EX413: it's been one heck of a ride!

2017-11-01 20:39:00

2017-11-02: Updates can be found at the bottom.

Five weeks ago, I started a big challenge: pass the RedHat EX413 "certificate of excellence" in Linux server hardening. I've spent roughly sixty hours studying and seven more on the exam, but I've made it! As this post's title suggests it's been one heck of a ride!

Unfortunately, that's not just because of the hard work. 

I prepared for the exam by following Sander van Vugt's Linux Security Hardening video training, at SafariBooks Online. Sander's course focuses on both EX413 and LPI-3 303, so there was quite some material which did not apply to my specific exam. No worries, because it's always useful to repeat known information and to learn new things. Alongside Sander's course I spent a lot of time experimenting in my VM test lab and doing more research with Internet resources. Unfortunately I found Sander's course to be lacking content for one or two key areas of EX413. We have discussed the issues I had with his training and he's assured me that my feedback will find its way into a future update. Good to know. 

Taking the exam was similar to my previous RedHat Kiosk experiences. Back in 2013 I was one of the first hundred people to take a Kiosk exam in the Netherlands (still have the keychain lying around somewhere) and the overall experience is still the same. One change: instead of the workstation with cameras mounted everywhere, I had to work with a Lenovo laptop (good screen, but tiny fonts). The proctor via live chat was polite and responded quickly to my questions.

Now... I said I spent seven hours on the exam: I took it twice. 

Friday 27/10 I needed the full four hours and had not fully finished by the time my clock reached 00:00. This was due to two issues: first, Sander's course had missed one topic completely and second, I had a suspicion that one particular task was literally impossible. Leaving for home, I had a feeling that it could be a narrow "pass". A few hours later I received the verdict: 168/300 points, with 210 being the passing grade. A fail.

I was SO angry! With myself of course, because I felt that I'd messed up something horribly! I knew I hadn't done well, but I didn't expect a 56% score. I put all that anger to good use and booked a retake of the exam immediately. That weekend I spent twelve hours boning up on my problem areas and reviewing the rest.

Come Monday, I arrived at the now familiar laptop first thing in the morning. BAM! BAM! BAM! Most of the tasks I was given were hammered out in quick succession, with a few taking some time because of lengthy command runtimes. In the end I had only one task left: the one which I suspected to be impossible. 

I spoke to the proctor twice about this issue. The first time (1.5 hours into the test) I provided full details of the issue and my explanation for why the task is impossible. The proctor took it up with RedHat support and half an hour later the reply was "this is as intended and is a problem for you to solve". Now I cannot provide you with details about the task, so I'll give you an analogy instead. Task: "Here's a filled-out and signed form. And over here you will find the personnel files for a few employees. Using the signature on the form, ascertain which employee signed the form. Then use his/her personal details to set up a new file.". However, when inspecting the form, you find the signature box to be empty. Blank. There is no signature. 

After finishing all other work I spoke to the proctor again, to reiterate my wish for RedHat to step in. The reply was the same: it works as intended and complaints may be sent to certification-team@. Fine. Since I'd finished all other tasks (and rebooted at least six times along the way to ensure all my work was sound), I finished the exam assuming I'd get a passing score anyway. I felt good! I'd had a good day, banged out the exam in respectable time and I had improved upon my previous results a lot!

I took their suggestion and emailed the Cert Team about the impossible question. Both to help them improve their exams and to get a few extra points on my final score.

A few hours later I was livid.

The results were in: 190/300 points: 63%, where 70% is needed for a pass. All my improved work, with only one unfinished task, had apparently only led to 22pts increase?! And somewhere along the way RedHat says I just left >30% of my points lying around?! No fscking way. 

I sent a follow-up to my first email, politely asking RedHat to consider the impossible assignment, but also to give my exam results a review. I sincerely suspect problems with the automated scoring on my test, because for the life of me I cannot imagine where I went so horribly wrong to miss out on 30% of the full score!

This morning, twentyfour hours after my last email to the Cert Team, I get a new email from the RH Exam Results system. My -first- exam was given a passing score of 210/300. No further feedback at all, just the passing score on the first sitting. 

While I'm very happy to have gotten the EX413, this of course leaves me with some unresolved questions. All three have been fired in RedHat's direction; I hope to have some answers by the end of the week. 

 

In closing I'd like to say that, despite my bad experiences, I still value RedHat for what they do. They provide solid products (RHEL, IDM/IPA and their many other tools) and their practical exams are important to a field of work rife with simple multiple-choice questions. This is exactly why my less-than-optimal experience saddens me: it marrs the great things Redhat do!

 

Update 2017-11-02:

This morning I received an email from the Certification Team at RedHat, informing me that my report of the bugged assignment was warranted. They had made an updates to the exam which apparently had not been fully tested, allowing the problem I ran into to make it into the production exams. RedHat will be A) updating the exam to resolve the issue B) reissuing scores for other affected candidates. 


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