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Which AWS Certification exam should I sit?


I often get asked which is the best AWS certification to take and while I have a qualitative opinion on it, I wanted to use data to get to a better answer. I felt it would make a good blog post to help share my methodology and the outcome.

AWS Certifications

AWS provides 12 different certifications for customers and IT professionals to learn and showcase their knowledge of AWS. There are 6 core certifications and 6 speciality certifications. The 6 core certifications are split between foundational, associate and professional.

A bit about myself.

I hold 6 current AWS certifications. Personally, I have found them useful as an aid to support my own journey into AWS. I agree that certifications are not for everyone and they definitely don't indicate working knowledge of AWS by themselves. I think of them as scaffolding, useful to get the building up but the same building should be able to stand by itself.

Certification Overlap & Progression

My experience of the AWS certification exams is that they do not exist in isolation and there is a lot of overlap between the services covered in each. The main purpose of this article is to quantify that overlap and help direct the student in creating a study plan. Another premise is that the student will do more than one certification and it is important to identify a path through them.


Each certification study guide lists the services that could appear on the exam. They are not exhaustive lists in that others could appear in the exam but it does give a very good basis for study. I have gone through each study guide and pulled out the list of services so that they can be compared between certifications. From this view, we can see that the Solutions Architect – Professional exam covers the most technologies at 98 while the Security - Specialty exam covers the least.

Certification Study Guide # Services
Cloud Practitioner link 63
Solutions Architect – Associate link 63
Solutions Architect – Professional link 98
Developer – Associate link 33
SysOps Administrator – Associate link 65
DevOps Engineer - Professional link 58
Advanced Networking - Specialty link 43
Data Analytics – Specialty link 50
Database - Specialty link 41
Machine Learning – Specialty link 33
Security - Specialty link 25
SAP on AWS - Specialty link 60

This view does not tell us much by itself and we need to analyse how much services overlap between exams. To display this visually, I created the heatmap below. If you read each column down, each cell shows the number of services that overlap with the services listed in first column. For example, we can see that 46 of services covered in the Cloud Practitioner exam also appear in the Solution Architect - Associate exam.

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Converting these to percentages gives us a better insight into the overlap. For the same cell, we now see that 73.02% of the services covered in the Cloud Practitioner exam also appear in the Solution Architect - Associate exam.

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Ranking them by percentage of average overlap, we can see that the core certification exams rank higher. SAP on AWS - Specialty is the one exception among the specialty exams.

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As a final view, it is worth focusing in on the 6 core exams to emphasis the higher level overlap between those.

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Before going any further, it is worth keeping in mind that each exam will cover the services listed at different levels. If the student is sitting either of the Professional or Specialty exams they will need to know any service listed in the relevant guide to a much more detailed level than for the Associate exams. Similarly for the Associate exams versus the Cloud Practitioner.


There are a few clear insights here.

1) There is a clear synergy between the Cloud Practitioner, Solutions Architect – Associate and Solutions Architect – Professional exam. This illustrates my point best about progression and a path through the certification exams. Studying and passing the Cloud Practitioner will give you a good foundation to pass the Solution Architect - Associate. My certification journey started with the Cloud Practitioner exam and I have always recommend it to anyone starting out. Primarily because it is the easiest and cheapest exam to start with. Most of the material for the exam can be covered in a couple of hours. For myself, I had not sat an exam in over 10 years and I found that the Cloud Practitioner exam was a good on ramp to the AWS exams and certification process in general. Success on this exam gave me the confidence to go forward.

2) The core certification with the least amount of overlap is the Developer - Associate. However, I still think it is worth attempting. You can check out a previous article I wrote when I sat and passed this exam. It is a great exam showcasing the best of developer services on AWS.

3) The Specialty exams stand on their own. Besides from the SAP on AWS - Specialty, the overlap between these and other exams is very low. In my experience of the Data Analytics – Specialty exam, you need to go very deep on the services listed. It was one of the toughest exams I sat and I believe harder than the Solutions Architect – Professional exam.

Top comments (11)

indika_wimalasuriya profile image

Thank you for sharing your experience - it was really helpful! I found it interesting to learn that you haven't sat an exam in 10 years. I was wondering how long it took you to obtain your 6 certifications?

tom_millner profile image
Tom Milner

Hi Indika, i gained them over 3 years building up from cloud practitioner to associate exams and achieved the SA Professional last year.

comradin profile image
Marcus Franke

I guess if you can keep up the speed of learning you should be able to do one certification every two months?

The cloud practitioner isn't that complex and it will provide you with a fifty percent voucher.

But experience with the topics/services will definitely help.

mdamirozzamanniaz profile image
MD.Amirozzaman • Edited

Will you share services list of 63 for associate solution Architect?

tom_millner profile image
Tom Milner

Hi, i got them from the appendix in the study guide

tom_millner profile image
Tom Milner
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mdamirozzamanniaz profile image


hong_1 profile image

I need to study again, but enjoy doing these. Always learn a lot.

garryhammack profile image
Danny Acton • Edited

Choosing the right AWS certification exam depends on your experience, interests, and career goals. Ideal for individuals designing and deploying scalable systems on AWS. It covers various aspects of cloud architecture. Focuses on developing and maintaining applications on the AWS platform, emphasizing programming and AWS services integration and get Term papers there. This is an advanced-level certification focusing on more complex scenarios and in-depth architectural knowledge. Select the certification aligned with your current skills, job role, and the direction you want to move in your career. If you're new to AWS, starting with the Cloud Practitioner or Associate-level certifications might be beneficial. For those with experience, aiming for Professional-level certifications could be a good challenge.

hopperrichard profile image

Recently I passed my saa-c03 exam. I took the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate SAA-C03 practice test from p2pexams. It helped me a lot while preparing for my exam.

codegirl12 profile image
Emma Stone • Edited

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