Before taking the exam, you should familiarize yourself with the knowledge requirements and the exam's structure to get a good understanding of the concepts that the exam is designed to test.
We will cover the exam's structure through the following topics:
- The exam's blueprint
- The exam's requirements
- The exam's structure
- The exam's scoring
- The knowledge domains
- The questions structure
- How to take the exam
For every certification, AWS delivers a blueprint that can be used as a reference tool to get an overview of the objectives and requirements of the exam. According to the blueprint for the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate exam. Taking and passing the exam will prove your technical ability to create and migrate resources, manage and operate them, and deliver highly available solutions in the cloud, as well as your ability to identify best practices and estimate costs.
The areas of knowledge that the exam is designed to test can be grouped into the following concepts:
- Deploying, managing, and operating systems and services on AWS
- Understanding how to select a service based on various requirements
- The ability to migrate an existing application to AWS
- Delivering scalability, high availability, and fault-tolerance
- Designing and securing the flow of data to and from AWS
- Identifying the appropriate use of AWS best practices
- Estimating AWS usage and utilizing operational cost-control mechanisms
As mentioned previously, you should consider passing the AWS Certified Systems Administrator exam as the end goal of this journey. Part of this journey is familiarizing yourself with the services AWS offers and being able to use them. You should also consider that an eligible candidate for this exam is required to have general knowledge of IT and experience with AWS in the following areas:
- General IT – 1-2 years' experience in a SysAdmin/SysOps role
- One or more years' hands-on experience operating production systems on AWS
- Hands-on experience with the AWS CLI and/or SDKs and/or API tools
- A good understanding of the practices of AWS architecting for the cloud
- An understanding of virtualization technology
- An understanding of monitoring and auditing systems
- Knowledge of networking concepts (DNS, TCP/IP, firewalls, and so on)
- An understanding of fundamental IT security concepts
- Hands-on experience of implementing security controls and compliance requirements
- The ability to collaborate across teams/company wide
I encourage you to fulfill as many of the hands-on experience requirements listed here, as your years of experience translate into real knowledge, and the learning that you can gain on the job is invaluable.
Although this experience with AWS is considered mandatory by AWS, you will still be able to take the exam, even if you have not completed all of the hands-on requirements. Perhaps you have only been assigned to run PoC or test/dev workloads in the cloud until you pass the exam and cannot fulfill the running production workloads requirement. If you have fulfilled most of the other requirements, and feel confident that you have a good grasp on the subjects discussed in this book, then you shouldn't worry.
In any case, this guide is designed to provide you with ample detailed content on each required subject and the ability to perform practical exercises by following this course at your own pace.
The exam itself is has been designed in a multiple-choice, multiple-answer question format. There are approximately 70-80 questions in the exam, and you will have 130 minutes to complete them. The exam is available in English, Japanese, and Simplified Chinese, and you can also sign up for an online practice exam before taking the exam with a registered exam proctor. The registration fee for the actual exam is $150 USD and that of the practice exam is $20 USD. The exam questions come in three different formats:
- Multiple choice: You will need to select the option that provides the best answer to the question or select an answer that completes a statement. The question may come in the form of a graphic, where you will be able to point and click on the answer.
- Multiple response: You will need to select more than one option that best answers the question or completes a statement. Multiple response questions are limited to a maximum of four correct answers.
- Sample directions: You will read a statement or question and must select only the answer(s) that represent the most correct or logical response.
Make sure that you take your time when answering the exam questions, since all of them are scored in full. That means that one incorrect answer for a multiple-response question will cause the entire question to be marked as not answered correctly, thus no points will be scored on the question at hand. Also, you should know that the exam pass/fail grade is not dependent on the number of correct answers, but is designed to give a score out of 1,000. The questions are considered to be of different levels of difficulty and, due to this, each question carries a different number of points that can be scored.
The passing score itself is never released publicly and the only reference to the passing score is the community of test takers that have posted their pass/fail scores on various forums. The official stance of AWS is that the certification passing score is heavily dependent on the statistical analysis of multiple metrics that AWS receives from several sources. It is widely known that one of the initial sources for determining a passing score are existing AWS certified individuals who have access to technical previews and take the beta exams. The beta exams also determine which types of questions will be included in the final exam and the weight the questions will have. According to the results received from the beta, an initial pass level of the exam is usually selected by AWS.
The initial passing score for all AWS exams has historically been set as a wide range between 650 and 750 points out of a possible 1,000. The initial passing score has been heavily dependent on the type and difficulty of the exam itself; associate exams usually have a higher initial passing score, as the questions in the exam are considered to be less difficult than questions at the professional exam level. Upon release of the exam, the metrics received from the exam takers are also taken into account and the passing score of a particular AWS exam is adjusted periodically based on the live metrics from the exam takers. There have been reports of the passing score being even higher, so you should be aiming to prepare yourself to a confidence level that should ensure that you can answer at least 80% of the questions correctly.
There are several knowledge domains regarding questions, and the following breakdown will show you the topic measured by the exam and the extent to which they are represented as a percentage of all the questions. For instance, if you have 70 questions, you should expect to get 10 questions on monitoring and metrics, 10 on high availability, 8 on data management, and so on. The topics that are mentioned in the following breakdown do not constitute a full list, but rather, are summary that's intended for orientational purposes:
- Domain 1: Monitoring metrics and managing cost – 15%: The questions pertaining to domain 1 will allow AWS to assess your ability in monitoring availability and performance, cloud operations being issued, managing accounts and billing, following cost optimization best practices, and so on.
- Domain 2: High availability and scaling – 15%: This domain will assess your ability to implement scalable and elastic solutions based on certain scenarios, to deliver various levels of fault-tolerance based on the requirements outlined in the question that directly map to realistic business requirements, and so on.
- Domain 3: Analysis of your AWS environment – 15%: You should demonstrate your ability to optimize the environment to ensure maximum performance, to identify bottlenecks and issues, and so on. You will also be expected to be able to implement remedies depending on your application deployment and the AWS services being consumed.
- Domain 4: Deployment and provisioning – 15%: You should demonstrate your ability to build an environment and provision cloud resources in accordance with the AWS well-architected reference design. This domain is also highly focused on automation and delivering repeatable and reusable designs to your AWS environments.
- Domain 5: Data management – 12%: In domain 5, the ability to create and manage backups for different services is tested. Life cycling and enforcing compliance requirements is given a lot of weight, as is delivering disaster recovery processes.
- Domain 6: Security – 15%: Security is a very important – if not the most important – part of keeping AWS running smoothly. The questions in this domain will test your ability to implement and manage users, groups, roles and security policies, and access controls; to be able to prepare for a security assessment, your understanding of the shared responsibility model; and your understanding of the requirements for data integrity. You will also be quizzed on the features that are available for managing security on the AWS platform.
- Domain 7.0: Networking – 13%: The networking domain will test you on concepts that any individual with basic general IT knowledge should be able to demonstrate their knowledge of, such as the differentiation between LAN and WAN networks, the internet protocol addressing model, describing the functions of network function devices such as DNS, routers, NAT, firewalls, and so on. It will also test your ability to implement networking and connectivity features of AWS and configure services to allow for resolving computer names across a hybrid AWS and on-premises network.
At the end of this book, we will provide sample questions so that you can get familiar with the general structure of the exam questions and to provide guidance on determining the information that's vital to answer the questions correctly. For example, a question will start off with a detailed description of the company's size, the number of branch offices, and number of users, and will then lay out the requirements, such as the requirements for authentication from a centralized directory, requirements for connecting the branch offices like bandwidth or amount of data being transferred, and so on. Sometimes, it will take a bit of simple math, such as dividing the number of hours in a backup window with the throughput of the device provided in the question, and so on. We will also point out the explanation for the answers to the questions by providing excerpts from and links to the AWS documentation.
Once you have finished this book and completed the practical exercises, my personal recommendation is to first determine whether you have the confidence that you will score at least 80% on the exam. To determine this, come back to this section and read the overview. Next, run through the practice questions in this book, as they will map quite well to the questions in the actual exam. After that, if you still need more assurance, take the practice exam.
Once you decide to take the exam, there are some general guidelines you should be aware of. First, make sure you arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled time. Plan to arrive even earlier if possible – I usually plan to be at the proctor about 30 minutes early. This is to avoid any eventuality en route to the testing center such as traffic or public transport delays. If you live in an area of traffic extremes, you should take that into consideration. Remember that this is an important day and you should not be subject to additional stress such as traffic when you have an AWS exam to worry about.
Once you have arrived, you will be signed in and you will need to put your possessions in a locker. The lockers in typical testing centers are designed to hold only your essentials, so avoid bringing a laptop bag or other bulkier items. Once you get to your exam station, you will need to accept the terms and conditions of the exam. The exam timer starts immediately after this. The terms and conditions page is not timed, so if you need a few seconds to take a deep breath before your exam or to clear your head, this is the time to do it. After the clock starts, make sure that you read all the questions carefully and follow the advice given in Chapter 22, Example Tips and Tricks.
You have the option of marking each question you are unsure of so that you can come back to it later. I highly recommend doing that, as you might come across a question with a similar topic as you progress through the questions and that might help you answer the original question. Once you come to the end and you submit your exam, you will take a quick satisfaction survey. Immediately after that, you will be shown a page with either a pass or a fail score. Soon after the exam result has been recorded, you will receive an email with a breakdown of scores across each domain. If you fail, this will help you focus on the necessary domains that you need to brush up on. And always remember: keep calm. Good luck!