The CompTIA A+ certification is one of information technology's most highly recognized designations for desktop computer technicians. Comprised of two separate exams, one for computing hardware and the other for operating system software, the A+ certification is the industry standard for computer techs who perform repairs and service on PC systems.
Established in 1993, the A+ cert maintains its relevance through regular updates to the related exam content. This ongoing relevance plays a large part in the designation's popularity; CompTIA has reported there were more than one million A+ certified professionals as of October 2014.
Given its popularity, there is a wide range of training options available for A+ certification. Candidates who have some advanced computing experience and the appropriate PC equipment and software at home, may choose to prepare for the A+ exams by using self-study training. There are a number of self-paced A+ instruction books available on the market today. A number of training vendors also offer self-paced video instruction courses, usually viewed as online streaming video or accessed from DVDs. Video training courses offer live demonstrations of hardware repair activities and software configuration tasks, which can be better than just reading about similar tasks from a book.
For candidates without much computer technology experience beyond the user level, instructor-led classroom courses may be the best A+ training option. This type of training gives students supervised, hands-on experience working with PC hardware and software. While instructor-led classroom training tends to be more costly than self-paced options, it can be the best choice for candidates who need/want guided instruction.
Whichever training option is used, candidates should expect to dive deeply into the following subjects:
- PC hardware components and their functions
- Networking cables, ports and protocols
- Inkjet and laser printer technology
- Troubleshooting physical PC issues
- Installing and configuring Microsoft Windows operating systems
- Setting up Windows networking
- Physical and software-based computer security
- Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets
The A+ cert is listed as a "vendor-neutral" designation, meaning it isn't tied to any single manufacturer of computing equipment. While this is true for the hardware component, the operating system content is heavily weighted towards Microsoft Windows -- not surprising, as Windows is the dominant OS found on most personal computers worldwide.
A+ Certification Exams
To be awarded A+ certification, candidates must pass two exams at an official CompTIA partner test center. The A+ exams consist of a hardware-related and a software-related exam, although there can be some topic crossover between the two exams.
CompTIA updates its A+ exams on an ongoing basis, and doesn't immediately retire older exam versions when new versions are released. This can result in overlaps where two different versions of both A+ exams are available at the same time. Generally, candidates will want to take the newest available versions of the exams.
Both A+ exams contain a mix of 90 multiple-choice and performance-based questions (performance-based questions require candidates to perform one or more tasks in a simulated computing environment). The passing score for the hardware exam is 675 out of 900, and the passing score for the software exam is 700 out of 900. Both exams are available in a number of languages besides English, including Spanish and Simplified Chinese.
A+ in the workplace
Once attained, the A+ certification is valid for three years. The cert can be renewed by attaining a specified number of CompTIA Continuing Education Units (CEUs) before the three-year certified period is up. CEUs are earned by attaining additional certifications, or by taking part in certain industry-related activities. Details on the Continuing Education Program are available from the CompTIA Certification website. Alternatively, candidates can simply retake the A+ exams after their existing certification expires.
There are a number of job roles related to the A+ certification. Some of these roles include:
- Desktop support specialist
- Help desk technician
- Field service technician
- IT support technician
- Printer support specialist
Service techs who work for Lenovo, Dell and Intel are typically required to be A+ certified. The A+ is also recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense.
"CompTIA A+ Certification," CompTIA.org, 2014-11-25, https://certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/a.aspx
"CompTIA Continuing Education Program," CompTIA.org, 2014-11-25, https://certification.comptia.org/stayCertified.aspx