My Guide to CRUSHING the AWS Cloud Practitioner Exam

Strategically pass your AWS CCP Exam with advice from someone who passed!


In my role as a Senior Software Engineer, I have utilized AWS daily. My first experience with AWS was in a previous role where I built Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2s) and compared them to servers hosted in that company’s data center. I was quickly blown away by being able to provision servers on-the-fly in minutes as opposed to days. Recently, at Capital One, I had the opportunity to use AWS to build completely serverless applications, automate horizontal service scaling, automate service notification monitoring, automate pipeline infrastructure builds, and internally host APIs. Therefore, I recognize the amount of effort it takes to learn new cloud concepts and build applications within AWS. 

This past quarter, I became increasingly interested in taking the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner (CCP) exam. This exam covers the fundamentals of AWS Services and earning the certificate can be used to showcase one’s knowledge to others. In my current role, there is a fun competitiveness amongst peers and many of my colleagues had already tackled the CCP Exam. Therefore, I made it my mission to pass the AWS CCP exam and absolutely crush it. I have combined my list of study resources and gathered them together into a single guide for other technologists to follow when preparing for the CCP exam. Before continuing, please note that I am not affiliated with the companies and/or products listed in my all-inclusive study resource list. I am not sponsored by any of my listed exam resources; however I will reference them, comprehensively, in my guide. The resources listed are personal recommendations and are not representative of Capital One’s opinions.  

Why did I want to build a guide to taking and passing the CCP exam? When I was preparing for my exam, at first I was overwhelmed by the amount of course material provided by AWS whitepapers, as well as the vast number of resources available online to choose from. I felt that I needed to find a structured way to gather said materials. I bought an exam prep book, watched videos, and completed various online practice tests. This blog provides guidance on how one can crush the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam using a list of my compiled study resources, showing where to find the best practice exams, providing how much time to devote to each study resource, and how to strategically study for the exam using a five step plan. 

The time to complete my recommended resource materials is roughly 1-2 weeks, depending on how quickly one can read through a comprehensive prep book using dedicated six hour time blocks. I dedicated one weekend to research different practice exams and have provided my recommendations in my list of study resources. I scheduled my exam during the winter holidays to dedicate specific uninterrupted time towards studying for it. One can create uninterrupted time for themselves by blocking off specific nights and weekends to dedicate towards studying. 

Complete CCP Course Material: 5 Steps (1-2 Weeks, Based on 6 Hour Timeblocks)

The first recommended step is to consider buying a course prep book to reference as a study guide. It’s important to note that there are several books available online and I heavily researched them before making my final decision on which book to purchase. My recommendation is “AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Training Notes 2021” by Neal Davis.

Although online study guides can be helpful, it is more beneficial to study with a physical book for this specific exam. A hard copy of a book allows one to quickly flip between the AWS services, compare diagrams on different pages, and quickly add notes from other sources; such as video content and practice test questions. I found this particular book very helpful because it contains detailed content of service pricing diagrams and listed concepts in bullet point notation. Its introduction also includes how the exam is broken into four sections and how much each section will be worth going on the exam. The book is roughly 200 pages, which is about how much technical reading I am comfortable digesting in a single given day.

Step 1: Annotate the Study Guide (20 minutes)

Once you receive the physical book you’ve selected, do not attempt to open it and immediately start reading. It may be tempting at first, but instead, get your post-it notes ready and label each section based on the book’s table of contents. This will help you quickly navigate through your book and notes as you watch videos and complete practice exams in the following steps.

annotated study guide

Photo of my book annotation.

Step 2: Videos & Practice Exam (2-3 Days, Based on 6 Hour Timeblocks)

There is a lot of free and paid video content available online for the various AWS certification exams. Specifically, I chose to watch the Cloud Guru videos for four main reasons:

  1. The videos and my book followed a similar pattern, so it was easy to simultaneously take notes in the book while watching the videos.
  2. Cloud Guru contains several labs that show how different AWS services interact and work together with real business use cases.
  3. There are practice tests at the end of each section and a final practice exam available to complete, and
  4. There is a video demonstrating how to schedule one's CCP Exam online.

If you also chose to use Cloud Guru, navigate to their videos located within the “AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner” dashboard.  Whether you choose to use Cloud Guru or not, the workflow remains the same amongst similar companies offering course material video content. As you watch the videos, open your book and follow along with the course objectives. Underline, highlight, and add any helpful content/context from the videos into the book’s associated chapter sections. Make sure to complete the section tests and the final practice exam. This score will help you gain the confidence and background understanding to start tackling the book on your own. 

Step 3: Read the Book (4-7 Days)

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Now, it’s finally time for you to read the book you’ve selected. Please note that the book I purchased took me four days to read; it may take you an additional few days to complete reading the course content. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I recommend dividing the reading into sections. For the book I chose, this meant dividing the 200 pages into four sections that I read over four days. Slowly read your set number of pages (50 pages in my case) a day to get through the entirety of the book’s concepts and complete each section’s chapter quizzes to keep you on track. Please keep in mind that you will need to memorize diagrams, AWS services, and concepts as they will be included in test questions on the exam.

In my reading, I paid close attention to diagrams containing: the S3 pricing model, the database options, the four AWS support plans, the AWS Shared Responsibility model. I feel paying close attention to said diagrams helped me crush the exam.  I also made sure to memorize the following concepts from my book: the six advantages of cloud computing, the five Trusted Advisor categories, calculator types, and the differences between CloudWatch and CloudTrail. Once again, doing this served me well on my exam. Memorize these concepts front to back, write them down, stick them up on your wall, make flash cards, and do everything that you can to remember them because there will be many questions about these topics covered in the exam.

Step 4: Take Practice Exams (3 Days, Based on 6 Hour Timeblocks)

Now that you have completed watching several hours of videos, read through the book, and added notes into your book’s margins, it's time to start taking practice exams. I suggest using a minimum of three different exam resources to practice completing exams of varying difficulties. In my case, I used the following three practice exam resources: Dojo, Udemy and DigitalCloud.

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Dojo’s “AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Practice Exam Sampler” contains two free exams when you sign up with a new Dojo account. These exams are timed and contain a moderate level of difficulty as compared to the final Cloud Guru Practice Exam; which I felt, were not as difficult. Also there are five flashcard diagrams located at the end of the exam that are useful to memorize going into your exam.

While there are many Udemy practice exams available, I chose to purchase two specific Udemy practice exams that each contain six practice tests: “AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner: 6 Full Practice Exams 2021” and “AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner: 500 Practice Exam Questions”. The Udemy exams contain a unique feature that allows for the exams to be paused and continued. I recommend that you purchase these two exams because these questions had the highest level of difficulty compared to all of the exam resources I used. Please note that there are costs associated with these two exams, but in my opinion these costs are completely worth it because these questions were the most similar to the questions on my AWS CCP Exam.

The third resource I used was DigitalCloud’s “AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner” and “Exam Simulator for AWS Cloud Practitioner” practice exams. These two timed exams are recommended because they contain an interface that is the most similar to what I experienced on my AWS CCP Exam. Upon exam completion, an overall score with a pass/fail message is displayed along with a breakdown of the results for each knowledge area category. I assessed each of DigitalCloud’s exam difficulty levels as somewhere in between the Dojo and the Udemy practice exam questions.

I recommend putting together a game plan for completing the practice exams. In my case, I allocated a single day to complete the Dojo and DigitalCloud practice exams and took two days to complete all the other Udemy practice exams. When taking the practice exams, remember that you will be able to pause the Udemy exams. Retake practice exams until you obtain a score of 80% or higher on each practice test and review incorrect answers by reading the correct answer explanations. It may also be helpful to add handwritten notes in your book. Pay close attention to what the questions are asking you and remember to look for specific keywords. You will start to notice patterns emerge and feel more comfortable completing exams. 

Step 5: Schedule the Exam (1 Hour)

You should now have the confidence to schedule your exam. I suggest re-watching the Cloud Guru video about scheduling your exam. If you choose to schedule the exam that is not at a testing center, then you will need to take the exam on a personal computer. It cannot be taken on an iPad or cell phone. A clean workspace with everything electronic must be put away and out of direct sight. There are no allotted bathroom breaks during the exam and you must remain visible on the screen for its entire duration. I repeat, use the bathroom before the exam, as you cannot leave your computer screen or you will receive an automatic fail. You may have the opportunity to check-in 30 minutes early to a scheduled exam.

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I have included an exam countdown guide to start using four days prior to your exam date.

4 Days Before the Exam - Take a single day to re-read the book front to back, paying special attention to the diagrams and the difference between the services. I broke out my book review into chunks - 25 pages, snack, 25 pages, lunch, 40 pages, dinner - and finished the rest of the book before bedtime. In my opinion, you must get through the whole book in a single day to stay on track and best prepare yourself for the CCP Exam.

3 Days Before the Exam - For my study course, this meant retaking all of the Cloud Guru exams, the Dojo exams, and the DigitalCloud exams, but it’s okay if your selected resources vary. I recommend you retake them all until you get a 80% or higher, making sure to keep reviewing the questions you got incorrect.

2 Days Before the Exam - Retake all of the Udemy exams. And once again, focus on getting a 80% or higher and keep reviewing the incorrect questions and take notes in your book if needed.

1 Day Before the Exam - Reread the entire book again, solely focusing on reviewing the questions that you got incorrect in your practice exams. Maybe going so far as to just focus on the diagrams and main concepts only. It's helpful to compare groups of services to each other; such as CloudHSM, KMS, Secrets Manager and ACM. These are some of the questions I asked myself before taking the exam:

  1. "What is a more cost effective option S3 One-Zone IA or Glacier?"
  2. "When do you use a dedicated host versus a dedicated instance?"
  3. "Is it more cost effective to run a spot instance or an on-demand instance when requests cannot be interrupted?"
  4. "When should you use Dynamo DAX versus ElastiCache versus Aurora?"
  5. "What services can I use to budget my services before I incur costs and how can I set up alerting?"
  6. "How can I show that RDS is set up for availability? What about for elasticity?"
  7. "What is the difference between CloudWatch and CloudFront?"
  8. "What can I use for encryption?"
  9. "What do I manage and what does AWS manage?"
  10. "What are the inherited factors from AWS?
  11. “When it comes to RDS and EC2, who manages what?"
  12. "Which services are global?"
  13. "Which services are on-prem?"
  14. "Which services are regional?"
  15. "Which services are reserved?"
  16. "How much data does it take to use snowball vs snowmobile service?"
  17. "What is scaling up vs. scaling out for RDS and EC2?"
  18. "When/how do you get a TAM?"
  19. "What do you get full access to Trusted Advisor?"
  20. "Which services are serverless?"

Morning of the Exam - Only focus on important tables and review your incorrect final practice exam questions. This should take a few hours to complete. Let this be a confidence booster right before the exam. Pour a fresh glass of water and clear your desk and get in the right mentality -- one where you feel confident and ready to take the exam. I cannot stress this enough, remember to use the bathroom before your exam!

Exam Time - Flag questions that you aren't 100% sure about. There will be questions that you haven't seen before, but you should be able to rule out incorrect options to give yourself a higher chance of getting those questions correct. Good luck on your exam!

Final Thoughts

I hope that you enjoyed my guide, learned from my tips, and crushed your AWS CCP exam! Make sure to share the great news with your manager, your team and your friends. Within 72 hours of passing your exam, you will receive an email that lists your exam score and allows you to share your certificate on several social media platforms; including Facebook and Twitter. The AWS CCP Exam is the first of many other AWS certifications that are offered.

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Hopefully passing the AWS CCP certification will spark your interest to complete other AWS certifications, like it has for me. The next AWS certification to complete on my list is the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate Exam. I will be using Capital One’s Tech Blog Advice on Taking the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Exam From Someone Who Just Passed by Quinn Vissak as my reference guide as I study along with the listed reference material.

My Comprehensive List of Study Resources:


Maddy Heit, Principal Software Engineer

Madeline Pet (Heit), Principal Software Engineer, joined Capital One in 2015 to build technology for Capital One’s Cyber Engineering and Architecture divisions. Her work includes multiple Cyber Cryptography Services as well as a cloud-based Data Lake which provides a centralized repository of security and machine data, providing a single view into cyber trends, threats and abnormalities. The technology is used on a daily basis by the Cyber Operations Center analysts to perform cyber analysis in defense of Capital One’s global IT environment. She leads the organization responsible for Capital One’s McLean Women in Technology Communication, including assembling events to increase student education and entry level recruiting. She is also responsible for developing the careers of mid-tier associates by providing mentoring, role model connections, organizing technical topics and is a founding member of Capital One’s McLean Women in Technology committee.


DISCLOSURE STATEMENT: © 2021 Capital One. Opinions are those of the individual author. Unless noted otherwise in this post, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned. All trademarks and other intellectual property used or displayed are property of their respective owners.

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