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Best AWS Certification exam to take - Best Practices


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.


Study Guide

No. of Services

Cloud Practitioner


Solutions Architect – Associate


Solutions Architect – Professional


Developer – Associate


​SysOps Administrator – Associate


​DevOps Engineer - Professional


Advanced Networking - Specialty


Data Analytics – Specialty


​Database - Specialty


Machine Learning – Specialty


​Security - Specialty


​SAP on AWS - Specialty


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.

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.

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.

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

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.

  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.

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