The first question you want to answer for yourself is why do you want to get certified, since motivation will certainly play a big part in completing the certification. For me, the reason was that despite having 5 years of software development experience, I didn't get a chance to work on the cloud professionally.
I work full-time in Frankfurt, Germany, but I was applying for positions in Australia to join my family there, and most of the positions required experience with a cloud platform. There began the circle of (no experience <=> no job) for some of the positions that I was applying for. An AWS certification was suggested to me as a means to familiarize myself with the cloud and be ready to contribute at a new job without an extensive learning period.
Since I was working full-time, I couldn't spend more than 2 to 3 hours every evening after work. This was enough for me since it is difficult to retain any new knowledge after 2 to 3 hours of intense learning. And repetition is the key to learning. It took me 2 months to be ready for the Solutions Architect - Associate exam, starting with absolutely no knowledge of AWS.
I started by enrolling into the Ultimate AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate" course by Stephane Maarek on 09.10.2019. (I have no affiliations with Stephane Maarek and this is not a referral link). The course is sometimes listed at $200 but you can usually get it for $10 on the usual Udemy sales periods or searching for a coupon. This coupon should work right now: DEC_19_GET_STARTED. It was a pretty good course with theory, hands-on, quizzes, and a practice exam. I found Stephane to be a good instructor and he keeps the course updated with the new material.
I started simply by watching the videos every evening to get a feeling for AWS and its various services. I didn't take any notes yet and simply tried to understand and retain any knowledge from watching the videos. The course has 18.5 hours of videos so it will take at least 2 weeks to go through it. I didn't attempt the quizzes at the end of every section yet, and left it for later.
After going through the videos, I went through the entire PDF lecture with ~518 slides that comes with the course. I created an AWS account (free for a year), and attempted the hands-on labs by following the step-by-step instructions in the slides. In addition, I used a mind mapping technique where I jot down all the important points, separated by AWS service, on a single A4 sheet (both sides). This helps me retain the information better, and recall it during the exam. It took 2-3 weeks to go through the entire PDF and understand the information deeply.
Now comes the part to test yourself. I started by attempting the quizzes at the end of each section in the Udemy course. I got the book AWS Solutions Architect Exam Guide by Joyjeet Banerjee and only did the questions at the end of each chapter. In addition, I found some other practice questions on YouTube and did them too. Next, I did the complete practice mock exam at the end of the Udemy course. Finally, I purchased the official AWS practice exam for $20. The official practice exam gives you the best feel for the actual questions on the exam.
At this point, I was feeling quite confident and registered for the exam in a week's time. The associate exam costs $150. It has 65 questions that need to be completed in 130 minutes. You can get an additional 30 minutes if English is not your native language by registering on the Request Exam Accommodations option before registering for the exam.
You need at least 720 marks out of a 1000 to pass the test. The week before the exam, I revised the PDF lecture with the aid of my mind mapping sheet, and did more practice questions. As a tip, if you are not a morning person like me, I would suggest you to pick a time around noon for the exam so that you can focus better.
Finally, I passed the test on 4th December 2019 with a score of 880. I have started preparing for the DevOps Professional certification now, as it is one of the most in-demand skills at the moment. I have continued to apply for roles in Australia, but it has proved to be a challenge since companies need to go through the hoops of providing a visa sponsorship to potential candidates, and recruiters are simply not interested in overseas applicants. Hopefully it works out, finger crossed!