How I passed: CompTIA A+ 220–901

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CompTIA A+ is an entry-level IT certification for early career professionals.

Today I’m reviewing the first exam in the two-part CompTIA A+ entry-level IT certification, the first IT career certification I earned. The A+ certification is designed to cover a wide range of foundational skills in hardware, networking, operating systems, software, mobile devices, and troubleshooting. This post will focus specifically on the 220–901 exam, which largely covers hardware and physical technologies, whereas the 200–902 exam covers systems and software. I hope it can help out someone else who is just getting started in their IT career to study for and pass this exam as I did.

Exam Information

The A+ 220–901 exam is composed of four sections, each included below with their weight:

  • 34% Hardware — Physical components of a PC, the BIOS, ports, accessories and removable hardware, and common configurations
  • 21% Networking — Network devices and cables, the TCP/IP model, internet connection types, and physical networking tools
  • 17% Mobile Devices — Laptops, tablets, smartphones, wearables and the like, along with short-distance communications technology like Bluetooth
  • 28% Hardware & Network Troubleshooting — Scenario-based questions concerning the above where you are presented with a problem and instructed to diagnose the problem

There is a maximum of 90 questions (multiple-choice and “performance-based”, AKA simulations) on the exam, with 90 minutes to answer them. A passing score is 675 on a scale of 900, or roughly 75% (although not all questions are weighted equally or counted in the score, so take this with a grain of salt).

How I scored

I have both worked part-time and been contracted for IT-related jobs, so I had a good amount of experience coming in. I started studying for CompTIA certs during winter break in January, then the spring semester started and I was way too busy to juggle classwork and normal exams along with certification exams, so I ended up taking all that time off.

I passed the exam with 822 out of 900 points. I studied roughly from May 31st to June 7th, with my exam on June 8th at 9:30 AM.

How did I pay for the exam?

The CompTIA Academic Marketplace offers nicely discounted exam vouchers for students enrolled in accredited colleges and universities. I highly recommend you take advantage of these offers if you are a student.

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The Pearson VUE testing centers

Test centers vary widely in terms of comfort and noise. I have taken exams in secluded rooms with little noise, open rooms with glass windows that do not shield you from the noise of the surrounding business, and once in a dimly-lit room with a noisy ventilation system. However, all of the centers are standardized in their procedures and equipment and are generally kept very clean. I highly suggest checking the reviews of the location you will be testing to ensure they adhere to these standards, as I did find one that was not.

Schedule a time you know you will be not tired and can think clearly. For me, that’s usually mid-morning, but the time also depends on availability. You may only have one choice to schedule a time (like at 8:00 AM), especially if you wait until the last minute to make an appointment. You are allowed to reschedule an exam up until 24 hours before the appointment as many times as you choose, though, so best to make it sooner than later and then reschedule if you don’t feel prepared.

You will need 2 forms of ID (a primary with name, photo, and signature, and a secondary with name and photo or name and signature). You will be asked to sign the candidate agreement, they will check your signature and take your picture, and then you will initial on a sign-in/out form.

Pearson provides a flimsy legal-size dry-erase paper, a fine-point marker, and earplugs with every exam (don’t initial the form until you get them if you plan on using any of these, as it confirms that they were provided to you). Finally, you must lock all your personals in a box or locker before entering the secure test room.

The PC also has you agree to the exam terms before you can start. At the end of the exam, you will typically take a survey and then your results may be presented on screen. Regardless of if they are or not, you will receive a printed score report and a digital embosser code that lets you view your score online before you leave. You mustn’t leave the test center without receiving this form, as it is an official confirmation that you took the test. Sign out and return the whiteboard (don’t erase it!), and you’re done. As long as you scored at or above CompTIA’s minimum competency score, you will pass. A pass is a pass, and only this fact is recorded on your certificate. Your score will not appear on your certificate.

On to my study materials…

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CompTIA A+ 220–901 Exam Objectives (Free)

This should go without saying, but the exam objectives should always be the first resource that anyone studying for a certification exam should review.

Download the topics in PDF format. Cross out or highlight content that is familiar or unfamiliar to you, take notes in the margins, essentially do whatever you need to give yourself a clear picture or roadmap for how you will attempt this exam and in what order you will study the content. Sometimes, CompTIA’s syllabus is not always the best order in which new students should learn the content.

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Professor Messer’s 901 Video Series (Free)

As I mentioned, I had quite a bit of experience coming in for this exam, but in my opinion, even if you don’t it isn’t necessary to have anything other than Professor Messer’s videos and pop quiz collection (mentioned later) to pass this exam. Messer’s videos are short, to the point, and cover everything you need to know (although he can be very monotone, which doesn’t work for some people).

I also tried Mike Meyers for a few days on Lynda from my school. However, I found his videos very drawn out and covering things that weren’t relevant to the exam, so I stopped using this resource. It might help if you are completely new to the world of IT, but he seems to get sidetracked on occasion and also adds a few humorous sketches to his videos. They’re fun, but not what I came for on a short time frame.

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Professor Messer’s 901 Pop Quiz Collection PDF ($15)

If you feel you need a bit more preparation than simply watching Professor Messer’s videos, his Pop Quiz Collection (700 questions) is spot on and slightly more difficult than the actual exam, which is what I was looking for and made taking the exam a bit less stressful.

These practice questions are amassed from the free daily A+ Pop Quiz on his website, so if you’re looking to go the completely free exam prep route, this is an option as well. However, the free daily questions don’t keep an unlimited history and therefore aren’t anywhere near as complete.

Quizlet Flashcards

If there were any technical details or comparisons that I had difficulty remembering or had to memorize (cables, ports, speeds, etc.), I put them into Quizlet and cycled through the Learn mode until I felt confident enough that I knew them. Studying minutiae about these topics is incredibly helpful, even if it is only for the exam and you plan to resort back to searching for such information after the exam is over.

Exam Day

My strategy for CompTIA exams is to answer as many multiple choice questions as I can before returning to the performance-based simulations, then reviewing any flagged questions I am unsure about before submitting the exam.

I had 82 total questions, with 2 that were performance-based. Due to the non-disclosure agreement, I cannot share specific details about the questions I received, although I can speak about them in generic terms.

Performance-based questions:

  • Match ports
  • Set up a wireless network

On exam day, I was really nervous. I started out feeling like I was doing poorly, but felt confident in my answers at the end. I skipped the performance-based questions, flagged a ton of questions, went back to do the performance-based ones, did any incomplete questions, and reviewed the flagged questions. I finished with about 5 minutes remaining. After the gut-wrenching survey they make you take at the end, the computer reported I passed!

Good luck with your studies!

The CompTIA A+ certification is the most popular entry-level IT certification available on the market today, and likely will continue to be into the future. While primarily aimed at PC technicians and help desk staff, I still learned valuable hardware and troubleshooting skills from the 220–901 exam that will help me in my career. I hope you are able to find the same success that I did with this exam. Best of luck, and do reach out if you have any questions.

I do not use affiliate links, nor do I earn compensation for any products I endorse in this post. These are the resources I used to pass this exam and my honest reviews of them.

Written by

DFIR, CTFs, disinformation, STEM education, and pretty much anything else that comes to mind. RIT Computing Security ’22.

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