A+ certification will get your career off on the right foot.In the ever-growing and changing IT industry, “survival of the fittest” holds true for the large pool of graduates and candidates who are added each year to the existing pool of professionals.

The availability of so many IT specialists makes “candidate selection” a daunting task for businesses and enterprises. This is why those with a popular certification, such as the A+ credential offered by America’s Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), stand out as potential employees with proven skill-sets and knowledge.

CompTIA A+ is extremely popular globally, and especially here in India. Why is A+ so popular? Does A+ really provide significant proof of an IT candidate’s technical competencies and skills? Will it truly give job seekers an edge over other IT professionals, and will it have a significant impact on their careers?

Let’s answer these queries by taking an in-depth look at CompTIA’s A+ certification.

Brief Overview of A+

This entry-level credential is a great first step in any aspiring IT professional’s career. It is widely recognized as a validation of knowledge and skills related to hardware and software technologies. It is no wonder that A+ has become one of the most commonly held IT certifications. A testament to this fact is that, as of 2014, there are more than one-million IT professionals who are A+ certified.

CompTIA is a U.S.-based nonprofit trade association created in 1982 and universally viewed as being the “voice of the world’s information industry.” CompTIA’s purpose is to advance the global interests of IT professionals and organizations.

CompTIA is also a major provider of globally accredited, vendor-neutral IT certifications. In fact, CompTIA A+ is welcomed by all major IT-related corporations including Dell, Canon, HP, and Intel. It is also compliant with the ISO 17024 standards and enjoys the approval of the U.S. Department of Defense to fulfil the directive 8570.01-M requirements.

CompTIA’s objective with starting the A+ certification in 1998 was to build an IT credential that clearly demonstrates an individual’s proficiency as a computer technician. It was created to cover a wide range of platforms, operating systems and technologies, including both Apple and Microsoft.

In order to meet the continuously changing demands of the IT industry, A+ and its accompanying exam have regularly undergone a number of updates and modifications. There is now a formal three-year renewal cycle, with the most recent revisions made in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2015.

With each update, the content of the A+ exam is prepared by IT experts, including subject matter experts, based on industry-wide feedback. And now, with mobile and cloud technology being embraced by many organizations, the need for A+-certified IT professionals to keep those firms’ computing devices running in an optimal manner is greater than ever.

A+ Exam

Candidates for A+ certification must presently clear two exams from the same series — the 800 or 900 series. Candidates who clear the 220-801 and 220-802 exams before July 1 of this year will receive their A+ certification. After that date, candidates will have to clear the 220-901 and 220-902 to receive certification.

Since the 900 series exams are soon to be the only ones available, as per the IT industry standards, the details discussed below are only relevant to this series.

Vouchers for the exams can be purchased directly from CompTIA and the cost for each exam is $199.00 (U.S.) Although, there is a significant price reduction for the exam in India where it costs $112 (U.S.), approximately ₹7,500. To see country specific pricing click here. A+ exams can be taken at any Pearson VUE testing centre.

The 220-901 and 220-902 exams are similar with a few differences:

The 220-901 exam covers personal computer hardware and basic peripherals, mobile devices, networking and troubleshooting of hardware and network connectivity. Exam 220-902 covers the installation and configuration of a variety of common operating systems (including Windows, iOS, Android, Apple OS X and Linux). 902 also covers security, as well as the fundamentals and operational procedures of cloud computing.

A quick look at the content of the A+ exam gives you a fair idea of the skills that it validates.

  • Networking — Learning core concepts and protocols, such as IPv4, IPv6, DHCP and the subnet mask to set up and support wired or wireless networks.
  • Security — Using the appropriate authentication, access control and encryption for secure access to data in an enterprise.
  • IT operations — Learning to support IT infrastructures through a sound understanding of cloud computing, virtualisation, desktop imaging and deployment, and so on.
  • Operating systems — Dealing with a variety of traditional operating systems, including Windows and Linux, and the latest mobile operating systems, including Android and iOS.
  • Troubleshooting and technical support — Identifying, resolving and documenting common hardware or software issues across multiple devices, using decision trees, and getting a know-how of customer service principles for solving IT problems or issues.

Both exams are 90 minutes in duration, and consist of 90 questions, most of which are multiple-choice (MCQs). There are also a number of drag-and-drop performance based questions (PBQs). The PBQs are designed to test a candidate’s ability to solve problems in a simulated environment. You can try a sample PBQ here.

Do note that you will have a clock visible when working on the MCQs, but not during the PBQs, most of which are at the beginning of the exam — so be careful of your time. PBQs can be tricky, the good news is that you can mark any question for review and return to them if time remains. The clearing score for 220-901 is 675 out of 900; for 220-902 it is 700 out of 900.

While there are no prerequisites, CompTIA does recommend that candidates have six-to-12 months of hands-on experience in the lab or field.

Training materials for both exams are abundant. One of the best resources is CompTIA’s CertMaster, an intelligent online learning tool that enables candidates to verify what they already know while focusing on filling in the spaces on their knowledge. Sadly, CertMaster is not included in the price of A+ certification, but you can have a free-trial before you buy. All reports indicate that CertMaster is an extremely powerful test-preparation tool.

Reasons Why Employers Trust A+

A+ certification will get your career off on the right foot.A+ is a certification that IT professionals often pursue when entering the industry as a way to provide a testimony of their computer knowledge on their resumes. Although an entry-level certification, the range of topics contained requires candidates to acquire competency in setting up, maintaining, customizing and operating personal computers in organizational environments.

A+ is also a valuable stepping-stone to more advanced and specialized certifications like CompTIA’s own Network+ and Security+ credentials.

The fact that this A+ is globally recognised and accredited with ISO compliance is reason enough for employers to trust its credibility. Additionally, it has been around since 1998 and is one of the few IT certifications valid across the world. A+ certificate holders are qualified to work and make valuable contributions to an organization as tech support specialists, field service technicians, IT support, and support administrators.

IT is a continuously and rapidly evolving field. To meet the challenges and opportunities of such a fluid domain CompTIA A+ is good for three years from the day of your exam. After which it will need to be renewed. Fortunately, CompTIA provides a continuing education program that enables credentialed individuals to extend their certifications in three-year intervals by participating in and completing activities and training relating to A+. For a complete description of renewal options, check out the CompTIA Continuing Education program.

CompTIA’s A+ certification is a proven and trusted credential that will help you fulfill your career aspirations. It is updated regularly by CompTIA, has more than 1 million loyal adherents, and is an all-around great way to enter the IT field.