Why Take the CompTIA A+ Exam?
In any career field, it's a good idea to start with the basics before moving onto specialized areas of study. For the aspiring IT professional, you can't do better than to prepare for and take the CompTIA A+ exam for learning the fundamentals. Many IT help desks require it, and it can certainly look good on a resume.
The lessons learned in A+ exam preparation will make you a better IT professional. Here's a look at why A+ is a great way to jumpstart your IT career.
A+: The Universal Test
There's no question that A+ preparation will fill in knowledge gaps about IT support. Even if you've been in the field for 20+ years, it wouldn't hurt to go back and do this exam to refresh your skills and keep up with advancements. No one can possibly know it all, and the best IT professionals never stop learning.
People get into IT from all walks of life and for many reasons. Sometimes companies are willing to take people off the street so long as they have the interest and ability to adapt to the job. After some time tinkering around, it may become clear that some additional understanding of PCs, networks, and mobile devices is needed. Experience is important, but there's no substitute for disciplined study. The A+ exam brings together many aspects of hardware and network troubleshooting that will improve your IT skills.
1.0 Hardware: 34%
When something goes wrong with your computer or laptop, you want to be able to make an accurate diagnosis so that you can fix it. But just like when you have car problems, you really need to know something about it before you begin. You need to know what the parts are before you go changing them —or before deciding whether you need to.
The largest part of the A+ exam requires you to be able to identify components and peripherals and know something about how they operate. You may be familiar with a computer motherboard, but naming all the parts that are connected to it is another story. There are expansion slots, memory cards, power connections, fan, CPU, and more. When you take the cover off a PC, you should know what is what before you do anything.
And going beyond that, there are different types of pretty much every component in the PC. As for RAM, for instance, you could have DDR, DDR2, DDR3, SODIMM, or DIMM. Knowing the difference is paramount. There are various types of form factors, expansion slots, drives, media, and interfaces. There is a lot to learn.
The A+ exam covers a lot of ground, and it starts with hardware. Computers may have gotten smaller, but there are still a lot of components in those little packages.
2.0 Networking: 21%
Anyone who wants to know networking has got to learn something about TCP/IP. It has been the de facto protocol stack from the internet's beginning . That's only a small portion of the exam, but it's a very important one. Do you know the difference between IPv4 and IPv6? Do you know the difference between public and private IP addresses? Do you know about subnet masks and gateways? A+ only offers an introduction to these things, while Network+ goes into detail.
Networking skills are essential for any IT professional. You need to know something about switches, routers, and firewalls, but you also need to know the common ports and protocols used by personal computers. Email uses TCP 25 and the SMTP protocol, for instance. And now every office has Wi-Fi, so it's important to have an understanding of wireless networking standards and the encryption that accompanies them. Take a look at this primer on how to choose the right wireless setup to glean what considerations must be taken.
A network is the way that computers communicate with each other, and it is nothing without connectivity, whether it is wireless radio waves or physical cables. A+ students learn about LAN vs. WAN, cable, DSL, fiber, satellite, and other technologies for linking computers. These may seem basic, but many people don't know the first thing about them. Studying for A+ will give you an edge over others and make you a more valuable player in the office.
3.0 Mobile Devices: 7%
The A+ exam is ideal for an IT helpdesk technician. These people are on the front lines of support and generally have to deal with a little bit of everything. Mobile computing has been with us for years now and help desk techs find themselves having to look after "road warriors" who take their computing with them. Just as knowledge of PC hardware is required for the IT professional, the components of laptops and other mobile devices are another important area of study.
The functions may be the same as on the workstation, but laptop parts are often smaller and more compact. Working on a laptop has its own unique challenges. The installation and configuration of laptop components is a study all its own. Fortunately, the A+ certifications covers laptops in Section 1.
4.0 Hardware & Network Troubleshooting: 28%
Troubleshooting is the name of the game . In a perfect computing world, there would never be tasks that require so much of our attention. But equipment failures are common with electrical and electronic parts, and software conflicts and Kills persist. Objective 4.0 of the A+ exam deals with a variety of scenarios that computer users — and IT professionals — are faced with.
Assessing a computing problem can be like dealing with an illness. To come up with a good diagnosis, a doctor will first see what symptoms present themselves. When you're working on an important project, unexpected hardware or network issues can be very frustrating. A+ preparation will teach you to observe what is going wrong and associate these symptoms with the right computing component or network element.
If you have used computers for any length of time, then you know what it's like to experience the "blue screen of death," a failure to boot, or a flickering screen image. CompTIA divides this A+ objective into six discrete areas, each with their own common symptoms and tools for repair. Once you are familiar with each of these problems and how to deal with them, you will be on your way as a skilled IT professional.
Not only that, you will be prepared to deal with many issues faced by your family and friends on their own systems. Preparing for A+ will serve double duty for you as a check against computing and networking problems that you as a user may face — whether at home, at the university, or on the job.
The Bottom Line
Daily learning is a life principle that everyone should adopt, whether in technology or elsewhere. Exams are excellent tools for the mind, both to test what you have already learned and to motivate you to prepare to take them. Even if you never become an IT professional, preparing for exams like CompTIA's A+, Network+, and Security+ can only help you on your journey. What you learn during this disciplined time of study could save your own business, make or save you money, or protect your brand's reputation.
Applying these skills as an IT professional can provide these same benefits for your clients or the company that employs you. Smart people like tests because of what they do for us. They can make us better at our jobs, and might even make us better people.
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