Training and Certification

How To Pass the CompTIA A+ Certification

November 20, 2015

Bita Beigishah

At Phoenix TS, we are often asked how to go about passing the CompTIA A+ exam. Since it is one of the most popular certifications for IT newbies, people want to know the best way to prepare to pass their exams.

Download our CompTIA A+ Study Guide

As someone who self studied for the A+ certification, I can tell you that it is possible to succeed on your own. However, you will need to have a strong work ethic, and be highly motivated to succeed when studying.

The CompTIA A+ certification covers a wealth of topics, including computer hardware, PC installation and configuration, networking, laptops, mobile devices, Windows operating systems, and security. So don’t be fooled into thinking the A+ exams are easy because they cover the basics. There is much to learn for beginning IT professionals!

Self Study or Attend a Class?

If you want to pass CompTIA A+ you have a variety of options to prepare yourself; whether you decide to self study or attend a class, however, is dependent on several factors.

Here is the breakdown of what each option offers:

Attend an Instructor-led Training Class

Some of the benefits of taking an instructor-led class are that the material is up to date, the classes are focused, and you learn how to respond to question types that will be present on the exams. Classes offer interactivity with instructors and students, which reinforces knowledge and allows students to ask questions when they don’t understand something. Furthermore, you can make connections and expand your professional network (and make new friends!).

Instructor-led A+ courses also usually offer hands-on learning. For example, many instructors bring in old devices such as desktop computers or laptops; and as a group you break them down and learn what each part is and what it does. This is a great for people that learn well through hands-on experience and it gives students an opportunity to learn without fear of damaging their personal computers!

Instructor-led courses can be fairly expensive. You should expect to pay somewhere around $2,000 for a quality training course for the A+ certification. If you choose the right training center you can get a lot of extra study materials that are worth the higher price tag, but it is still a major investment if you have to pay for it yourself.

While the price tag might seem high, you should remember that entry-level CompTIA A+ techs can make from $18-$25 per hour. Furthermore, that high price tag for the course should motivate you to study harder and do well the first time you sit for the exam so that you don’t have to retake it.

A+ is a great way to get your foot in the door with a tech company, and the first stepping stone in many IT professional careers. While paying for instructor-led training is expensive, think of it as an investment in your future career. The benefits will far outweigh the costs.


As I mentioned before, I self studied for the CompTIA A+ exams. It wasn’t easy, but it is very possible. If you have a bit of experience from IT work or are a computer enthusiast, and are comfortable with the topics listed above; you may want to self study for the exams.

If you’re totally new, you’ll have to decide how motivated you are. If you’re a go-getter that loves a challenge, try self studying and see how you do. If you find yourself losing motivation and need a little push now and then, it’s probably best to sign consider an instructor-led course. The A+ exams are very extensive, and cover a wide range of knowledge. This variety and depth of the topics can be overwhelming to learn on your own.

If you still aren’t sure which option is best for you, just start self studying. It’s free, so you have nothing to lose. If the material gets to be too much, don’t give up!

My Experience Tackling the CompTIA A+ Exam

When I began studying for the CompTIA A+ exams in late May of 2015, I had very little experience with computer technology. I knew my way around Windows and had repaired a couple video game consoles and laptops that had hardware issues. Prior to A+, I studied for and passed the IT Fundamentals exam after about 3 weeks of review.  My primary source for this was just a CompTIA Certmaster program and a few Internet searches.

After passing IT Fundamentals I went out and bought a book written by Mike Meyers on the A+ certification, and proceeded to read it from the front to the back. I also studied material from GTS-Learning and watched YouTube videos by Professor Messer to reinforce the material.

In August 2015 I passed the 220-801 exam, and began a review for the 220-802. I’m planning to take it in the next week and have complete confidence in my ability to pass.

One of the key points with my experience is the time and dedication it took to self study. I spent my lunch hours at work studying, and anywhere from 1-2 hours studying at home in the evening. Saturdays I would study for around 45 minutes at a time, and Sundays I usually took a break. Every now and then I’d take a day or two off in the week as well to make sure I didn’t burn myself out. If you compare the time it took me self studying to an instructor-led course length, you will see quite a difference. The reason behind this is that I was going into this exam blind. I didn’t know what material I really needed to know for the exam because there was simply so much covered.

As a result of this, I wound up memorizing things that didn’t matter for the exam (at least in my experience) such as how many pins are on an LGA775, who makes it, and what kind of processors fit this type of socket. Obviously, memorizing this kind of stuff takes time, and it wound up being unnecessary for my exam.

When I took the 220-801 exam, I found an intermixing of software type questions that caught me off guard. I came across an interactive question that asked me to configure a router to disable SSID, and restrict connections to known MAC addresses. To me, this was a software question (on the 801 exam!), but reflecting upon it now, I realize it was a question related to configuring hardware. So although I was using software to configure the router, this question was still considered a hardware question on the exam. Self study will not prepare you for things like that. Only the experience of someone who has taken the exam will.

If I had to do it over, I would choose to take an instructor-led course supplemented by self study. While it is possible to study on your own, it will probably take far longer to go this route. Although it can be useful, not all of the material contained in A+ study books is necessary to pass. Instructor-led courses help to pick out the most relevant material so you can learn the skills necessary to earn your CompTIA A+ certification quickly!

Study Tips for A+

There are two separate exams for the CompTIA A+ certification; one for hardware (220-801) and one for software (220-802). The exams can be taken back to back, or on separate dates according to individual preference. If you enroll in a class, the Phoenix TS training team recommends you take both tests immediately following successful course completion while the information is still fresh.

If you self study, it may be useful to take the exams individually. If you choose to take them individually, be sure to read over all the material that both exams cover before you take either one. As I mentioned before, there are some questions that are hard to categorize as simply hardware or software. If you haven’t read through all of the material you may not know the answer.

Studying for 220-801

When studying for your exams, make sure to focus on the following topics;

  • Take apart and reassemble a computer and printer
  • Identify components and what they do
  • Set up a small home network if possible
  • Study networking standards! (speeds, cables, Wi-Fi, etc)
  • Study and know OSHA standards and workplace ethics

Studying for 220-802

  • Practice working in the command line
  • Learn to setup groups and file sharing
  • Get familiar with advanced startup options
  • Learn your way around admin tools in Windows
  • Study Windows upgrade paths and system requirements
  • Practice tasks with each Microsoft OS covered (XP, Vista, 7)

General Study Tips

  • Flash cards are a great way to memorize information
  • Writing down new information as you learn it helps with retention.
  • If you can perform the task as it’s being taught, do it! Going through the process is far more helpful than just reading about it, and you will be more confident when answering questions when you take the exams.
  • Study from various sources. Sometimes the same information stated in a different way makes more sense.
  • Be dedicated! Stick with your studies and keep your goals in mind.
  • Set a schedule, and stick with it. Once studying becomes routine it will become easier.
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