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AWS Solutions Architect Associate Exam (CO3)

How I passed the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam.

AWS Solutions Architect Associate Exam

The AWS Solutions Architect exam is an intermediate exam in the programme of AWS certifications and is arguably the most desired certificate of them all. Or at least to begin with. It is a great step on from the AWS Cloud Practitioner exam as well. It is very popular with people starting out in a career in IT but AWS does recommend some experience working with AWS before taking the exam. I would like to reiterate this advice too. Oh yes.


I would be lying if I said I enjoyed the process of studying for this exam! On the one hand, I did learn an awful lot and more than I have ever had to learn for any exam, ever. But that said, the sheer volume of the material required for the exam meant I had to pretty much take the same A Cloud Guru course twice. Every course I found that covered the AWS SAA-CO3 seemed to last anywhere from 25 to 50 hours. I started studying back in September 2022 and had made it to half way through my first course when….. the exam changed! It moved from CO2 to CO3! And it was contained fairly big changes and additions too! This hindered my plan to take the exam in October/November but I ended up taking in December 2022 instead. So I urge you to check the certification website and make sure you plan your learning journey to exam timeline. At this point in time I can tell you the the DevOps Pro exam is changing in March 2023 for example. But no biggy but it was a bit frustrating and I wished I had planned things better. Still, I studied on average from two hours to five hours a night, five nights a week, which is my usual sort of routine when I have an exam coming up.

Learning material

Course wise I began by taking the A Cloud Guru SAA-CO3 course which is around 45 hours long although this includes a rough estimate on each of the hands-on labs. I really like the hands-on labs that A Cloud Guru provide. They are top notch and really help but they could sometimes do with going into a bit more detail on occasion. They also had handy dots next to each new section when they made updates to the course and really useful summary videos. I would’ve preferred it if they could’ve stayed with the same instructor for the whole course but I still liked taking and it was generally very good.

I also bought this book AWS Solutions Architect Associate Study Guide by Ben Piper. Twice in fact! For reasons mentioned earlier…. I found this useful as I like to read as well as do and listen so added an extra dimension to my learning and I had no issues with the book at all. There are handy questions at the end of each section to test you and they are quite taxing but then so is the exam. More on that later.

I also took some Neal Davis Practise Exams from Udemy and the Tutorial Dojo practise tests by Jon Bonso which came highly recommended and which were very, very difficult to begin with and really did feel like the real thing.

Exam experience

This exam was the final death knell to my remote exam experience! I have done so many of these things and the last AWS one by Pearson Vue was the only one that didn’t have some kind of minor/major hiccup so I was hoping for a smooth experience. I hoped wrong! I had run the recommended tests. I was in a quiet meeting room in my place of work. I had no distractions. No work VPN. No problems. I even had an unlabelled bottle of water. I felt good. For goodness sake I even had my wife’s Windows 11 laptop! But hey ho I couldn’t get into the exam for love nor money. Not that I offered either. I got so far and the application would time out and fail. So I complained to Pearson Vue and they admitted that there was some kind of fault and I was due a refund. Frustrating but this led me to take the exam at a test center in Leeds. I tried to book a Pearson Vue exam but there were none available until Feb/March time so I opted for the a PSI centre in Leeds where I could take the exam in a few weeks in early December. It was a totaly breeze if slightly odd blast from the past being in a grey office in the centre of a city on a grey and very cold day in Yorkshire. I’m glad I took my coat. The staff were friendly even though it was minus 4 in the room. It was the usual set up of machines flanked by screens. The questions were VERY tough and much harder than expected. I did rattle through them though and did a lot of flagging. Questions that is. I went back over the flagged questions then bidded my farewells and was out in an hour and a half with about 40 minutes left I think. You get 130 minutes to take the exam.

I received my result in about 24 hours time. I had a pass mark 80s and was very happy with the result. Hugely pleased and a big weight was lifted from my shoulders and I could safely return to reality armed with a wealth of information which was already making my job easier in terms of architecting for AWS.

I’m not in a rush to take another AWS exam or any platform for that matter. I feel a bit odd paying so much to take an exam for a proprietary bit of kit that I have to pay to use that isn’t open source or that stands for the kinds of things that matter to me or that is such a behemoth in everybodys daily lives BUT that said it has been massively useful and beneficial to my role as a DevOps engineer. If I needed to use another platform I would still consider taking an exam as it’s a great way to get to grips with the service.

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