Some tips in taking the AWS Solutions Architect exam

Paul Edward Golez
6 min readApr 23, 2022

There’s a lot of materials out there tackling about tips and advice when taking the AWS Solutions Architect — Associate (SAA) Exam. This is just one of them.

AWS Solutions Architect — Associate badge

A bit of context about me

I am a software engineer based in Cebu, Philippines. I’ve been exposed to AWS services since the start of my software engineering career — which at the time of this writing is around 8 years.

The SAA certification (SA-C02) is my second one which I got 3 months after my AWS Developer Associate certification. I always take my exam at test centers because I don’t want to clean up my room.

Before you proceed, please note that I won’t be providing a list of topics that you should study for the exam. Instead, I will lay out some tips for the exam preparation as well as my experience during and after the exam.

Let’s get started.

The Exam Preparation

Start with the learning resources

To kickstart my learning, I purchased 2 Udemy courses to fuel up my exam preparation: Stephane Maarek’s course lectures and Jon Bonso’s practice exams. I believe this is a staple combination those who are taking the exam.

Maarek’s course lecture is organized and decomposed into bite-chunked lecture videos with the longest one not exceeding 12 minutes. In his lectures, Stephane doesn’t fail to emphasize concepts that are most likely to appear in your exam so you would have a good grip on them.

Have I mentioned that the course comes with downloadable slides which is quite handyfor quick review a day before the exam!

Bonso’s practice exams simulate the exam questions accurately. Each question has an explanation to the correct answer and references to the relevant documentation and notes. Reviewing your mistakes is a good way to highlight the topics you need improvement on so you can address these weaknesses.

One minor thing to take note though is that Bonso’s practice exam content may not reflect the real exam content outline. For instance, the real exam (SAA-C02) should contain about 9 questions for Designing Cost-Optimized Architecture domain but one practice exam contains at least 2 questions. Nonetheless, it’s not a deal break for me.

Review the AWS Exam Guide

I did spend some time reviewing the SAA-C02 Exam Guide, just to make sure that I’m on page to the scope of the exam topics and content outline.

If this is your first AWS certification exam, you should definitely check on the guide!

Design your environment for learning

Small and consistent habits pay off. I allocate about an hour every day as much as possible on learning any relevant topic. This includes re-watching the lecture videos, re-taking the practice exams, and reviewing the results.

My AWS SAA learning journey for February 2022

In addition, I have Maarek’s lecture videos and slides downloaded on my phone so it’s one click away to review them. You never know when you get some spare time so I make sure the resources are as accessible anytime.

If you’ve taken an exam before, start with the new topics

As I mentioned earlier, I took the AWS Developer — Associate exam months the Solutions Architect — Associate Exam so I’m familiar around half of the relevant topics. To optimize my learning, I started with the topics that are specific to the SAA-C02 exam and initially skipped those that I am already familiar with.

Some of the topics that I have to skip because they were covered in the DVA exam are the fundamentals (EC2, EBS, EFS, S3 and Athena, ELB and ASG, RDS and Aurora), monitoring (CloudWatch, CloudTrail, X-Ray), messaging (SQS, SNS, Kinesis), security (IAM), encryption (KMS, SSM), serverless (Lambda, DynamoDB, API Gateway), and containerization (ECS, ECR).

Below is the non-exhaustive list of topics specific to SAA that are not in-depth or covered in the DVA exam:

  • VPC topics
  • Amazon FSx, AWS Snow Family, and Storage Gateways
  • Various solution architectures
  • Disaster recovery, database migration, and backups
  • High-performance computing
  • VPC security (WAF, AWS Shield, etc.) and governance (AWS Organizations, Config)

Of course, I reviewed everything after I covered the new topics; I just wanted to get a head start on the unfamiliar topics to even things out when I review.

During the exam

Answer by elimination

This is my go-to technique when answering tricky or long questions. I read the question, take note of what is being asked for, run over the choices, and eliminate those that are very unlikely.

It’s just way easier to pick the correct answer if you’re considering a smaller number of options. The brain likes to keep track on a fewer number of things.

Answer what is being asked

The tricky questions in the exam boils down to those with multiple options that are all plausible. In cases like this, I always go back to what is being asked for in the question and start pondering which among the remaining options would best fit on what’s being asked for.

For example, is the question asking for what’s the most operationally-efficient solution or cost-efficient solution? Perhaps it’s looking for the quickest way to solve the problem?

In scenario-based questions like this, the most elegant solution isn’t always the correct answer. This is one gem I got from reviewing Bonso’s practice exams.

For me, it does make sense from a software architect’s perspective: one must be able to consider the trade-offs between valid options and the constraints the business is under when choosing the appropriate solution.

Allocate some time to review

Sitting down for hours could wear the brain down which could lead to a cloudy judgment while answering some of the questions.

I believe going over all the questions again has been a crucial part in the improvement of my score.

There has been a number of questions that I’ve given a second thought of and realized that I have initially chose the wrong answer. So make sure to allocate time for you to review your answers.

However, you have to take note that not all questions have the same weight…

Beware of the un-scored questions

As the exam guide indicates, the exam is sprinkled with 15 unscored questions. When I took the exam, I was met with a number of questions that I absolutely have no idea about or I might have heard of but I definitely wasn’t expecting to come out.

Don’t freak out. Remember, these questions are only there for information gathering and don’t really contribute to your overall score. Focus on the questions that are highly relevant to the exam.

I still answer them though but I don’t spend too much time when I review my answers. You’ll thank yourself on not spending too much time on these once your time is about to ran out. Yes, I’ve almost hit the 130-minute deadline.

Be a bit creative when answering questions

Since it is possible to traverse throughout the exam questions, I usually interleave questions when I initially answer them. For instance, I answer questions 1–9, 20–29, 40–49, and 60–65 before proceeding to the remaining ones: 10–19, 30–39, and 50–59.

I think that introducing a bit of randomness when answering the questions gives a fresher perspective before I review them in the standard order.

It’s actually in line with the way I work: should I find myself too deep in the zone, I take a break off the screen. I just noticed over the years that being in the zone narrows my thinking which could introduce some errors that I likely overlook.

Additionally, playing on the sequence of answering the questions helps me not to fall asleep during the exam. It’s already hard for me to sit still for 10 minutes.

So if you want to play a bit during the exam, try answering all the odd-numbered questions first.

After the exam

When I hit the ‘End Test’ button on my AWS Developer — Associate exam, I was relieved to see the PASSED result immediately.

That didn’t happen on my AWS Solutions Architect — Associate exam.

I have to read the message twice just to make sure that I didn’t fail the exam. It was along the following lines: We will review your results and will get back to you in about 24 hours.

I received the confirmation e-mail a little later than 24 hours. I’m not really sure how they decide on whether to show the results immediately or to review them first.

For first-time takers, just take note of this possibility. But if you’re confident about how you did during the exam, then you’d probably be less anxious waiting.

That’s all the tips I can think of; it’s really more of a brain dump for me. Still, I hope you got a few cents that could help you in your upcoming exam. Now, go get them!



Paul Edward Golez

Software engineer from Cebu, Philippines. I write because I can.