28 November 2018

I got the whole bunch of AWS certifications in 2012 and 2013 at re:Invent (bunch = all that were available). AWS has a tendency to offer so-called “beta” certification tests at re:Invent. These beta tests are essentially the “next” set of tests to be rolled out on that particular certification.

I do find the idea of using beta testing for tuning of the certification fascinating. Beta-testing a test … enticing. There are some major differences between AWS re:Invent beta-certifications and regular certifications (which are also available):

  • They are cheaper: this time at 1/2 price of a regular test.

  • They are way longer. There are 220 minutes reserved for beta tests (170 minutes for non-beta), and I have found that the extra time is needed. I think there are more questions, but it might also because the test questions and multichoice answers are not necessarily always as polished and require more mental effort to work through.

  • It takes several months to get the test results. For regular test results you get a pass / no pass result right after the test. I guess they’ll need to collate and analyze the results and figure out how to set the scoring etc.

  • Some of the problems are … unclear or ambiguous. I’m not talking about the typical case of finely nuanced question where you’ve got to be sharp to spot the significance of a single plural. I mean the kind of questions where there are, for example, two valid answers, and the differentiating factor just is not mentioned in the question, no matter how hard one looks for it. Yet, you might have missed the hint, but … perhaps I am assuming too much of myself.

    I would still expect these to be — not necessarily made immediately obvious — but at least changed to make the ambiguity only superficial and resolvable in the and.

  • There may be other problems in the questions. Like, having a large picture in the question, pushing answers behind the fold, with answers being so long that you need to scroll up and down and up and down to cross-correlate the answer to the question (or re-draw the network diagram on a paper).

Although, on the face of it, having 50% discount on a test that costs less than the billable time you put into it … so there might be no good reason to put in the extra effort and delay associated with beta exams.

I do AWS certifications solely for business reasons1: I don’t personally put much value in certificates — sorry in advance for those who got boatloads of them, you might want to stop reading here — yet I recognize their usefulness in business, in AWS ensuring their partners retain some people with certain minimum knowledge, in partners being able to show some proxy of potential capability etc.

If you think that passing a certification test — say, AWS Solutions Architect — shows you to be an expert in the field, you are falling for a logical fallacy. Yes, experts pass the test. But, passing a test does not imply being an expert.

You should think a certificate as an … say, sports license. It shows a certain determination, and at least a belief in your own potential. It is a ticket to enter a tough competition. It does not imply that you would prevail.

Anyway, how do I think the tests have changed over time?

At least for Solutions Architect tests, I’d argue the same way AWS in general: much more into enterprise side, integration, migration, security policy concerns, enforcement and auditability.

At bit more broad than before, which is nice.

(You can see all posts from re:Invent 2018 pecking the reinvent2018 tag.)

  1. Primarily for gauging the test difficulty so I can evaluate others whether they are ready to take the test. It is useless — even demoralizing — to put someone on even a practice test if they’re guaranteed a failure. It is better to let them gain experience on the job, through training, or other means so they have a good chance of passing on the first try. This is also one of the reasons I prefer beta exams: it allows you to understand well in advance where the normal tests are moving towards. 

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