both of those courses are great, and so is the Pluralsight course I recommended earlier. Just look at the reviews for any of these courses, and you’ll see a bunch of people who already used these courses to advance their careers and pass the exam on their first attempt.

If I had one criticism for those courses, it is that they only include one practice exam. The thing about practice exams is that they do not contain verbatim copies of the real test questions. It also means if you fail a practice exam, you don’t have a new one with different questions to try later. I would prefer it if these courses included more than one exam, but since they don’t, you may be interested in picking up this 5 pack of practice exams. This will allow you to test yourself before potentially wasting time and money on the real exam. If you can pass multiple practice exams, then you’re definitely ready to pass the real thing on your first attempt.

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How the Test is Scored & Other Final Considerations

The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator exam is scored using points that total between 100 to 100, and you either pass with a score of 720 or higher or fail with a score of 719 or below. All the questions on the exam are either multiple choice (1 correct answer with several tricky “distractor” answers that try and fool you) or multiple answer questions where there are 2 or more correct answers, hidden among several wrong distractor answers.

The test is administered by an approved testing center or can be taken online when appropriate proctoring software is installed and activated on the testing computer in order to minimize cheating.

The test must be scheduled in advance and costs $150 USD to take. The runtime of the test is scheduled for 130 minutes, but it all depends on your actual pacing. If you do not finish the test within the allotted time, you are scored for the questions you did answer and any unanswered questions are immediately marked as incorrect. This means you should schedule the exam for a date and time that you will be fully rested and prepared to sit and test for over 2 hours straight without interruption.

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Conclusion

As you can see from this article, the key to passing this exam is to thoroughly prepare yourself by learning all the required materials and practicing everything you’ve learned. This is a proven path to success and an easy path to follow!

Amazon AWS took the business world by storm and has become the defacto standard for cloud-based business solutions. That means that becoming an AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate is a smart career decision because it shows that you’ve completely mastered this in-demand platform. This level of certification shows that you are capable of architecting, managing, and optimizing and deploying AWS services, which are skills that are highly in-demand.

With great opportunity comes great adversity, and I can promise you that even the most knowledgeable system administrator would fail this exam if they took it without full preparation. This is because this exam tests your practical and theoretical knowledge of AWS from top to bottom, so any gaps in knowledge have the ability to tank your overall score. That means that anyone seriously trying to achieve this certification must do the necessary homework to really absorb the material. This is why I recommend following a proven path to success using one or more of the courses I recommended in this article.

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