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Help revise the A+ certification exam. Maybe.

Your experience can help CompTIA shape the A+ certification, if you fill out their feedback survey. One problem: the survey is poorly written. Will you take one for the team and help out?

Your experience can help CompTIA shape the A+ certification, if you fill out their feedback survey. One problem: the survey is poorly written. Will you take one for the team and help out?

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CompTIA, the IT industry organization responsible for various vendor-neutral technology certifications, is preparing to reorganize their A+ exam for computer support professionals. The process to revise the test involves gathering feedback from experienced technicians as to how well the exam objectives test for skills that will be needed in the field.

I was pleased to learn that CompTIA is asking for feedback on their certification objectives. Opening the process to external review should help ensure that the certification remains relevant and current. I decided to follow the links to the surveys in hopes of contributing. Also, upon completing a feedback survey, one can register for a prize drawing. Hey, I'm concerned about the integrity of the A+ certification, but prizes are nice, too.

It's a good thing that the exam revision does not rely entirely on the survey process, because I think the questionnaire is kind of absurd. Here's an example of one of the early questions from the IT Tech job analysis survey:

Please rate the importance of the tasks, knowledge and/or skills sets of the following objective for the borderline qualified candidate.

Objective 1.1 - Given a scenario, install, configure and maintain personal computer components. Storage devices: HDD (SATA, PATA, solid state), FDD, optical drives (CD/DVD/RW/Blu-Ray), removable, external. Motherboards: jumper settings, CMOS battery, advanced bios settings, Bus speeds, chipsets, firmware updates, socket types, expansion slots, memory slots, front panel connectors, I/O ports (sound, video, USB, serial, IEEE 1394/firewire, parallel, NIC, modem, PS/2), Power supplies: wattages and capacity, connector types and quantity, output voltages. Processors/CPUs: socket type, speed, number of cores, power consumption, cache, front side bus, 32bit vs. 64bit. Memory. Adapter cards: graphic cards, sound cards, storage controllers: RAID cards, eSATA cards, (RAID Array: levels 0, 1,5), I/O cards: Firewire, USB, Parallel, serial. Wired and wireless network cards, capture cards (TV, video), media reader. Cooling systems: heat sinks, thermal compound, CPU fans, case fans.

Please rate on a 1-5 scale, with 1 meaning "Not Important," 2 meaning "Of Little Importance," 3 meaning "Somewhat Important," 4 meaning "Important," and 5 meaning "Very Important."

Um, yeah. Lots of the questions are written like that. In every case, something in the laundry list is definitely "very important," even in a "borderline qualified" candidate. 5's all around.

Seriously, though: how is anyone expected to answer a question that's written that broadly?

Upon reflection, it is clear that such broad survey questions are not intended to determine the relevance of any specific item of technical knowledge. CompTIA is using these surveys instead to determine what proportion of the exam should be devoted to each of their existing objective areas. That's important, certainly, but why make the process difficult by using poorly written surveys? CompTIA should have edited each survey down to its final question, where respondents simply fill in the percentage of the A+ test they think should be devoted to each subject area. Done and done. Easy-peasy. Instead, their surveys were designed poorly, and I came away feeling like CompTIA had wasted my time.

If you like the idea of contributing to the development of the A+ certification exam — in whatever minuscule way these surveys may offer — you can follow the links below to give your feedback. Do you think the A+ certification is useful? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

CompTIA A+ Essentials job analysis survey

CompTIA A+ IT Technician job analysis survey

29 comments
adina001
adina001

Thanks for sharing information. Your information will be useful to people who are going to do CompTIA A+ exam.Nowadays many of the people like to do certification to improve their career. CompTIA A+ certification is an extra qualification for IT professionals. http://www.atiatraining.com

Jaqui
Jaqui

Since you discovered the real flaw with the A+ certification, maybe it's time to point out that this flaw is in ALL certification programs. All any certification says is "basic knowledge" rather than real skill. This is why I support the idea of a "hands on" test for all IT positions. a test where the ... candidate has to actually perform tasks they would be faced with while working. If they can't actually do the tasks at all, then they got their certifications from a diploma mill.

lastchip
lastchip

I've never found anyone that even recognises it. The only people that have any time for it, are those that are flogging courses and making money from it on unsuspecting newbies.

bfpower
bfpower

I think they mean "barely qualified to pass the exam." Not "barely qualified to work in the industry."

williamjones
williamjones

I recently took a survey to help revise the A+ exams, and I came away with misgivings. The job analysis surveys asked me to evaluate the importance of various technical skills possessed by a "barely qualified" job candidate. Is that what the A+ cert indicates? That someone is barely qualified? I realize that exams have to cut somewhere; someone must pass, someone must fail. I had always thought that the A+ was a good foundation a support tech could build on, though. If all it indicates is bare competence, then maybe it's not the indicator I thought it was. Have you found the A+ cert useful? Have you used it as a manager to select candidates? Would you consider getting it yourself?

williamjones
williamjones

But it's hard to deny that many companies require specific certifications for some positions, and other use them to weed down their applicant pool. In any field, if one cannot back up his or her own claims of expertise, then that person looks bad. Just because a tax accountant is licensed, doesn't mean that he's any good. Tell me more about what you see for a "hands on test," Jaqui. How would this affect the interview process? I think it's more likely that rather than running something like this themselves, most employers would want to outsource this qualification process. Probably to somebody like CompTIA and the companies that run their computer- based exams. To be fair, though, I've seen the situation you describe out "in the wild." One of my college buddies, when interviewing for his first programming job, was asked to take their in-house competency test. Apparently this plumbing fixtures company had developed its own standards, and wanted to make sure candidates were up to speed.

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

The last time I sat a job interview my twenty years of on the job experience with a variety of UK employers did not seem to impress at all, but when i mentioned that I had recently passed A+ they were suddenly interested and I got the job, a lot of what was asked in the exam was pointless, when did you last need to know the IRQ for the system clock?

williamjones
williamjones

If you look at the surveys and the release from CompTIA, Powerman, they say that this research is for job task analysis. The questions ask not only how important the particular knowledge is in barely qualified candidates, but how often they will use it. They can only mean the frequency that a barely qualified candidate will encounter those situations on the job, right? How often a candidate would encounter them on the exam would be pointless. CompTIA is trying to make sure that the concepts tested in their exam map well to the situations that might come up for an employee in an entry-level position. I think this is admirable. I just had the illusion that an A+ cert meant that a tech should be more than barely qualified for an entry-level position. CompTIA doesn't seem to think so, from their language. Although, I guess it's to CompTIA'a advantage to suggest that their exam defines the boundary between qualified and not. You're right that exams have to "cut off" somewhere, PowerMan. I wonder if we looked at an analysis survey for the Network+ or Security+ exams would use the same wording. "Barely qualified". Sheesh. As a hiring manager, I was always looking for more than that.

pmg
pmg

I took the A+ course and exams in 2002, I failed after two attempts... but not miserably. I found two things, I was given a broad but comprehensive training in a good school with a competent instructor who had good "real world" experience. This prepared me for further advances into the IT world. Enabled me to get my foot in the door and gave me ideas on where I could go and where to see information. I was a complete NOOB until then with only a bare grasp of how to use a PC from a user point of view, but with a keen interest to learn. I'm now working in a team of 8 people supporting a network for 500 users! I think the A+ course is great but the exams suck... there are too many ways to do one thing in IT but according to compTIA there is only one correct way... that's where the exams fail... they don't reflect the "real world" scenarios. They didn't in 2002 anyway... not sure if much has changed since then.

epalau
epalau

The cert is just the first part. Hands-on experience completes the qualification. Because of the existance of brain dumps, I think that Certs hold less weight now than they used to. In my opinion, experience is always key. However, I still think that while an A+ may not be the deal maker in an interview, it shows the commitment a particular applicant may have to advance his or her knowledge/career which is always good.

bfpower
bfpower

I think it depends what you are wanting to do with it. I see it as being for two categories of people: 1 - entry-level techs without a college degree who want to prove they know at least a little, and want to prove they are serious about learning technology. It serves as a basic benchmark for companies hiring techs (the postings read "must have A+ or be willing to obtain within 90 days of employment"). 2 - people whose jobs require some basic technical skills, but don't focus on them (maybe Web developers or project managers) I do hold an A+ cert, which I obtained last fall, in addition to Network+, Project+, and MCP (70-270), and I'm set to finish my B.S. degree next winter (all the while working full time). But certs aren't the major factor that makes me employable - determination, attitude, experience, integrity, personality, and adaptability are the keys for me. I would add that, while interviewing for my first IT job, I used the "I'm working on my A+" as a bargaining chip. But I don't think it was a primary factor in my getting the job.

Jaqui
Jaqui

depends on the actual position being applied for, naturally. a network admin / tech would have to get a small network up and running, with the software being used by the employer. My own business for example, running open source os and software only, get a small [ less than 10 systems ] network running, with apache, mysql, postgresql, email server, etc all working on the systems. website design / programming / scripting is a much more difficult item to test, since exactly what is used for each project is at least partly determined by the client. help desk is also a difficult one to test, since it is so dependent on customer knowledge as to what is a problem and what needs to be done to resolve it. [ a complete newbie trying to ssh files to a linux/bsd server from a windows system for example, not an easy task to get them up and running even with putty on their system. ] I think it really should be done by the hiring company's IT department, they know the systems being used better than anyone. I personally think that, for true non-discriminatory hiring practices, the person making the final decision looks at reports completed by the "testing supervisor" and conducts an interview via anonymous online chat.[ company systems connecting to company irc server with generic user names ] no gender, race, political or religious clues to effect the decision that way. The tests show they have the skills needed to at least be minimally qualified, the "chat based" interview shows written communication skills, an important part of any business operating online. [ which is 90% of business in the "developed" world. mom and pop grocery stores aren't really an online type business. :D ]

lastchip
lastchip

I stand corrected, but truthfully, it's the first time *ever* I've heard of anyone in the UK even knowing what it is. As they say, you learn something everyday!

Jaqui
Jaqui

the minimally qualified? naturally. but the bare minimum is what gets them onto the list of possibles. it is the best qualified candidate that gets the offer.

williamjones
williamjones

You make a good point, pmg. It's hard to develop a good test for a field where there may be more than one valid answer. One of my gripes with IT certs in general, and the A+ in particular, is the memorization of needless minutiae that the test requires. For example, I have never need to know the standard IRQ assignments in my professional career, except for the A+ cert exam. Let's be realistic. Were an IRQ issue to ever come up in real life, 9 out of 10 techs would just look them up in a reference. And that would be *just* fine. Quick...describe the OSI model!

williamjones
williamjones

...Certification exams can demonstrate a base level of knowledge. It's kind of like applying to college, I think. Usually, you have to have a reasonable score on the ACT or the SAT (here in the US, anyway) in addition to a high school diploma or equivalency. Cert is to Test as Work is to Diploma. I realize there are other paths to higher education, but this is kind of how I conceptualize the relationship of Certs to hands-on experience.

mmoran
mmoran

... about a martial arts sensei who was asked if attaining the black belt meant that you were an "expert." His reply: No, the black belt means that you have earned the right to be considered a serious student. Not a bad way to look at IT certs, IMO. (I have A+ and Network+, BTW).

wanttocancel
wanttocancel

I told my interviewer that I was working toward my Network+ Cert and I didn't get that job. (I already have A+ Cert.)

Jaqui
Jaqui

I have sufficient business, yup. :D I've checked with the legalities of it, and it is not a violation to have real workplace task tests. As far as the chat interview goes, versa face to face, the candidate has been face to face with one interviewer to even reach the tests, the test supervisor is a trusted member of the IT department who is in the same room during the test. The chat interview can be a "group" event, so you have the opportunity to watch the dynamics. then tap the chosen candidate(s) for a face to face interview, if you feel there is a need. The real gotchya in this is if the candidate seems less hireable when they come into the room, with your first glance. that would indicate an issue that may be a bias against them for ... not quite legit reasons. After they complete the real, hands on test, and it's running, get them to help take the results apart, then they can't sue for compensation, they helped make sure there was no benefit from their labours. :D

Jaqui
Jaqui

My suggestion is a way to weed out the "diploma mill" certified who don't have any real knowledge or skill. a valid cert where they did study will help them handle a fairly simple task like setting up a small network / assembling from parts a system / ...

ITCompGuy
ITCompGuy

I agree with something that WilliamJones and a few others have mentioned. Hiring a qualified candidate is subjective to the interviewer. I think it is somewhat like evaluating potential talent from college and how they will work out in the NFL. Certifications may make some employors feel more comfortable with a candidate due to the ability of the candidate to pass industry measurements of technical knowledge guaged through the test. Personally, I feel that each individual will vary. I have seen non-degreed non-cert people will exceptional knowledge, and certified/degreed people that I wouldn't allow access to the coffee machine. One of the helpdesk positions that I held in the past gave a telephone interview to screen applicants. A few questions were given and if the phone interviewer like the applicant, they scheduled an in person interview. Part of the in-person interview consisted of a real world type test, where the applicant was placed at a computer with a telephone and a headset. Calls would come in from a supervisor and a helpdesk agent that gave actual real world questions. Another supervisor would sit with the applicant to watch his/her demeanor and how they handled themselves. The applicants not only had to answer an acceptable percentage of the questions correctly, but had to know how to use the resources at their disposal, and have good customer service skills. You wouldn't believe how many applicants ran out flustered after the real world test...

williamjones
williamjones

Jaqui, you've certainly thought all this through. I think you make a lot of good points about how a company could begin to consider IT candidates in a very comprehensive way. Have you been able to begin hiring in this manner? If not, why? Hiring is risky, no matter how you cut it. There's always the chance that the employer will be disappointed. Hiring and interviewing employees is a *real* skill that I respect, since good managers have to bring in candidates without being able to exhaustively test their skills. Your suggested process would pin down skills well, but someone always has to be involved to analyze the candidates "unquantifiable" qualities (fit, professionalism, and so on). I'm afraid that most employers would never be able to use such an "audition" method because it doesn't scale well. Such a process might also open employers to accusations that they are taking unfair advantage of applicants' skills by asking them to build what are--essentially-- prototypes, produced without guarantee of compensation. As to the other issues you bring up, I found them interesting. I'm all for making sure that inappropriate bias doesn't enter into hiring process, I'm not sure that going to chat based interviews is the answer I'd pick. I think there are significant cues that can come from a face to face interview. For instance, I can't tell if a candidate will readily make eye contact over a chat interface.

michael.brodock
michael.brodock

While I can appreciate your need to get it up and running (and I don't disagree with you about testing someone in doing that) there are also design issues at stake as well. Where I see value in certs to some extent is in the design process. You live or die by your design and if the design is bad your scalability and reliability will suffer even though it 'works'. I also think college courses are good too, however I find technical guides, forums, searching for information on the net and talking with colleagues very valuable as well and more to the point of whatever I am trying to accomplish. I guess my point is that I think there needs to be a more balanced approach to IT in terms of training and qualifications. I don't think just certs, or just college, or just hands on is enough. I think you need all three.

pmg
pmg

Yes it is a little known certification, I think people have more exposure to Cisco certifications and MCSE certs than A+ or N+, I had many interviews (here in Germany) and the employer had never heard of A+ My current employer (sat across the desk from me) is head of an IT dept in a company offering IT training for 30 different courses.. so I think he has to have heard of it.

kenrwoodson
kenrwoodson

This is an inverted version learned 7yrs ago: A ll P eople S eem T o N eed D ata P rocessing Wish there was a similar way to remember all of its protocols. :)

pmg
pmg

p lease d o n ot t hrow s ausage p izza a way

williamjones
williamjones

It's even better than my SAT analogy. Thanks for the response, mmoran.

williamjones
williamjones

I can think of two ways that certification could be a negative issue with employers in a hiring situation. 1) A candidate pursuing certifications might appear over-qualified for a particular position. 2)An employee on staff who is interested in certifications that aren't required by the employer may be seen as trying to prepare for another position or elicit a pay increase. Have any of you ever experienced anything like these situations? I personally have endured case number two. After being asked what kind of professional development I would be interested in, I asked my boss to consider subsidizing the cost of some certification exams. My boss asked "Why should we pay for these, when you'll just use them to get another position elsewhere?" That he responded in such a manner after *asking* me what PD I'd like convinced me of the toxicity of that relationship. Bears, would the Network+ have over-qualified you for that job?