If you’re looking for a career in IT technical support or field operations, one of the certifications to consider is CompTIA’s A+. Named by CIO magazine as one of 10 best entry-level certifications for launching an IT career, A+ is best for technicians and other support specialists who are starting out and want a vendor-neutral credential.
According to the staffing company Robert Half’s salary survey for 2019, A+ is one of the most valuable IT beginner certifications. PayScale shows the average salary for jobs listing A+ at $58,000, with the U.S. military as one of the top employers. Help desk support and field service technicians earn on the lower end of the scale (an average of $45,000 – $46,000) while some of the top earners who have A+ are desktop support analysts (earning an average of $60,000, according to CompTIA).
An Overview of Exam 220-1001
A+ is a two-part series that requires two separate exams: Core 1 (Exam 220-1001) and Core 2 (Exam 220-1002). CompTIA released new exams for the series effective January 15th, 2019. The previous versions, 220-901 and 220-902, were introduced in December 2015 and will be retired in July 2019.
The new exams include expanded content to reflect the growing role of IT specialists, including security, networking and device connectivity, and dramatically new approaches to operational procedures.
The 90-minute Core 1 exam has a maximum of 90 questions, including multiple-choice and performance-based. The questions cover the following five technical areas:
- Mobile devices (14 percent of the exam)
- Networking (20 percent)
- Hardware (27 percent)
- Virtualization and cloud computing (12 percent)
- Network hardware and troubleshooting (27 percent)
While CompTIA doesn’t require a minimum level of experience for candidates, it recommends nine to 12 months of experience in the field or in the lab. You need a minimum score of 675 (on a 100-900 scale) to pass.
Candidates taking Exam 220-1001 should be able to demonstrate these core skills, among others:
- Installing, configuring and maintaining PCs, mobile devices and software
- Diagnosing, resolving and documenting common software and hardware problems
- Providing customer support to end users and applying troubleshooting
- Understand basic concepts such as desktop imaging, virtualization and networking
Overview of the 5 Exam Domains
The A+ exam focuses on the skills that you need to perform IT support jobs. Below is a general overview of each domain.
Mobile Devices Domain
You need knowledge of laptop hardware and features, the different types of mobile devices and how to configure them, and their various features such as email. Most of the questions are scenario-based.
- Laptop hardware and components: Hard drive, memory, keyboard, CPU, optical drive, screen, battery
- Laptop display types (LCD, OLED) and install display components: Webcam, mic, Wi-Fi antenna connector, digitizer
- Laptop features: Special-function keys like dual display and Bluetooth, docking station, port replicator
- Various mobile device types: Tablets, smartphones, wearables, e-readers and GPS
- Mobile-device ports, both wired (e.g., tethering) and wireless (e.g., NFC); and accessories (e.g. speakers, credit-card readers, game cards)
- Network connectivity and application support: Cellular data networks, Bluetooth, corporate and ISP email, commercial-provider email, VPN
- Synchronization: Sync methods and type of data that can be synchronized, connection types and software requirements, SSO (single sign-on authentication for multiple services)
You need knowledge of the various networking types, protocols and configurations.
- TCP and UDP ports: Purposes and protocols
- Common networking hardware: E.g., routers, firewalls, hubs, DSL modems
- Basic wired and wireless network configurations for small or home offices: IP addressing, access point settings, IoT device configuration, firewall settings
- Wireless networking protocols: Anything from 802.11a and 3G to NFC and RFID
- Networked hosts services: Servers (Web, DNS, proxy), Internet appliances and legacy or embedded systems
- Common networking config: IP addressing, DNS, VLAN
- Internet and network types and features — from fiber Internet to ISDN (integrated services digital networks)
- Networking tools: Multimeters, cable testers, Wi-Fi analyzers
You need knowledge of the various types of hardware, devices and peripherals.
- Cable types and their features — including network, video, adaptors and multipurpose
- Connector types, from USB-C to eSATA
- RAM types (e.g., DDR) and installation (e.g., single channel, parity versus nonparity)
- Storage devices and configuration: Including various types of optical drives, solid-state drives, magnetic hard drives, hybrid drives and flash
- Motherboards, CPUs and add-on cards: Motherboard form factors and connector types, CPU features, settings for BIOS/UEFI and expansion cards
- Peripheral devices: Speakers, signature cards, game controllers, mouse, smart card readers and so on
- Types of power supplies: Wattage rating, 115 volt vs. 220
- Custom PC configuration based on customer needs and specs: Anything from virtualization and gaming to “thin client”
- Common device configurations, such as laptop touchpads and wireless settings
- Configuration of multifunction devices and printers for small or home offices: This includes appropriate drivers for specific operating systems and shared or public devices
- Print technologies: Installation and maintenance of components for printers such as 3D and inkjet
Virtualization and Cloud Computing
You need knowledge of cloud-computing concepts and virtual machines.
- Cloud concepts: Common models, virtual desktops, different types of cloud-based apps and services, shared resources, elasticity, on-demand use, measured and metered service
- Client-side virtualization: Virtual machine purpose and setup, including requirements for resources, security and network
Troubleshooting Hardware and Networks Domain
You need to know common problems — how to identify and solve them.
- Best practices for solving problems: Methodology for how to identify issues, establish probable cause, test your theory and implement solutions
- Troubleshooting problems for RAM, motherboards, CPUs and power: Understand common symptoms such as system lockups, unexpected shutdowns, overheating, continuous reboots and so on
- Troubleshooting hard drives and RAID arrays: Common issues like slow performance, unrecognized drives and S.M.A.R.T. (self-monitoring, analysis and reporting technology) errors
- Troubleshooting issues with video displays, projectors and video: Issues such as missing or distorted images, artifacts, incorrect color and so on
- Troubleshooting mobile devices: Procedures for problems like overheating, frozen system and missing sound or display
- Troubleshooting printers: Common symptoms such as faded prints, paper jams, low-memory errors and more
- Troubleshooting wired and wireless network problems: Common issues like limited or no connectivity, IP conflict and slow transfer speeds
Prepare Before the Exam
Even if you have experience in these five areas, it’s a good idea to prepare for your exam. You’ll find various online resources, including study guides from CompTIA and InfoSec Institute.
Taking a prep course doesn’t guarantee a passing score, but it gives you a good foundation — or refresher — on the most current best practices. Good luck!
- 10 Best Entry-Level IT Certifications to Launch Your Career, CIO
- Which IT Certifications Are Most Valuable?, Robert Half blog
- CompTIA A+ Certification, CompTIA
- Salary for Certification: CompTIA A+ Certification, PayScale
- CompTIA A+ Certification Exam: Core 1 Objectives, CompTIA