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Studying for certifications can time consuming and costly. But should you have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on study material? Even if you're able to afford the huge fees, you still have to hope that the material you're paying for is going to be worth every penny you've spent. And if you're a student or someone who's not at all familiar with the study subject, it can be difficult to judge whether the material is good or not. Fortunately there's no need to spend big bucks on studying for your certification. While self-study using free materials might not be everyone's cup of tea, it can be done! There are plenty of resources on the internet to help you.
Red Hat's Linux certifications are one of the most important and in-demand certifications in the job market, and with Linux growing every day, they're only going to become more popular. They allow employers to gauge the level of expertise the prospective employee possesses and the student can assess their expertise in a server environment running Linux. The two main certification exams created by Red Hat are RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer) and RHCT (Red Hat Certified Technician). In this article, I'll guide you through the world of self study and how you can get your certifications for the money it costs to appear for the exam.
Preparation: This is the most important part of the certification process. You can pay hundreds or thousands of dollars and buy study material, or you can browse and research on the Internet, make your own notes, practice your own lab environments and gain expertise by spending virtually nothing. Since I'm personally preparing for the RHCE exam by doing self-study, I'll list a few ways in which you can skip the expensive study material part.
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Free Study Materials
Red Hat Exam Prep Guides: These prep guides are nothing more than a complete list of all the things you're required to know when you appear for the certification exam. While it's not study material, you need to know what you have to study. And what better way than Red Hat's own website? Once you know what you're supposed to study, you can simply start trying out labs of each objective. For example, if one of the objectives of the RHCE exam is to configure an FTP server, what better way to study than by setting up an FTP server yourself? The following are some of the ways in which you can study for the objectives.
Man Pages: You might think I'm joking, but man pages are the most useful way to learn Linux. And since the Red Hat exams are practical exams, you need to have a firm grasp over the command line in Linux. Reading man pages can be a daunting task at first, but they're generally the best documents available for that particular tool. Reading a man page in Linux is as easy as typing "man command" in the command line, where "command" is replaced with any command you want to learn, like "man fdisk". If you don't have a Linux environment setup yet, you can browse online for these man pages by searching for them in Google.
Google: Again, this is probably the most popular, but despised answer for studying something. But with a good grasp over Google, you can find just about anything you need. In our case, we can simply search for "configuring rhel ftp server" and we'll find hundreds of guides teaching us how to do it.
Forums/Newsgroups: Talking to people who're experts in Linux or have given the Red Hat exams are one of the best ways to find out more about the subject and clarify your doubts. While I'm not going to recommend a single forum or newsgroup where you will get the best answers, almost all large Linux forums like LinuxQuestions and LinuxForums and Usenet newsgroups will have a separate section for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. You can register at these forums and ask your questions. Since these forums are frequented by people who actually work as systems administrators, systems engineers and so forth, you can be assured that you're getting correct answers. There are also many forums dedicated to helping students pass their certification exams. Just search on Google for "Linux forums" and you'll be on your way.
Chat Rooms: Again, nothing like person-to-person chat to clarify doubts or get questions answered. Almost all of the chat rooms dedicated to Linux are hosted on the Freenode network. To join, download an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) client like mIRC or X-Chat, install it, and then connect to the Freenode network. Almost all popular IRC clients have bookmarked Freenode so it should be as easy as selecting Freenode from the networks list and connecting to it. Once connected, make your way to a channel like #rhel (command: "/join #rhel" in the IRC client) where you can ask your questions.
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The Red Hat exams focus on the practical part, both the RHCT and RHCE exams being closed-book lab exams. You spend a certain number of hours achieving objectives outlined to you during the exam. Therefore you need a working lab environment to practice each and everything you're going to study for.
You can either go the way of virtualization, and setup Linux inside a virtual machine like VMWare, VirtualBox or Parallels, or you can dual boot or install Linux on a separate practice machine. Since you're going to be practicing dangerous stuff like partitioning, changing the master-boot-records, formatting partitions, the safest way to practice is to install Linux inside a Virtual Machine.
As for which distribution you're supposed to use, the RHCE exam focuses on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and the current exam is based on RHEL5. Since Red Hat's Enterprise Linux is not available for free, you have to check out "rebuild" distributions, which are just Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but without any proprietary code and trademarks or graphics. They pretty much behave in the same way as RHEL. A couple of very popular rebuild distributions are CentOS and Scientific Linux.
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All that theoretical study is worth nothing if you can't back that up in a lab environment. Another reason for practicing on real labs is because the Red Hat exams are lab exams and therefore, you need to be very confident of your skills before you go for the exam. The best way to practice labs is by simply trying out all the objectives in the Exam Prep Guide. The above mentioned avenues for study material will help you out in every question and answer all your doubts.
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While I'm not saying that doing free self-study is the best way to earn a certification, it's probably the one which will provide the best knowledge and with the most satisfaction. Studying for these certification exams is difficult even after paying hundreds or thousands of dollars, so don't get disappointed if you're not progressing fast enough towards that exam. If you have a doubt, it's better to clear it out beforehand than to go for the exam unprepared.
While you might not be spending lots of money on study material, you're pretty much getting the best documentation since the best Linux guides and tutorials are free, and you can get help from some of the brightest minds in Linux by just going into a chat room and asking a question nicely. So good luck and have fun studying for that certification!