The challenges of the past year have enabled us to do things differently, including the way one learns through online training and testing your skills through certification exams. These self-growth initiatives continue to help you further advance your knowledge and careers as sysadmins. These opportunities also positively impact your organizations. There are numerous ways to take Red Hat exams available in some areas.
Last year, Red Hat launched remote certification exams in response to the evolving pandemic situation. I have sat several Red Hat exams in an onsite testing center in the past. Over the holidays. I also completed remote exams in the safety of my work-from-home desk and at a remote office room location. I can say that the remote exam experience is very similar to traditional onsite exams, with a few more steps to set up your environment and ensure you have connectivity speeds that meet the minimum requirements.
In this article, I'll walk you through my actual experience to help you prepare, be advised on some of the things you need to know and set up your exam environment for a worry-free remote exam day. Instead of discussing all the details, I'll share some tips, common issues, the approved working setup that I had, and the main examination experience.
Book your exam in advance
First things first. When you purchase your exam voucher, you will be granted access to the Red Hat exam scheduler site. A complete set of instructions and links will be sent to your registered email. You can then choose how to take your exams.
Tips: For some of the popular remote exams, it can take up to a month for the next time slot to be available.
- Make sure you plan your study pace and book your exams ahead of time. You can cancel the exam free of charge within 24 hours of the scheduled exam time.
- If you feel prepared, keep checking the scheduler page as there are cancellations, and you may be able to book a slot on an earlier date.
- Once confirmed, you will receive a full set of instructions and FAQs to prepare for the exam. Take note of the login credentials you used to book, as they will be the ones used on the actual exam.
[ You might also like: How to prepare for an Red Hat Certified Professional (RHCP) exam ]
The basic checklist - system requirements
To give you an idea of what you need to have, I've illustrated the two approved setups that I had during the two exams that I took from different remote locations. A full list of system requirements will give you the detailed information.
Setup 1: Closed laptop, external monitor, and external keyboard setup
Location: Remote office desk - Wellington, New Zealand. These were the only items on my desk during the exam as inspected and approved by the remote proctor.
- Laptop - Lenovo T590, 4GB RAM + 4GB free disk space (to save the USB drive boot ISO image). The built-in mic and speaker was enough for the requirements. Almost any computer will do—Red Hat supports many Intel-compatible X86_64-bit architecture systems.
- External monitor - You are only allowed one active monitor; the laptop lid must be closed when using an external monitor.
- Wired keyboard and mouse - I needed a wired keyboard as my laptop was closed in this setup and wireless peripheral devices are not allowed.
- USB hub - One is allowed to accommodate extra peripheral devices.
- Webcam/external camera with at least a 1-meter cable - This is a requirement because you will need to move the camera around your exam workstation for the proctor's check. I used a Logitech C922. I attached it to a mini tripod as it should be placed to see you and your hands on the keyboard during the exam. Note that wireless cameras, IP cameras, cell phone cameras, etc., are not allowed.
- Remote exam bootable live USB flash drive - Instructions on creating this are in the next steps. You will need an 8GB USB drive, USB 2.0, or higher. I did discover that a 4GB drive is enough and works on the actual exam with no issues.
- Internet connection - I used the wifi in the office for this setup. Minimum speeds: Upload: 512kbps, Download: 768kbps. I recommend using a wired connection if possible. I did get disconnected twice during this exam but was able to recover.
- Government-issued photo ID - This should not be expired. You will need to show this at the beginning of your exam.
- Food and drinks - You are allowed to have food and drinks. I had a glass of water, cookies, and a chocolate bar.
- Power source - Make sure your laptop is fully charged. I recommend you use a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) for your external monitor, network devices, and your computer.
- Mobile phone - You should have this ready but turned off and stowed away from your desk. If you get disconnected and need to be contacted by the proctor, you can turn this on. The number you indicated in your forms should be for this phone.
Setup 2: Laptop setup (no external monitor and keyboard)
Location: Home desk, storage room - Metro Manila, Philippines.
I was on holiday and was able to take an exam at my storage room desk. I only used my handy laptop itself. All other desk items are the same on my setup with three exceptions:
- I had no external monitor and no external keyboard this time as there were none available. I practiced and got used to working on my laptop, so I had no issues with the available 15-inch screen space and laptop keyboard on the actual exam day.
- I also used a wired Internet connection after my experience on my first remote exam. Everything was smooth as I'd hoped.
- I had coffee, milk tarts, and chocolate bars on my desk this time around.
Acceptable setup combinations
Apart from the two setups I've used above, these are other alternative setups that you can use:
- Laptop screen, external webcam, integrated keyboard, and touchpad only.
- Laptop screen, external webcam, integrated keyboard, and wired, external mouse.
- Desktop computer with a single monitor, external webcam, wired keyboard, and wired mouse.
- Laptop with the lid closed, external monitor, external webcam, wired keyboard, and wired mouse.
Additional workspace and room considerations:
- Choose a quiet space where you will not be interrupted and distracted during the exam.
- Clear the walls and your chosen area of any notes, whiteboards, and writings.
- Unplug any other appliances, gadgets, and devices that won't be in use.
- Clear your actual workspace from any clutter and any form of writing materials. Only approved items may be on your desk.
- Note that if the room scan does not pass during the proctor's inspection, you will not be allowed to proceed and will have to reschedule.
The remote exam environment
USB boot device preparation
Now that you know the minimum setup you need, it's time to work on your USB drive boot ISO. You will need to boot your laptop or computer from this USB drive to enter the exam environment.
- Prepare this in advance so you can run compatibility tests and troubleshoot issues with your setup ahead of time. You can re-use the same USB drive on your future exams unless Red Hat updates the boot ISO image.
- Use an 8GB USB 2.0 flash drive as advised. Note that all the contents will be wiped. I used a 4GB flash drive when I forgot to bring the initial 8GB drive I used on my first exam.
The procedures for Windows, macOS, and Fedora are documented in the PDF guide here. I used my RHEL 8 laptop, and here's what I did (also applies for RHEL 7):
1. Download the boot ISO image here to your local hard drive.
2. Attach the USB drive and use
lsblk command to identify the device name (can be
sdc). It is
sda in this example.
Warning: Ensure that you capture the correct device name and proceed to the next step with caution. Running
dd on a wrong destination drive will wipe out its contents, even on your computer's local drive.
3. Run the
dd command as a
sudo user, and enter your password when prompted.
$ sudo dd if=/home/<user>/Downloads/<ISO_image_file> of=/dev/sdX bs=512k
This process can take up to 20 minutes depending on the speed of your USB ports and drive (it completed in less than five minutes for me). Do not remove the drive until the process is complete. You will return to the command prompt and see a summary similar to the one above when complete. You can also use the
ps command to ensure there are no other
dd jobs running.
4. Unplug the USB drive and connect it again. You should see the mount point when you run
5. You are now ready to boot from this USB drive.
Booting up on the exam environment
Before you restart your computer and boot using the USB drive, I suggest you connect all your peripherals and ensure they are working properly. This is to guarantee that they will be detected in the next steps of compatibility testing.
Tips: Access your external web camera through video conferencing apps and make sure it is the default before restarting your terminal. On my initial compatibility test, my camera defaulted to my laptop camera. The same thing goes for your mouse, external keyboard, etc. When connecting them to a USB hub, ensure they are properly detected.
Procedures may be different depending on your computer. Please check the PDF guide here for which procedure applies to you. I booted my Lenovo RHEL laptop from the USB drive using the following steps:
1. Ensure all peripheral devices are working before booting from the USB drive.
2. Restart your computer and interrupt the start-up to enter the boot menu. The keystrokes may be different depending on your hardware. This information will normally be flashed on your screen when your system is booted. For me, I pressed Enter and F12.
3. Arrow down to your USB flash drive boot device and select Enter. You will be shown the Red Hat remote exam starting up.
4. Click OK on the Welcome message. The Settings window will follow.
5. Note that you have to boot back to this Settings page to change any of these settings if they fail the compatibility tests.
- Network - Check to verify that your wired connection is OK and recognized. Go to the wifi tab if you're using a wireless connection. Connect to the wireless router to access the Internet connection. If your router is not listed, it might not be compatible with the remote exam USB environment.
- Sound - Make sure the System Volume appears. I maxed it out. Choose the appropriate input microphone device and max out the input volume as well. This commonly fails in the compatibility tests if not correctly configured.
- Displays - Make sure to only select the external monitor if you plan to use one as you are only allowed to use one active screen.
6. Review the remainder of the settings and close the window with the X button to proceed.
7. Click OK to proceed with the onboarding process.
Running a system check
To start the onboarding process, you will need to log in using the Red Hat account that you used to schedule your exam. Make sure you have your credentials handy. You will see the Welcome screen and choose to run the compatibility check. The checks are grouped as follows:
Live USB compatibility check
- This should be all okay by default if you created the USB drive boot device correctly.
- You will be prompted to select your timezone next.
Network compatibility check
- This step checks your Internet connection speed.
- It should be no issue if you're using high-speed Internet.
- You may choose to run this a few times to check your wifi/connection consistency.
Hardware compatibility check
- The microphone check commonly fails if not properly configured as in the previous step 4.b
- If this continues to fail, you need to boot up again and adjust the input microphone settings.
Streaming compatibility check
- Your external web camera may not be properly connected.
- Test the external camera with a video call/apps first before booting the computer to your USB drive.
- This may pass using your laptop camera, be sure to run this with the external cam on.
You will see a summary of all the checks at the end. You need to address any failed checks before proceeding with the actual exam. I suggest running this multiple times before the exam date—well before the day of the exam to be sure there is time to resolve any problems that might turn up. Hardware or home network issues are the biggest reason for candidates not being able to take their exams at their appointed time. It would be great if you can run the checks during comparable hours of your exam schedule so you can simulate the Internet connection speed.
The exam experience
You should now be relaxed and confident in your exam set up so you can focus on the actual test. Log in 30-60 minutes before the exam time to run a final compatibility check. Your scheduled exam will also be available on the main Welcome page close to the actual start time.
Once you have accessed your actual exam, the timer does not start.
- You need to fill out a few forms and terms and conditions.
- The exam proctor will greet you on the chat box at the lower right corner and guide you through the next steps.
- Your hands will be inspected on the camera. Do not wear any other accessories and gadgets. Only wedding bands are allowed.
- The proctor will ask you to move the external camera around 360 degrees inside the room, including the ceiling, under the table, and the back of your terminals.
- Your camera's final position will be on the side so your hands and the keyboard are clearly visible.
- Once everything is approved, your proctor will launch your exam.
Exam duration and breaks
Once the actual exam is launched, your exam timer will start.
- If you encounter any network issues during the first 30 minutes and cannot resolve them, you can request to abort the exam and reschedule.
- You are allowed a restroom break of up to 10 minutes after one hour when your exam clock starts. The exam will not be paused, and the session timer will not account for any lost time due to breaks, so make sure you take care of your personal needs before the clock starts.
The same standard applies to the remote exam and onsite individual exam.
- Make sure you read all the information on the browser before you start the exam.
- The questions are normally on a browser. You can mark questions once completed and go back to the items you skipped or aren't sure of.
- As you might know, Red Hat exams are all performance-based and involve the actual practical application of your knowledge. There are no objective type questions.
- There were times that I experienced a lag when I was moving or dragging different browser windows or terminals, so I avoided doing that as much as I could by opening multiple windows.
- It is also worth noting that you cannot copy and paste in general while in the exam environment, so bring on your fast keyboard skills.
- If you get disconnected from the network, wait until it recovers. The proctor will assist you in case he needs to relaunch your remote exam desktop environment from where you left off.
- Test your solutions whenever you can.
Additional tips and reminders:
- Do not experiment or do things differently on your actual exam day. Stick to what you have tested and practiced on.
- The same thing goes with your meals, daily habits, and rituals.
- Make sure you align with other people at home or in your office room so they won't disturb you while you are taking the exam.
- Ensure that you are relaxed and comfortable with your work desk and chair as most exams can take four hours.
You should receive your exam results within three business days but based on experience, I got my results within 30 minutes of taking my remote exams. The results email will cover your scores on each of the exam objectives but will not drill down to each exam question. That will give you a good idea of which subject areas of the exam you need to focus on in case you need to retake the exam.
[ Free online course: Red Hat Enterprise Linux technical overview. ]
Sitting a Red Hat remote practical exam may sound different and daunting to set up at first, but I've proven it is straightforward. The steps were rather easy, and you have all the things you need to set up your remote workstation. Better yet, once you have completed an exam, everything is reusable for your succeeding ones. That makes you more comfortable, relaxed, and confident in remotely pursuing your Red Hat Certified Professional sysadmin certifications—all from the safety of your own home or office space. A video tutorial is also available here for your reference.
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