CompTIA’s A+ is an entry-level certification that’s considered one of the best certifications for those pursuing a career in IT tech support and field operations and was named one of 10 best entry-level certs by CIO magazine. As a vendor-neutral credential, it covers a broad range of IT skills, from hardware and networking to operating systems and security.
A+ is a two-part test series, Core 1 and Core 2. Because the IT world is constantly evolving, CompTIA launches new exam versions every few years to reflect current best practices and technologies. A new A+ exam series, 220-1001 (Core 1) and 220-1002 (Core 2) became effective on January 15th, 2019, and the old series, 220-901 and 220-902, will be retired on July 31st, 2019. That means that if you already passed the first exam (220-901) or are studying for it currently, you will want to also take and pass 220-902 before July 31st, because CompTIA doesn’t allow you to mix exams from two different series.
CompTIA Senior Director of Certification Products Teresa Sears explained in a podcast: “The new [CompTIA] A+ will open up avenues for career development. A+ holders might end up working in cybersecurity, network engineering, network administration, business analysis or data analytics. It’s not a direct path, but it exposes technical workers to the functions of IT that really can open up some exciting career opportunities.”
What’s Different: An Overview
While the previous series added cloud concepts and placed a larger emphasis on Windows operating systems, the new version broadens or puts more emphasis on the areas of security, cloud, networking and device connectivity, while decreasing emphasis on hardware, mobile and Windows. One of the biggest changes is in operational procedures — there’s a “dramatic shift,” as CompTIA describes it, in how competency is defined and the best practices applied.
Here’s a breakdown of each exam’s version for comparison:
Core 1, 220-901
- Hardware: 34 percent of the exam
- Networking: 21 percent
- Mobile devices: 17 percent
- Hardware and network troubleshooting: 28 percent
Core 1, 220-1001
- Mobile devices: 14 percent of the exam
- Networking: 20 percent
- Hardware: 27 percent
- Virtualization and cloud computing: 12 percent
- Network and hardware troubleshooting: 27 percent
Core 2, 220-902
- Windows OS: 29 percent of the exam
- Other operating systems and technologies: 12 percent
- Security: 22 percent
- Software troubleshooting: 24 percent
- Operational procedures: 13 percent
Core 2, 220-1002
- Operating systems: 27 percent of the exam
- Security: 24 percent
- Software troubleshooting: 26 percent
- Operational procedures: 23 percent
New Core 1 Exam Objectives: Bigger Cloud Emphasis, New Technology
With the introduction of a separate domain on cloud and virtualization, the A+ 220-1002 exam is emphasizing this technology more. Previously, cloud and virtualization were lumped in with other systems and technologies (and was part of Core 2 rather than Core 1). The “other OS/technologies” domain in the old version also included Mac and Linux, servers, mobile OS, mobile device connectivity and synchronization — which together were worth 12 percent of the score. In the new version, cloud and virtualization are now worth 12 percent on their own.
Much of the cloud knowledge covered is the same. A few cloud-related new topics listed in the new exam objectives are:
- Shared resources (internal versus external)
- Off-site email applications
- Cloud file-storage services
- Virtual application streaming and cloud-based apps
- Virtual desktops
The change reflects the growing complexity of the environments that IT support professionals need to understand and operate in. As Sears explained: “With the new A+ certification, there’s attention paid to devices other than laptops and mobile phones. There is discussion of how to support IoT devices. It all ties back to an increase in the sophistication of these technological environments.”
Other changes in the various domains represent current IT and technology trends. For example, phablets (devices between phones and tablets) and docking stations are out from the mobile domain, while VR/AR headsets are in; syncing to automobiles was added under mobile-device synchronization methods; and more networking protocols are included, such as 5G, under wireless networking protocols.
New Core 2 Objectives: Bigger Emphasis on Security
The 220-1002 exam takes security skills to the next level, according to CompTIA. For example, it’s no longer enough to simply recognize malware — you need to be able to detect and remove it.
Some of the changes in the security domain include:
- Physical and logical (digital) security practices were separated into their own individual sections and some new concepts were introduced, such as the “principle of least privilege” and mobile-device management (MDM) policies
- Social engineering has been expanded and includes a lot of other vectors beyond phishing, like spearphishing, shoulder-surfing and even dumpster-diving
- Workstation security practices were expanded to include basic active directory functions like account deletion
New Approach to Operational Procedures
As with previous versions, CompTIA’s certifications consider how the IT profession is evolving. Since even entry-level technicians need to adapt to more complex environments, they need to understand operational procedures in a variety of scenarios. Some of the changes in the Core 2 exam focus on aspects like importance of best practices and documentation, basic disaster prevention and recovery, regulation issues including PII (personally identifiable information) and GDPR and change-management best practices. There are also new skills such as scripting basics and use of remote access.
Why You Should Obtain A+ Certification
Whether you’re new to the profession or have a couple of years under your belt and want to expand your knowledge, consider the A+ certification as a stepping stone. IT tech support now goes far beyond troubleshooting computers and the problems themselves are continuously evolving. Certifications can also make you more competitive on the job market, as employers are typically looking for ways to validate job candidates’ skills.
- The New CompTIA A+: Problem Solvers Wanted, CompTIA blog
- 10 Best Entry-Level IT Certifications to Launch Your Career, CIO
- CompTIA A+ Certification Guide (Overview), 220-1001/220-1002 series, CompTIA
- CompTIA A+ Certification Guide (Overview), 220-901/220-902 series, LeaderQuest
- CompTIA A+ Certification Exam Objectives, 220-901 and 220-902, CompTIA
- CompTIA A+ Certification Exam Objectives, 220-1001 and 220-1002, CompTIA