More About CompTIA A+

Following up with his earlier post recommending that aspiring IT professionals get CompTIA A+ certification, guest blogger D. J. Moore writes:

Why A+?

More About A+The CompTIA A+ certification provides a universally recognized way to demonstrate to potential employers that you know what you are doing with and around computers. Before CompTIA came along, all certifications were vendor specific. While these vendor specific certifications are around today, they are not as broad as CompTIA A+. As a friend once described it, “It’s a mile wide and an inch deep.”

It covers a wide range of computer components in hardware and software. It is broken down into two separate sections: Essentials (220-701) and Practical Application (220-702). This is per the 2009 standard (which does not cover Windows 7). Essentials is recommended to be tested on first, then Practical Application. The Essentials portion covers one’s understanding of different terminologies and technologies and fundamental tasks. Practical Application builds on Essentials, but leads into advanced configuration and troubleshooting. Both exams are multiple choice and practical — covering very little theory.

Both exams have 100 questions each, where one typically has 90 minutes to answer them all — or not. When the author took the exam, one was able to mark questions to review at a later time, right before the completion of the test. It is generally recommended to not memorize questions and answers that one might find online, because the questions are randomized per test. The best way to prepare is to learn the concepts for oneself.

One small note: Most businesses still use Microsoft Windows, including the United States’ military forces. Thus, CompTIA A+ is very Windows-centric. It contains almost no questions about Linux or Macintosh OS X. There will also be no questions about Windows Server, Windows Mobile, or Windows Phone.

CompTIA A+ provides an entry point into the IT industry, where experience might be lacking. It lowers the barrier to entry for most prospective applicants.

What Are The Essentials? (220-701)

Here is a table of the typical percentages of each category of knowledge displayed in the Essentials test:

Category

Percentage

Hardware

27%

Troubleshooting, Repair, and Maintenance

20%

Operating Systems and Software

20%

Networking

15%

Security

8%

Operational Procedure

10%

You will be expected to be able to identify the following devices:

  • Floppy drives
  • Hard drives
  • Optical media drives (CD/DVD/Blu-ray)
  • Solid state drives (SSDs)
  • Motherboards
  • Power supplies (PSUs)
  • Central Processing Units (CPU: AMD/Intel)
  • Random Access Memory (RAM: SIMM/DIMM|DDR1, 2, 3)
  • Monitors (CRT/LCD)
  • Input devices (keyboards/mice/touchscreens)
  • Video and multimedia cards (sound cards)
  • Network and modem cards
  • Cables and connectors (HDMI/display port/USB [1, 2, 3]/Serial)
  • Heatsinks, fans, and liquid cooling systems
  • Laptops and other portable devices
  • Printers
  • Scanners
  • Network switches, cabling, and wireless adapters
  • Biometric devices (fingerprint scanners)

With this basic knowledge one will learn how to assemble a PC, configure it, and maintain it. Essentials also emphasizes communication and professionalism. Many problems that technicians face every day involve other people or coworkers. It is a necessity that a technician be able to communicate clearly to solve issues quickly. Professionalism is more than one’s appearance. It is often more in the manner one talks to other people. A technician should always respect a user, no matter how much smarter one thinks they are compared to someone else. PC security is also covered, but only the basics and some diagnostic methods.

Practical Applications of CompTIA A+ (220-702)

Here is a table of the typical percentages of each category of knowledge displayed in the Practical Application test:

Category

Percentage

Hardware

38%

Operating Systems

34%

Networking

15%

Security

13%

Practical Application covers much of the same information as Essentials, but goes more in-depth. It takes the foundation of knowledge learned in identifying hardware, and progresses to using it — along with software — to diagnose problems and troubleshoot software. One will often find themselves with questions involving real world scenarios where they will have to choose the best answer to a technical problem.

I’m Ready, Coach!

There are two companies that administer the CompTIA A+ exams: Prometric and Pearson VUE. Since this is an international standards test, testing location can be found worldwide.

Company

Website

USA/Canada

Prometric

www.prometric.com

800-776-4276

Pearson VUE

www.vue.com

877-551-7587

For the international audience, more information can be found at the CompTIA website.

Starting July 9, 2012, Prometric will no longer facilitate CompTIA certifications on Pearson VUE.

The exam cost is $178.00 (USD) for non-CompTIA members, as of June 13, 2012. International exam costs vary, but more information can be found on CompTIA’s website. As price changes are often unannounced, please refer to the CompTIA website for pricing verification.

Most people do not pay the full price of the exam, though. Most people buy vouchers, which come at a discount. (I know a certain Chris Pirillo who would like this part.) Keep in mind that vouchers are sold per exam, so to become A+ certified, one would need to buy two vouchers.

CompTIA Voucher: comptiastore.com/product_p/comptiaa.htm (Full Price)

TotalSem Voucher: totalsem.com/store/category/VOU.php (Discount)

TotalSem also offers a two-voucher pack for $319, which is far more economical.

One of the best ways to make the knowledge really set in is to work with a desktop computer that one might already have at home. Consider this an opportunity to take the side off of the case and poke around, all in the name of knowledge. (That is, with the right ESP gear!)

Who Writes Conclusions Anymore?

Now that we have all the technicalities out of the way, I will share some of my personal experience about taking the CompTIA A+. Feel free to study at your own pace, more than likely while tearing apart a computer and troubleshooting real problems. This knowledge is meant to be used, not stored. Using this information will embed it into your brain, which is far better than just trying to memorize useless facts — make them useful!

If you are taking both tests at the same time, which I would recommend, do not forget to schedule them back to back! After all that time studying, I forgot to schedule mine on the same day, and I had to travel an hour and a half again to reach my nearest testing center. Testing centers are often technical schools that have elected to host the program for Pearson VUE or Prometric. It’s as simple as choosing the right testing center for your tastes and getting it over with! What are you waiting for?

Good luck!

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  • Steven Osborne

    Hah, would ya believe that I just got this certification last month? Most of the information here is accurate, but I’d go ahead and say that there are zero linux or mac questions on the test. Study with something like “Pass 4 Sure” and you should be pass with no problem. :)

    • http://twitter.com/djmoore711 D. J.

      You have to remember that the questions are randomized every time someone takes the test. It’s like you get 100 questions out of a total set of 500 questions. There may be some Linux questions, but you might not have received them on your test. :-)

  • D Lowrey

    From someone who went through the MCSE certification route 10 years ago while wasting a year of my life and hundreds of dollars…everyone I talked to recommended ANYTHING BUT the A+. The reason is that I have run into way too many “techs” who know nothing but what they studied for to pass the exam. For that matter…almost everyone I’ve run across from *eek S*uad has that piece of paper. Doesn’t mean I would let them touch anything I own or recommend anything overpriced from their store. For that matter…I wouldn’t let them touch anything of my worst enemy.

    On the other hand…if you believe this is the exam which will allow you to get your foot in the door…remember…you’re testing to install hardware and some software or to put it more bluntly…a tech…usually by phone or email. With many people knowing the same thing as any A+ examinee…why should anyone hire you with no experience or just the A+ without an OS/server set of exams and years of experience? On the other hand…want to set yourself apart…take the Red Hat exam and have employers know you know what you’re doing.

    • http://twitter.com/djmoore711 D. J.

      What does Red Hat teach you about Windows, hardware troubleshooting, and software troubleshooting? The problem with the Red Hat certification, also offered by CompTIA, is it is proprietary.

      You cannot judge an internationally standardized test from a few bad technicians you met in the past. It is not a waste of time. It was not a waste of my time, along with hundreds of thousands of technicians, just like me working for Fortune 500 companies–not Best Buy.