Top Tips for Preparing and Passing the AWS Certified Data Analytics Specialty Exam

Photo by Akshay Chauhan on Unsplash

I’m a solutions architect and work day-to-day with AWS technologies. I recently passed my 13th AWS certification, the AWS Certified Data Analytics Specialty Exam. As an AWS Ambassador, I wanted to share my top tips.

Disclaimer: I’m not speaking on behalf of Amazon. Opinions are my own.

Why Take This Exam?


Registering for the exam in advance is the first step to motivating yourself. Give yourself enough lead time to study so that you won’t have to reschedule the exam or, even worse, fail it. Otherwise, the testing fee of $300 might not be reimbursed to you by your company. If you have previously taken and passed another AWS exam, you’ll have a 50% off voucher in your certification account.

Structure for learning

There are many AWS-related skills to learn, but certifications and exam guides can help structure your learning in a more manageable way.

Improved intuition at work

The process of studying for the exam will improve your intuition for all things cloud-related as various aspects learned in the exam will integrate with problem-solving situations at work, often in unexpected ways.

Who Can Take This Exam?

Anyone can take this exam, but AWS designed it for individuals who have experience with AWS services and understand collecting, storing, transforming, analyzing, and securing data.

In the past, you needed to be a certified associate, but now it is not a pre-requisite. I recommend obtaining the Solutions Architect Associate first because even though it is a data analytics exam, it assumes you already understand some of the core services of AWS, such as KMS, IAM, EC2, and Lambda.

A strong foundation is necessary for taking both the solutions architect exam and the AWS data analytics exam. So you might as well test your foundational knowledge before adding in data analytics.

How to Prepare for This Exam

YouTube Videos

AWS has a ton of detailed talks available on YouTube.

A great way of searching for talks related to this exam is by keywords in quotes “best practices” and the four core services: Kinesis, AWS Glue, AWS EMR, and Redshift.

Search results for “best practices” aws emr

You could also search by using keywords in quotes, “tech talk,” followed by Kinesis, AWS Glue, AWS EMR, and Redshift. Knowing these four is key to doing well on this exam.

YouTube search results for “tech talk” aws glue

Certification exams only include content that was released earlier than six months ago. So the sweet spot for these videos is generally a publication date between 6 to 18 months ago. Repeatedly listen to the most technical sections of videos, such as grouping in Glue or elastic resize in EMR. Most videos on AWS’s YouTube channels have timestamps or chapters, so you can skip over the intros and jump straight to the technical details.

And one more resource on YouTube my channel has videos on some of these topics, including a video version of this article:

A Cloud Guru

A Cloud Guru has a course specifically tailored for this certification. Listen to lectures on their mobile app instead of the radio or podcasts so that studying can be integrated more into your daily life without having to set aside huge chunks of time to study. Then take a practice exam on A Cloud Guru.


The exam requires a fair amount of memorization, such as knowing the limits, specific keywords, and vocabulary. Flashcards are a crucial study tool to help hammer away at the topics you don’t know so well and review them until they become familiar.

The app Quizlet offers an efficient way to study using flashcards. They have a premium version, but the free version is sufficient.

AWS Skill Builder

AWS Skill Builder now includes free practice exam questions available in several languages. When I get a question wrong, it indicates which topics I need to dive deeper into through hands-on practice, videos, and reading.

AWS on the job

Working with AWS technologies on the job gave me a comfortable understanding of EC2, KMS, S3, IAM, and other core AWS services. This foundation made it easier to dive into less familiar technologies like Glue.

AWS hands-on practice

Do some hands-on practice using technologies with which you may not be familiar. Create a Kinesis cluster. Know the four core data services well. Again, they are Glue, Kinesis, EMR, and Redshift.

When I list those four, I assume you are already quite familiar with S3. Because you took my advice on doing the Solutions Architect Associate first, right?

Data Analytics Immersion Day

If your company has an established relationship with an AWS solutions architect, ask them about doing an immersion day with you, a day-long deep dive into data analytics on AWS. Do as many hands-on labs as possible during this program and ask questions.

AWS Data Analytics Black Belt Program

If you want to go the extra mile, participate in this three-week program. It consists of two full days a week of lectures and three days a week for labs. Invited speakers discuss different aspects of data analytics. AWS offered this program because I am an AWS Ambassador, so I don’t know if it is available to everybody. I think one requirement is that you must work for an AWS partner.

How Hard Is This Exam?

This exam was more challenging than the solutions architect associate exam, which consisted of short questions. Still, it was easier than the solutions architect professional exam, which had page-long questions.

On average, the length of the questions for the Data Analytics exam took up half a page, which tells you the amount of detail that goes into the questions.

Exam format:

  • 65 questions
  • 180 minutes
  • Multiple choice and multiple-answer
  • Broken down into five domains: Collection, Storage and Data Management, Processing, Analysis and Visualization, and Security.

How Long to Prepare for This Exam?

I dedicated six months of personal study time to this, outside of my day-to-day AWS-related work.

The exam does touch on all the core services of AWS. Gradually increase study time in the month or two leading up to the exam by listening to more AWS-related YouTube talks and doing as many hands-on labs and experiments as possible.

My Exam Experience

Both Pearson Vue and PSI offer proctoring at testing facilities and online.

I chose to go with Pearson Vue online proctoring option because of the negative PSI reviews I had seen on Reddit. Moreover, Pearson Vue’s website is more up to date.

Compared to my experience taking the AWS Database Specialty with Pearson Vue, additional updates to the testing software and no technical glitches made the online check-in process a lot less demanding.

The online proctoring option was optimal for me because of the Covid situation. It was convenient not to have to leave the house, but you do need to have a dedicated quiet space during the exam, and you cannot leave the computer for the exam duration. Proctors monitor exam takers on your webcam and stepping away results in a fail.

Besides your computer’s built-in webcam and microphone, make sure you have ready a government-issued ID to verify your identity (driver’s license, passport).

Pro tip: Use the whiteboard to focus

Use the whiteboard feature during the Pearson Vue online proctoring exam to stay focused. It helps to write down the question number and the multiple-choice options a, b, c, or d. Then type the letter ’N’ for ‘no’ next to the option you know is incorrect. This process of elimination is usually an efficient way to arrive at the correct answer on these multiple-choice questions.

Here’s what my whiteboard could look like, for example:


a N

b N

c Y

d N

Top Tips for Taking This Exam:

1) Use flashcards. Search for data analytics on Quizlet. You can use community flashcards and create your flashcards based on areas where you have the most knowledge gaps on the practice exams.

2) Watch YouTube videos. Listen to the talks on EMR, Kinesis, Glue, and Redshift, focus on the technical portions where they talk about best practices, and play them repeatedly until you know them inside and out.

3) Get hands-on with the technology. Open up the console, click on all the options, spin something up, but spin it back down right away because the big data technologies are pretty much the most expensive things on AWS.

4) Use the whiteboard on the Pearson Vue online proctoring platform.

If you have any questions about preparing for the exam or tips for what you did that helped you, leave a comment below. And follow to get more content like this. Good luck!


Examples of “tech talks” and “best practices” videos by AWS

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