AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional 2020

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My journey to the 2019 AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional exam

Yesterday I took the new 2019 version of the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional exam – roughly 2 weeks after it was launched in February.

It’s been a bit of a journey ….

The preparation

My initial incentive to do the exam was in November 2018, when I realised my Associate certification was going to expire in May 2019 – I decided to have a go at upgrading this to Professional.

I had already joined A Cloud Guru, and when Scott Pletcher’s 2019 Beta course came out, I decided to take it. After completing this excellent course, I then took the new A Cloud Guru practice exam for AWS CSA Pro which is also very good. It consists of 85 questions in 220 minutes, based on the Beta version of the new exam.

On the first attempt, I scored 59%, after reviewing all the answers and explanations, I repeated the test, and this time achieved 87% – though some of that was memorising!

I also went through the A Cloud Guru AWS Certification Prep Guide which I can highly recommend – even though I ignored some very good advice during the exam!

If you take the A Cloud Guru practice exam, make sure you bookmark your results page so you can return to it – a nice improvement would be to record the results in your profile.

I created a few “labs” to get hands-on experience of some AWS services I was less familiar with, including AWS Organizations, Service Control Policies, Service Catalog, Systems Manager, Directory Services and Amazon Workspaces.

The new AWS CSA Pro practice exam

I then paid $40 to do the new AWS practice exam for the 2019 AWS CSA Pro (and later realised I could have redeemed a voucher for it from my certification account …)

This was 20 questions in 60 minutes which is a generous 3 minutes per question. I felt I did well, and then received the emailed result saying that I got 30%! Yes, 30%, little better than picking answers at random!

At that point I (fleetingly) thought about giving up, but then decided to continue, as I found it hard to believe the emailed result was correct.

Fortunately, following advice from the A Cloud Guru AWS Certification Prep Guide, I had taken screenshots of every question and answer in the practice exam, and I used that for a detailed analysis of every question, not only looking at the “correct” answer but also why the other answers were wrong. The result – 80%.

Shortly after this I noticed in my Certification Account, that although the practice exam doesn’t include a breakdown to download, under “recent activity” it said “Passed” – which is consistent with my 80% assessment.

I actually found this process very useful from a learning perspective – nevertheless I’ve raised it as a support call with AWS Certification so that they can check out the apparent discrepancy.

More preparation

Scott’s course – a second time … and going through the end of section quizzes until I got 90% +. I also took the A Cloud Guru AWS CSA Associate level practice exam.

AWS changes to the certification process

Some great news from AWS – recertifications are now only needed every 3 years instead of 2. This meant that my original motivation for doing the exam was no longer valid, as my Associate certification would be valid for another year.

But by now I had firmly decided to do it anyway.

Then I received a $150 discount offer from AWS Certifications if I took the new exam before the end of February – which prompted me to stop hesitating and actually book a date.

The new AWS CSA Pro Exam

The exam. I started well, but I made the rookie mistake of not checking how many questions there were, and I had assumed it would be 60 questions in 180 minutes in line with the timing per question of the practice exam.

When I got to question 50, I realised there were 75 questions in 180 minutes, and I only had approximately 30 minutes to do the last 25 questions! I somehow finished the last question with 30 seconds to go, and no time to review any of my answers.

Needless to say, this is completely contrary to the very good advice in the A Cloud Guru AWS Certification Prep Guide, to break down the time and set targets for achieving 20, 40, 60 questions etc!

All the questions were scenario based, most had 4 choices of which 1 was correct. Some questions had 5 choices and you have to pick 2 or 3. In most cases where you’re asked to pick 2 answers, they both make up part of the overall solution.

As you’d expect from an Architect exam, the questions are on architecture rather than detailed implementation, however you do need to know what the various AWS service offerings are, how they can be combined together, their strengths and limitations.

This is a list of most of the topics which came up:

  • Serverless architectures using S3, API Gateway, Lambda, CloudFront, Cognito, DynamoDB (Julian Pittas’ excellent Serverless courses would be useful revision for this)

  • CloudFront caching behaviour

  • Lambda@edge

  • CodeBuild, CodeDeploy, CodeCommit, CodePipeline

  • Separation of business units and permissions using multiple AWS accounts, AWS Organizations, OUs, Service Control Policies in combination with IAM policies and roles

  • Consolidated billing using AWS Organizations, Cost Explorer and use of tagging to assess costs across different business units

  • Rekognition

  • X-Ray

  • CloudFormation, AWS Serverless Application Manager

  • S3 encryption options, versioning, S3 events triggering Lambda, S3 bucket policy vs IAM policy for S3 access

  • VPC endpoint for S3

  • Networking, VPC peering, routing, NAT instances, NAT gateways, Internet Gateways

  • EC2, EBS, provisioned IOPS vs GP2


  • Network capability of different EC2 instance sizes

  • DirectConnect vs VPNs

  • Elastic Beanstalk

  • AWS Certificate Manager

  • OpsWorks vs Systems Manager for software installation, patching and updates

  • Dynamo DB, Dynamo DB streams triggering Lambda

  • Migrations including data transfer from on prem to AWS

  • Storage limits for Snowball and SnowMobile

  • Storage Gateway, Stored Volume, Cached Volume, File and Tape Library modes

  • VM Import / Export

  • Cloudwatch Logs and Cloudwatch Logs Agent

  • Kinesis Data Firehose vs Kinesis Data Streams

  • AWS Batch

  • SQS and SNS

  • Simple Workflow, Step Functions

  • AWS RDS MySQL vs Aurora – database size, multi-AZ and multi-region capability

  • Database Migration Service and Schema Conversion Tool

  • Redis cluster – only supported in a single availability zone

  • Elastic Map Reduce

  • Athena and Quicksight

  • Elasticache – Redis and Memcache options

  • ElasticSearch and Kibana

  • KMS, Key access policies, CloudHSM

  • Integration with on premise Active Directory

  • AWS Directory Services options

Looking at the list above, it seems like virtually every AWS service was included somewhere – apart from a few new ones like IoT, Robomaker and Ground Station.

And Finally

The result – I wasn’t at all sure after my poor time management, rushed questions at the end and no time for review. However, I was very happy when I pressed the End Exam button and received the “passed” message, and even more pleased today when I received the result of 84% compared with a 75% pass rate.

Many thanks to A Cloud Guru for their great courses, and especially Scott for his excellent new AWS CSA Pro course and practice exam.

Huroye Scott

Man this is very helper Paul! Thanks for sharing. I am new to AWS and just taking this joining. Maybe I need an AWS mentor.

8 Answers

Congratulations Paul. Thanks for sharing your feedback. I am so planning to take the exam next week. Fingers crossed. 🙂

Mukul Gopal

hey @HappyCloud, good luck on your exam next week. Please share your exam feedaback too for our reference. I’m planning to take it mid next month


Thanks Mukul. I will share my feedback after the exam.

Congratulations, I wrote the exam today and I failed. I got question on Mechanical Turk and so many other services I cannot even recall. The training needs to be updated for the new AWS Certification Professional.


Wow, had never even heard of that. Appreciate the comment.

Scott Pletcher

For the record, oshobowa, I do talk about Mechanical Turk in the course… Chapter 6 Challenge 1 at 1:02. . That’s the first time I’ve heard of it on the exam though.

Mukul Gopal

Mechanical Turk? the list goes on and on and on! This is what scares me, I may review as hard as I can but I will be surprised if there is a new service that I have missed in my review. Thanks for sharing, this is very very helpful

Congrats Paul!  Great feedback and advice!

Congratulations Paul! I am planning to take the exam next month so this information is very helpful to me. I read exam feedback on Medium which also mentioned the same exact services that you also said here, so I’ll focus on these services on my review. thanks you very much, this is indeed helpful!

I want to thank you for your feedback on the exam , when i took the practice test i got a 40 % and i freaked out like you … almost thought of giving up… but then i read this thread , took a deep breath and scheduled the exam.  que sera sera 🙂 

Yesterday i finally took the exam and passed 83 %  , mostly thanks to all of the resources on this course , but frankly if you want to be prepared i would go watch the devops course , the deep dives on S3 , CloudFormation and deep dive into everything , don’t just skim the surface.

I went thru a lot of them , not the entire courses but the parts that helped me understand some features better. 

Both the PDFs and the youtube videos in this course are good resources , don’t skip them … they are priceless.

And last but not least , the exam simulator…. that was the icing , one catch though , don’t take it until you pass thru all the documentation , there aren’t many questions and in the end you will start answering them by memory. 

All in all it took me about 2 months to study for this exam and besides the togaf and vmware dcd exams which are not easy exams, this is one of the toughest out there right there next to the other 2 , i’m really happy to have it under my belt. 

Best of luck to everyone else prepping for the exam, word of advice , keep calm and keep studying/ practicing and don’t make the mistake of buying the 20 question 40 $ test from AWS , they are really bad and don’t reflect reality.

Deepak Adlakha

Thanks for sharing your experience. Where is this practice test ? is it in the course..i didn’t see it or separate

Florin Popa

go to your dashboard you can find the practice test there.

Deepak Adlakha

I don’t see it in my Dashboard.

Paul Schwarzenberger

Deepak, the practice test provided by AWS (not A Cloud Guru) you can book through the AWS Certification Portal, this is the one both Florin and myself scored low marks on. The A Cloud Guru practice exam is called the Exam Simulator, you may need to be a monthly or annual member of A Cloud Guru to be able to use this.

Mukul Gopal

thank you! I’ll be taking my exam this Saturday, can you share additional tips like the services I need to know?


Hi Mukul, can you please share your experience on how the exam went?

Congratulations Paul,

Really nice feedback, I am about to book the exam as I am through half the way and want to force myself to exam ASAP and to keep focus. Do you think booking the old the new module of the exam would matter and also you mentioned "A Cloud Guru AWS Certification Prep Guide" twice in your feedback, what is this ?


Paul Schwarzenberger

Hi Abdel, thanks, the link to the course is:

Thanks Paul for sharing this and congrats on your achievement!

Congrats Paul! Great feedback. I too passed this exam yesterday with 848 and my feedback is here

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