According to CompTIA, more than 350,000 people have obtained an A+ certification. If you want to join that group, it’s important to prepare yourself before you plunk down the money to take the two tests required.

The A+ certification is intended for people with at least six months of practical computer servicing experience. There are two tests, one that measures knowledge about hardware and one about operating systems.

While A+ certification is often viewed as an entry-level certification for novice techs, IT pros with years of experience and other certifications commonly seek an A+ certification as proof they have cracked a computer case and know what goes where.

There are many ways to prepare for the A+ tests, and in this article, I will examine several popular self-help methods. Those who wish a more inclusive list should look at the training resources search engine on CompTIA’s site; however, even that can’t include every possibility. It does list resources based on the following training types:

  • Instructor led
  • Computer based
  • Textbook
  • Practice test
  • Curriculum
  • Multimedia
  • Web based/online training

Searching at the source of the Nile
So you are serious about preparing yourself for the A+ exams, and you’ve been asking people what they remember about the tests. You’ve also heard the tests changed significantly in August 2001, and you aren’t sure what to expect on the tests or what you will need to know now.

For answers to most of your A+ exam questions, visit CompTIA’s site and go to the All About A+ page. There, you will find links to several informative files including:

  • Objectives of both the core hardware test and the OS technologies test
  • FAQs
  • Fees
  • About taking the tests

The objective files, which are PDFs, spell out what categories of information the tests will address and are a must-read.

Once you have an idea about the skills and knowledge you’ll need, you must decide how to train for the tests. As illustrated by the number of methods listed at the CompTIA site, there are numerous training techniques.

If you’ve already been in the IT business for some time—or have taken a course—and just want to brush up on the details for the test, you might want to think about buying a study guide or checking out a brain dump. Brain dumps are Web sites where people who have taken the tests post what they remember. This often includes exact questions and answers. Be warned though; not everyone has photographic memory, and these postings may not always be 100 percent accurate.

Cracking the books
There are at least seven or eight major publishers that offer A+ certification books, and you know something is pretty popular when even IDG Books has an A+ Certification for Dummies book.

The first rule of thumb when choosing a certification study guide is to examine the book’s copyright date and information it covers. This will help you determine whether or not the book was written for the current tests. If the book mentions DOS and Microsoft Windows 3.1, it is likely to be out of date; the current exams focus mostly on Windows 95 and newer.

For the purposes of this article, we looked at a couple of big-name publishers of certification titles—Coriolis and Sybex. Both publishers offer numerous titles that address the A+ certification track, and each offers some form of electronic test simulation.

Coriolis is famous for its ExamCram series of books, tapes, and CDs. Its A+ Exam Cram Personal Trainer offering is a CD-ROM product that allows the student to take timed tests or interactive tests where correct answers are explained.

The Coriolis ExamPrep books are thick storehouses of information for the certification tests, while the ExamCram books pare that information down to the essentials.

The company also offers an online Web course for A+.

At the Sybex Web site, the A+ Certification page gives you a breakdown of the company’s offerings. There, you will find a table listing the two exams and the products it offers for each exam. For both, there is a Study Guide, Exam Notes, Lab Manual, and Virtual Trainer product.

Virtual Trainer is the CD-ROM version of its test preparation software that offers study planning tools, animated simulations and explanations, an assessment test, and a way to track your progress.

Sybex offers a Study Guide and Lab Book combination that promises to present the information you need in the guide. The lab manual is full of practical exercises to reinforce the reading material in the guide.

Free resources to help you prepare
To put the finishing touches on your certification preparations, you might want to take a look at some free sources of information about the current A+ exams. Remember that free advice is often worth what you pay for it, so double check what you’re being told if possible.

One such free resource is BrainBuzz, which offers study guides for several certifications in its Cramsession section. One of these Cramsession sections is devoted to A+ certification.

There, you will find interesting facts about the tests and quick notes about the kinds of questions to expect. There is also an FAQ and resource links list.

Perhaps one of the most interesting and helpful features at BrainBuzz is the study guide, offered in both PDF and HTML format. While not all-inclusive, it touches on most issues you will see on the tests.

While BrainBuzz emphasizes that it is not a brain dump, brain dumps do exist for the curious and those willing to look for them. A recent search on Google came up with a number of brain dumps for A+ certification tests.

Nearly all that we examined referred to Neil’s A+ Braindump Site. A visit to the site shows the classic characteristics of a brain dump, including an extensive list of links to other brain dumps and more legitimate resources.

See if you can get an A+

Getting A+ certified is a popular way to show that you know something about the way computers work. Is it worth the effort? Could someone who has worked on computers for years possess what is needed to pass the tests? Tell us what you think in the discussion below or send us a note.