Amazon Web Services

AWS Essentials & Solution Architect Associate certification: The ultimate guide

Mosimilolu Odusanya
July 20, 2020 by
Mosimilolu Odusanya


With the rapidly evolving cloud market and the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are looking for ways to adapt to the new normal. One of the ways is moving their IT infrastructure to the cloud while adopting remote work. IT professionals with cloud computing skills are in huge demand and having a cloud certification would boost your resume and your profile in this competitive market.

We will offer an overview of AWS's most popular certifications — the AWS Cloud Professional and Solutions Architect Associate certifications. We will answer various questions that candidates might have such as the experience needed, the certification paths, the target audience of the certification and ways to train for the exam.

AWS Solutions Architect

AWS Solutions Architect

Learn essential AWS terminology, concepts, and services and get prepared to pass the AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate exam.

The rising demand

According to Synergy Research Group, the AWS market share grew to 32% with over 1 million customers and a number of Fortune 500 companies such as Netflix, Adobe and Shell leveraging the platform globally at Q1 2020. The firm's analysis also shows that AWS and Microsoft own over 50% of the cloud infrastructure services market, with the latter owning 18% of the market share.

Cloud computing was rated number 2 by LinkedIn in the top 10 hard skills organizations need the most in 2020. The list was generated from the network of professionals with profiles and jobs posted on LinkedIn in 2019.

According to Global Knowledge, the Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect (“GCP-CA”) is the highest paying certification for the second year in a row, with an average salary of $175,761. This is followed by AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate (“AWS-SAA”) with an average salary of $149,446. In addition, three of every four cloud architects surveyed had earned either the GCP-CA or the AWS-SAA certifications. Five of the top paying IT certifications are in cloud computing cutting across Google Cloud, AWS and Microsoft Azure.

What is the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification?

The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification is designed for individuals who are looking to gain an overall understanding of the AWS cloud. It validates one’s knowledge of the AWS platform, AWS shared responsibility model, core AWS services and AWS cloud economics such as costs, billing and analysis.

There are four (4) domains covered in the AWS Cloud Practitioner exam, which includes the following:

  • Cloud concepts
  • Security and compliance
  • Technology
  • Billing and pricing

The AWS Cloud Practitioner certification is useful for both technical and non-technical personnel in managerial, sales, purchasing, legal or financial roles who need to understand AWS without the detailed technical know-how.

What is the AWS Certified Solutions ArchitectAssociate certification?

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate certification validates that one has demonstrable knowledge in designing and deploying scalable, highly available, secure and fault-tolerant systems/applications on AWS. It shows that one has technical expertise in using AWS compute, networking, storage and database services. In addition, one should have an understanding of AWS global infrastructure as well as the basic architectural principles of building on the AWS cloud.

There are four (4) domains covered in the AWS-SAA exam:

  • Design Resilient Architectures
  • Design High-Performing Architectures
  • Design Secure Applications and Architectures
  • Design Cost-Optimized Architectures

What are the possible certification paths?

As of June 2020, there are 12 distinct certifications offered by AWS across four levels: Foundational, Associate, Professional and Specialty, which spans across five (5) categories.

  • Cloud Practitioner: This certification is intended for individuals who want to validate their overall understanding of cloud computing and AWS cloud
    • Certification
      • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

  • Architect: These certifications are focused on individuals who design and deploy distributed systems on the AWS platform
    • Certifications:
      • AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate
      • AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Professional

  • Developer: These certifications are focused on individuals who design, develop and maintain cloud applications on the AWS platform
    • Certifications:
      • AWS Certified Developer — Associate
      • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer — Professional

  • Operations: These certifications are focused on individuals who provision, operate, manage and deploy applications, networks and systems on the AWS platform
    • Certifications:
      • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator — Associate
      • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer — Professional

  • Specialty: These certifications are intended for individuals with specialties and advanced skills in different domains such as networking, security, machine learning, etc.
    • Certifications
      • AWS Certified Advanced Networking
      • AWS Certified Security
      • AWS Certified Machine Learning
      • AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder
      • AWS Certified Data Analytics
      • AWS Certified Database

According to AWS, candidates are no longer required to have the Associate certificate before pursuing the Professional certification, and they are no longer required to have the Cloud Practitioner or Associate certificate before pursuing the Specialty certification. 

What experience do you need?

In order to write the Cloud Professional exam, candidates are required to have at least six months of experience in fundamental AWS cloud technologies and cloud computing knowledge. For the AWS SAA exam, candidates are required to have one or more years of hands-on experience designing available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant and scalable distributed systems on AWS.

It might be helpful to have at least one year of experience before going for the AWS-SAA certification. However, if you don’t have the required experience, then you can put in more effort into gaining a solid foundation for using the AWS environment by taking practical lab classes. 

The examination: Questions/format/length

The exam consists of 50–70 questions. You’ll have 90 minutes for the Cloud Practitioner certification and 130 minutes for the AWS-SAA certification. There are two (2) types of questions: mixed multiple-choice and multiple response.

Candidates are required to earn a minimum passing score of 700 out of 1000 points for the Cloud Practitioner examination and 720 out of 1000 points for the AWS-SAA examination.

AWS certifications are valid for three years. After that, AWS requires you to go through a recertification process to maintain your AWS-certified status and demonstrate your expertise.

What is the best way to train for the AWS Cloud Practitioner and AWS-SAA exams?

There are a number of ways to prepare for the certifications, depending on the candidate’s experience level.

AWS official site

The AWS official site is the most reliable source of information. One of the best ways for preparing for the exam is reading the documentation, FAQs, whitepapers and case studies on the AWS site. They are quite robust, explain the key areas in detail and provide up-to-date information. The AWS official site also has a recommended and specially designed learning path which can be used to build one’s technical skills prior to the exam.

Online courses

There are a lot of courses available today which can be taken from the comfort of your house and at your own pace. They cover everything you need to know to take the exams in-depth and are usually updated with recent changes. In addition, many courses have the hands-on labs which allow you to deploy services on AWS with step-by-step instructions. Many of the questions you will encounter in the AWS-SAA are scenario-based questions and having hands-on experience helps.

Practice tests

This is the most important step in preparing for the exam. Practice tests are said to be more difficult than the actual test. However, I believe encountering lots of practice tests helps to validate your understanding, identify areas of improvements and helps in developing approaches in understanding and solving the questions quickly. Practice tests also make you well-acquainted with the exam format and environment.

AWS Solutions Architect

AWS Solutions Architect

Learn all you need to get started using Amazon Web Services (AWS), including the AWS Management Console, S3 buckets, EC2 instances, database services, security in the cloud, and the costs associated with AWS.



  1. AWS Certification, AWS
  2. AWS Training and Certification, AWS
  3. AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner (CLF-C01) Exam Guide, AWS
  4. AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate (SAA-C02) Exam Guide, AWS
  5. Which AWS certification is right for me?, A Cloud Guru
  6. New LinkedIn Research: Upskill Your Employees with the Skills Companies Need Most in 2020, LinkedIn
  7. 15 Top-Paying IT Certifications for 2020, Global Knowledge
  8. How to Prepare for the New AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam (Released March, 2020)?, Whizlabs
  9. COVID-19 Fails to Dent Aggressive Growth in Cloud Spending; Half of the Q1 Market Belongs to Amazon & Microsoft, Synergy Research Group
Mosimilolu Odusanya
Mosimilolu Odusanya

Mosimilolu (or 'Simi') works as a full-time cybersecurity consultant, specializing in privacy and infrastructure security. Outside of work, her passions includes watching anime and TV shows and travelling.