Training and Certification
How I Passed the CompTIA A+ 900 Series Exam in 6 Days
April 1, 2016
The CompTIA A+ certification 900 exam series will retire on July 31st, 2019. You can either prepare for the 220-901 and 220-902 exams or opt for the recently released 220-1001 and 220-1002 versions. This blog post applies to the 900 series, but the information and advice is also relevant for the newest exams. If you have a little prior experience, you can earn your A+ very quickly. I updated my A+ certification in after only six days of studying for the 900 series exams.The exams seemed even easier than before. This blog post recaps when I learned, what you should expect, and tricks to watch out for.
To begin, let's examine the content on the 900 series. This is not a comprehensive list of topics on the exam, but rather what changed compared to older exams.
900 Series Exam Content
For the most part, the 900 series A+ remains the same as the older version. The following points are what changed between the 800 and 900 series exams:
- No CRTs: You may see it in your study guide, but nothing more than minor adjustments with the screen controls. I did not encounter CRTs on my particular exam
- No RAMBUS RAM
- More focus on printers, specifically virtual printers
- UEFI BIOS is new
- No AGP: You may notice it on past study materials
- PCMCIA removed
- 802.11ac WiFi now included
- Mobile devices, in particular Windows phone is new
- Command line tools
- Linux and Mac
- Command line utilities for Linux and Mac
- Windows 8
- No Windows XP
- Windows Powershell
- Robocopy command line tool
- Operating system security features
- Client side virtualization
- Operational procedures (MSDS sheets, safety, behavior, etc.)
Overall that’s not too different.
For those of you panicking at the sight of Linux and Mac, you don’t need to go over installation procedures. These topics focus more on basic functionality. This exam is still largely Windows focused.
You do need to know command line tools. The benefit to this is that the vast majority of these commands interchange with one another. I didn’t find a single question asking me for Linux/Mac commands on the exam. Keep in mind that questions are random and your questions will vary.
Questions That Caught Me Off Guard
As always, CompTIA exams like to really test how well you follow instructions. Read the questions slowly and thoroughly. Then read the question again. I found myself flustered with a very simple question.
Here’s what happened:
On the 902 exam, one of the interactive questions asked to configure a new disk while accounting for future redundancy. Simple enough! So I went to initialize it and set the partitions as requested.
There was a second disk available. I tried to configure a mirrored array. CompTIA simulations are very limited and won’t let you really click on a wrong answer. I couldn’t configure a mirrored array and got frustrated. I flagged the question for later to avoid wasting time.
At last I returned with forty minutes left to answer. Suddenly, my error come apparent. They asked me to configure the disk for future redundancy, not redundancy right now. I set it to a dynamic disk and called it a day. This is the kind of stuff they love to throw at you in a CompTIA exam.
A few other questions had me scratching my head. Due to my recent work with Linux lately, I’m rusty with the DOS prompt. I nearly said “ls” was how you get a listing of files/folders in your working directory, but caught myself while proofreading. There aren’t a whole lot of command line questions on the exams, but it’s good to make sure you practice with both Linux and Windows command lines before you take the exam. One question could be the difference in a pass or fail for you.
My Secret to Passing the A+ Exams in a Short Time
First of all, I already had a lot of experience. I earned my 800 series A+ previously and only 25% of the content was new. Also, I use several versions of Linux regularly and was already comfortable with both normal and administrative tasks.
Furthermore, I use Windows 7 as a “daily driver” on my desktop and always play around in virtual machines with Linux, Windows 8, and other operating systems.
What about for people with little to no experience? With serious dedication, you can do the same. I did the vast majority of my studying over three days. I had work, three classes, homework for those classes, still had to make time for my social life, and time for myself to avoid burn out. If you have the ability to devote an entire week to studying, you can pass both exams in six days.
My New Study Techniques
These aren’t difficult exams by any means. I started using a technique where I study for 25 minutes, break for 5, and repeat. After 3 or 4 cycles, I take a 15-30 minute break from the material and do something else. This really helps combat fatigue when you’re trying to absorb a lot of info.
One of my dreaded study topics was always the Windows Upgrade Paths. This time around I spotted a pattern! If you want to upgrade to a higher version of Windows, transfer to an equal or higher version if you are doing an in place upgrade. In simpler terms, Windows 7 Home premium has to go to Windows 8 core and up. While Windows 7 pro has to go to Windows 8 pro and up.
Secondly, Windows XP cannot perform an in place upgrade to Windows Vista or 7, but can upgrade to 8.
Next on the list was troubleshooting. This is part of both exams now. Make sure to study how to fix boot errors. This means you need to know command line utilities. Printers are heavily focuses on as well, so make sure you know where all the utilities are, and practice navigating to them. Explore the options available as well so that you know exactly where the setting you need can be configured.
What You Don’t Need To Practice (As Much)
Leading up to this exam, I worried about one topic – Mac OS X. I don’t have access to it nor the cash to buy an expensive PC for practice. None of my friends have Macs either. My best course of action was to study the Mac section of the GTS Learning Book and watch a couple videos on YouTube introducing users to the OS X interface.
I found one question related to Macs and it related back to Linux. They asked for the equivalent of Windows stop error. I clicked Kernel Panic and move on.
Although the 900 series includes Mac OS X and Linux, it is still heavily weighted towards Microsoft, particularly Windows Vista and 7. Focus on these operating systems and Windows 8. If you never messed with Linux before, use Ubuntu to gain familiarity.
Another thing that’s easy to get caught up in is specifications. You’ll find your textbooks throwing specs at you about various cabling speeds and distances and interface speeds. You will definitely get asked about 802.11 speeds and frequencies. You need to know Ethernet specs for CAT 4, 5, 5e, 6, and 6a. But don’t obsess about remembering these facts. They are helpful on the test, but for the exam you need to have a good overall idea of how things work and how to fix them. That’s what matters the most.
Where to go after CompTIA A+
After earning your A+ certification you should already start looking to earn another certification to develop a well-rounded picture of your skills and knowledge. The typical path goes to CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+. These are foundational certifications for a career in IT, networking,a cyber security.