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Smashing the AWS exams for fun and profit

How I passed 4 AWS exams in 3 months and lived to tell a tale


Welcome, dear reader!

Today, I have something special for you - a text with practical advice rather than the quasi-philosophical ramblings I usually post here. It’s time to discuss AWS certificates and how I passed four of them in three months.

  • NOTE: If you want short, TL;DR version on how to deal with exams, just go to TL;DR Strategy

But, before we start, you might wonder where this “…for fun and profit” phrase is coming from, as I tend to overuse it. If you have been following computer security for the last 20 years, you probably stumbled upon one of the most significant security papers in history, Smashing The Stack For Fun And Profit. If you didn’t, I recommend you to read it. Although exploits described in it don’t work today in the same form, the principle of “smashing the stack” or causing the “stack buffer overflow” (yes, that’s how our lovely StackOverflow got its name) remains and is generating billions of US dollars of damage every year. Fun stuff, isn’t it?

Now, back to the subject.

Why and when?

Earlier this year, I decided to take cloud tech seriously. I worked on several projects that lived on various cloud providers, but for some reason, none was on AWS, which held most of the market share (and still does at the time of writing this). At the same time, this could be an excellent opportunity to get certified for something. I never really chased certifications and diplomas, although I had a “Vector graphics with CorelDRAW 6.0” diploma from the course I was enrolled in when I was about 12.

So, around the beginning of March, I started collecting resources and advice on studying for the certificates. My first milestone was AWS Solutions Architect Associate. Why not AWS Cloud Practicioner first? Because everyone I asked recommended starting with SAA. Yeah, it’s that simple.

SAA-C03: AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate

I took about one month to study before my first attempt at tackling SAA. Now, it wasn’t a month of light reading; it was hard studying for a couple of hours a day and even more on weekends. Resources I used and would like to recommend are the following:

(you may notice that none of the links are affiliates, meaning nobody is paying me to promote these.)

Adrian Cantrill’s course is hands down the best video course I have ever watched on any subject. He’s an excellent teacher and an extremely knowledgeable guy with a great passion for knowledge sharing. Almost 70 hours of pure educational gold, and I cannot recommend watching everything from start to finish enough. It took me about 20 days of daily watching to work through the whole thing, but it was so worth it. Remember that I did this while still working full-time, so you can do it much faster if you’re a student or have a lot of free time.

After finishing the course, I skimmed through TutorialsDojo Study Path to have at least some plan for the battle and jumped to solving TutorialsDojo practice exams.

The quality of questions was impeccable and mimicked the actual exam questions quite closely. Solving practice exams also helped me to identify weaker spots in my knowledge.

So after a week of going through the practice test - relearn - practice test - relearn loop, I scheduled an exam.

I went to the test center on the scheduled date, solved exam questions with about 45 minutes to spare, and went home. The next day, on April 11th, I got an email from Amazon telling me I passed and a Credly badge. Nice.

DVA-C02: AWS Certified Developer - Associate

I was happy and pumped up to continue learning, so I immediately scheduled the next one. I gave myself two weeks to study for the AWS Developer Associate. These were intense two weeks because I realized that although there was a significant overlap between DVA and SAA, the overlap wasn’t substantial enough to learn the difference in that period easily. Practice exam questions went deeply into the services used in serverless architecture (Lambda, DynamoDB, API Gateway, etc) and covered many of their internal APIs.

Now, I would recommend something other than Adrian Cantrill’s course for DVA-C02. I found Stephane Maarek’s DVA-C02 Course to be a perfect, as it goes into more detail about relevant services. Of course, TutorialsDojo DVA-C02 Practice Exams and Stephane Maarek’s DVA-C02 Practice Exams saved the day again. I also needed to complement my serverless knowledge a bit, so I took Rajdeep Saha’s Rocking AWS Serverless Course, which was fun and very hands-on.

On April 27th, I got my second certificate. Woohoo!

SOA-C02: AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate

As I wasn’t doing anything else with my free time besides studying AWS for two months, some personal projects I was working on started to lose priority, and I felt terrible about that. So, I took two weeks off AWS and dedicated myself to other things that required my attention. However, I scheduled the SOA-C02 exam for May 24th to keep myself on my toes.

After two productive weeks without AWS, I again jumped into the study train. This time, I started with practice tests from TutorialsDojo and Stephane Maarek. This strategy helped me immensely to identify knowledge gaps. I went back to Adrian Cantrill and partially went through his SOA-C02 course, covering only parts missing from SAA. In parallel, I did some CloudFormation practice on my test AWS account and waited for the exam day. SOA-C02 questions are significantly longer and require more thinking and reading than the other two associate-level exams. You must also be aware of the time as it goes pretty fast.

After the exam, I wasn’t very confident that the results were going to be good, but the next day, I got confirmation that third AWS certificate is now in my bag. It felt bloody fantastic.

CLF-C02: AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

After finishing all the associate-level exams, I needed to catch up on the foundational one, CLF-C02, before preparing for professional-level ones. I only studied a little for this one, scheduled an exam, went, and finished it in about 20 minutes. After the previous three hard hitters, CLF-C02 was a lemonade. So I got that one on June 6th, almost precisely three months since I started learning AWS.


So, there you have it. That’s how I smashed four AWS certificates for fun, and I hope profit will eventually follow. In the following section, I’ll summarize previous ramblings in TL;DR format. If you’re planning to prepare for the AWS exams, I hope this post can be helpful to you. If you have any additional questions, don’t be shy, hit me up.

TL;DR Strategy


  • Before the exam, sleep well, have a healthy breakfast, and use the toilet (I cannot stress enough the importance of the last one)
  • Read every question carefully, use “Flag for Review” for harder ones, solve easy ones quickly, and then return to review.
  • If you’re not a native English speaker, you can request an accommodation to gain an additional 30 minutes for the exam.
  • Study every day. Consistency is the key.


  • Study for SAA-C03 for about a month, watch Adrian Cantrill videos and solve TutorialDojo practice exams.
  • Have a solid understanding of core services - IAM, S3, EC2, EBS, etc.
  • Pay attention to ML-related services.
  • BeanStalk questions can come up.



  • First things first, go through SAA-C03, as it will give you a solid understanding of the most relevant AWS services.
  • Focus on serverless services - Lambda, DynamoDB, API Gateway, RDS with Aurora, CloudFront, etc.
  • Practice CloudFormation and AWS CLI a lot.
  • Do all hands-on exercises from the course.
  • If you have a working developer experience, this will come in handy.



  • It is the hardest of all associate-level exams.
  • Questions are long and complex.
  • Relevant services: EC2, RDS, S3, CloudFormation, Route 53, CloudFront, SSM, and everything networking-related.



Don’t worry, it’s piece of cake.