One of the IT industry’s most popular certifications has received a makeover aimed at more effectively testing the tasks and procedures network administrators complete on a daily basis. After considerable research, CompTIA introduced its redesigned Network+ exam on Jan. 31.

Exam objectives have been updated
Until the end of January, Network+ candidates were tested on exam objectives developed in 1999. Some 77 percent of the old exam’s questions targeted your knowledge of networking technology, while 23 percent of its questions covered your knowledge of networking practices.

The new 2002 objectives test you in four areas. Twenty percent of the exam is dedicated to networking media and topologies, 25 percent covers protocols and standards, 23 percent targets network implementation, and another 32 percent focuses on network support.

New technologies are covered as well. For example, the new Network+ exam has been expanded to cover wireless networking and gigabit Ethernet. You’ll also find more emphasis on Linux/UNIX, AppleTalk, security, and WANs.

CompTIA made the adjustment after conducting focus groups (including one overseas), surveying network administrators, and studying the results from an industrywide job task analysis. The goal is to make the Network+ exam mirror as closely as possible the day-to-day responsibilities of a network administrator.

CompTIA’s Chair of the Network+ Subject Matter Expert (SME) Committee, Walt Pumphrey, explained the reasoning behind the exam revision: “We added the technologies primarily because that’s where our SMEs are working. In the focus groups, we get the SMEs in there who are actually doing the job, and we discuss every one of the objectives.”

The exam has changed, too
More than just the exam’s objectives have changed. Scenario-based questions now constitute a greater percentage of the actual test. In the 1999 version (test number N10-001), scenario-based questions accounted for roughly a quarter of the questions. The 2002 version (N10-002) doubles that number.

“The scenarios generally involve snapshots of some part of a network, and you’re asked questions like, ‘We can [connect] to this server, we can’t [connect] to this server, what is the problem?’,” said CompTIA’s Network+ Program Manager, Tancy Stanbery.

Such questions require that candidates possess a greater understanding of the content they’re being tested upon.

“They involve more thought to figure out, more steps,” said Stanbery.

That’s one of the reasons CompTIA recommends Network+ candidates have nine months of experience administering and supporting a network. The old Network+ listed as a prerequisite just general IT experience of 18-24 months.

To earn Network+ accreditation, you have to prove your networking knowledge and ability to install, configure, and troubleshoot those protocols and peripherals commonly used in today’s organizations and enterprises. By working to carefully map the exam objectives and questions to real-world tasks, CompTIA has strengthened the certification and made it harder for inexperienced networking professionals to pass.

The revamped test is also longer. N10-001 consisted of 65 questions. N10-002 runs 72 questions. Candidates still receive the same 90 minutes in which to complete the Network+ test.

Grace period for N10-001

If you purchased and studied training materials covering the 1999 objectives, you haven’t quite run out of time. You can still take the N10-001 exam, but you must do so in the next week. The grace period for N10-001 ends on Thursday, March 14. After that, only the N10-002 exam will be available.

Eckel’s take
The rise in Network+’s popularity is well documented. The number of Network+ certified professionals has grown to 50,000 and has been growing at a rate exceeding 100 percent a year over the last two years. CertCities has ranked it as one of the 10 hottest certifications. Now you can even count the combination of Network+ and A+ (CompTIA’s hardware and software troubleshooting certification) as an elective for Microsoft’s MCSA certification.

The updates and revisions CompTIA has made to the Network+ exam will help ensure that the certification remains relevant. It’s an excellent certification for proving your networking skills, and with the retirement of Microsoft’s Networking Essentials exam, I think it’s a basic accreditation many IT professionals will want to include on their resumes.