As a technology instructor and cybersecurity expert, I am asked often, “If I want to get started in IT, what do I do?” My answer is always the same: “The first step is CompTIA’s A+ certification.” Many years ago I started there myself when I changed my career into IT and cybersecurity. Why do I suggest the A+ certification? There are several reasons why.
First, A+ comes from a reputable certification organization. CompTIA started offering A+ as its first certification back in 1992. Ever since, A+ continues to be the foundation of CompTIA’s certification line which includes Network+ and Security+. Many organizations including Dell, Intel and HP recognize the need for the A+ certification.
Second, A+ covers a wide array of topics. You learn a little bit about everything related to computers including hardware, software, troubleshooting, networking, and security. And it’s vendor-neutral. No matter where your career takes you, your basic knowledge of PCs, networking, and security makes a great stepping stone to other more focused and vendor-specific certifications.
Third, the A+ certification very possibly could be required by hiring managers to consider you for entry-level IT positions. There are positions like Service Desk Analyst, Help Desk Technician and Field Service Technician, among others, that all benefit from having the A+ certification.
What is the A+ certification?
A+ is a foundational certification designed to provide a broad view of all facets of personal computers (PC) including hardware, operating systems, networking, troubleshooting, security and more. As a foundational certification, it provides a baseline from which you can move into any number of technology-related positions. For those not interested in PC repair-specific careers, you can still benefit from understanding how PCs function.
A+ has been specifically engineered to prove your expertise, not just with knowledge, but with practical application. Each exam contains several performance-based questions and scenario-based multiple-choice questions that will test your ability to use your knowledge in real and practical ways. CompTIA prides itself on A+ being both performance-based and vendor-neutral.
A+ is broken up into two exams. The first exam has 5 domains which are then divided up into several objectives. The five domains are:
- Mobile Devices
- Virtualization and Cloud Computing
- Hardware and Network Troubleshooting
The second exam has 4 domains. They are:
- Operating Systems
- Software Troubleshooting
- Operational Procedures
These domains and their respective objectives can be reviewed on CompTIA’s certification site.
How do I get certified in A+?
The first step is to get training. The official training course is CompTIA A+ Certification: A Comprehensive Approach. There are also books, practice exams, videos and more, some for free, some at a reasonable cost, that can help you prepare for the two A+ exams.
The second step is to study. It’s not enough just to sit through a class or read a book. You need to make this information a part of you. The questions on the exams will demand that you pull from your entire body of knowledge to answer the performance-based and scenario-based questions. Here are some suggestions on how to study for the A+ exams:
- Study with a buddy. Studies have shown that engaging in discussions and conversations about a topic will make that topic feel more personal and will stick with you longer.
- Take practice tests. A certification exam is a test. Practice the test and you’ll do better on the test. There are many great vendors of quality practice exams that can support your study efforts. But be warned, beware of test dump sites. These are websites that use actual test questions as practice questions. This is both unethical and in direct violation of CompTIA’s terms and conditions for certification. To be safe, stick with approved CompTIA business partners for study aids.
- Write things down. Writing with a pen or pencil is a powerful gateway to memory, even more so than typing. The muscle memory involved in writing down concepts will cement this new information into your brain faster and will help with recall later.
- Use flashcards. Flashcards are an excellent tool to reinforce things like acronyms, port numbers, definitions, and lists, just to name a few.
- Don’t wait too long after training to take the exams. You may not feel ready, but if you’ve put in the time and energy into studying, you’ll probably do just fine.
Step three is to acquire your vouchers. You may have received your vouchers through a training class, in a study guide bundle, through your employer, or by paying for them out of your own pocket. However you got it, those voucher codes are extremely valuable. Treat it like cash. It is not tied to your identity so it can be used by anyone. Most vouchers are good for a year. Don’t let the voucher expire.
Step four is to register for the exams. You can take the exams in any order and they don’t have to be on the same day. Just remember, you are not A+ certified until you pass both exams. You also must take both exams from the same series. For example, if you take Core 1 220-1001, then you have to take Core 2 220-1002.
Registration is done on CompTIA’s testing partner website, www.pearsonvue.com. I recommend that you register your exams several weeks in advance. There are several benefits to this. First, you can use this schedule as a motivational tool to make sure you keep studying. You have a deadline. Second, depending on the testing center where you’ve chosen to take your exam, there may be limited seating. Or if you’ve chosen an online exam, there are only a few seats per time slot. If you want to pick the best time and date for you, do it early while there are still a lot of slots available. Otherwise, they may book up.
Third, for those who need accommodations due to a disability, you need to request this online several weeks in advance so it can be approved and the accommodations can be ready for you by the time you test.
It’s important to remember that once an exam is scheduled, you can reschedule or cancel your exam at any time with no penalty until 24 hours before your scheduled exam time or until your exam voucher expires, whichever is earliest. If you are within 24 hours, there is no cancelling or rescheduling allowed. Don’t wait until the last minute if you need to reschedule your exam.
Step five is to take the exam. Each exam consists of up to 90 performance-based and multiple-choice questions and you have 90 minutes to complete it. If this will be your first certification exam experience, here are some things you can expect:
- Come early. There may be unexpected delays and you do not want to be late. They can cancel your exam and void your voucher if you are more than 15 minutes late.
- Bring two (2) forms of ID. One of these forms must be government issued and have your picture and name. The other must have your signature (a signed credit card does count for this second ID).
- Items allowed in the exam room. Nothing can come into the exam room with you except for “comfort aids” like cough drops (unwrapped) or water (clear bottle). Your phone should stay in your car. Your other personal effects will be placed into a locker and you will keep the key during the exam. If you are taking an online exam, all personal items must be out of reach and out of view while you are taking the exam.
- Read carefully. During the exam, read every word of every question very carefully. There are no trick questions, but the details do matter. If you aren’t sure, don’t waste too much time. Just pick an answer, mark the question for review later, and move on. You don’t get any penalties for wrong answers. But at least you have some chance of getting it right if you guess. And you can always go back and review these questions again if you have time remaining.
- Your score report. When you finish an exam, you will be asked to complete a short survey. The demographic portions of the survey are optional. After this you will be shown your provisional score on screen and a score report will be printed for you to take with you. This score report shows you each of the exam objectives for which you got at least one question wrong. If you passed, this is just informative. If you failed, these are the topics you should go study. Most people who fail the first attempt pass on their second attempt.
How long does my A+ certification last?
The short answer is three years. However, CompTIA has what is called the Continuing Education program for certain CompTIA certifications, including A+. Visit https://www.comptia.org/continuing-education for the full details.
Basically, this is the certification renewal program. To renew your certification, you must obtain a certain number of Continuing Education Units, or CEUs, and submit them before your three years is up. A+ requires 20 CEUs to recertify. Some activities give you all 20 CEUs at one time such as taking a certified training course, passing the newest version of the exam, getting a higher level certification (like Network+ or Security+) or helping to write the new exam objectives and test questions. Other activities require mixing and matching a few different ones such as attending conferences, writing blogs or teaching and mentoring other security professionals. There are also a few CEUs granted for work experience, although you cannot recertify on work experience alone.
CompTIA releases a new version of A+ every three years as well. So, by the time your certification is up for renewal, you’ll be expected to be knowledgeable about the newest objectives added to the exam. This is one of the benefits of having a certification that expires and requires renewal. It forces you to keep up with the fast-paced changes in the information technology industry.
A+ isn’t necessarily for everyone. But if you plan on being part of an IT helpdesk, doing any kind of networking, or going into a security-related role, the A+ certification will give you a necessary foundation in how PCs function and how to keep them running well.
To learn more about CompTIA A+ training, visit https://go.skyline-ats.com/aplus