Smash Your Kubernetes CKAD Exam — My Study Guide and Exam Resources

Matthew Palmer
4 min readSep 16, 2018

This is my study guide for smashing your CKAD exam on the first attempt.

I was part of the CNCF CKAD beta program, and was one of the first developers to achieve CKAD certification. I’ve got a book on Kubernetes and have developed a course with a thirty question CKAD practice exam that might help you. But—even if you don’t want to buy my stuff—this post has got some great advice that’ll help you nail your CKAD exam.

Overview

The CNCF Certified Kubernetes Application Developer certification demonstrates your ability to use and operate a Kubernetes cluster. You’ll need to create Kubernetes objects, manage resources, and debug a cluster. The emphasis is on Developer— use that to prioritise your study.

TL;DR

Let me boil it right down. There are two things you’ve gotta do to pass this exam.

  1. Know your shit
  2. Be fast at doing it

Step #1 is the easy bit. Everyone who fails the exam fails for reason #2. That’s my biggest piece of advice—you have to be able to work swiftly in the CKAD exam environment, but without rushing and making silly errors.

Study Methodology

Here’s the path I took to pass my CKAD exam on the first attempt.

Step 1: Understand what the curriculum means
Every topic on the CKAD certification curriculum gets tested. The weightings next to each topic are real indicators of the importance of each topic for the exam. If something seems like a developer would just consume or query a certain type of resource, you probably don’t need to know how to create and manage that thing. But expect questions on everything in the curriculum, and know how to locate everything on kubernetes.io.

Step 2: Write out the curriculum — that’s your to-do list
You’ve understood the curriculum and you’ve prioritised it based on your experience—great. Now, for each topic, go to kubernetes.io, find the relevant pages for that topic, and start taking notes. Download my book on Kubernetes. Whatever. Just cover everything you need. What you’re doing here is covering all the theory that you know is gonna come up in your test. (A great side-effect of at least doing some of your learning from kubernetes.io and the kubectl explain command is that you have access to these in the exam environment, so you can easily refer back to them.)

Step 3: Walk through self-guided examples on each topic
For every big topic you cover in the note-taking, create your own small toy example. Do this via the CLI only—that’s simulating your exam environment! Think about if there are different ways to accomplish the same task. (Would it be faster if I created YAML from scratch or used a kubectl run command?) In this step, you’re reinforcing the theory you learned, and also learning how to practically perform the things you’re learning. It’s super important.

Step 4: Test yourself and get faster
You know the theory and you’ve done some practical work. Now’s the time where you test whether you’ve covered everything you need to cover. Most importantly, you need to make yourself faster at completing tasks and answering questions in a Kubernetes cluster. You have to practice! Look, I’ve gotta hard-sell you—I wrote a practice exam that is perfect for this step. Don’t want to use that? That’s cool, but you should create your own questions and answers or find some real-world examples to complete. The biggest reason people fail is that they don’t have experience working in Kubernetes under serious time constraints.

Quick Exam Tips

  • You complete the exam in a (shitty) browser-based terminal environment. One, expect lag. Two, make sure you know how to do everything via a CLI. Let me tell you from experience that editing YAML via Vim sucks if you only kinda know Vim. (j… i… space space… esc… j… i… space space… thirty times.)
  • kubectl explain is a godsend, kubectl explain --recursive is a double godsend. (That’s a thing, right?)
  • Everything happens in a Kubernetes namespace. Know how to operate, query, and change namespaces like the back of your hand.
  • The #1 struggle people have with their CKAD exam is lack of time. You need to be able to move around quickly, answer easily, and manage your time well.

If you use my book or the Kubernetes documentation, I guarantee you’ll know the content cold. But you absolutely must practice with a sample exam or with other real-world examples on a live Kubernetes cluster. You have to be able to move quickly under pressure.

Good luck—let me know how it goes!

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Matthew Palmer

Software developer who likes to make things for people