So you’ve decided to get AWS Certified… what’s your plan to get there? Studying for the exams is not easy, and it will require a ton of work. And let’s face it, studying usually isn’t fun. Often, people focus too much on the rewards of earning their certification and not enough on the process of getting there. The AWS Certification exams are tough – even at the Associate level – and if you go in unprepared, there’s a good chance you won’t do as well as you’d like to.

Everyone learns differently. No study plan exists that will work for everyone in every situation. What works for you might not work for someone else, and vice versa – however, there are a few basic guidelines that will help you develop your own plan. We’ve put together this list of 5 study tips to help you learn effectively and increase your odds of passing.

Join a Community

One of the best ways to learn is to join a community – this can be online or in-person, but what’s important is that you’re around other, like-minded people. There’s been quite a bit of academic work around the effectiveness of group learning, and the results have been conclusive: people usually learn best in groups. Not only do communities and meetups allow you to surround yourself with people who have similar goals to yours, but they allow you to share your knowledge. One of the best ways to reinforce your own skills is to teach them to others, and communities are a great way to do this. The biggest benefits of having a community are the support and accountability they provide.

Even something as simple as using a Twitter hashtag can spark an interesting conversation (the #cloudchat hashtag is one example of really smart people coming together to talk about cloud computing). The internet has made it simple to find in-person meetup groups, and if you can’t find one, you can even start your own. And of course, you can join the Linux Academy community or Slack channel to get started right away.

Follow Blogs

No, we’re not just talking about the Linux Academy and Cloud Assessments blogs! Following the writing of people who use AWS and cloud technology on a regular basis is a great way to expose yourself to a wide variety of perspectives, techniques, and services. We’ve said this before, but studying for a certification is about more than just memorizing answers to a test. It’s about immersing yourself in the technology until you know it inside and out. The best way to do this is to read about these topics on a regular basis. There are far too many blogs to mention, but here are a few of my personal favorites:

  • The AWS News Blog – The name may not be catchy, but Amazon’s official news blog is the place where new services and features are announced first. Their engineers and evangelists do an excellent job with their reviews of new products, and from time to time, you’ll find tutorials on different projects or procedures. This is an absolute must read for anyone who is serious about getting certified.
  • AWS Startups Blog – This is another Amazon official channel, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s a bit different from the first blog on this list. AWS Startups showcases real-world use cases for Amazon Web services and the ways that companies are getting a competitive edge with the platform. They just recently moved domains, and their older posts can still be found on Medium.
  • The Practical Dev – While this entry isn’t specific to AWS, it’s still a great place to learn about new technology. This is an important point – broadening your horizons will help you understand the ways that people in different roles use AWS (not just Solutions Architects). Many posts are focused on software development, as the name implies, but there’s a good amount of discussion about infrastructure as well.
  • J Cole Morrison – Cole is one of my favorite tech writers for a couple reasons. First, he covers topics that I care about – that includes AWS. But second, he has a talent for explaining complicated services in a way that’s incredibly easy to understand. For example, his post on ECS and Docker was really helpful to me when I was first learning about those topics.

This is far from a complete list, of course. If you know about anyone else who’s doing great AWS writing, we’d love to hear about it!

Set Aside Time to Study

This may sound obvious, but it’s important to designate specific times for your learning. For me, this is first thing in the morning, before I start work for the day. I dedicate about an hour a day to reading blogs, watching videos, writing code, and immersing myself in the technology I want to learn. I chose the morning because my mind is still fresh and I’m not tired from work. Another benefit to my schedule is that I don’t have to worry about making time after work – when I’m done with work, I can go home and relax for the rest of the night. Most of the things that distract me are less prevalent in the morning (TV, friends sending me messages, etc.) so this works well with my personal schedule.

Your schedule might be different, and that’s okay. Find times that work for you, and commit to using that time for learning. It doesn’t have to be in the morning, and it doesn’t have to be every day, but what’s important is to have a routine.

Build a Project

Everyone has their reasons for wanting to get a job working with AWS. Some people want to get a promotion, others want to start a new career, and others may just enjoy the challenge of learning something new. But what we all have in common is a love of technology and building things. Think about it – when you get that AWS Certification, what are you going to do with your newly gained knowledge? More than likely, you’ll apply it to real systems, building real projects. But why wait when you can start now?

People learn best by doing things, not just reading about them. Following blogs and joining a community are both important steps in your learning journey, but until you test yourself in a real environment, you’ll only have theoretical knowledge. That’s one reason we started Cloud Assessments – so people can try their skills in hands-on Challenges to see how well they know the AWS platform.

If you’re coming from a software development background (or even still learning to code), you can also set up a project of your choosing. Amazon’s free tier is more than adequate for learning the basics. Migrating a personal website or application over to AWS is a great way to start learning the platform. Or, if you don’t have a site or app of your own, check out this list of free, open source software that you can host yourself. Whatever you choose, the important thing is to start getting that real world experience.

Set Two Daily Learning Goals

Setting two learning goals for yourself each day is a great way to make sure you keep up your momentum. The idea is this: give yourself a “large” goal and a “small” one. The large goal might be something like spending an hour watching videos and building projects. The small goal might be something like reading three blog posts. The two goals should be significantly different in the amount of time it takes to complete them, but they should both be helpful and meaningful to your learning in some way.

So what’s the point of having two separate goals rather than one? It’s a silly trick, but it’s one that I’ve found really effective. Start every day with the intention of accomplishing your large learning goal. If you meet it, great! But if you don’t, you still have a smaller goal that you can reach with less effort and time.

One of the biggest challenges people face when studying is time management. We all have busy lives, and finding an hour or two can seem impossible between managing work, family, and friends – this technique offers a way to be flexible and maintain balance. Let’s say you normally study for an hour in the afternoon, but a friend texts you asking to meet up for dinner. Sure, studying is important, but so is maintaining a healthy social life. If you’ve set a minor goal, you can choose to meet up with your friend and still have time to learn a little bit later. Learning a little bit every day helps you stay in your routine, and makes it easier to meet your large study goal the following day since you’re not coming from a complete day off.

Here’s one key point though – this takes discipline. It can be tempting to make excuses and revert to your minor goal every day, and doing so defeats the purpose of this technique. The minor goal should exist as a true fallback, not a substitute for your “real” goal. If you find yourself putting off your major goal for several days in a row, it might be time to reevaluate your study schedule or even the goals themselves.

Review

Studying can be a real pain, but it’s a necessary part of the journey to success. While it can be frustrating to spend long hours poring over documentation and server configurations, there are certainly ways to make sure that you’re on the right track and you’re making progress. Coming up with a strategy is one of the most important aspects of studying for your AWS Certification exam, and great planning can be the difference between passing and failing your test.

It would be impossible to list every good study practice here, of course, so if you’ve got more tips, feel free to share!

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