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What We Learned Taking The New AWS SysOps Administrator – Associate Beta Exam

Faye Ellis
Faye Ellis

How should you prepare for the first AWS exam that includes a lab component?

There is a new AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate beta exam, available until March 26, 2021. 

The exciting thing about this beta exam is that AWS is introducing a new style of exam question, called exam labs, that require you to complete a practical task using the AWS Management Console or CLI. 

As an AWS enthusiast and one of ACG’s SysOps Associate course instructors, I scheduled and sat the new exam as soon as I could! I can’t reveal specific details of the exam questions, but I’ll give you as much context as I can on what to expect. First …

What is a Beta Exam?

AWS periodically makes updates to their certification exams, and the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate is the latest test to get a refresh. 

As in the past, AWS offers beta exams to test the new exam on real candidates, before the full production release.  

The beta exam is available at a discounted rate of $75 USD and if you pass, you’ll earn the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate certification!

Results are available approximately 90 days after the end of the beta period rather than immediately after the exam.

Who Should Take The SysOps Administrator – Associate Exam? 

This exam is intended for system administrators in cloud operations roles who have at least one year of hands-on experience with deployment, management, networking, and security on AWS, and it features a combination of three possible question formats:

  • Multiple choice: Has one correct response and three incorrect responses (distractors).
  •  Multiple response: Has two correct responses out of five options.
  •  Exam lab: Has a scenario that is composed of a set of tasks you must perform in the AWS Management Console or AWS CLI.

Faye Ellis and Ryan Kroonenburg’s AWS SysOps Administrator Associate Certification prep course includes a practice exam and three new Hands-On Labs! Get your hands cloudy and start learning today.

Taking The Exam 

At the beginning of the exam, I was notified that there would be 55 multiple choice / multiple response questions, followed by 3 exam labs. They advise you to plan 20 minutes to complete each lab and you get 220 minutes in total to complete the entire exam. I was notified that 21% of my final score would be determined by the exam labs. 

So when you begin the exam, you will need to answer the 55 questions, and just like normal, you have the ability to flag questions for review later. 

Once you have finished the questions and reviewed everything, you hit submit and that part of the exam is complete. At this point, you will not be able to go back and change any of your answers

After the questions are done, the real fun begins… the exam labs!

The Fun Part – Exam Labs!

When the exam labs begin, the left side of your screen will show the AWS Console. The lab tasks that you need to complete will appear on the right. You will need to work through each of the tasks, completing all the steps and satisfying all requirements before submitting your work and moving on to the next lab. 

You must complete all work on an exam lab before moving to the next one, because you will not be able to go back to a lab once you have completed it. 

Each exam lab consists of a number of different tasks that you would need to complete, to configure a common scenario. 

I felt like the labs I was given were a fair test of practical experience and all were very relevant to the exam domains described in the official exam guide

  • Domain 1: Monitoring, Logging, and Remediation 20% 
  • Domain 2: Reliability and Business Continuity 16% 
  • Domain 3: Deployment, Provisioning, and Automation 18% 
  • Domain 4: Security and Compliance 16% 
  • Domain 5: Networking and Content Delivery 18% 
  • Domain 6: Cost and Performance Optimization 12% 

Can I Use The AWS CLI? 

You are able to use both the AWS CLI and the AWS Console while working on your exam labs. I only used the console, but I assume they mean that you can use the new AWS CloudShell to run the AWS CLI, which I love! 


CloudShell blog
Check out a deep dive into AWS CloudShell on the ACG blog.

How Are The Exam Labs Scored? 

One cool thing that I noticed in the exam guide is that AWS acknowledges that there may be more than one way to perform an exam lab. In those cases, a full score will be awarded if the correct end state to the scenario is achieved

AWS also states that partial credit is awarded for partial completion of exam labs. Which is a very different approach to the multiple-answer questions, where there is no partial credit for a partially correct answer.

If you’re curious about the question format, or the kind of tasks you’ll be asked to complete in the exam labs, there are some sample questions in the official exam guide.

Final thoughts after taking the exam

Overall, I feel like this is a great new direction for AWS certification exams, with a big focus on practical, hands-on skills. It will no longer be possible to get through the exam by memorizing questions and answers, or FAQs, and this will really elevate the SysOps Administrator – Associate certification!

Let us know if you try the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate beta exam for yourself, we’d love to know what you think!

Ready to learn by doing?

ACG’s real, safe Hands-on Labs prep you to ace your exam labs.

The new AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate exam is about more than just what you know – it’s about what you can do. And so is ACG. With 1500 Hands-on Labs, plus AWS, Azure and GCP Cloud Sandboxes, there’s no better place to learn by doing.

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