Kubernetes is hard, and so is getting certified on the container orchestration technology, but there are some surefire resources, tips, and tricks that will help you pass the tough exams.

First launched in 2017, there are three primary Kubernetes certfications under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) and Linux Foundation banners:

  • Certified Kubernetes Application Developer (CKAD), which aims to certify that an engineer can design, build, configure, and expose cloud-native applications for Kubernetes.
  • Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA), which aims to certify users who can perform the basic responsibilities of a Kubernetes administrator, including the installation, configuration, and management of production-grade Kubernetes clusters.
  • Certified Kubernetes Security Specialist (CKS), an advanced certification that requires a CKA certification first. It aims to certify the skills required to secure container-based applications and Kubernetes platforms during the build, deployment, and runtime phases.

The exams can be taken through the CNCF or Linux Foundation via an online, proctored, hands-on test, where candidates are asked to perform a set of administrative tasks in two hours using a command line running Kubernetes. The Linux Foundation typically bundles these certifications with courses for about $575. The exam alone costs $375, with one free retake allowed.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you pass your Kubernetes certification exams first time around.

Start with the curriculum

You should get to know the curriculum back to front ahead of your exams, because time is the enemy on the day.

The curriculums change three times a year, in line with the latest Kubernetes release, and will include the weighting for each section of the exam, which varies depending on which certification you are pursuing. Going after the easiest questions with the highest weighting first is a good strategy on the day of your exam.

Consume the resources

There are plenty of free resources, webinars, and tutorials to help you navigate the Kubernetes certifications, including those provided by the Linux Foundation.

Having these fundamentals in place first is key to developing your understanding of Kubernetes ahead of the exams — and there are no shortcuts. “Some understanding of Docker is useful. You don’t need to know everything, but [you should know] the basics of pulling and creating a container and why you need one in the first place,” said recently CKAD-certified data engineer Chin Hwee Ong.

Once you have used the free resources, there are additional popular third-party courses from the likes of A Cloud Guru, Civo Academy, Coursera, KodeKloud, and Udemy to round out your knowledge. Don’t forget to seek out discounts when buying these courses, especially around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Practice, practice, practice

As with any exam, preparation is key. Because these tests are so time-constrained and hands-on, practicing common scenarios will set you up to succeed. “Speed is the most important thing,” Ong said. “You don’t have a lot of time to reach into the documents. Bookmarks can be a very good timesaver, and make sure you train for speed using the simulator.”

Fortunately, the CNCF has partnered with Killer.sh to provide an exam simulator experience for free to candidates. “You have to keep track of time; 90% of people who fail say they weren’t able to complete the exam,” said fully certified developer and tutor Saiyam Pathak, who has written a book on how to pass the CKS exams.

“Time management is key, and if you make mistakes that will cost you time, so troubleshooting is important,” said fully certified platform engineer Walid Shaari. “While studying and practicing, I like to break things on purpose to see the effect in the logs and learn the behavior to fix them quickly.”

Tips from those who recently passed

Participants are allowed to have one open tab for the documentation during the exam, so be sure to have kubernetes.io/docs ready to go, complete with your own bookmarks.

This isn’t a shortcut to success however. “While the exams are open book, you can only refer to kubernetes.io and github.com/kubernetes, which makes it even more challenging given the limited time you have. Trust me—you can’t pass this exam if you haven’t developed muscle memory,” certified Kubernetes administrator Gaurav Agarwal wrote for Better Programming.

There are also some useful kubectl commands and aliases that can save time during the test, instead of declaratively writing your own manifests. But your use of these will very much depend on your comfort level. “Don’t overhack those cheat codes or commands,” Ong said. “Focus on the test in front of you and the shortcuts that will help you.”

“There are lots of suggestions for creating commands or aliases ahead of time to cut down on typing, but I don’t think that’s necessary,” said fully certified cloud consultant Borko Djurkovic. “You have to know your commands, bookmark the right pages in the documentation, and focus on the task at hand.”

Good luck!

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