Thursday, September 13, 2012

Red Hat Exam Study Strategies

Preparing for Red Hat exams can be a daunting task. The scope of the topics covered and the depth of knowledge required are enough to make even experienced Linux professionals balk. Furthermore, the pass rate is notoriously low. These exams are difficult! However, that is precisely what makes the certifications so valuable.

Red Hat describes their exams as “practical” and “hands-on”; candidates are expected to configure live systems. Real-world experience is important, but it may not always be enough on its own. Because the exams cover so much material, it is often the case that certification candidates will be required to configure services on the exam that they have never used in the field. This is why the road to certification success usually includes a combination of real-world experience, practice, and both classroom and independent study. I will discuss how to optimize your practice and independent study, using the methods that worked best for me as I prepared for the RHCSA and RHCE exams.

In order to become competent on so many subjects, you must begin by breaking down the exam material into manageable chunks. Fortunately, Red Hat does some of the work for you; for each exams Red Hat provides a list of Exam Objectives on their website:

Red Hat has similar pages for all of their advanced certifications as well. These Exam Objectives list all of the topics that may appear on a given Red Hat exam. As you may notice, some of these objectives are rather vague. Here is where your work begins; you will be using the Red Hat Exam Objectives as a starting point to make a comprehensive list of items to practice.

Begin by pasting the Red Hat Exam Objectives into your favorite text editor. Under each exam objective, list every possible action you can think of that might fulfill the requirement. By “action” I mean some change to system configuration, be it using a command, installing packages, modifying a file, etc. If you can not think of any actions to list for a particular objective, consult relevant man pages, files in /usr/share/doc/, and the Red Hat's Deployment Guide, which can be found here:

Once this task is complete, you have an exhaustive list of every item that might appear on the Red Hat exam. Your next step is to ensure that you can fulfill each of the testable items on your list. Start at the top of your list again and, for each action, list a specific set of steps to take to complete it (commands to enter, changes to configuration files, etc). This can take lot of time and research to complete. Once complete, though, we have a discreet and thorough practice regimen. If you do not know how to complete an action, consult the resources above. One Course Source also provides a helpful Exam Prep Guide with further resources, which can be found here:

Now you can begin practicing with confidence that you are covering everything that you need to know. The best way to study will be by actually going through each objective and each action step by step on a live system. If possible get an evaluation copy of the latest version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Your other choices are Fedora and Centos, however you want to make sure you get a version that most closely resembles the current version of RHEL.

An actual installation on a physical machine or a virtual installation will both make excellent environments to practice in. In my studies, I preferred using virtual installations because I could install multiple Operating Systems, allowing me to easily test network services across two virtual machines. It is also easier to re-install systems or use snapshots to reset configurations at the beginning of each practice session.

I would recommend printing each action or exam objective on a 3”x5” card with the step-by-step instructions you developed on the back. Now when you begin studying, each note card acts as an exam task prompt. Perform each task on your live system, don't just memorize the answers! If you successfully complete the task, set the card aside. If you have any trouble, consult your instructions, complete the steps, then place the card at the bottom of your stack. Keep going until no cards are left.

This method can make for grueling study sessions (as long as six to eight hours when I first started studying), but it insures that you revisit each exam objective at least once during a study session and that you spend more time on areas that are weak. Of course, this process can span a few sessions if it takes too long to complete at first. If you take the time to develop good note cards and study routinely, you should have little trouble come exam day.

Good luck!


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