Linux Exam Study Strategies
Because the availability of information in the form of study guides, practice tests, exam crams and reviews and so forth varies widely from program to program, I provide some general instructions on study strategies that apply to all Linux certifications. Next, I follow up with specific recommendations for current primary Linux certifications—Red Hat, LPI and CompTIA’s Linux+.
Before I sketch out general study strategies to help prepare for Linux exams and explain their elements, I must stress the value of waiting as long as possible or reasonable to take any exam. Although people must sometimes take exams sooner to meet job requirements, to learn subject matter quickly, to prepare to teach others the exam curriculum or (like me) to write about the exam itself, waiting has tangible benefits, including:
- It takes time for a body of knowledge and experience to form around any exam. Reputable, reliable exam reports from sources like Cramsession.com (or other certification portals) take from 10 to 20 weeks after an exam goes live to appear. These reports are informative and helpful and can aid exam preparation.
- Trade books on exams, whether full-length study guides that help you learn the material as well as prep for an exam or shorter, more focused tools like the Exam Cram 2 books, aren’t typically available until two or more months after an exam goes live.
- It’s rare that practice tests appear sooner than a month after any exam’s public release; it’s not unheard of for them to take as long as three months to arrive.
This explains why I offer one prep strategy for those who must take exams early without supporting materials and another for those who can wait for third-party materials to arrive (if and when they do) to help drive exam preparation.
No Net: Prep Without Third-Party Support
The quick take on this strategy is that it relies entirely on materials from the exam sponsor. This approach works only as soon as exam objectives for an exam appear online, and it uses those objectives and other sponsor materials to guide study and practice. Normally, at roughly the same time that a sponsor announces new exams, it will also publish exam objectives, so ambitious readers can start right away. Following this strategy, it’s not uncommon to take an exam twice, where a first try aims to scope out the topics an exam covers and to assess its level of detail, skill and knowledge requirements. The second try, if needed, is for real because it uses scouting information obtained during the first take to drive additional preparation and learning toward a true attempt to pass.
- Step 1: Review and analyze exam objectives. Exam objectives map out topics, technologies, tools, commands and troubleshooting skills. These help you identify subjects that you must learn, tools and commands you must explore and understand and skills you must develop. It’s particularly important to carry your approach all the way to skills because that’s what certification exams test nowadays. Always check for additional supporting materials, such as recommended reading lists, background study and so forth, which exam sponsors may occasionally offer for some exams. You can also search on Amazon.com or at colleges or universities where they teach courses on these exams for their reading lists.
- Step 2: Map the exam topics to technical resources. For this and the following steps, access to sponsor training materials is essential (and of course, the best way to secure these is to attend recommended, sponsor-sanctioned or -authorized training courses or e-learning offerings for those exams). Those with limited budgets may be forced to find other ways to access such materials if they can’t afford courses. The idea here is to identify manuals, white papers, training materials and background reading lists relevant to specific exam topics and compile a list of reading and study material.
- Step 3: Identify hands-on activities relevant to exam topics. This proceeds in parallel with Step 2, but requires a different slant on mapping exam topics (and recognizing what’s covered in materials collected). Here, you should identify installation and configuration tasks to master, as well as tools, consoles, commands and utilities relevant to exam objectives with which you must get familiar. This is where the “skills training” part of learning starts to emerge.
- Step 4: Read and work through reading materials and hands-on activities. This is where your analysis in steps 1 to 3 goes to work as you read about subjects related to exam objectives, concepts and topics, and master relevant hands-on activities and skills. This may not sound like much, but it’s the most labor-intensive step. It also requires access to tools, software, systems and networks for experimentation and experience.
- Step 5: Absorb as much ancillary material as possible. Sponsor exam descriptions often include links to various information, including detailed listings of exam objectives, plus pointers to additional resources. Even so, it’s a good idea to search the sponsor site, using individual objectives as search strings to find ancillary materials, such as technical support bulletins, white papers and so on. These often augment course materials and help to improve skills and understanding. (Try the same approach with good third-party resources.)
- Step 6: Take the exam. I assume you can do this without guidance; steps 7 and later apply only if you don’t pass on your first try. Good luck!
- Step 7: Analyze and determine areas for further study. If you didn’t pass, it’s important to recognize topics, tools and technologies on the exam for which you weren’t ready. If possible, use the “return to question” marker during the exam to mark questions you aren’t sure about, then scan them again just before scoring your exam (time permitting, of course). Strain your memory banks to retain that material and record it after the exam so you can use it to drive further study.
- Step 8: Absorb necessary material, perform hands-on tasks as needed. Use the list of topics you take away from the exam to re-apply steps 2 through 4 to topics where further study or hands-on experience and experimentation is needed. Keep at it until you’re comfortable with those topics. Then, move on to step 9.
- Step 9: Retake the exam. Repeat steps 7 through 9 until you pass! If practice tests, exam reviews or books appear while you’re in this process, consider switching to the strategy outlined next.
Prep With Third-Party Support
When third-party materials are available (and especially when there are lots to choose from), the odds of passing on the first try increase dramatically. That’s because materials you use not only cover steps 1 through 3 in the preceding strategy, but you also benefit by working from other people’s prior experience. This is why I recommend this approach unless you have no third-party support on which to draw.
A late-taker’s strategy depends on obtaining four types of material:
- At least two practice exams, one for self-assessment, one or more for pre-exam tuneups or retakes.
- At least one good study guide, if not also a more focused tool.
- One or more exam reviews along with the sponsor’s exam objectives to help you understand content details and requirements for any exam.
- The usual collection of sponsor materials described in detail in Step 2 of the preceding strategy, to complement and complete your technical exam resources.
Some people might call this strategy overkill because books, reviews and exam topics do indeed overlap. But because not all books do complete justice to the exams they cover, adding more coverage is good practice. Then, if you encounter anything in the objectives or an exam review th