Five Steps to A+ Certification Success
Article updated: 11/16/2021.
The 5 steps to A+ certification start with understanding the exam build.
How the exam is made and why you should care
First and foremost, why you should care is because understanding the context, the methodology CompTIA uses, and its overall objectives will enable you to better calibrate your expectations for this demanding exam.
Based on their day-to-day needs, the industry volunteers at CompTIA, define which skills the exam should address. In this phase of the exam definition, the industry representatives also decide what areas to prioritize over others. They do that by assigning different weights to the different Exam Objectives (more on this later). Once these areas of expertise have been established by the industry representatives the next step is to write exam questions within those areas of expertise. This is done by Subject Matter Experts – SMEs. These are experts in the various computer fields that know which questions will help find out if a candidate knows the topics covered by the Exam Objectives. There are a few more steps but I am not going to bore you with the details. Here’s your take-home from this though; the exam objectives are subject to interpretation. Why? Because when the exam objectives are handed over by the industry representatives the SMEs read into these what they see. Now, most of the time it’s what you and I would expect. However, there will be cases where there is a difference in views. This means that you have to read the objectives very carefully and make sure you understand each of them. Don’t interpret them too narrowly since the process does leave the SMEs with room for interpretation.
Need a free A+ Study Guide? Try the A+ ExamNotes!
If you are reading this you are probably studying for the A+ Exams. If so, check out our completely free A+ Study guide for exams 220-1001 and 220-1002. It is a full version, not some “limited’ free version trying to make you buy something. It covers every last A+ 1001 & 1002 exam objective as well as all the sub-objectives (and you won’t be asked for an email address or a credit card).
How the exam is configured
To become A+ Certified you need to pass two exams: A+ Exam 220-1001 – Core 1 that is more focused on hardware skills and knowledge and A+ Exam 220-1002 that – Core 2 focuses on various operating system issues. The A+ Certification, like all CompTIA exams, is organized around its list of Exam Objectives that are published on their website.
Additional reading: Ten Commandments of IT Certification Preparation (many CertBlaster users tell us this helped them succeed at the exam)
These Exam Objectives consist of a handful of “Main Domains” (the high-level topic definition) and under each of the Main Domains, “Sub-Objectives” that narrow down to the specifics of what you should know in preparation of the exam. Below, as an example, are the main domains of the A+ 220-1001 & 220-1002 exams with their relative weights.
A+ Exam 220-1001 – Core 1 A+ Exam 220-1002 – Core 2
These tables show the main Exam Objectives (Domains) and how much weight they each should have on the exam. Why do the relative weights matter? Because they give a good indication of how many questions each domain will present at your exam.
How many questions are there and how are they distributed?
Each exam contains 90 questions and you have an hour and a half to answer them so on average one question per minute. This is in line with certification best practices for multiple-choice-based tests but it will require you to get organized and focused to not run out of time. Thankfully there are methods and tools available to you to make sure you don’t get overwhelmed by the number of questions. For that see our article “Test Taking Strategies for IT Certification”
A+ Exam 220-1001 – Core 1 A+ Exam 220-1002 – Core 2
*) You will never have more than 90 questions on this exam. There can be as few as 82 – 83 questions but the maximum CompTIA allows itself on either A+ exams is 90.
On CompTIA’s Exam Objectives document you can read:
**Note: The lists of examples provided in a bulleted format below each objective are not exhaustive. Other examples of technologies, processes or tasks pertaining to each objective may also be included on the exam although not listed or covered in this objectives document.
This is the kind of statement you want to take seriously. It will require you not only to master the terms on the various lists but what they can do and different ways they can do it. This can be tricky but should impact how you study for the exam.
What is the passing score in plain English?
The grading scale is a bit funky as you are evaluated on a scale from 100 to 900. The passing score on the CompTIA A+ 1001 exam is 675 and for the CompTIA A+ 220-1001 exam it is 700. What this works out to in terms of percentages is about 72% for 1001 and about 75% in 1002. This means that with a total of 90 questions per exam you will need at least 65 correct answers in 1001 and no less than 68 in 1002. Because the objectives are so wide-ranging and unless you have a lot of professional experience, it will take a fair amount of work to prepare for this exam. If you doubt this, just take a look at the A+ objectives as published by CompTIA, between the two exams you are looking at 44 pages mainly of lists of items you could get a question on… This is where we say that A+ is not getting the respect it deserves. With over 1,200 topic areas that CompTIA can pick and choose questions from, the A+ exam is one of the most demanding tests out there. At the very least in terms of time on task.
The question types you will see on the exam
By and large, the most common question type is the multiple-choice type of questions. The basic four alternatives – three detractors and one correct choice is the most common question type on the exam. Typically these questions will include one correct answer, one detractor that is very similar to the correct answer and a different detractor that is still wrong, and finally the nonsense detractor(s). The nonsense detractor is the one a candidate with no idea about the topic at hand could pick. In some of these, you will be facing more than one alternative that you will feel is correct, in those situations you are expected to pick the “best” answer. By that CompTIA means the alternative that is the more direct and clearly related to the question as asked. Here is an example:
A customer wants games from their child’s Windows XP computer removed. Which of the following is the BEST way to accomplish this task?
a) Control Panel > Game Controller > Select controller > click Remove
b) Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Computer Management
c) Control Panel > Add/Remove programs > Add/Remove Windows Components > select Accessories and Utilities > uncheck Games
d) Programs menu > Right-click Games > select Properties > select the Hidden checkbox
Answer c) “Control Panel > Add/Remove programs > Add/Remove Windows Components > select Accessories and Utilities > uncheck Games” is the best way to accomplish the task. The user wants the games removed and since we are expected to take the question literally it is the only choice that will actually remove the games. So from the top a) game controllers will only impact the devices used for gaming, not the games themselves. b) Computer Management has no capabilities in this area. The last choice is the most tempting in terms of practicality it will only hide the Games from the menus not remove them. A crafty child will still be able to find them since they haven’t been removed.
When you are facing the four alternatives – three detractors and one correct choice, you will see that the clickable area is a radio button. When you see a question that has checkboxes instead of radio buttons, that will be a multiple-choice – multiple answer type question. With these questions, you can expect that five alternatives will contain two correct answers and six alternatives will contain three correct answers.
In addition to the multiple-choice questions, you will see two more question formats: Scenario-based and Performance-based questions.
The scenario-based questions are essentially multiple-choice questions just with a longer question text. Instead of asking you, in a basic multiple-choice question, something along the lines of:
Which of the following network devices allows for full-duplex communication?
…the scenario-based question sets up a situation that you are expected to respond to by choosing one of the alternatives. Here is an example of that:
A technician just finished removing spyware from a computer and now they are not able to connect to any websites. Which of the following is the MOST likely cause?
a) Automatic configuration
b) Network card driver is damaged
c) Proxy settings
d) The Internet is not functioning
Because these are CompTIA exams the scenario is a “scenario of few words”… CompTIA is known for its short and terse questions. In addition to
So what is the answer? The most likely answer here would be c) Proxy Settings. Malware often reconfigures proxy settings, or in some cases initiates them, to enable their programs to operate optimally. Often this could go unnoticed by the user and the program will run indefinitely undetected. Proxy settings is the MOST likely answer because you are told in the question that “A technician just finished removing spyware”. Although in b) a damaged network card driver would cause inability to connect to the network it is not induced by malware removers and so does not qualify for the MOST likely cause. a) Automatic configuration will not disable internet connectivity by design as it is non-routable. Finally, d) if the Internet was not functioning in the workplace it’s safe to assume yours would not be the only complaint!
IMPORTANT NOTE ON SCENARIO-BASED QUESTIONS: Over the last couple of exam updates CompTIA is definitely chasing more scenario-based questions. resulting in about a third of interactive questions In today’s Exam 220-1002 (Core 2) than 220-1001 (Core 1). CompTIA’s objective with that is to increasingly test more skills over just knowledge in their exams. You get that from studying the CompTIA Exam Objectives documents. The exam objectives for the old Exam 220-801 (the release that started the trend towards interactive testing) had only one objective starting with “Given a scenario…” (Objective 1.10) while for Exam 220-1002, you have an impressive 14 objectives starting with “Given a scenario…” (these are objectives 1.2; 1.3; 1.4; 1.5; 2.6 and objectives 4.1 – 4.9). To get the CompTIA Exam Objectives documents, click on A+ Exam Objectives (including the A+ 220-1001& 220-1002 objectives).
The performance-based questions are exercise-based. You complete a task in a Windows simulator or a command-line interface simulator and you come to the correct answer through entering the right command or navigating correctly in the Windows menu. Below are a couple of examples of Performance-Based Question- PBQs.