One of the best ways to jumpstart your IT career is to obtain a CompTIA A+ certification. CompTIA is a non-profit organization with some of the best-recognized certifications in the global information technology industry. Its CompTIA A+ course is designed for beginners who have no prior experience working in the field. If you are interested in getting a solid foundation in all things computer-related, you will benefit from this complete guide to CompTIA A+ in 2021.
The A+ was created in 1993 and is one of the oldest IT certifications still around. CompTIA updates its exam cycles every couple of years to keep up with IT’s constant evolution, so you don’t have to worry about potentially learning about things that have become obsolete. The A+ CompTIA certification provides its holders with a much-needed base they can use to expand their knowledge and experience in software, hardware, networking, and more.
With the IT industry expected to reach a global market value of $5 trillion in 2021, it is no wonder that many are interested in an IT position. The CompTIA A+ offers you a solid start and a way to impress potential employers with your hard work and dedication.
Here is everything you need to know about this certification exam.
CompTIA A+ Exam Breakdown
CompTIA A+ is part of CompTIA’s Core Certifications. It consists of two exams, both of which a candidate must pass to get the A+ certification.
- Core 1 (220-1001)
- Core 2 (220-1002)
Core 1 and 2 can have up to 90 questions each. They each last 90 minutes and don’t have to be taken on the same day. (In fact, it might be better if you spread them out a little, but not too much.) It doesn’t matter which one you take first.
There are no prerequisites for either of these exams. CompTIA does mention that it is useful to have nine to twelve months of experience working as an IT support specialist, but this is not mandatory. There are more than enough accounts of people who passed this exam without any prior work experience whatsoever.
The latest cycle of Core 1 and 2 was released in 2019. Every CompTIA cycle of exams lasts about three years before it retires, meaning that 1001 and 1002 will likely be here until 2022 when replaced with updated 2001 and 2002 versions. If you want to get the A+ certificate, you must pass both exams before the current cycle retires. If you only pass one of them, you will have to repeat the same exam (only its updated version) in the next cycle.
Core 1 Exam
The 1001 exam in the series includes five exam objectives that are represented in different percentages in the exam:
- Cloud Computing and Virtualization (12%)
- Hardware (27%)
- Hardware and Network Troubleshooting (27%)
- Mobile Devices (14%)
- Networking (20%)
The score ranges from 100 to 900, and you need a passing score of 675 for the ‘1001.’
Core 2 Exam
Compared to the hardware-heavy 1001, 1002 is aimed more at the software side of things. Here are the exam objectives for Core 2:
- Operating Systems (27%)
- Operational Procedures (23%)
- Security (24%)
- Software Troubleshooting (26%)
To pass this test, you will need a higher score than for the 1001 – 700 points. The score range is the same, from 100 – 900.
Exam Question Types
One thing is to know what type of information you’ll need to cover for each exam, but it’s another thing entirely to be faced with the exam questions.
The A+ CompTIA exam has two primary question types, with a bonus one that shouldn’t concern you too much.
- Multiple-choice questions
You’ve probably encountered these in many tests over the years. Multiple-choice questions contain multiple answers, out of which you only have to choose one (or a handful) that are correct. For this exam series, multiple-choice questions typically require test takers to make a judgment call – to decide what course of action is BEST or should be done FIRST or similar.
You must pay attention to these keywords. BEST, FIRST, LEAST, MOST, and others will make a difference between a correct answer and an incorrect one. A wrong option for one question may be right for another with only slightly different wording. Make sure that you read the questions carefully and even re-read them if need be.
- Performance-based questions
A performance-based question can be anything but multiple choice. You might run into a drag and drop type of question, a ‘fill in the blank,’ or it might even be a complete simulation of a real-life computer issue that you need to troubleshoot. The CompTIA A+ is famous for its PBQs, and plenty of people are intimidated by them. But you shouldn’t be.
When you see a PBQ, take a deep breath. Do not panic. Remember all the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned and try to apply it to the situation described in the question. If you feel like you’re losing time – if it seems too difficult at first – you can always skip it and come back to it later. Some use this as a valid exam tactic; they leave the most challenging questions for last not to waste time, so they can spend answering questions they know.
- Beta questions
Finally, the type of question that shouldn’t worry you are beta questions. These are most commonly placed at the start of the exam, and they could involve an exam objective you’re not familiar with. If you see a topic you have never heard of before – don’t be alarmed! It could be just a beta question, which CompTIA tests out before they include it in the real exam.
You are not graded on these questions, so it doesn’t matter how you answer. They are merely there as CompTIA’s ‘practice questions’ of sorts. They don’t count towards your total score.
Who is the CompTIA A+ for?
The CompTIA A+’s beauty is that it can be beneficial for anyone, though it is most suited for beginners. With the basic knowledge you acquire with this certification, you will branch out into software, hardware, networking technology, and even cybersecurity.
With the CompTIA A+, you will be ready for a job role such as:
- Desktop support administrator
- Associate network engineer
- Field service technician
- Computer support specialist
- Service desk analyst
- System support specialist
- Data support technician
- End-user computer technician
- Help desk technician, and more
Those who have more experience in IT may still need to obtain the A+ to satisfy their employers or as a basis for further education. But since the A+ is an entry-level certification, more advanced professionals probably won’t learn anything new from it. Other, more demanding CompTIA certifications might be more up to their speed.
Benefits of CompTIA A+
A common concern is whether the CompTIA A+ is worth it. How does one evaluate the worth of a certification? By the likelihood of getting hired? By the salary increase an IT professional gets after becoming certified? Or something else entirely?
To help you decide whether or not to go for the A+, here are a few benefits of this exam you should consider.
- Industry Standard
No IT specialist hasn’t heard about the CompTIA A+ exam. It is known as the industry standard for anyone who wants to set foot in the IT world. According to CompTIA, over 1.2 million IT professionals hold this certification!
All Intel, Dell, and HP technicians are required to pass the A+. The US Department of Defense recognizes it as an 8570 IAT Level 1 baseline certification. This means that it is a minimum requirement for those who are interested in information security work.
- Increased Salary
Generally speaking, IT professionals have high salaries. No matter where they are in the world, they are likely earning more than average even in an entry-level position. Job security in IT is also incredibly high since the industry is continually growing.
However, getting an A+ certification could lead to a higher salary for you or a better first job. We’ve already mentioned that employers like to see it on resumes. An A+ is a testament to your commitment to the job and proof that you want to be respected. Getting a job or a promotion depends on several different factors, but a credential such as the CompTIA A+ won’t hurt.
- Developed by IT Experts
The CompTIA A+ was created by a group of IT experts from various fields. As mentioned above, it is also continually updated as discoveries in IT reach the public. CompTIA makes it a priority to keep up with the latest in the industry, so you don’t have to worry whether or not what you’re learning is current.
In the past, CompTIA A+ did skew a bit towards Microsoft Windows in the operating system section. However, that is no longer the case. The new cycle of A+ widens the area of topics and includes many other operating systems you could run into in your career. It is mostly considered a vendor-neutral certification.
- Industry Relationships
Networking (of the kind of interpersonal relationships) is essential for career advancement, no matter what industry you work in. For IT, experience, education, and certifications are crucial. Still, it is also essential to know the right person at the right time who can recommend you for a job or point you in the direction of an open position.
While working on getting your CompTIA A+ cert, you will be able to meet like-minded individuals from all corners of the world. Large A+ communities exist on Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook, and you could join them any time and build relationships that might prove invaluable later on in your career.
How to Study for CompTIA A+
With everything that’s been laid out so far, you might be feeling overwhelmed. The 1001 and 1002 CompTIA exams require a significant investment of time and effort because they encompass quite a few technical terms and details you might not be familiar with.
That being said, exam prep shouldn’t be something you’re dreading. There are simple steps you can take to make sure you have everything covered for exam day.
- Get a solid grasp of the study material.
To create a helpful study guide and understand just how much work is required of you, you need to get a complete overview of the study material. That way, you will know exactly how much you have to cover and how long it will take you, as well as what resources you need to acquire.
Take a closer look at all the exam objectives. Each CompTIA training course comes with its own set of goals that the candidate should learn. You may not know much about them now, but at least finding out what topics and subtopics are included should help you get a clear picture of what to expect.
- Decide on the study method.
Do you plan on handling everything yourself? Or do you intend to find an instructor or a group class? It would be wise to know what type of study method works best for you. If you’re the type to go faster on your own, don’t concern yourself with instructors. But if you prefer to work in a classroom setting, you might want to seek out instructor-led training.
As much as the environment is important, so is your style of studying. Are you a visual learner? If so, watch videos covering all the major topics, draw diagrams for yourself, and color-code your notes. If you’re better with audio instructions, you have the option of recording parts of the material and listening to it when you have the time.
Another study tip would be to consider flashcards. They can be digital (on your mobile device or computer), and they are beneficial when you need to learn unfamiliar words or phrases. You can use them whenever you want, whether you’re waiting in line somewhere or on public transport – there’s always room for flashcards and a short review!
- Put together a test lab.
Because quite a significant portion of the certification is about hardware basics and different hardware components, you could benefit from assembling a home test lab of sorts. Try dismantling and building a desktop configuration. It will help you memorize all the acronyms such as RAM, GPU, CPU, SSD, HDD, etc.
A test lab doesn’t only have to be for hardware. You can also take the time to configure a network, install an operating system or two, and try to troubleshoot the most common problems you can imagine. You do need to learn a lot of theory, but nothing beats hands-on practice. It will also be useful when you see a performance-based simulation that mimics what you’ve been doing in real life.
- Be wary of the internet.
On the one hand, the internet is a wealth of resources and valuable information about the CompTIA A+. You can read about other people’s experiences, advice on studying, and guides such as this one. It all helps you better prepare for the exam.
On the other hand, be careful with some of the questions and answers you read online. Always check with official study material whether the answers are correct. Strangers on the internet are not a reliable source by any means, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking something is right just because someone answered it online.
If you’re still wondering how hard CompTIA A+ is, the answer is – depends on how much you already know and how much experience you already have. If you haven’t done much on the computer but played video games, filled in spreadsheets, or watched YouTube, it will take you longer to tackle everything than someone more tech-savvy.
However, that is no reason to give up before you’ve even started. The A+ is explicitly created for complete beginners! With it, you will have higher chances of getting your first job or a promotion, meet peers who might even become your coworkers and friends in the future, and obtain a fantastic foundation for all the IT knowledge to come.
The CompTIA A+ includes two exams that you need to pass. Core 1 is centered around hardware, mobile devices, and networking, while Core 2 is more about software, virtualization, and cloud computing.
You will have to answer multiple-choice questions and performance-based ones. As long as you study hard and don’t allow yourself to get confused on exam day, there’s no reason why you should be intimidated by either of these.
Lastly, develop a study routine that works for you. Organize your schedule around your other responsibilities, gather as many different resources as possible, and maybe get some practical experience with a small test lab.
If you’d like to know more about the CompTIA A+ and the whole process of getting certified, don’t hesitate to contact MyComputerCareer for additional advice. We’d be more than happy to help!