Hello, friends!

We’re diverting from our usual productivity chats today and venture back into the world of tech. Specifically, the challenging journey towards becoming an AWS (Amazon Web Services) Solutions Architect Professional.

I just complete the certificate last Sunday and now that I recovered (a bit), I want to share what I did to pass it.

If you’re on this path, you’re probably already familiar with the basics of AWS and have likely passed the Solutions Architect Associate level. You might be worried about the professional exam – it's known to be tricky, but don't fret. With the right preparation and mindset, you're fully capable of nailing it. In my case, I think I might have over prepared as I found it quite easy and had even over 1 hour left at the end.

So let's jump right into my top ten tips!

1. Prior Experience is Key

It's vital to have hands-on experience. AWS recommends two or more years of experience in designing and deploying cloud architecture on AWS. Theoretical knowledge won’t cut it – you need to have tried, tested, and tinkered. If you lack the on-the-job experience, make sure you do a lot of hands-on exercises/labs.

2. Use Multiple Study Resources

No single resource covers everything you need to know. Use a combination of study guides, video courses, white papers, and AWS FAQs. The AWS Well-Architected Framework is also essential.

I used the following courses:

Cloud Training by Neal Davis

Neal’s course was my main source of study for the first month. I had bought his whole course and also have it via udemy. I love his study plan and followed it religiously. The tests are great quality and I found it prepared me very well for the exam.

Stephane Maarek’s course on Udemy

As a huge fan of Stephane, I listened to his course while playing video games and driving to work.

You can find it on Udemy.


Not impressed by the depths of this one, but otherwise a fan, I only listened to this on double speed the Saturday before I took the exam. I can recommend doing that as well. It brought together some of the concepts in a new light and helped with a final overview. You can find it here.


Usually I’m a huge fan of Jon and his work, but for this cert, the practice tests were just too much. The questions too complicated and time consuming. I did review his cheatsheets the day before the exam, but did not use his tests as main source of prep. I know others swear by it, but I just didn’t want to spend the time. Luckily it paid off and I passed without! In case you are curious, please take a look at his site.


As ‘Amazonian’ I get free access to SkillBuilder and I did their practice test which I consider as essential for the exam. I did it twice. Once directly after doing Neal’s course and once the week before the exam.

Also a necessity, is the exam readiness course linked here. It helped me immensely with some of concepts I need to be aware of: Cognito user vs identity pools for example.

3. Deep Dive into Services

Understand not just what services AWS provides, but also when and why to use them, their limitations, and how they interact with other services. Key services include Amazon S3, Amazon EC2, AWS VPC, Direct Connect and Amazon Route 53.

4. Master the Five Pillars of the Well-Architected Framework

The five pillars - Operational Excellence, Security, Reliability, Performance Efficiency, and Cost Optimisation - underpin every question in the exam. Ensure you understand them thoroughly.

5. Practice with Mock Exams

Mock exams are invaluable for gauging your readiness. They expose you to the question format and help you identify areas of weakness. AWS provides practice exams, and third-party providers offer more extensive sets.

6. Analyse Exam Domains

AWS provides a blueprint of exam domains - the areas of knowledge the exam covers. These include designing for organisational complexity, and cost optimisation. Focus on these areas during your studies.

7. Time Management

This is a tip straight from the productivity handbook. The exam is three hours long, with complex, multi-part questions. Practice managing your time so you’re not rushing through at the end.

I had the goal of 25 questions per hour. This was taking into consideration that I had the 30 minutes extra as non-native speaker. I was much quicker in the actual exam though.

Time management is also important before the exam. The preparation for the exam is not joke. I booked the exam 2 months out. For the first month I did Neal's course as described above. This included his practice exams. The final weeks before the exam after I completed his course were for running mock exams. I had to build up the stamina to sit for a 3 hour exam. Focussing on the types of questions you are being asked at the exam for 3 hours is tough and what I found the biggest challenge. I'm a visual thinker and I always have to 'imagine' the scenario in my head. It took practice to find out what I need to do to keep focus for such a long time. For me that meant doing around 10 questions and then giving my eyes and head a break. In the exam I closed my eyes for a few seconds. You have to find out what works for you!

If English is NOT your first language you can apply for an extra 30 minutes and I strongly recommend to do that. Even if you might not need it like I did, it helps with the nerves.

8. Learn from Others

Join AWS discussion forums and study groups. Learn from those who have already passed the exam. Their insights and experiences could be the difference between a pass and a fail. If you are working at Amazon, ping me via Slack and I’ll tell you which of the channels you can join to help you out.

9. Stay Updated

AWS is constantly evolving, with new features and services added regularly. Keep abreast of these changes and understand how they impact the architecture best practices.

10. The Power of Active Recall and Spaced Repetition

These study techniques are lifesavers. Active recall involves testing yourself instead of merely re-reading your notes. Spaced repetition means reviewing information at increasing intervals over time. They'll help you retain information effectively. This is were I felt Neal’s course really helped as his study guide includes spaced tests that help with repetition and recall.

Remember, it's perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed when preparing for the AWS Solutions Architect Professional exam. It's a tough one. But with the right preparation, the right resources, and the right mindset, you've got this. Best of luck, and remember - productivity is a journey, not a destination.

And as always, have a great day!



P.S: If you want my notes on some of the trickier topics, ping me on LinkedIn and I will send them to you.

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Last Update: December 10, 2023