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A Look at the A+ Certification

  • September 3, 2003
  • By Steve Rowe
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The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is an organization dedicated to the advancement of the IT industry. One of CompTIA's largest contributions to the IT world is its development of vendor-neutral, certification exams that span across a wide range of IT areas. Most in the IT world have heard of CompTIA in one form or another because many of its exams have considerably grown in popularity. A+, Network+, Security+, to name a few, have grown in popularity as relevant examinations that evaluate the readiness and preparedness of examinees to perform at a baseline of knowledge for a specified IT area. To develop an exam that measures a baseline of skills in an IT area, CompTIA pulls subject matter experts (SME's) along with corporate, education, and government representatives from the specified IT areas to develop exams that will measure baseline skills.

A+ Exam

The A+ exam is by and large the most successful exam CompTIA has developed to date. A+ was developed to measure baseline skills and abilities of computer service and support technicians. This exam is now ten years old and boasts nearly 500,000 A+ certified people. It is so popular that many large corporations, such as Sears, Radio Shack, Best Buy, and State Farm Insurance require members of their IT departments to have A+ certifications.

A+ candidates who achieve this certification will demonstrate a knowledge level equal to that of a computer technician with 6 to 12 months of on the job experience. While no work experience requirements are needed to take this exam, it will be helpful if the candidate is doing at least junior level support and technician work while preparing for the certification. Being somewhat familiar with hardware components and the basics of Windows operating systems will go a long way in helping the candidate pass this certification.

To achieve this certification one must pass two exams. The first exam we'll cover is the Core Hardware Exam. The second exam we will cover is the Operating Systems Exam. Let's examine these two exams in more depth.

Core Hardware Exam

The Core Hardware Exam tests the candidate for abilities with installing, configuring, troubleshooting, and upgrading computer hardware. Technicians will be tested on a broad range of categories. Hardware items such as bus architectures, processors, memory, expansion cards, printers, and basic networking topics are among some of the more popular topics covered in this exam. The A+ candidate will have to also know about hardware resources, such as configuring IRQ's, DMA channels, and I/O Ranges of hardware items. As of November of 2003 (exact date is yet to be determined) both A+ exams will undergo minor upgrades. On the hardware exam there will likely be coverage on wireless hardware items as well. Stay tuned to www.comptia.com for finalized objectives for the 2003 exams.

The following table breaks down the major knowledge domains and the percentage of the exam that particular domain represents on the Hardware Exam.

Domain % of Exam
1.0 Installation, Configuration and Upgrading 30%
2.0 Diagnosing and Troubleshooting 30%
3.0 Preventive Maintenance 5%
4.0 Motherboard/Processors/Memory 15%
5.0 Printers 10%
6.0 Basic Networking 10%

Operating Systems Exams

The operating system exam tests the candidate's knowledge of installing, configuring, upgrading, and troubleshooting desktop computer systems. The current exam requires the candidate to know about DOS, command-line capabilities and tools, Windows 9x, and Windows 2000 technologies. As mentioned above, November 2003 will see upgrades to both A+ exams. The 2003 OS exam will see coverage on Windows XP Professional and Me as well.

The following table breaks down the major knowledge domains and the percentage of the exam that particular domain represents on the Operating Systems Exam.

Domain % of Exam
1.0 OS Fundamentals 30%
2.0 Installation, Configuration and Upgrading 15%
3.0 Diagnosing and Troubleshooting 40%
4.0 Networks 15%

General Exam Information

The following items are general bits of information pertaining to the A+ certification:

  • The current A+ exam (which will appear as the 2001 objectives exam on CompTIA's Web site) is done in the adaptive format. The exam contains 20-30 questions primarily of the multiple-choice format, with 30 minutes to complete the exam. For the 2003 exams, CompTIA looks to drop the adaptive format at this point. If you take the 2003 set of exams, be sure to consult CompTIA's Web site to get up-to-date information on formats, assessment methods, and exam times.

  • If you have already taken one of the two A+ exams under the 2001 objectives, the current A+ exam set, you can finish your certification under the 2001 exams even after November of 2003. At this point, questions that cover 2003 objectives content are on current A+ exams, but they are not counted. After November 2003 these questions will begin to count for or against the candidate if they have not already passed one of the 2001 exams. You can also take one exam on 2001 objectives and the second on 2003 objectives and still get certified, so there is some flexibility for candidates during this period of transition for the A+ certification. Always consult the CompTIA Web site to check for any sudden policy changes, though.

  • In the past, CompTIA has required candidates to pass their second A+ exam within 90 days of passing their first exam. This requirement has now been dropped.

  • Individuals taking the test, who are not CompTIA members, will have to pay $145 to take an exam. Corporate pricing and volume-based pricing deals are available as well.

  • Both VUE and Prometric Testing Centers offer this exam. Check out the Web sites for VUE Testing and Thomson Prometric for information on how to sign up for these exams.

  • The A+ certification also can count toward credit for obtaining the Microsoft MCSA certification. Check out www.microsoft.com for more information on how your CompTIA credentials can apply toward Microsoft certification.

Conclusions

Why would someone want to pursue the A+ certification? It is the premier entry-level certification for those wanting to break into the IT field. Passing this certification will expose the candidate to a comprehensive look at all the hardware and software components that make a PC work. This is a fantastic foundation to build on. Maybe you are a technician or help desk person now who feels a need to expand your knowledge and repertoire for future advancement. Even if you are in a completely different area of IT than PC support, you may find that the comprehensive look at the PC A+ offers will give you a broader knowledge that will enhance your abilities. In any situation, the A+ certification is a comprehensive and very popular certification that is certain to enhance your knowledge of computer hardware and software.

If this certification interests you, there are good training guides and exam cram books that will teach you the principles found on the A+ test. Also, you might learn better in a classroom scenario. Several options for classroom training might exist for you. Check out computer training centers in your area, or you may also find adult education classes in local school systems that offer a more affordable alternative for an A+ class. Whichever study method you choose, be sure to have some older hardware on hand that you can take apart and look at while studying. Make certain that this is hardware you can afford to lose if something goes wrong during your study time! Also, have plenty of practice exam questions on hand as you study. It is important to prepare yourself for the types of exam questions and the exam format you will face on exam day as well as learning the technical objectives posted by CompTIA. Lastly, most study for one of the two exams, take it and pass, and then concentrate solely on the second exam. This is a good method of approaching the A+ because your focus stays on one exam during study. As always, assess your preferred learning style; approach your study time with this knowledge in hand, gain hands-on experience, and best of luck in your endeavors!

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