Alibaba Cloud Certification - ACA

Date Created: July 3, 2018
Last Updated: July 8, 2018


I as progressed thru Alibaba Cloud I became interested in taking their certification exams. I have seven AWS certifications and adding a few Alibaba Cloud certifications will not hurt. I will also get to see another side of Alibaba: Training and Certification. I also have several networking and security certifications, so I am expecting that I just need to learn the new features and differences between Alibaba Cloud and AWS to certify at the associate and professional level.

Today is July 3rd, 2018, I will be taking the ACA on July 16th. Am I ready to take the ACA? Let's review my progress to date. During the past two months, I worked every evening with Alibaba Cloud services, studied for and passed 12 minor Alibaba certifications, wrote several dozen articles on Alibaba Cloud (Alibaba published 10 so far) and have been awarded Alibaba MVP Network Security. With a little bit of polishing, such as reviewing the FAQs for the major services and practicing in the Alibaba Cloud Console, I will be ready.

This article will discuss how I prepared to take the Alibaba Cloud ACA (Alibaba Cloud Certified Associate), what the exam was like and then recommendations for everyone that is interested in this exam. I will not disclose any secrets, such as actual exam questions, but I will highlight the key areas that you need to be ready for as I noticed by taking the actual exam. However, be prepared that your exam could and probably will be different than mine.

I plan to immediately schedule the ACP (Alibaba Cloud Certified Professional) exam once I pass the ACA. The reason for waiting is that I want to see how Alibaba writes its exams and to review any weaknesses pointed out by taking the ACA. After the ACP I will be taking both security certifications as that is my specialty.

Exam Preparation Tips

In my career, I have taken a lot of exams. The first exam was in 1976 for the FCC and there was an armed guard in the room to make sure nobody cheated. Luckily today, exam rooms are much friendlier and relaxed. Expect that there are video cameras watching you. If there is something odd that happens on your test or the testing day, they will be able to review in detail what happened. Once I passed an exam that raised suspicion for some reason. My exam results were delayed for several days while they made sure that I did not cheat.

Somewhere I read that if you take the time to write down a piece of information, you are something like 50% to 70% more likely to remember it. Ever since, I now get out a notebook and write down everything that I need to know for an exam both while first learning, but also during the exam final preparation stage. I highly recommend buying a new spiral notebook and making detailed notes while you prepare for the exam. Include dates and times that you studied. After the exam, make notes of areas that you need to study more even if you pass with high marks.

Do not cram the night before an exam. It won't help. Instead eat a healthy dinner, spend time with your family and get to bed early. Get lots of sleep. The morning of the exam eat a healthy breakfast and drink extra water or juice. Exams tend to be stressful and you will sweat that extra water. Dehydration is a killer for your IQ - so is lack of sleep. Plan to arrive at the exam facility early. Be prepared for traffic jams, etc. Go into the facility and register. Then, if they allow it, go outside and relax for 10 minutes. You want to be very calm and relaxed when you take the test.

Once the test begins, be very careful of the first 5 questions. Just like working out in the gym, your brain needs to warm up. Read each question more than once. Review each answer more than once. Your brain will quickly come up to speed as your focus is now 100% on the exam and not on the environment. Once you complete the exam and if possible, go back and review just the first five questions. I do not recommend reviewing the entire exam. Your first answer is usually the best answer and going back will just create second guessing. Exception: questions that you flagged for review. Sometimes other questions will help answer other questions.

After the exam but before getting up, collect your thoughts. What did you do well on, what did you do poorly on? Are the exam results what you expected? Make mental notes and then write them down once you leave the exam facility but before driving off. Your memory will quickly fade after 30 minutes. Study again the areas that you did not do well even if you passed the exam with high marks. If you failed, your notes will be important as you prepare again.

My advice is this. Don't worry about passing the exam. Prepare and then just take the test. Even if you fail, you will learn and reinforce a lot of information. Taking an exam is just part of the learning process.

Remember, your real goal is not to pass a test. It is to demonstrate that you have real knowledge that you can apply in the real world. There is nothing worse than going to a job interview or a customer's office with a certification in hand and then your potential boss / customer asks you some questions and asks you demonstrate how to do something and you are just lost because all you did was memorize facts and did not learn the what, when, where and whys of a product or service.

Step 1 - Do you understand the cloud?

With the breadth of services that Alibaba offers it is easy to get overwhelmed with all the details. Step back and ask yourself: "Do you understand what the cloud is, what it is for and how will customers use it?" Pick a friend that does not know the cloud well or at all and have them ask you that question. Can you answer this question clearly? You need to be able to understand the "forest" while also understanding each of the "trees" in the forest. A forest does not have just one type of tree, just like the cloud does not have one type of service. As you progress from the associate to the professional level, your job will be to select the trees, trim each tree into specific shapes and then combine each one into a beautiful forest that can live and breathe dynamically. Just like a forest, the cloud needs to be elastic (grow and shrink based upon demand or resources), scalable (grow from 2 instances to 200 while still being efficient), fault-tolerant (be able to replace its components automatically on failure), and secure (no data breaches). In addition, you need methods to monitor and report on health, usage and performance. If you are a developer / administrator, you will also need to methods to deploy and update (DevOps).

Step 2 - Read the ACA Exam Guide

Here is the link to the exam guide. Take the time to read this document. Review the legal disclaimer, the about section, how to register to take the exam, and what you need to know to be successful.

While reviewing what you need to know, review the exam content and ratios. Focus on the most important services (ECS, SLB, OSS, RDS) and make sure that you know these services well. Review the other services (Auto Scaling, Security Services, Cloud Monitor) and try to know them well. The first four are 75% of the exam, the last three are 20%. General cloud knowledge is 5%.

The exam guide steps thru each service and informs you about what you need to know. Spend time reviewing each major bullet point for each service.

Step 3 - Read the FAQ for each service

While reading the FAQs for each service, takes notes of any numbers or parameters that you should memorize. Also review any of the FAQs items that you don't have a good solid grasp of. Close your eyes. Can you picture each of the major features in the Alibaba Cloud Console?

Alibaba Cloud Documentation Index

Step 4 - Hit the Alibaba Console for each service

By now you should be comfortable with the Alibaba Cloud Console. Checking your bill, which services are running, jumping from service to service should be very easy for you. If not, you need to work more in the console before taking the exam.

For each of the core services (ECS, SLB, OSS, RDS) review all the various options in the console. Write down any terms, parameters, etc. that you need to review further. Create and destroy each service at least once during this review. For the extra services, also review the options in the console, but extensive launching or creation is not necessary. Your core knowledge from the documentation will carry the day while you take the exam.

By now you should have a comfort level on what you know, and what you should know. While reading the documentation and going thru the console for each service, nothing should be unknown or surprise you at this point. You are ready to schedule your exam.

Purchase and Schedule the Exam

Go to the Alibaba Training and Certification website for the ACA. Pay for the exam, which is $120.00 as of today. Once the exam fee is paid, you will receive an email and a message in the console with your "redemption code". You will use this code when you login to the Pearson VUE website to schedule the exam.

Go to the Pearson VUE website to schedule your certification exam. Create an account or login. Note: If you already have an account for exams that you took for another company, you will need to create a new account for your Alibaba exams. Once signed in, click "View Exams". Select "ACA-Cloud1 - ACA Cloud Computing Certification Exam". Next, read the "Testing Policies" document. Make sure that you follow their rules, have two acceptable forms of identification. I have taken more than a dozen exams at Pearson VUE at Bellevue College. I find their facilities nice, clean and quiet. Nothing to distract me from focusing on the exam.

To be continued after I take the exam.

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