AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional 2020

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Passed Architect Professional 11/6/2019

I took the Architect Professional exam on Wednesday this week and passed! Thanks A Cloud Guru!

Here’s a few recommendations for anyone else.

I am a "fast" test taker. I can ingest and process written information faster than most people can. But, I finished the test with 1 minute to spare – and I had to rush the last 3 questions. I had no time to go back and double check the 15 or so questions I had flagged for review. It’s a tough test – and it’s mentally fatiguing. When I was finished, I was sure I had failed -but was pleasantly surprised with a PASS!

I highly recommend the course "AWS Certification Preparation Guide" as your starting point. If you have not gone through this one yet – STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND LOOK AT IT NOW! I do believe the tips in that guide are essential to being able to actually have the time to complete the test. (Look at this course before you attempt any of the practice exams.)

Secondly, I took the ACG Pro Exam simulator for the first time on Monday – and failed with a 52% (it told me "You probably will not pass" – or something to that effect). An immediate wave of depression kicked in – as I had passed the Pearson "official" practice exam with a 75% the day before.

In my case, I believe the ACG exam is harder than the actual test. But I think this is a good thing. I went back through the ACG exam sim several times and the fact that they actually explain the correct answer is very, very valuable. The official practice exam gives you a flavor of what to expect – but is harder to use for improvements. I then used that guidance to improve all my weak knowledge areas. In general I feel like the range of topics covered by exam simulator was spot on – but maybe the DEPTH of knowledge required for exam simulator is a little bit deeper than that of the actual exam. (CAVEAT: This is my experience, YMMV, maybe I’m wrong.).

Having said all that, the ACG Exam simulator alone was worth the price of admission. The information dense, high quality content of all the various exam prep courses is of course excellent too. I strengthened my weak points by re-doing the relevant section of the Pro course – or by picking and choosing from SysOps, DevOps, Associate exam, etc.

So my long winded point – go through the exam simulator several times and make sure you have knowledge of every topic they cover – but don’t go insane trying to know every nook and cranny of the service.

There’s three underlying themes to many of the questions: Know what the services do and the use cases you’d use them for, know the cost implications, and know the time implications (RPO, RTO). Be sure to account for any scenario specific constraints (timelines, cheapest cost, improve reliability/HA, most performance, etc.) With that knowledge you can "process of elimination" your way to success.

I will also add that I’ve been working as a solution architect (mostly Azure) for 5 years – so that certainly helps too.

Here’s the general topics that appeared on my exam (in no particular order.)

Last note: I was not "surprised" by any of the below – because I feel like the exam simulator covered all this (and more).

DR strategy, RTO, RPO

Lambda, API Gateway


AWS Organization, IAM vs SCP, Consolidated Billing

Reserved Instances vs Spot Instances vs On-Demand Instances

S3, S3 Events, Glacier


CloudFormation & StackSets.

Direct Connect (DX) and Direct Connect Gateway

VPC peering vs Transit VPC

VPC end points

AWS Rekognition

AWS Workspaces

ELB / Auto Scale Groups / EC2

RDS – MySQL vs Aurora, Read Replicas


AWS Systems Manager – Patch Manager

Storage Gateway

Snowball vs Snowmobile

AWS Organizations, Consolidated Billing, SCPs

CloudWatch, Cloud Watch Events


EBS – Volume Types & IOPS

CloudFront, Lambda@Edge



IAM – Roles, Polices, Identify Federation with SAML

AWS WAF vs AWS Shield

Athena, QuickSight

AWS Config

Database Migration Service

Redis vs Memcached

AppStream 2.0

Elastic Container Service (ECS)


3 Answers

Congrats Timothy and thanks for the valuable write-up of your experience!  Glad we could be part of your learning journey!


Good to know, I have been looking at this exam for some time now, and I’m thinking of taking it in the near future. I haven’t got the certification for Associate, is it possible just to take the Professional exam directly?

Sam T

No. "In the past, we required you to pass an Associate or Foundational level exam before pursuing a Professional or Specialty certification. We listened to our customers, and heard you wanted more flexibility, so we are eliminating these requirements. You are no longer required to have an Associate certification before pursuing a Professional certification, and you are no longer required to hold a Foundational or Associate certification before pursuing Specialty certification."

I just passed CSAP exam with score 891. Overall the exam is tougher than I thought. Questions were lengthy, 3-4 lines on average with a few short questions. There are 2-3 questions that were so long that the whole screen is covered in text. I took the additional 30 minutes allocated, which helps as I don’t have to keep track of time closely, knowing that I had sufficient time.

Study materials I used:

ACloudGuru – I subscribed 5 days before the exam and rushed through the materials in 2x speed. I feel that the materials are more like tips and summaries and are useful to validate knowledge of the materials. I wouldn’t recommend as the main preparation material, but it’s good to perform sanity check of your knowledge through this course. The exam simulator is a must – which IMO is on-par with the real exam’s difficulty, although less verbose. I ran through the simulator until I exhausted all the available questions

Linux Academy – My main preparation material. The CSAP course is of high quality and compared to rest of the training courses, hands down this course is the best. I watched all the videos (replayed some of them multiple times) as well as the hands-on lab. The way the instructor teaches concept by hands-on demo is suitable for me. My criticism is that the course spends too much time reintroducing basics which a candidate should already possess prior to taking the course (e.g. VPC basics, Containers 101) and less time talking about specifics (e.g. S3 bucket logs and events) and other important services which were featured prominently in the exam (e.g. SAM, X-Ray, DMS, SCT, Application Discovery, etc). The practice exam is also way too easy and not reflective of the real exam.

Jon Bonso Practice Exam– Although the real exam difficulty is higher, but I highly recommend taking the practice questions as there are explanations for both wrong and correct answers. There are 2-3 questions that are very similar (and 1 question that is almost word-by-word).

Official practice exam – I feel that the practice exam is slightly tougher than the real exam, but it gives a good indication of the question length

DolphinEd – Many people swear by this course, but I only finished 5% of the course as I get bored by the monotonous powerpoint slides. It’s tough to focus on 18min videos of basically moving text on white background

Whitepapers and re-Invent videos – I read 2-3 whitepapers briefly (security, migrating to new region) and I didn’t watch any of the videos. I have limited study time, so instead I rely on hints (described in the next point)

Hints – I scoured the internet to look for hints to cut short my study time. The following are the ones I pay most attention to:

Timothy (this thread):

The hints are on point but note that you can expect in-depth question for each topic hint. e.g. whitelisted headers in Cloudfront cache behavior, S3 object logging, DX cross-connect

Other hints I referred (I believe this is an exhaustive list):

Overall I spent 2.5 months, without any prior experience in AWS (but lots of Cloud experience in general). I studied for CSAA for 1 month, then immediately prepped for CSAP in 1.5 months.

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