RHCE Exam Tips

I can’t find alot of RHCE study or exam tips online, so I decided to write my own. The list does not contain exam questions, but rather my personal advice on how to do well for the exam. Hopefully, this can be useful for anyone taking the Redhat Certified Engineer (RHCE) exam. The RHCE exam is performance based. This means that cramping theory the night before the exam is not good enough. You have to perform, meaning that you must have enough practical experience prior the exam. If you are reading this webpage, I assumed that you are already a competent linux/rhel user and is planning to take the exam soon.

1. Go through redhat prep guide carefully and make sure you what what each point means.

2. Make sure you know how to troubleshoot the system using different run levels, emergency and rescue mode. Doing a few more practices before the exam gives you extra confidence.

3. Don’t assume you know. Do it to confirm. Even if using GUI, make sure you know what each field means. It is not only about clicking ‘next’ and ‘next’. If something goes wrong during installation or you forget to install some packages, you must know how to do it in command line later. Check that you are familiar with all yum and rpm commands. A good Linux Administrator must know how to work without using GUI.

4. Use ‘man’ minimally during exams because time is against you. You should be able to install any packages and configure it up and running in a short time. Remember that result is all that matters. The configuration file for some applications can be confusing and there are often other ways to achieve the same goal.

5. The reason why RHCEs are valued in the market is because they are able to configure linux servers securely. Make sure you know firewall, selinux, fcontext, booleans..etc including all commands associated with it.

6. If things go wrong, you must know where to look for the right logs. Check for file permissions, acls, file context, firewall, booleans.

7. All the changes you make must survive a reboot – all changes have to be permanent. Many people tend to forget this part. Reboot takes time. Try not to reboot if you can. Even updating partition table doesn’t require a reboot if you use the right command. Rebooting a machine too often tells people that you lack good System Administration skills.

8. Becareful of rumors or sample exam papers floating around. Remember that knowing your stuff is still the most secure way to pass the exam and practice is the key to success.

9. In section 1, try not to jump questions. Do the compulsory ones, then the non-compulsory questions, one at a time. You need to secure 80% for this part to qualify for RHCE.

10. In section 2, do each question quickly. If stuck, feel free to jump to the next question and revisit the problematic ones later. Test all answers. Re-read the questions and make sure you have answered them correctly. Your solution might work but it may not be what the question is asking for. Some people kept failing section 2 even if they feel confident that they have done well. Take this point seriously. There are 2 parts here, the RHCT and RHCE part. You need > 70 % for each part to get RHCE.

11. Try not to over configure or provide solutions that are not asked for. If a question is asking for A, give A only. Showing¬† that you are smart by giving B and C as well might introduce complications or extra work for other questions. For example, if you are not asked to use ldap or kerberos, don’t act smart.

12. Devise strategies to know where to look for configuration details rather than memorising it. Remember that there are sample config files in /usr/share/doc. For example, it might be a nightmare to memorise dhcp config.

13. Drink plenty of water and sleep well the day before the exam. 5.5 hrs is no joke (you get lunch break in between of course). My advice is not to do any last minute reading before the exam. Do something not related to the exam to help relax. Nothing can be worst than your brain blacking out or fingers making stupid typos. I thought this is common sense but many people forget it.

14. RHCEs have good reputation in the IT industry and many people have faith in them to manage their servers reliably. Do not degrade the reputation by resorting to using underhand tactics, sabotaging or cheating (including in the exams) to achieve personal goals. There were stories of students sshing into other students machine and doing nasty things when they know they were going to fail…

I wrote the tips based on my personal experience after passing the rhce 5 exam. I am sure that with enough effort, you should also be able to pass the exam. To me, experience is still valued more than a certificate. So don’t stop using linux even if you passed. Keep in touch with the latest linux development and open source technologies. Have good system administration practices.

Welcome to the RHCE family and good luck with the exams,
Bernard Peh

RHCE tips | My experience part 2 – Taking the course and exam

In general, the rh300 course itself is pretty intense. It covers everything about RHEL 5 and all examinable topics. I am predominantly a debian and centos user (also love ubuntu and hate slackware) and I find the course useful. Overall, I think RH300 is more suitable for experienced system admin. I will explain why later.

Day 1

9 person (including me) turned up for the course at 10am, monday. Everyone was looking excited. We started off by giving a quick introduction about ourselves. Many of us worked in the sys. admin industry for many years. There were a few ex-rhces who wanted to re-certify for rhel 5. We kicked off straight away after the self introduction. No time to waste.

The tutor is professional and very knowledgeable. We were rushing through topics like package management and bootup process in details. Its all rhct stuff but good to refresh. We ended at 5pm sharp.

Yes, each of us got a $12 free lunch voucher by redhat – giving free stuffs is something redhat is good at! Free lunch for 5 days, not bad huh?

Day 2

We started off at 9am. We moved on to system security, pam, file management and user management. We had to be fast and the tutor didn’t repeat anything that he said before – rhct skills were assumed. After every unit, we had about 20 mins to attempt the labs. There were 10 mins break after every ~1.5 hrs. Pam and selinux itself are big and we only covered the critical areas. We ended at 4.30 this time but had quite a bit to absorb.

Day 3

Some of us turned up earlier today. We did installation, virtualisation, networking, network security, dns, dhcp. Again, experience tells me that network authentication (ldap and stuff) is a big area but we only covered the critical points. Not sure why NIS is examinable since very few people are using it now. There were quite a few commands to remember. GUI is good but command line skills is needed to pass the exam.

I decided to go further for lunch that day. We left at about 5pm that day with everyone looking tired.

Day 4

We did web services, network file sharing, mail and troubleshooting. In my opinion, troubleshooting is the most important but we were left to do it at about 3pm that day. Many of us could finish all the troubleshooting labs. Some of us stayed back till 6pm that day as we tried to do some additional labs.

I went back at about 6pm and wrote some notes on all important things that were discussed over the 4 days. I have a short-term memory and couldn’t remember alot of commands. There were quite abit to remember (well, man pages help but time is crucial in the exam) but I didnt want to overstrain myself too much as my brain was already packed with information. I slept at 11pm that night.

Day 5 – the exam

Note: The prep guide is important – http://www.redhat.com/certification/rhce/prep_guide/

Many of us arrived early and did abit of reading. The exam was delayed and started at 9.30am. Waiting is not fun.

It was a 5.5 hrs exam and everyone was abit nervous. There were 3 sections:

* troubleshooting (min 80/100)
* installation + configuration (min 70/100)
* security configuration (min 70/100)

You need to get a minimum of 80% for section 1, 70% for section 2, and 70% for section 3 to pass. I didn’t start off well as I missed one small part in section 1 but I did manage the clear it. I was pretty comfortable with section 2 and 3 but I think I made some typo and careless mistakes in section 3. I received the results 2 days later and I passed.

Note: The exam structure has changed since mid 2009.


Part 1: Troubleshooting and System Maintenance (2.5 hrs)

Many of us could do it, in fact some finished in like 1 hr or so. It wasn’t hard but can be tricky. I am better at analysing things over remember things. I was quite slow when dealing with issues involving numbers. I was making the wrong assumptions and couldn’t work one section. In the end I gave up. I knew I had 80% already, so I decided to leave 45 mins earlier in order to have more rest for part 2 after lunch.

Looking back, if I were to retake part 1 again, I could probably get the next 20 marks. Under exam conditions, there could be abit of unpredictability. Many people think part 2 is harder but I find part 1 harder – not because it is hard but because if you miss a step, there is a chance that you cannot continue. This could be a great blow to your confidence. There are compulsory questions and non compulsory questions in part one. Unlike part 2, I recommend getting each question right before moving on to the next. The reason is that if you know that you already have 80% under you belt and you can’t do the next question, you will not panick. Yes, panick is the killer in examinations.

Part 2: Installation and Configuration (3 hrs)

I did the installation and configuration (both rhct and rhce sections) in less than 1.5 hrs and spend the rest of the time checking my work. I found part 2 easier than part 1 mainly because it is more predictable. I kinda know where to look for the config files and was tackling the questions really quickly. The problem was I tend to make typo errors (which created some extra troubleshooting task for myself in the exam). I am also careless when reading questions. I know myself too well, that was why I allocated plenty of time to recheck. Many of us stayed back for the entire 3 hrs.

We were told that the results would be released immediately or within 2 working days. I went home and discovered that I was tired… interesting because I didn’t feel anything for the past 4 days. I got an email from redhat one day later with an attachment – I got my RHCE. Yay!

sorry, I blanked off my cert no.

What you get after passing the RHCE exam

* A RHCE certificate (pdf)
* A RHCE T-shirt
* Exclusive access to redhat’s RHCE merchandise section
* Exclusive access to redhat’s RHCE forum
* The right to use RHCE logo in your website, business cards, letter heads… etc.


RH300 is a good course for experienced linux administrators. According to the lecturer, the passing rate for first timer is about 47%, so one has to be mentally prepared. You will feel very confident in administrating redhat servers after the course. The percentage rate should be higher if the students are experienced sys admins (I think everyone in our class passed). You lose half the battle if you believe it is hard. You do need to be comfortable with the command line and have experience managing linux though. I am also against learning unrelated or non-redhat stuffs for the exams as it only complicates things unless you have an einstein brain. If you are a redhat enterprise linux < 5 user, don’t stick with old technologies as there are commands in rhel 5 that can make your life way easier. The penguin passion has to be there. If you come from a windows background or not familiar with how linux works, I recommend doing RHCT first. Rushing only gives more pressure and at the end of the day, RHCE doesn’t mean everything.¬† I still rank attitude, personality and experience over certification. This is also the employment criteria in our company and I believe it is smilar across many companies.

Time to stop. I might blog about some RHCE study or exam tips next. Please don’t email me asking for exam questions and answers!


RHCE tips | My experience part 1 – resource gathering

I attempted the rhce exam in melbourne on Jan 2009 for the first time and passed. One of my friends asked me to share my experience and I thought it might be a good idea to do it online.

If you are into linux, redhat certification is the way to go. While being redhat cerified does not guarantee you a job, it does look impressive in your resume. But having said that, I did hear stories about doggy rhces who couldn’t perform in real-live scenarios. Experience is one thing and passing the exam is another. To a certain degree, you need to have enough linux experience to pass the exam but I also believe that a linux newbie can get rhce within a short time if he gets the right exam tips and memorise or study hard enough – I don’t agree on that but there were stories floating around.

In late 2008, I decided it was time for me to try out RHCE. I googled around only to find out that many experienced linux users were finding it hard, the most notorious being an article published in linux.com – sitting for the rhce exam. There were some forums saying that it wasn’t hard but some said that the passing rate is 50%. So I had mixed feelings. I did the rhce pre-assessment test at https://www.redhat.com/apps/training/assess/ and didn’t do well. I remembered doing the pre-assessment back in 2005 and didn’t get a good grade either but I still passed rhct on first attempt. The exam is practical so I was not too worried about the pre-assessment. I would be worried if I get 0 or super low marks for many sections, meaning that I know nothing about them.

I then went on to look for study materials and could not find many. I know that exam takers have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and hence cannot make rhct/rhce exam information available to anyone (There will be serious consequences like having their certification revoked).

I found a popular rhce book by michael jang in amazon.com. Immediately, I made a trip down to my local computer bookstore and flipped through it. I felt it was too detail and didn’t like it. Most important of all, it wasn’t RHEL 5 (Pls don’t discredit the book. It is good but just not for me). So I came back and did more research and found some rhce self learning software. Some of them offer money back guarantee if you fail the exam – sounds good!. So I downloaded the demo and gave it a go. It was basically a combination of MCQ + Q and A thinggy. The thing that I don’t like is the ambiguity of the questions like “how many steps are needed to add a partition?”. Well, “how many steps?”, do you include the steps in fdisk or not? What if you use parted instead of fdisk? Or is it just conceptual like, step 1 – check for disk space, step 2 – fdisk to add partition, step 3 – write partition table to mbr. and so on… I believed I could answer most of the questions but didn’t get them right because I couldn’t understand the questions. I then emailed the software creator, giving him my suggestions.

I later went to ebay, youtube and a few other sites to look for resource. To a certain degree, I believed some of them did contain some leaked exam information (not sure to trust them or not). There were also some exam practice rpm floatng around (if I remembered correctly) and in fact some practices were very good. Thinking back, I asked myself why I wanted to take the rhce exam. My objective was not only to pass the exam, but I also wanted to know redhat’s approach and new things in RHEL 5.

LIke traditional schooling, my sub-conscious mind told me that real human interaction is still important. So I decided to look for some prep course in rhce. I noticed there were quite a few companies that offer short rhce courses but I couldn’t find any near me. The closest was actually redhat themselves. The 5-day RH300 cram course looked cool but the only problem was the $3300 AU (incl. gst) price tag. I registered for the course anyway and cc a copy of the registration to my management. I was a bit thick skin that time as I explained why it should be a paid leave and that they should sponsor the course. Well, they did and the journey began…

RH300 next.