CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One For Dummies
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So, you are interested in taking the CompTIA A+ certification exams? This article introduces you to the exams and gives you a good idea of what you can expect when you go to take them. Knowing what to expect in regard to the exam procedures and format will remove that uncertainty, which can weigh on your mind. Read through the procedures here; then you will be able to focus on the exam facts, which will help you breeze through the exams.

CompTIA A+ certification and why you need it

The benefit of the CompTIA A+ Certification is that it is proof that you know and have validated the hardware and software knowledge necessary to troubleshoot and repair computers. The CompTIA A+ Certification can be presented to employers and clients alike as proof of your competency and skill in this area. This certification is valid for three years from the day that you attain the certification, after which time you must renew by taking the newest version of the exam, or by taking a higher level certification exam. Find out more on this subject online.

Formed in 1982, CompTIA was originally named the Association of Better Computer Dealers. It is a company focused on providing research, networking, and partnering opportunities to its 19,000 members in 100 countries. In 1993, in response to the need for vendor-neutral, entry-level PC certification, the company created the A+ Certification.

Prior to CompTIA creating the A+ Certification, there were many places where a person could get hardware and software certifications. However, such training was often very expensive, difficult to get, and not designed for accessibility for most people. Microsoft, Novell, IBM, and other software companies offered software certifications, but these were specifically focused on teaching high-level support skills for these products, were difficult for average users or support people to attain, and lacked relevance for most day-to-day work.

IBM, HP, Compaq, Sun, and other hardware companies offered hardware repair and maintenance certifications, but again, these were specifically focused on their hardware — and more on the peculiarities of their own platforms, and not always covering the basics of configuration and maintenance. CompTIA stepped in to fill the gap that a majority of users fell into, which is a hardware and software neutral certification that covered all the basics required by a support person. This certification can then be followed by vendor-based certifications, if desired, but the A+ Certification by itself proves a firm grasp of the basics.

An A+ Certification gives employers confidence that existing employees or new recruits have a level of knowledge with which they can do their jobs efficiently. It also gives employers a yardstick against which recruits and employees can be measured. And an A+ Certification also allows clients to rest assured that the person they hire to fix their computers has the knowledge to do so without blowing up equipment or deleting valuable data. This provides clients with peace of mind and increases repeat business. In the end, with the CompTIA A+ Certification on your side, you have more opportunities open to you in your career path.

Check out the exams and their objectives

You have to take two exams to get your CompTIA A+ Certification. Both exams are required. The first required exam is the CompTIA A+ Exam 220-1001, which focuses on the hardware aspects of computer repair. The second required exam is the CompTIA A+ Exam 220-1002, which focuses on configuring and troubleshooting the software aspects of a system in a corporate network environment.

Revised exams for CompTIA A+ were released in 2019. In addition to traditional multiple-choice questions, the CompTIA A+ exams include an unspecified number of performance-based questions (PBQs); these are short exercises that test your ability to solve problems in a simulated environment. The CompTIA website has a sample performance-based question.

You have 90 minutes to complete each exam; the following table contains the number of questions and passing score for each exam. CompTIA is releasing the exams as linear format exams — standard timed exams — taken on a computer. After CompTIA gathers grading statistics, it might re-release the exams as adaptive exams (what CompTIA has done in the past), but there is no current announcement that this is planned. In this adaptive exam, you will be asked a minimal number of questions (usually about 15), and then asked additional questions based on any incorrect answers. The exam adapts to your wrong answers by choosing additional questions for you from the area where you are weaker.

A+ Exam Information
Exam Number of Questions (Maximum) Minimum Passing Score
A+ Exam (220-1001) 90 675
A+ Exam (220-1002) 90 700

The CompTIA A+ Exam 220-1001

The CompTIA A+ Exam 220-1001 covers the basics of computer hardware, network hardware, and mobile devices topics. The following table provides a breakdown of the exam areas that are covered on the CompTIA A+ Exam 220-1001. This exam puts heavy emphasis on computer components and hardware.
CompTIA A+ Exam (220-1001)
Domain Percentage of Examination
1.0 Mobile Devices 14%
2.0 Networking 20%
3.0 Hardware 27%
4.0 Virtualization and Cloud Computing 12%
5.0 Hardware & Network Troubleshooting 27%
Total 100%

The CompTIA A+ Exam 220-1002

In addition to the CompTIA A+ Exam 220-1001, you have to take a second exam. This exam is the CompTIA A+ Exam 220-1002, which is designed to measure skills required to maintain and troubleshoot operating systems and mobile devices. The breakdown of the exam components is covered in the following table. Based on the domain breakdown, this exam has the widest breadth of topics for a well-rounded IT professional.
CompTIA A+ Exam (220-1002)
Domain Percentage of Examination
1.0 Operating Systems 27%
2.0 Security 24%
3.0 Software Troubleshooting 26%
4.0 Operational Procedures 23%
Total 100%

Make arrangements to take the exams

The A+ certification exams can be scheduled at Pearson VUE testing centers. For more information about scheduling your exam, check the CompTIA A+ Certification page on CompTIA’s website.

The cost to take the A+ exams is $219 (US) per exam. CompTIA Premier members receive a discount.

The day the earth stood still: exam day

Knowing what to expect on the day of the exam can take some of the pressure off of you. The following sections look at the testing process.

Arriving at the exam location

Get to the exam location early on the day of the exam. You should arrive at the testing center 15 to 30 minutes before the exam starts. This keeps you from being rushed and gives you some temporal elbow room in case there are any delays. It is also not so long that you will have time to sit and stew about the exam. Get there, get into a relaxed frame of mind, and get into the exam.

To check in for your exam, you will need two pieces of identification: One must be a government-issued photo ID, while the other must have your name and signature. This may vary in some regions of the world.

When you get to the test site, before you sign in, take a few minutes to get accustomed to the testing center. Get a drink of water. Use the restroom if you need to. The test will be 90 minutes, so you should be able to last that long before another break.

Now relax. Getting to the exam site early gives you this privilege. You didn’t show up early just to stew and make yourself more nervous.

If you feel prepared and are ready to go, you might want to see whether you can start the test early. As long as a testing seat is available, this is usually not a problem.

You will not be able to take anything into the testing room. You will not be allowed electronics, paper, and so on. The testing center will provide you with something to write with and to write on, which they will take back at the end of test.

Taking the exam

In the testing room, and depending on the size of the testing center, there may be as many as eight computers set up. Each computer represents a testing seat.

Because the exam consists of multiple-choice questions and an unspecified number of performance-based questions, take it slow — or at least pace yourself. Trying to complete the questions too quickly will no doubt lead you to errors. When you are about to start the exam, you will see onscreen how many questions there will be, and how long you have to complete the exam. Be sure to read the onscreen exam instructions at the start of the exam; they do change from time to time.

Based on the number of questions and your exam time, figure out how long you can spend on each question. On average, you have slightly more than one minute per question. Take your time, but be aware of your time for the exam overall. Think of it this way: When you have completed 25 percent of the exam, you should have used only 25 percent of your allotted time.

Read the entire question and try to decide what the answer should be before looking at the answer choices. In most cases, you will find a few key words that are designed to remove any ambiguity in the question, as well as a few distracters and useless information designed to throw you off. If you do not notice these key words, the question will seem vague. If this is the case, re-read the question and look for the key words. Exam questions are written by many authors, so the style of writing for each question could differ.

Don’t overcomplicate the questions by reading too much into them. Besides the key words and the distracters, the question should be straightforward. In some cases, the question might ask for the best choice, and more than one answer might seem correct. Choose the one that is best — the quickest, most likely to succeed, least likely to cause other problems — whatever the question calls for. The best choice is always the right choice.

After identifying the key words and distracters, follow these additional steps:
  1. Eliminate choices that are obviously wrong. Most questions will ask you to choose one of four answers. Some questions will ask you to choose all that apply and have as many as eight choices. You should be able to immediately eliminate at least one choice — perhaps two. Now the odds of choosing the right answer have gotten substantially better. Re-read the question and the remaining choices carefully, and you should be able to locate the correct answer.
  2. If you don’t have a clue which of the remaining choices is correct, mark an answer. On a standard timed exam, you can review your answers. Not answering a question is automatically wrong, so if you at least have an answer, it might be right. You might also find information on other questions in the exam that triggers the correct answers for questions you were not sure of.
  3. Make your choice and leave it. Unless you have information that proves your choice is wrong, your first instinct is usually correct.
CompTIA has not announced an adaptive exam at the time this was written, but if they add the option, here are a few things to know about the adaptive exam process, as it varies from the standard form exam. The adaptive exam delivers a series of questions to you. If you answer a question incorrectly, you get additional questions in that category. You can’t review or change your answers on the adaptive exams like you can with standard timed exams. Because skipped questions are automatically wrong and you do not have the ability to change them, you must provide an answer to the question before moving to the next question. You are allowed to attempt to answer a finite number of questions (known only by CompTIA) before the test “decides” that you really don’t know what you need to know to pass the test. If you exceed the allowed number of wrong answers (again, known only by CompTIA), the exam ends; you fail. (But that won’t happen to you because you bought this wonderful book!) Currently the A+ certification exams are not adaptive.

If you get all the initial category questions correct, you can pass the exam in relatively few questions. If you get an initial category question wrong in a category in which you are weak, though, you will find the adaptive format very difficult. You won’t know exactly how many questions you have to answer to complete the exam, so the end of an adaptive exam will always come as a surprise — hopefully, a good one.

If you are taking the nonadaptive exam, you are allowed to mark questions and come back to them later. However, I recommend selecting an answer for every question, even if you are unsure about it, because you might run out of time before you can review previous questions.

Your first choice is usually correct — don’t second-guess your first choice! Change your answer only if you’re absolutely positive it should be changed.

Regardless of which type of exam CompTIA has available for you when you take your exam (adaptive or standard timed), you are given a Pass/Fail mark right on the spot after completing the exam. In addition, you get a report listing how well you did in each domain. If you don’t pass (or even if you do), you can use this report to review the material on which you are still weak.

How does CompTIA set the pass level?

CompTIA uses a scale score to determine the total number of points that each question on the exam will be calculated from. Your final score will be between 100 and 900. In any case, the passing score (not a percentage, due to the scale) varies from one exam to the others. The scale score system allows the number of points assigned to questions to vary between each copy of the exam, which makes it harder for test candidates to compare scores across exams. You can find more information about the exam online.

CompTIA has a retake policy. If you do not pass on the first attempt, you can take the exam again. There is no waiting period to make your second attempt at the exam, but you have to wait at least 14 calendar days before your third or subsequent attempts.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Glen E. Clarke, A+, Network+, Security+, is an independent trainer and consultant. Ed Tetz, A+, MCSE, MCT, has written several guides to MCSE and other certifications. Timothy Warner, MCSE, MCT, A+, is an IT professional, technical trainer, and author.

Glen E. Clarke, A+, Network+, Security+, is an independent trainer and consultant. Ed Tetz, A+, MCSE, MCT, has written several guides to MCSE and other certifications. Timothy Warner, MCSE, MCT, A+, is an IT professional, technical trainer, and author.

Glen E. Clarke, A+, Network+, Security+, is an independent trainer and consultant. Ed Tetz, A+, MCSE, MCT, has written several guides to MCSE and other certifications. Timothy Warner, MCSE, MCT, A+, is an IT professional, technical trainer, and author.

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