The NEW 2020 AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam (SAA-C02)

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The new SAA-C02 exam for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate certification has been available since March 2020. I have taken both the beta and final versions of this exam and have thousands of students who have been using our courses to study for this exam and successfully passed. In this article, you’ll learn what to expect in the new exam based on this considerable experience.

The old version of the exam was retired on 1st July 2020 after it was extended for an extra couple of months due to the exam testing center closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new exam has been updated with new content to align with the latest AWS features and services and you can find the blueprint for the SAA-C02 exam here.

So, what’s the new exam like and what do you need to know to pass it? Let me tell you about the changes to the exam blueprint and the question format of the exam. I’ll also provide some tips for what you need to study if you’re planning to take the new 2020 AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam.

The Blueprint

For the most part, the blueprint is unchanged. The number of questions is the same at 65, and the pass mark is still 720 points out of 1000. In the new blueprint, they don’t recommend any specific whitepapers like they used to — instead you just get a link to the AWS whitepapers page. The key difference between the SAA-C01 and SAA-C02 blueprints is the content outline. These can be seen in the image below.

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As you can see, there are only 4 domains in the SAA-C02 blueprint (as the “Define Operationally Excellent Architectures” domain has been removed). In addition to the removal of a domain (and because of it), the percentages of coverage of each other domain have also changed. The “ Design Cost-Optimized Architectures” domain has the biggest change going from 10% to 18% — so make sure you know how to design cost-effective architectures.

The Question Format

The good news is that there’s not a whole lot to report here. The style of the questions in the SAA- C02 is very similar to the one in the previous exam. Most questions are 1–2 lines of scenario followed by the actual question itself. They get straight to the point without any filler. If anything, I thought the wording was improved from the previous exam and the questions were less ambiguous.

There are two response formats: multiple choice, and multiple response. In the SAA-C02 exam blueprint, these formats appear to be identical to the SAA-C01 exam: you either have one correct response from three options; or two or more correct responses from five or more options. However, as with the SAA-C01 exam, I have not yet seen any questions that ask for more than two responses or have more than five options. If you do see this on your exam, please let me know!

The Content — What You Need to Know

Let me break down the content that I suggest you need to know for the exam:

Storage

  • Know your different Amazon S3 storage tiers! You need to know the use cases, features and limitations, and relative costs; e.g. retrieval costs.
  • Amazon S3 lifecycle policies is also required knowledge — there are minimum storage times in certain tiers that you need to know.
  • For Glacier, you need to understand what it is, what it’s used for, and what the options are for retrieval times and fees.
  • For the Amazon Elastic File System (EFS), make sure you’re clear which operating systems you can use with it (just Linux).
  • For the Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS), make sure you know when to use the different tiers including instance stores; e.g. what would you use for a datastore that requires the highest IO and the data is distributed across multiple instances? (Good instance store use case)
  • Learn about Amazon FSx. You’ll need to know about FSx for Windows and Lustre.
  • Know how to improve Amazon S3 performance including using CloudFront, and byte-range fetches — check out this whitepaper.
  • Make sure you understand about Amazon S3 object deletion protection options including versioning and MFA delete.

Compute

  • You need to have a good understanding of the options for how to scale an Auto Scaling Group using metrics such as SQS queue depth, or numbers of SNS messages.
  • Know your different Auto Scaling policies including Target Tracking Policies.
  • Read up on High Performance Computing (HPC) with AWS. You’ll need to know about Amazon FSx with HPC use cases.
  • Know your placement groups. Make sure you can differentiate between spread, cluster and partition; e.g. what would you use for lowest latency? What about if you need to support an app that’s tightly coupled? Within an AZ or cross AZ?
  • Make sure you know the difference between Elastic Network Adapters (ENAs), Elastic Network Interfaces (ENIs) and Elastic Fabric Adapters (EFAs).
  • For the Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS), make sure you understand how to assign IAM policies to ECS for providing S3 access. How can you decouple an ECS data processing process — Kinesis Firehose or SQS?
  • Make sure you’re clear on the different EC2 pricing models including Reserved Instances (RI) and the different RI options such as scheduled RIs.
  • Make sure you know the maximum execution time for AWS Lambda (it’s currently 900 seconds or 15 minutes).

Network

  • Understand what AWS Global Accelerator is and its use cases.
  • Understand when to use CloudFront and when to use AWS Global Accelerator.
  • Make sure you understand the different types of VPC endpoint and which require an Elastic Network Interface (ENI) and which require a route table entry.
  • You need to know how to connect multiple accounts; e.g. should you use VPC peering or a VPC endpoint?
  • Know the difference between PrivateLink and ClassicLink.
  • Know the patterns for extending a secure on-premises environment into AWS.
  • Know how to encrypt AWS Direct Connect (you can use a Virtual Private Gateway / AWS VPN).
  • Understand when to use Direct Connect vs Snowball to migrate data — lead time can be an issue with Direct Connect if you’re in a hurry.
  • Know how to prevent circumvention of Amazon CloudFront; e.g. Origin Access Identity (OAI) or signed URLs / signed cookies.

Database

  • Make sure you understand Amazon Aurora and Amazon Aurora Serverless.
  • Know which RDS databases can have Read Replicas and whether you can read from a Multi-AZ standby.
  • Know the options for encrypting an existing RDS database; e.g. only at creation time otherwise you must encrypt a snapshot and create a new instance from the snapshot.
  • Know which databases are key-value stores; e.g. Amazon DynamoDB.

Management and Governance

  • You’ll need to know about AWS Organizations; e.g. how to migrate an account between organizations. Check out this article.
  • For AWS Organizations, you also need to know how to restrict actions using service control policies attached to OUs.
  • Understand what AWS Resource Access Manager is.

Application Integration

  • Make sure you know the use cases for the Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS), and Simple Notification Service (SNS).
  • Understand the differences between Amazon Kinesis Firehose and SQS and when you would use each service.
  • Know how to use Amazon S3 event notifications to publish events to SQS — here’s a good “How To” article.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of what you need to know, just a selection of tips for what I recommend you add to your training when preparing for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate (SAA-C02) exam. To ensure you’re properly prepared, check out the Digital Cloud Training courses mentioned below.

Preparation Resources

If you’re looking to pass the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam, Digital Cloud Training offers training resources that will ensure you’re able to comfortably pass your exam first time. Our video courses and practice tests have been fully updated to cover everything you need to know for the SAA-C02 exam. Check out the following courses:

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Hands-On Course — this course takes you right from creating your first AWS Free Tier account through to building complex architectures on AWS. It’s all hands-on with over 28 hours of guided practical exercises. This is the ultimate video course to not only pass the exam but develop a strong experience-based skillset.
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Practice Exams — this course contains over 500 up-to-date practice questions that reflect the style and difficulty of the real AWS exam. After going through these questions a couple of times, you’ll feel confident when taking the real test.

Also, check out the FREE AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Training Notes on our website. Browsing these high-quality training resources will save you lots of time on the AWS website. These exam-specific cheat sheets will help you get straight to the facts you need to know for your AWS exam.

Got Questions?

Get in touch with us here.

Written by

Founder of Digital Cloud Training, IT instructor and Cloud Solutions Architect with 20+ year of IT industry experience. Passionate about empowering his students

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