These 7 Secrets Will Help You Pass the CompTIA A+ Exams

July 14, 2016

I think I know the CompTIA A+ exams. I’ve had a close relationship with the CompTIA A+ Certification dating back to the first time I took the exams way back in 1998.

Since then, I’ve helped close to a million people study for the two exams as an author, instructor and now as a Lynda.com contributor. Over the years, I’ve learned a number of tricks to help folks pass these two broad, but not very deep, tests. Here are my top seven “secrets” to help you knock the A+ exams out of the park.

1. Don’t Panic

The number-one reason people fail the A+ exams isn’t lack of knowledge, it’s test panic. It’s understandable as the A+ exams are most tester’s first certification exam experience. The whole testing center experience is so serious that test takers feel like they are taking some sort of standardized test, like the SAT here in the US or the “A” levels in the UK.

That’s not the case. You can always retake an exam and no one cares – or even notices. I’ve failed almost one-third of my certification exams. If, for some reason you don’t pass one of the exams, you just cough up more cash and retake it.

Trust your knowledge, breathe easy and stay mellow.   

2. If you see hoof prints, think horses, not zebras.

This might surprise you, but the second most common reason people fail the A+ exams isn’t lack of knowledge; it’s knowing too much. Crazy, right?

But think about it. A good tech finds many A+ questions nebulous – the exam only wants one answer but you might find two-or-more that you find equally acceptable – so what do you do?

The answer is simple. Remember, CompTIA A+ tests a technician with less than a year of experience. Is that alternative answer you see where two plus two equals five (for very large values of two) really a situation where a newbie tech is going to see it?

Probably not.

Keep it simple and look for the most basic answer. You’ll be right.  

3. Watch Out for Beta Questions

CompTIA reserves the right to insert ungraded beta questions. As the name implies, CompTIA is “trying them out” to see how folks react. Most testers aren’t aware of these beta questions and it seems CompTIA puts them right at the beginning of the exam – which is a guaranteed panic-inducer.

If you see questions on the exam that cover topics that you’ve never seen, there’s a great chance they’re beta questions. Go ahead and try your best to guess an answer, but don’t let them upset you – they’re not graded.

4. Remember your multiple-choice test skills

I’m going to assume you know all the classic multiple-choice test-taking strategies – so use them! The CompTIA A+ exam interface has all the hallmarks of a good exam (marking questions for later, question review, clear timers), so it’s easy to fall back on your multiple-choice skills.

Plus, it seems to me that the A+ exams are particularly susceptible to good strategies. For example, wrong answers on one question are often the correct answers on another.  

5. The Problem with Graphics

CompTIA presents you with a number of questions with accompanying graphics of questionable quality. Interpreting exactly what the image represents frustrates some test takers. CompTIA has come a long way in this department (there’s actually very few images that I find hard to interpret), but it only takes one to put the unprepared test taker into a bad mental place.

If you run into a graphic that confuses you, put yourself in the question maker’s place. Say to yourself “What are they trying to make me see here?” and you’ll find those confusing images much less of a problem.

6. Don’t Get Stuck on Performance Questions

Both of the CompTIA A+ exams start by presenting the test taker with one or more “performance” questions. These questions range from simple drag-and-drop to full-blown simulations. Personally, I like these questions (regular multiple-choice bores me), but you might find some that lack an intuitive interface – the classic “what are they trying to do here” type of question.

Use all your tools on these. Don’t panic. Keep it simple, use your test skills and don’t let weird graphics throw you. If a simulation won’t let you go in a certain direction, be happy for the clue.

Lastly, and most importantly, don’t get bogged down. If you take more than two minutes on a question, just mark the question and move on – many testers skip the performance questions completely until the end of the exam.

7. D for Diploma

Nobody cares what score you get on the A+ exams as long as you pass. Keep this in mind as you take the exams. As you progress through each exam, you’re going to mark more and more questions you’re not confident about. For most test takers, the more questions they mark, the greater their fear.

Don’t give into that fear. Nobody knows every question on the A+ exam. It’s OK. You’ll know enough answers to pass the exams.

Remember – you don’t need a perfect score; you just need to pass.

Mike Meyers is an author, speaker, teacher and an avid gamer. Click here to watch all his Lynda.com courses on the CompTIA A+ exams to get all the information you need to earn your certification.

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