9 Skills to Master for the New CompTIA A+ Exam
What’s new in the CompTIA A+ exams and what skills will you and your IT team need to master? First launched in 1993, the CompTIA A+ certification is considered the foundation for IT careers. It’s ideal for system administrators and IT specialists of all levels since it casts such a wide net across IT topics and is vendor-neutral, unlike AWS or Microsoft Azure certifications.
As of July 31, 2019, the 220-901 and 220-902 exams for the A+ certification will be officially retired. Changes are made to these exams about every three years to align with the evolution of IT trends and services. The new A+ Core Series replaces the 901 and 902 exams. The A+ Core Series is made up of the 220-1001 exam and the 220-1002 exam, both of which must be passed to receive the A+ certification.
What is CompTIA?
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), a non-profit trade association for IT professionals, is best known for providing vendor-neutral training and certifications for the IT industry. The association counts 200+ IT vendors as members including AT&T, Intel, and Cisco; over 9,000 IT professionals, educators, and students in the US are CompTIA members.
The CompTIA A+ certification is an important credential for those in the IT industry and has seen major changes this year, which I’ll explore in detail here.
What’s new in the CompTIA A+ certification exam?
The new CompTIA A+ exam requires IT specialists to exhibit more knowledge on networking, cloud computing, and virtualization than previous exams. The prior emphasis on hardware and Windows software is now balanced with these additional focus areas:
- IT security fundamentals, including physical security versus logical security, as well as topics like malware detection and removal
- Configuration and support of IoT hardware and knowledge of related network protocols
- Managing network and device connectivity
- Scripting basics so that specialists can readily identify malicious code
- Handling privacy concerns, especially around GDPR
- Basic disaster prevention and recovery
9 Skills to master for the CompTIA A+ 1001 and 1002 exams
The two CompTIA A+ exams cover high-level domains foundational for IT specialists. Those domains are then broken down into much more detailed subdomains. The exams themselves are a mix of multiple-choice and scenario-based questions to help visualize the real-world application of common technical issues. Each exam is comprised of 90 questions which must be completed in 90 minutes.
1. Mobile devices
IT teams have to manage technology that is becoming increasingly mobile. You’ll need to know how to install and configure laptop hardware components and troubleshoot key features on most laptops. Mobile devices go well beyond laptops and exam takers will need to learn their characteristics as well as how to configure tablets, smartphones, smartwatches, e-readers, GPS devices, and even VR headsets.
The exam emphasizes the hardware side of networking with comparisons of the most common networking devices like switches, routers, and firewalls. You’ll also want to be familiar with wireless networking protocols and network configurations concepts.
The 1001 exam’s hardware emphasis requires knowledge of installing and configuring CPUs, motherboards, RAM, and peripheral devices as well as familiarity with the cabling of these tools. For example, can you identify RJ45 cables and the various connectors needed to support an office-wide Ethernet setup?
4. Virtualization and cloud computing
While you’ll need to show knowledge of fundamental cloud computing concepts like common cloud models and virtual desktops, the exam will also provide scenarios for you to set up and configure client-side virtualizations.
5. Hardware and network troubleshooting
IT technicians are the front line for any sort of hardware and networking issues that occur in the workplace. By carefully learning best practices and troubleshooting for common problems, you’ll not only pass the 220-1001 exam, but you’ll also be a standout at work.
6. Operating systems
We now move on to the skills needed for the 220-1002 exam, which begins with learning the common operating systems including Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. You’ll need to know installation and upgrade methods, command line tools, and how to solve for common operating system questions you’ll face on the job.
Learn to keep individual computers and office networks safe by employing host-based and network-based security measures such as encryption, website authentication, and malware removal. You’ll also want to know the basics of physical security to keep your company’s hardware secure.
8. Software troubleshooting
To measure your comprehension of the software and operating systems you’re likely to work closely with, the CompTIA A+ 1002 exam will provide common scenarios that you’ll troubleshoot such as slow computer performance, short battery life on a tablet, or printing issues.
9. Operational procedures
IT technicians will inevitably face tasks that require documentation. This is necessary for inventory management, tracking regulations and compliance, and toxic waste handling, among many other best practices that may affect an IT department.
Why get A+ certified?
The IT industry is built on certifications. I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years and am still getting certifications. They serve as a reference point for your overall experience level. If the world of IT is built on certifications, the CompTIA A+ should be the first certification pursued in an IT career. In fact, the A+ certification is named among CIO.com’s top 10 certifications to kickstart an IT career.
For individual IT professionals, a certification like the A+ will get you in the door to a company. Certification names are often used as the keywords recruiters and hiring software screen for in open roles. Even when candidates are hired without an A+ certification on their resume, I often see employers insist the new employee take the CompTIA A+ exam within the first 6 months on the job since it’s such a well-known part of an IT specialist’s toolkit.
For IT managers, ensuring your team receives industry-standard certifications validates the team’s knowledge of essential skills required for most IT tasks within the company or with any IT work that may affect customers and clients.
Finally, there are quite a bit of new topics covered in the A+ Core Series exams, so be sure to take the time to study and adequately prepare yourself before sitting for the exam. As topics like cybersecurity, networking, and the internet of things become ubiquitous across organizations of all sizes, it’s important for IT pros to keep their professional skills razor-sharp with the concepts and best practices outlined in certifications like the CompTIA A+. Future-proof your career and team by keeping your certifications current.
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