I'll be frank - this exam was the most fun testing experience I've ever had in my life. The fully hands-on test feels very "real" in terms of skills used and the real-world knowledge needed to complete each objective. I genuinely felt like this certification was earned through all my hard work and effort - and seeing a passing score was a pretty thrilling moment at the end of it all.
While I wouldn't suggest attempting this exam without either substantial real-world experience in Linux, or having already obtained Linux+/LPIC-1, it's a fantastic way to build on knowledge you may already have about systems administration.
For those looking to book this exam for their goal list themselves, here's a few tips and tricks I used that might help you out - as well as a couple of non-NDA-breaking thoughts on the exam content itself that might clarify some of the confusion that seems to be floating out on the Internet concerning this exam.
Prepwork - Laying The Foundation
Skillsoft's course is specifically designed for RHEL 7.0, while Mr. Jang's book was written post-7.0 in more of the 7.2 ballpark. Because of this, there's going to be some noteworthy command deprecation that's occurred between release versions, so make note of this if you choose to use these materials.
Red Hat would also suggest to you one of their two official learning course paths on the exam. Their first path consists of two 1-week courses that are intended for those completely new to RHEL Linux but with prior Windows or Macintosh-based system administration experience. The second path is a single 1-week course intended for those with previous RHEL/Linux experience who are looking to simply cert up.
While I'm sure these courses are fantastic and are taught very well, they will cost you $3,400 each to take. If your employer is willing to shell out that cash for your training, fantastic! Or, if you're like me, paying for these exams out of your own pocket and $3,400 is more than triple what you spent on your current car, you might be looking for a more affordable option!
In any case, regardless of which route you traverse for your prep, ensure that you're checking these two things in your process of preparation:
- Red Had has conveniently published the full list of objectives for the RCHSA exam on their website, and I can vouch that this list is 100% accurate in terms of what you could be tested on (Cisco would do well to follow their example!). Refer to this to confirm that you're topped off knowledge-wise in all the required areas!
- Labs, labs, labs, labs, labs! You HAVE to practice what you're learning! Keep in mind that the test is 100% hands-on and there's no multiple choice questions on it. You have to be fully capable of implementing everything you've learned.
Scheduling Your Test
For me, it was a tossup between Denver CO, Lenexa KS, or St Louis MO. Lenexa has nowhere near the date flexibility of the other two, and St Louis isn't a fantastic city (in my opinion) to visit, so Denver it was.
Depending on where you're at in the country, consult against Red Hat's exam center listing and dates to see what's available in your area for taking your test.
Alternatively, if you have a large enough group of people in your workplace that all need to take the exam, you can contact Red Hat to have them actually bring a full lab environment out to your workplace for an additional fee! This may be a worthwhile option to explore if you don't live near a test center but you're part of a group of people who need to certify.
What To Know About The Test Itself - That I'm Allowed To Say
For starters, it's a completely hands-on test, right? Well, yes. But hands-on in what, specifically? Why, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, you say!
Alright, but which version of RHEL is on the test?
Red Hat actually doesn't tell you which release of RHEL is specifically on the test, and there are features, command syntax changes, and other inconsistencies between them. While I can't say which version of RHEL was featured on my test, I would strongly encourage you to study the differences between releases, and know more than one way to do many tasks in the event that your favorite command for completing an objective doesn't work in the way you expect it to for the release of Linux you have on your exam.
And speaking of commands.... arguably the most controversial part of the exam (to test takers, anyway) - the GUI.
Your test leader will plainly tell you when you sit for the test that your test environment consists of a fully-fledged standard install of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7. And yes, this does include a GUI assuming that you know how to install/use/enable it.
There's been a great deal of debate floating out on the Internet as to if you should use the GUI for the test or not. Many "seasoned administrators" on websites like Reddit have spouted comments to the effect of "real admins don't use the GUI" or "you'll never use it in real life, so don't use it on the test".
To that effect, I'd like to add a couple of comments. Firstly, do these "seasoned administrators" administer their VMWare virtual machines 100% through the CLI? Of course fricking not - the GUI makes many daily tasks substantially easier. As a veteran RHEL admin, would you truly create a Kickstart script file or do all your QEMU virtual machine administration purely from the CLI? Heavens, no - the GUI shaves hours upon hours off of the time that would otherwise be spent completing many of these job functions.
You have a GUI on the exam - if you want to use it, use it. It can make many of the tasks easier for you and save you time depending on how you want to approach things. Speaking for myself, I didn't use the GUI on the exam although there were parts that it could have arguably sped up. It's your test - you decide.
In a similar vein, since your RHEL installation is a standard stock install, you won't have access to custom third-party or online repo-based software packages that aren't in the base install. Are you a fan of the 'GParted' tool? That's great - it's a fantastic tool.... and it's most definitely not on the test.
While it's been a vital part of the exam for years, many others on the Internet (including a few Red Hat instructors) have spilled the beans on the very first exam objective - being able to break into your RHEL installation without knowing the root password. It's pretty darn important to know how to do this in real life - I can vouch that I've had to do it over a dozen times in my day-to-day work cycle. If you can't do it on the exam, you will take home a majestic score of zero.
All the changes you need to make to complete the exam objectives MUST survive a reboot of your system. While this shouldn't be an issue in the case of many of the config files since they're persistent by nature, make sure that you're enabling all the necessary daemons and services in systemctl as you go along, as well as using the --permanent switch in firewall-cmd for any firewall changes you have to make.
Much to my EXTREME APPROVAL, Red Hat has NOT followed in the vein of Cisco and Microsoft tests in the areas of:
- There's an almost absurd amount of typographical errors on the questions.
- The questions are worded in such a way that it's incredibly difficult to understand what the test is really looking for.
- The questions don't pertain to real-world job functions at all, and test you on things that there's a slim-to-none chance you'll ever even need to know or use.
My exam was very clean, the questions were well-worded and clear to understand, and the objectives directly correlated to real-world job functions, many of which I perform on a daily basis. I can't underline enough how much I LOVED this exam because it finally broke the mold that so many other test vendors seem to be cast in today.
Red Hat will get back to you within 3 business days at the latest to inform you of your score. I was notified later in the day that I'd passed, but my case shouldn't necessarily be taken as the norm.
Make sure you bind your certification ID number upon passing to your Red Hat profile - this is the only way to generate your certificates and register under your employer as certified so that they can start reaping the benefits from it.
Also in closing, to offer a little bit of clarification on the attached command reference guide for RHCSA, this is strictly a command reference guide - it's not a concept guide. It doesn't include things such as step-by-step processes for making partitions, syntax for AUTOFS config files, changes made to CRON, etc. This is partially because you should have at least some of this knowledge prior to taking this exam, and also because I'd like to encourage you to buy Michael Jang's book on RHCSA - it's a fantastic resource that was my primary reference while taking my test.
The command reference guide is useful for having an in-writing copy of commands to review off of, or used as a baseline for people considering the test to see how their existing Linux knowledge stacks up against the content that's going to be on their exam.