Guest Post: Preparing for Red Hat exams

By Damian Tommasino

Why Certify?

The demand for Linux engineers today is growing rapidly with the increase of “cloud” services. More and more organizations want their data to be available everywhere they go with zero downtime to their applications. This kind of demand from organizations requires that engineers know their “stuff” cold. When a web server goes down or a disk fails, you don’t have time to Google for an answer while there is a service outage affecting all of your customers. Becoming Red Hat certified is just one way to set yourself apart when showing potential, or current, employers that you can rise to the challenge.

Red Hat has clearly recognized these types of challenges that engineers and administrators face today when they developed their exams. Instead of the normal Q & A you would expect, these exams are fully hands-on. This lab style exam format helps to set Red Hat apart from other vendors by showing that certified individuals are highly experienced in their roles. For me, having Linux experience is critical to my job and being certified (from multiple vendors) shows expertise to my clients and peers.

Exam Format

The two main Red Hat exams are the Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) exam, and the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) exam. As previously mentioned, each exam is completely hands-on and requires a solid proficiency of Red Hat Enterprise Linux in order to pass. The RHCSA is two and half (2.5) hours long, while the RHCE is two (2) hours.

For those that haven’t take a lab-based exam before, I highly recommend you build a home lab or purchase a training session from Red Hat in order to familiarize yourself with the hands-on lab approach. This is a big adjustment for some when going from multiple choice to having to configure a service or firewall rule (as mentioned in the exam objectives). Building a home lab will also allow you to practice troubleshooting scenarios, time management skills, and try out shortcuts for exam day. Just remember that passing the exam is a culmination of real world experience, time management, and knowing the exam objectives.

Building a Lab

When I decided I was going to take the Red Hat exams I sketched out what kind of lab I was going to build on paper first. The goal was to simulate real world scenarios and networks to build upon my existing Linux skill set and advance my troubleshooting skills further. Having mixed clients wasn’t a requirement for passing the exams, however, it did allow me to simulate different real world clients.

As a side to those that don’t have access to Red Hat installation media, you can download a trial from Red Hat’s website. Some people will substitute Centos for Red Hat in their labs to study, which is fine for around 95% of the exam objectives, but know that there are some objectives which require you to have Red Hat Enterprise Linux installed.

Study Process

Before you even begin to study for the exams you should take a look at the exam objectives and recommended experience requirements listed on Red Hat’s website. Because these exams are hands-on you can’t “guess” your way through the exam by selecting the correct answer. If you feel that you have the required experience your next step is to outline a study plan for each exam. Each person has their own study habits, so study plans are very subjective. For me, I used the following approach to study:

• Print out a copy of the exam objectives
• Build a virtual lab and get each VM up and running with a basic installation
• Work through the online documentation and become familiar with all the basic Linux commands
• Expand each exam objective to include a detailed task list on how to complete the objective
• Know how long it takes going through all the exam objectives to see how long it takes you for each task

As already mentioned the study process is different for each individual so hopefully you learn something from mine and adapt accordingly.

Time Management

As with any exam you will take, time management is critical to doing well on the Red Hat exams. Normally you could divide the number of questions by the time allotted and come up with how long you should spend on each question to complete the exam in time. Unfortunately, with the Red Hat exams being fully hands-on you will have to seriously manage the time you utilize for each task. You should know going into the exam what your weak subject areas are so make sure you leave extra time for troubleshooting and configuration. The number of tasks you are required to perform will also vary on each exam.

Some quick tips for time management include:

• Read through all the tasks quickly once the exam begins
• Mentally break down how long you should spend on each question based on how hard you believe the task is to complete
• Always leave fifteen (15) minutes at the end of your exam for troubleshooting
• If you get stuck on a task, move on and come back to it at the end
• Remember that all of your setup and configuration during the exam must survive a system reboot

The biggest mistake you can make is to spend too much time on a single task and rush through the other tasks on the exam to finish. This will lead to errors in configurations and careless mistakes.

Keep in Touch

Hopefully you found this article useful in understanding what the Red Hat exams are all about and preparing for them. If you want to contact me or ask any follow up questions you can find me on Twitter using the @NightShade003 handle.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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