I failed the LFCE exam

Yesterday, I took the LFCE exam (Linux Foundation Certified Engineer). My LFCS (Linux Foundation Certified SysAdmin) is expiring, and rather than redoing an exam I did two years ago, I decided to study and take the LFCE exam. Although I still need to wait 3 business day for the actual results, I am fairly certain I failed.
With the perspective of growth mindset – I thought I’d share my experience with the exam. While studying, I found there wasn’t a lot of tribal knowledge I could find about this exam – and although my trial was a failure, I hope you’ll learn something from my experience. In sharing this, I mean to respect the NDA of the exam. If you believe I am sharing things I am not allowed to share, please let me know and I’ll adapt.

My background walking into the exam

Although my desktop is a Windows 10 machine, I do roughly 80% of my server work on Linux. I achieved the LFCS certification about 2 years ago to complete my MCSA Linux on Azure – and I complemented that with the CKA Kubernetes certification this June.
In terms of study material I did what I usually do: I make a list of all exam objectives and try to find relevant info online and make a personal list of commands to achieve the goals of that objective. For the LFCE, I complemted this approach with the TecMint guide for the LFCE and some video training on LinkedIn Learning.
All in all, I believe I spent a couple hours a week for 6 weeks studying for this exam. I didn’t carve out big blocks of time – I tried to cover 1 technology aspect per evening/down hour I spent studying.
About the exam itself
The exam itself takes 2 hours and is all console based. You take this exam from your own computer in your own space – I took it from a quiet meeting room at the office. On the exam, I got access to a master node and then some specific nodes for specific questions. All of this is perfectly configured, you can ssh to each node from the master node and you can reboot each node separately. The master node itself though isn’t supposed to be rebooted. Some nodes are used for multiple questions, so try not to kill your nodes (as I did in my first take of the LFCS exam).
During the exam, you’re only allowed to have the exam tab open with no programs (such as a text editor even). I like using the notepad of the exam environment to take notes of the questions, draft my shell commands/config files which I then copy paste in and also to take note of questions I skipped and wish to revisit.
I got a total of 28 questions during the 2 hours of the exam; which meant I could roughly spend 4 minutes per question. Different questions have different weights – so you should figure out for yourself if some questions are worth spending the time on. I feel confident that I would have passed the exam if I would have had 4 hours – 28 questions in 4 hours doesn’t allow for enough time to browse MAN pages. I realized after my first 5 questions that this exam was a lost cause, I needed more training.
Some questions were relatively straightforward if you knew which config file to adapt – while others took a broader approach where you needed to install the relevant software and then figure out all the config file you need to write/adapt.
I did the exam with the Ubuntu distribution, which is my go-to distro. You have the choice between Ubuntu, Suse or Centos for taking the exam. I assume the actual questions don’t differ at all – as at some points during the exam it was pointed out that services had a particular name in a certain distribution.
How I plan to rectify
I am not planning to re-take this exam very soon. I have a deadline on December 8th to refresh my LFCS – and I believe I’ll be able to study for the LFCE in the remaining time. I will re-take my LFCS very soon – as I don’t want to lose my MCSA Linux on Azure.
I do plan to retake this exam early next year, as I did enjoy the challenge – both of studying as of the exam itself. In the meantime, I’ll spend more time studying particular systems. I spent very little to no time on certain objective likes containers (I know Docker and I know Kubernetes) and was surprised to find LXC questions.
Specific topics that I neglected in studying were PAM, LDAP, containers, software packages (you need more than apt-get install and apt-cache search apparently), iptables (I always used UFW), kernel updates…
The LFCE was definitely a hard exam. Time constraints meant you really need to have the relevant commands in the tips of your fingers – and you need to know where the configs files are stored to have enough time to finish all the questions. Although you have full access to man pages – if you need them too often, you’ll simply run out of time.
I will certainly retry the exam – but will first retake the LFCS to maintain my certification status.
If you plan on taking it, good luck!

One thought to “I failed the LFCE exam”

  1. I am very glad you wrote this post because I feel slightly better. I too passed recently the CKA exam and thought I would attempt the LFCE considering I have used Linux all my life and feel quite confident about my skills. The exam though is what you described. Not only is there very little time, but I found the questions are also the most diabolical variations of what one would normally expect from a “standard” exam question such as setting up a web service, name service or whatever. To understand exactly what I mean I can safely say it is NOT sufficient to read cover to cover a good RHCE preparation book in order to pass this exam because what you will find in an RHCE prep book or course are standard configurations and quite a few questions on the LFCE exam could not be solved in the standard way and often only halfway through the problem did I realize this. I can confirm the points you mentioned and though I feel comfortable with say iptables there were plenty of other topics I thought I felt comfortable with but hadn’t ever confronted the scenarios they asked. Having said this, I like most of the questions and and I possibly might take it again though I am not sure. I am not sure since I didn’t find it completely fair on some points. For example it used a version of LXC which doesn’t exist on RedHat though I asked for the exam in this flavor. I also had an issue with the console midway through the exam which was not my fault and cost me at least 5 minutes and possible more considering it shot my concentration as the proctor attempted to reset it. Also the time limit of 2 hours is a bit crazy, even if 57% is passing (yes, it is that hard). I need to think about it… not sure if it really is worth my time though I love challenges.

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