by Sander van Vugt
Sander van Vugt is a Linux trainer from the Netherlands working with customers all over the world. Sander has recorded both the best selling RHCSA and RHCE Live Lessons video courses and he is the author of the Red Hat RHCSA/RHCE 7 Cert Guide.
The Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) exam is among the most popular IT certifications available today. It is a hands-on exam in which the test takers perform real-life tasks on an authentic installation of Red Hat Linux. Unfortunately, many people fail on their first attempt. So how can you make sure that you pass on the first try?
First, make sure you practice as much as you can. It really doesn’t make sense to try to learn the exam by heart since it is a hands-on experience. You will take your place behind the exam computer and start working on the assignments. At that point is where many people find trouble because they will start working immediately without reading what through all of the instructions. Before hitting the keyboard, make sure you truly understand what you are being asked to do in the exam.
Once you understand the expectations, then the next challenge begins: time management. You will have a lot to accomplish but you won’t have much time to do it. So you will need to be organized and work efficiently by taking care of the essential assignments first. Then, pick the low-hanging fruit which are quicker and easier to complete. Save the assignments you really don’t know how to handle for the end as you will waste too much time on them.
I cannot tell you which assignments you will work on while taking the exam – nobody knows. Every exam taker signs a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and I believe that secrecy is a part of the success of the RHCSA, as cheating does not become a viable option. The best way to find out what will be tested on the exam is reviewing the RHCSA objectives.
Some of the objectives will be relatively easy for the experienced Linux administrators such as accessing remote systems using SSH. Other objectives are not always that easy. When I teach students in the classroom, I repeatedly see them finding difficulty because they haven’t worked on the tougher tasks frequently enough.
That also is the next reason why many people fail: they underestimate the exam. “I’ve been working with UNIX for more than 20 years, so I’m experienced enough to pass this exam”. Yeah right, you may have been working with UNIX for over 20 years, but doing what exactly?
Many UNIX and Linux administrators focus on a limited amount of tasks. They may be an expert on the management of users and permissions but if they don’t have any knowledge about partition management then they will probably fail the exam. Just because RHCSA is the Red Hat entry-level exam, that does not mean that it is easy (especially since so many things have changed in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7).
What are the usual topics that people find difficult on the exam? To start: storage and partition management. If you are taking care of only one specific application that runs on Linux then you probably have never created a disk lay-out before, which is challenging to new users.
Another challenging topic on the exam is a fine thing called SELinux. SELinux secures Linux in a very efficient way that allows for many configurations that don’t strictly follow the defaults that will be forbidden.
Apart from those two hang-ups, another obstacle for test takers is the many changes in version 7. If you still think that you can manage networking with system-config-network, it’s time to learn that nmtui is the name of the new tool. If you haven’t heard of systemd yet, it’s time to wake up. Systemd is the service manager that’s trying to be an operating system on top of Linux and which also changes many aspects of the operating system so make sure that you know how to manage it properly.
And last but not least, don’t forget software management. Red Hat uses the yum software manager and if you don’t know how to configure it you might end up with a system where nothing can be installed at all.
I hope this breakdown of some of the pitfalls that first time test takers often face and that I have provided you a useful impression of the RHCSA essentials.
To get the full scoop on how to pass this and other Red Hat exams
I have created full video courses on both the Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) exam and the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) exam. I am also the author of “Red Hat RHCSA/RHCE 7 Cert Guide: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 (EX200 and EX300).” All of these resources are published by Pearson Certification and are available on Safari now.