How the New 900 CompTIA A+ Exams Differs From the 800 Series

August 10, 2016

Most IT professionals are familiar with the CompTIA A+ certification. In a nutshell, the A+ is the industry-leading, vendor-neutral certification for those looking to enter the IT field. The target audience are IT and Help Desk Technicians, Field Techs, and IT Support. It’s typically the first certification most who want a career in IT achieve, and to date, over 1 million have earned the certification.

To earn your A+, you must pass two exams: one primarily focused on hardware, and the other on software. Last December, CompTIA announced an update to the exams, and on June 30th, the 800-series exams were retired and replaced with the 900-series.

As of July 1, candidates can only take the updated exams: 220-901 and 902. While there are some similarities between the retired and new exams, there are also some differences you should know.

The differences between the 800 series and 900 series

When looking at some of the exam details, there are a lot of similarities. Both the 800- and 900-series exams contained a maximum of 90 questions, including both multiple choice (both single and multiple response) as well as performance-based questions. The non-member price of exam exam is $199 in the U.S, and can be taken at a Pearson VUE testing center.

Unfortunately, you are not allowed to mix and match the exams. That is, if you passed the 220-801 exam, you cannot just take the 220-902 exam to get your certification. You need to start over.

Below is a side-by-side comparison of how the two compare, followed by a detailed breakdown of the Exam Objectives, which can be found here:

801 vs. 901 Comparison

The first observation one can make when comparing 801 to 901 is that the exam went from 5 exam domains to 4, with more emphasis on mobile devices (not just laptops) and a heavy emphasis on troubleshooting. Below is a detailed overview of each domain.

Domain 1.0 – Hardware

This weighting for this domain drops from 40% to 34%. Some of the main differences are:

●      “PC” was removed from the domain name, suggesting that this is less Microsoft and desktop driven to focus on more mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, and mobile phones.

●      Printers no longer have their own domain and are now included under this domain. There is also coverage of virtual printers.

Domain 2.0 – Networking

Networking accounts for 21% of the 220-901 exam, down from 27% Some of the more obvious changes includes:

●      A+ candidates no longer need to know the IPv4 address classes, or identify and define the traditional network topologies.

●      Less popular technologies have been removed, such as Wi-MAX, and newer ones, such as 802.11ac, have been added.

●      There is less focus on network as a whole, and more focus on specific networking devices, such as routers and switches.

Domain 3.0 – Mobile Devices

This domain is brand new, and makes up 17% of the exam. Mobile devices are not new to the “hardware” exam, as the 801 exam had a domain dedicated to laptops. For 901, there is much greater emphasis on tablets, smart phones, wearables and home and auto devices such as smart cameras and GPS. In addition, Bluetooth, infrared, and IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi were all added to the exam domain.

Domain 4.0 – Hardware and Network Troubleshooting

This domain accounts for for 28% of the 901 exam. In the 800-series, troubleshooting spanned over both exams. For the 900-series, troubleshooting is much more defined and focused, with the 901 exam focusing on hardware and networking troubleshooting. (In the 902 exam, there is a software troubleshooting domain). 

802 vs. 902 Comparison

Comparing the 802 to 902 exam domains, you’ll notice that it went from four domains to 5, and that Operational Procedures moved from the “hardware” exam to the “software” exam, and mobile devices was moved to the 901 exam. Below is a detailed overview of each domain.

Domain 1.0 – Windows Operating Systems

In the past, CompTIA was accused of being too Windows centric, despite the exam supposedly being vendor neutral. For the 902 exam, CompTIA broke out the coverage of the OSes into both Windows (Vista through 8.1; Windows 10 is not included in the exam) and “other.” Windows OSes account for 29% of the exam.

Some of the things to pay attention to in this domain include:

●      This domain is almost identical to the 802 exam domain, with the exception of the removal of Windows XP and replaced with Windows 8/8.1. 

●      The candidate should know how to install, configure and troubleshoot computers that are running the Windows client OS.

●      Candidates should know Windows-based network and OS command line tools

Domain 2.0 – Other Operating Systems and Technologies

“Other” in this case refers to both Mac OS and Linux, as well as the common mobile device OSes: iOS and Android. The domain accounts for 12% of the 902 exam. The candidate should focus on the following:

●      While Domain 1 mentioned installation and configuration of the Windows OS, this domain focuses on the end-user. In addition, there is coverage of mobile device usability, as well as coverage of the Windows Phone, as well as Apple iOS and Android.

●      Candidates need to be familiar with commonly used Linux commands.

●      One topic that came over from the 802 exam were those on virtualization, but the candidate also needs to learn some basic cloud computing concepts.

●      For the 902 exam, there is heavy emphasis on mobile device configuration, including email and synchronization.

Domain 3.0 – Security

On the surface, the emphasis on security is the same, with it accounting for 22% of both the 802 and 902 exams. Some differences candidates will need to focus on include:

●      With the new OSes being added, candidates will need to know how to countermeasure security attacks for all operating systems, including mobile devices, which is new to this domain.

●      Candidates should also be able to define things like worms, viruses, Trojans, and other security risks, and know how to remove them from mobile or desktop devices.

Domain 4.0 – Software Troubleshooting

Like the 901 exam, the 902 exam has a domain on troubleshooting. In this case, troubleshooting software. This domain accounts for 24% of the total exam.

●      For questions from this domain, the candidate will be presented with various troubleshooting scenarios, and the candidate will need to know how to resolve them using the CompTIA six-step troubleshooting process

●      Candidates should know how to use diagnostic and repair tools that come with Windows, Mac OS and iOS, Linux, Android, and Windows Phone devices.

Domain 5.0 – Operational Procedures

The biggest update to this domain is that it moved from the 801 exam, to the 902 exam. Outside of that, the concepts and skills are practically identical to the 800-series exams. This domain accounts for 13% of the exam.

Are you preparing for the new A+ exams? Check out's recently released Learning Path, Become a CompTIA A+ Certified Technician.