Study Guide: Certified Kubernetes Application Developer (CKAD) Exam

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Kubernetes has wide deployment across the tech industry, meaning that system administrators and developers who have experience with it have a distinct advantage over those who don’t. That is why becoming a Certified Kubernetes Application Developer helps to illustrate your knowledge and value as a developer. However, mastering Kubernetes is not easy, so in this guide, I am going to get you fully prepared to take the CKAD Certification Exam so that you can pass the test on your first attempt.

Kubernetes is a Greek word which means pilot or helmsman, which is basically what Kubernetes is when it comes to container application automation. In this guide, we’re going to cover everything that will be on the CKAD Certification Exam and look at some fool-proof methods on learning and retaining the knowledge required to pass the exam.

What is Covered in the CKAD Certification Exam?

The CKAD exam is different from a lot of exams because you will be spending the majority of your time-solving problems from the command line. This is quite different from multiple-choice exams and also means you need to be able to pull the answer from your brain instead of eliminating wrong answers from a list.

The goal of the CKAD Certification Exam is to certify that you can create, build, configure, expose and deploy applications that run natively in the cloud using Kubernetes. In addition, this means you have the ability to use simple building blocks, or primitives, in order to create, analyze and diagnose scalable applications in Kubernetes.

To pass this exam, you’re going to need some experience and comfortability with programming, cloud architecture and design, as well as using Docker, rkt or another OCI-compliant Container Runtime. In addition to that, you should be very comfortable at a Linux command line, with knowledge of basic commands such as sudo, ls, and vi or nano for example.

The exam is divided into 7 different sections. Each section is weighted differently when it comes to your final score. We’ll explore all these sections in-depth, but first here is an overview of the exam sections:

Domain% of Examination
Understanding the Basics of Kubernetes13% of your score
Configuring Kubernetes18% of your score
Understanding Multi-Container Pods10% of your score
Probes, Logs & Observability18% of your score
Designing Pods20% of your score
Networking & Services13% of your score
State Persistence8% of your score

Understanding the Basics of Kubernetes

The exam starts at a very logical place, which is the basics of Kubernetes. You’re tested here to make sure you understand the foundational concepts which are needed to do the work later in the exam. This portion of the test accounts for 13% of your score, but honestly, if you cannot pass this section of the test then you will not pass later sections that rely on the knowledge tested here.

The beginning of the exam focuses on your understanding of the various Kubernetes API primitives which are available. You must be able to identify the various types of primitives and know what each one does. In addition to that, you are tested on your ability to set up basic Pods.

Configuring Kubernetes

The second phase of the exam moves away from the core basics of Kubernetes and shifts the focus towards proper configuration. This is one of the most important sections of the exam, and as such, it accounts for 18% of the total score of the exam.

During the configuration section, you will be tested on your ability to properly define the resource requirements for an application. You need to demonstrate that you understand ConfigMaps, SecurityContexts, and ServiceAccounts. In addition to that, you are required to create and consume Secrets.

Understanding Multi-Container Pods

The next section of the exam moves onwards to the topic of Multi-Container Pods. As one might suspect, these are different from single container pods. This is a relatively brief section of the exam and therefore accounts for 10% of your test score.

The majority of the time spent on this section of the test consists of problems that test your knowledge and understanding of Multi-Container Pod design patterns. In particular, you are expected to fully understand the differences between sidecar, adapter, and ambassador design patterns.

Probes, Logs & Observability

Moving on to the next section, the exam focuses on logging, probing and observing containers and applications running in Kubernetes. Because these are critical skills to have, this section of the exam accounts for 18% of your testing score.

This section of the exam opens by testing your practical understanding of LivenessProbes and ReadinessProbes, requiring you to implement both. You are also required to use container logging, and to understand how to extract useful information from your logs. You will need to implement application monitoring in Kubernetes and show your ability to debug these applications.

Designing Pods

Pods are the core of Kubernetes, so it should come as no surprise that this portion of the test accounts for the largest portion of your grade: 20%. This is the “meat and potatoes” of the exam, requiring you to show off all your knowledge of Kubernetes pod design.

This section requires you to fully demonstrate your practical knowledge of Deployments. Specifically, you will need to perform rolling updates as well as rollbacks. You will need to set up Jobs and CronJobs from the command line. Finally, to finish off the section, you will demonstrate the usage of Annotations, Selectors and Labels.

Networking & Services

There is no escaping the fact that you will be working with networking when deploying Kubernetes pods. To that end, this section of the exam focuses on your understanding of networking, specifically on how it applies to Kubernetes. This portion of the exam accounts for 13% of your grade on the exam and also covers other Services.

To pass this section of the exam, you will be required to demonstrate your skills configuring NetworkPolicies. You will also need to illustrate your understanding of other Services.

State Persistence

The final section of the exam is also the shortest. As such, it only accounts for 8% of the score on your exam. This brief section is devoted exclusively to state persistence. In particular, you are tested on your knowledge of PersistentVolumeClaims for storage.

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How to Pass the Kubernetes CKAD Certification Exam

Container orchestration has become such a common aspect of modern development, especially in the age of cloud computing. This is one of the reasons why CKAD certification has become such a hot commodity. However, this is a difficult certificate, especially for those who like to avoid the command line when possible. Thankfully I know how anyone can get themselves fully prepared so that they can pass the exam on the first attempt. Let’s explore those solutions.

If you’ve never taken the CKAD exam then you’re not going to know exactly what to expect. That’s why it’s critical to find people who have already taken and passed the exam, and who are willing to teach you everything they know. To that end, I have found three amazing courses on Udemy which will ensure you have all the necessary knowledge to pass the exam on your first attempt. You don’t need all three (although it won’t hurt) so just pick the one that seems best suited for you.

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Kubernetes for the Absolute Beginners – Hands-on

If you’re jumping into Kubernetes as a beginner… well, it can be pretty overwhelming. There are a ton of Kubernetes specific terms that come off like sci-fi techno-jargon to the uninitiated. For anyone who is approaching Kubernetes as a beginner, I recommend taking this amazing Kubernetes for Beginners Udemy course which will take you from complete newbie to total Kubernetes master in no time.

There is no denying the fact that Kubernetes is a hard topic to penetrate as a beginner. As someone who learns best by directly trying stuff out, I found that this particular course does a great job of teaching you the underlying concepts, but also encouraging you to stop and try out the commands yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned systems administrator or a newbie at the command line. Either way, this course will equip you with all the practical knowledge you’ll need to both pass the exam, as well as use Kubernetes in a business environment to launch your own application containers.

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Certified Kubernetes Application Developer

While the first course I recommended was aimed at total beginners, my second recommendation is good for both beginners and intermediate developers. The course is Certified Kubernetes Application Developer and it also assumes you’re a complete beginner at Kubernetes.

The main difference between this course, and the previous course, is that this one has several hours of additional videos and also has a dedicated section for exam preparation. Even if you’re not seeking to become a certified Kubernetes CKAD developer, this is a course that will teach you everything you need to know to use Kubernetes in the real-world… although the emphasis is on the CKAD exam.

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Kubernetes Certified Application Developer (CKAD) with Tests

The final course that I recommend (Kubernetes Certified Application Developer with Tests) is definitely the most comprehensive of the three, but it is also designed for people who already understand the basics of Kubernetes, who can program in Python and who have at least a little system administration experience. This definitely narrows the audience for this course, but if you pass those basic requirements, this is the course I recommend.

The course does start with a recap of the basics, giving you an overview of Kubernetes and the underlying architecture that powers it. There are over 100 different lectures inside of this course, and each major section presents a practice test or exam to ensure that you’re retaining the knowledge. There are over 7 hours of videos and over 60 supplemental articles included, meaning this is one of the most comprehensive courses on Kubernetes that exists.

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Getting the Most Out of Your Studying

Any guide on preparing for an exam would be incomplete without some advice on proper studying habits. To that end, here are some things you can do while studying to maximize your brain’s retention. Remember, don’t study harder, study smarter!

First of all, don’t study blindly. Pick a course, stick with it and enjoy having a study plan already created by someone who has mastered the subject. Why reinvent the wheel to learn CKAD certification when there are literal Kubernetes masters who have done the legwork for you!

Second, learn at your own pace. One of the strengths of online courses is that you can pause whenever you need to, and pick up your studies at a time that works best for you. Take advantage of this by allowing yourself to break whenever you need to. Overloading your brain with technical details is not a good idea, so the more breaks in-between studying the better.

Finally, don’t assume you’ve learned what you need to learn: test yourself! There is nothing worse than taking a long exam and then failing! Don’t set yourself up for failure. Instead, ensure success by taking practice tests. If you pass the practice tests then you’ve retained the knowledge. If you fail the practice test, don’t get discouraged, just re-review the applicable material and try again. The entire point of practice tests is to let you know when you’re ready to take the real test. That means don’t be afraid to test earlier and often and don’t be afraid to fail a practice test. That’s what they’re there for.

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Registering for and Attending the CKAD Certification Exam

Unlike some exams, your only option for taking the CKAD is to use your own computer. You will need to install some proctoring software and you also need to have the following hardware and software requirements:

  • The Chrome browser (or Chromium)
  • Continuous Internet Access
  • A webcam that can be moved on request
  • A microphone

You’re going to need to have an unexpired primary ID card, like a driver’s license or passport in order to take the test. You also must be age 16 or older and cannot live a country that is currently sanctioned by the U.S. Additionally, before scheduling the test you should run the compatibility check tool to verify that your hardware meets the minimum system requirements for the exam.

Once you’re satisfied that you meet all the basic requirements, you can register for the CKAD Certification exam. Note that registering for the exam is different than actually scheduling a time to take the exam. Registration costs $300 USD and allows you to take the exam twice if you fail it in the first attempt.

After your payment has cleared, you are able to schedule your exam. Do not schedule your exam until you’re confident that you will pass the exam. Ideally, you should complete one of the recommended Udemy courses and pass a practice exam before moving onto the real exam. If you fail a practice exam, chances are you will fail the real exam. Thankfully, the converse is also true, so if you pass a practice exam, then it is time to schedule the real test.

You can schedule the exam as soon as one business day from the current date or as far away as 60 days in the future. However, it is important that you schedule a date and time in which you will be free for 15 minutes before and after the scheduled start and end of the exam. This is so you can talk with and work with the proctor who is administering your exam. If you need to cancel or reschedule your exam, you can do so as long as the exam isn’t scheduled within the next 24 hours.

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Concluding Thoughts & Advice

The success of cloud computing in the business world has forever changed the landscape of development. Kubernetes is an essential technology that helps mitigate the risks of hosting applications in the cloud by providing a secure container environment that minimizes the exposure of the server. Because cloud computing and Kubernetes have established themselves as core business technologies, it means developers who are certified in these technologies are in-demand now more than ever.

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Since the Kubernetes CKAD Certification Exam utilizes the command-line, it is one of the best practical knowledge exams for proving your real-world skills. It also means that you’re going to need to fully understand each command and have a grasp on the Bash shell in general. This means you cannot fake your way through the exam, but instead must memorize and integrate these skillsets into your regular routine.

The best way to acquire and retain this complicated skillset is to follow a course created by someone who already has the certification, and that provides everything you need to learn, practice and memorize the required skills. Utilizing one or more of the Udemy courses I recommended in this article is your key to success because they’ve laid out a plan of learning which will lead you from beginner to Kubernetes master.