Nail Your Kubernetes Admin Exam on the First Try. Tips & Tricks from a Certified Administrator.

Kubernetes is one of the leading container management technologies. As a test automation & DevOps specialist whose job is to support customers in improving their software development process and optimizing the delivered solutions, I recognize the massive benefits it can offer to modern businesses.

Recently, I completed the Certified Kubernetes Administrator exam and would like to share some tips that might be helpful for Kubernetes beginners and those who’d like to validate their knowledge of the technology.

What is Kubernetes? A Brief Overview

Kubernetes is an open-source platform for management and orchestration of containerized applications in clusters. It can be used to automate deployment, scaling, and management of distributed application components across on-premise, cloud, or hybrid infrastructure.

Initially developed by Google, it was donated to Cloud Native Computing Foundation in 2015. It quickly gained popularity and became a leading solution in container orchestration and management with a fast-growing, active community (see: https://kubernetes.io/community/).

Google Trends snapshot illustrating a spike in Kubernetes’ interest: July 2015 — December 2017

As it’s considered as a solution that can significantly improve resiliency and the pace of deployments, the most prominent technology players such as eBay, Samsung, Comcast, or Yahoo (the full list of official use cases can be found here) use it to orchestrate all bricks in their containerized microservices environments.

The Linux Foundation’s Kubernetes Exams

The Linux Foundation and its child project, Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which hosts Kubernetes, developed a suite of certification and training programs to help grow the Kubernetes ecosystem.

Currently, there are three certification programs:

Certified Kubernetes Administrator Exam: What You Need to Know

I’m bound by the Confidentiality Agreement that every candidate signs upon the exam registration, so I’m not allowed to disclose the exam content. However, all the requirements are detailed in the exam resources listed at the bottom of the certification’s web page: https://www.cncf.io/certification/expert/.

Here’s the essential info:

  • The exam is online-proctored. You can take it remotely from any place with a reliable internet connection as long as it’s a private room, and you make it possible for a proctor to observe you via a webcam throughout the exam duration.
  • It favors practice over theory. In the exam, you’re going to prove your practical knowledge of Kubernetes by solving tasks in a command line environment.
  • 3 hours to nail 24 tasks. You will have 3 hours to answer 24 questions covering topics listed in the CKA Curriculum. Here’s the link: https://cncf.io/certification/cka-cirriculum.
  • You can seek help, but cheating is out of bounds. The exam console will be loaded in one Chrome browser tab, and you will be allowed to open new tabs to search the official kubernetes.io documentation. The documentation is quite elaborate and covers everything you may need during the exam. You can also google any exam-relevant information. However, you must not search an exact answer to any of the exam questions.

For detailed formal requirements and rules check the official Kubernetes Candidate Handbook.

Let’s Talk Money. How Much Does it Cost?

The CKA exam costs 300 USD, and it includes one free retake. You may use a bundle offer, which consists of the Kubernetes Fundamentals training (LFS258) together with the exam for 499 USD.

Look for Discounts

You may also consider waiting for an exclusive deal (e.g., I benefited from a Black Friday sales). The Linux Foundation frequently offers significant seasonal discounts.


Great, But How to Nail it??

Sure, understanding the exam logistics and requirements is an integral part of the preparation. So is paying your registration fee😉 But it’s time for some action! Below I’m sharing my top 7 tips concerning more technical aspects of the exam.

7 Actionable Tips to Pass the Kubernetes Admin Exam Like a Pro

1. Read exam resources. Read them again.

You won’t be hyper-zealous if you read the official Exam Resources available at the bottom of the CKA exam’s page:

  • Candidate Handbook provides practical exam information such as hardware and system requirements, formal exam requirements, tips for the exam console, exam rules, and location policy.
  • Check FAQ for answers to the most common questions.
  • Curriculum Overview covers all mandatory topics.

2. Master the Linux Command Line

To ace the test, you have to be fluent in working with the Linux Command Line.

  • Practice using your favorite text editor (vim, nano, etc.). Recall useful shortcuts, make sure you feel comfortable with the tool. During the exam, you will have to repeatedly copy & paste between your editor and the one supplied by the Linux Foundation. Practice can help you save precious time.
  • You will have only one console window at your disposal so using a terminal multiplexer (e.g., tmux) might buy you some extra time.
  • Learn how to create and manage systemd services, since the exam environment is based on them:
The clusters are bootstrapped in such a way that the control plane services are deployed as traditional systemd-managed services, with kubelet on all nodes joining the cluster via TLS bootstrapping, with kubelet itself also running as a systemd-managed service. (Linux Foundation Customer Support — ckasupport@rt.linuxfoundation.org)

3. Get used to the exam console

  • The exam’s terminal is delivered in a browser so that it will behave slightly different than a standalone terminal or an SSH client. There is a demo mentioned on the Gate One GitHub page; unfortunately, it didn’t work for me, maybe you’ll have more luck.
  • The copy and paste Ctrl+C, and Ctrl+V shortcuts won’t work in the terminal!!! You will need to get used to the substitutes described in the Candidate Handbook:
  • Another handy tool is the Notepad feature. You won’t be able to take notes anywhere else. You can paste the text there and modify it before pasting it into the terminal. It’s also a good practice to use this tool for taking down notes as you’re moving through the questions. Thanks to that, you will be able to review a given question at any point if you need to reconsider the answer.

4. Learn, understand, and practice… A LOT!

To be successful with the Kubernetes exam, you will need to obtain in-depth practical knowledge.

  • Don’t rush and give yourself some time to learn and understand Kubernetes. Practice a lot, try to execute by yourself everything you learn in theory.
  • Begin with tutorials to get an understanding of Kubernetes’ architecture and resources. Start with a free Introduction To Kubernetes to get some basic overview of vital Kubernetes features.
  • Go deeper with Fundamentals of Kubernetes. This is a paid training delivered by The Linux Foundation. If you’re short on cash, google for some alternatives or wait for special deals.

Once you get familiar with Kubernetes’ features, start preparing strictly for the exam. Go through the Curriculum Overview and master all the topics listed. You can find an extra useful mapping of objectives and resources on GitHub: walidshaari/Kubernetes-Certified-Administrator.

5. Build your cluster from scratch

This point is strictly related to the previous one. Most of the time, using a simple single-node cluster (minikube) will be enough. But you also will need to learn how to set up and administrate all parts of the cluster from scratch.

Unfortunately, the official documentation leaves some room for improvement, but I suggest checking the splendid Kelsey Hightower’s tutorial kubernetes-the-hard-way (KTHW). The tutorial leverages the Google Cloud Platform to build an infrastructure. One downside is that with this option you may be required to pay for setting up and maintaining resources in the cloud.

But you can build your cluster using any solution (cloud, virtual machines, or bare metal) and play with it to learn Kubernetes’ implementation. I’ve done it with Vagrant and Ansible, and shared my work on GitHub: k8s-cluster-bootstrap. Feel free to use it and share your remarks.

6. Crank up your speed

You have 3 hours to go through the exam, but time flies. Here are some tips on how to buy some time:

  • If you get stuck during the exam, note down the question number and move to the next one. Same if you think that solving a particular issue might take relatively longer than resolving the other ones.
  • While you’re preparing for the exam, try to make an extra effort memorizing where in the documentation you can find a specific topic. This will help you quickly navigate to it during the exam.
  • Get familiar with kubectl Cheat Sheet, manifests templates available throughout the official documentation and API reference. You may want to try to collect all your documentation notes in one place as I did here.

7. Chill out

Calm down and remember that you’ve got a free retake if anything goes wrong. Even if you fail, that first attempt provides you with an opportunity to understand the exam form and draw conclusions before the second approach. You probably won’t need it, but having that comfort helps you relax :)


Final Thoughts

I loved the hands-on, practical problem-solving form of the exam. Usually, you just need to cram for a test, but here you really need to possess a deep-down understanding of the topic. It’s not easy to master the material, but it’s achievable if you allocate time to practice and put some effort into studying.

I encourage you to leave your comments and share your experiences with Kubernetes or the CKA exam. Share resources you used to learn Kubernetes, and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.

P.S. I’d like to extend special thanks to my colleagues for providing me with tons of support as I was preparing for the exam.

Kubernetes Exam Resources: