November 13, 2014

Tips on How to Study for Your Linux Certification Exam

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Whether you’re tackling one of the Linux Foundation’s certifications or another Linux cert, you’ll have to dive into the weeds with an effective study strategy.

A recently released free exam prep guide for the Foundation’s two new certifications -- Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS)and Linux Foundation Certified Engineer (LFCE) – outlines the core competencies required for each of the exams.

Yet the pass rate on those exams so far is just 60 percent, and at $300 per exam, you’ll want to feel confident of success before taking the exam.

The ready availability of all the technology presents a real plus in preparing for Linux certifications, according to Shawn Powers, an online trainer for CBT Nuggets and editor for the Linux Journal.

“With Linux, you can get virtual machines set up, entire infrastructures with the actual software you’d be using,” he said. “People say the same thing is true of Microsoft—that you can download the trials and all that -- and it is to a point, but it’s not exactly the same thing.

“Linux is one of the easiest, most fun subjects to study because there are so many tools out there that you can download and use.”

Know your learning style

Do you learn best from books? Or do you need people to explain things to you? Is it all foggy until you actually get your hands on it? There are different learning styles, and you’ll be more effective if you study in the way that suits you.

The Foundation’s new certifications require performance-based exams – you need to show what you can do from the command line.

“[With that type of exam] you have to be practicing doing those things,” Powers says. “Doing things in real life rather than just having an academic understanding of them is vital in any certification class. When it comes to [performance-base] evaluation, book smarts just aren’t going to do it for you, because things don’t work exactly like you expect."

Choose the right study method

Should you study on your own? With peers, such as Chicago’s Linux user group? Take an online course or an in-person boot camp?

A paid course isn’t the answer for everyone, and Red Hat certifications, for example, don’t require formal prerequisites. You take the tests when you feel ready.

Gene Richardson, CIO at Experts Exchange, a network for technology professionals, however, favors structured crash courses with the exam given at the end. Richardson, who previously worked at IBM, has managed teams of up to 300 and sent 20 or 30 off at a time for training. He puts the success rate at about one in five for people who study on their own; at two or three in five for those who use online training courses that have to be completed in a set time period; and at 90 to 100 percent for structured training courses.

Taking the test immediately after the course it vital, he says. “Retention is a big factor.”

“I took a course about 10 years ago and I got the flu, so I had to do a makeup later. It was just so much harder,” he said.

Of course, it’s a huge help if your company pays for your training.

But if you’re going at it on your own, should you take the core competencies one at a time or look through them, then focus on your weakest areas? Again, that depends on your personal style.

Powers advises looking through the course material to determine whether you have the proper background. Then you can decide how to proceed.

He created a new course, “Linux Essentials,” this fall for the absolute beginner. It’s designed to be a precursor to the Linux Professional Institute’s LPIC-1 certification.

Take advantage of all available resources

There’s a wealth of books, videos, user forums and more to help you master the certification exams. Take as much as you need. The Foundation’s prep guide takes that approach to its online Intro to Linux course, which it launched on edX in August. It urges exam candidates to use as much of the course material as they need, but not to feel obligated to even finish the course.

Richardson points to the myriad short videos available at Experts Exchange, YouTube and elsewhere to explain things – often in five minutes or less.

“If you go to a course and something doesn’t make sense to you, seek out short videos on how to do things,” he advises. A book only presents one perspective on how to attack a problem and that might not fit your style. Look for resources that fit your style of learning.

Take a break

Don’t expect to study all in one session, advises Powers.

“There’s a reason college classes happen over a semester. There’s a reason our courses are broken up into small nuggets of information. Don’t take a day off work and say, ‘OK, today I’m going to learn this entire course,’” he says.

“For one thing, you’ll get burned out and hate it. But after a while our brains just kind of go on cruise control. Alternate between reading about a topic and actually doing it – but also take time off so it can soak in and you can recharge.

“If you’re not excited about what you’re learning, there’s just no point. You’re going to be miserable.”

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