Vendor-sponsored certifications abound for network administrators. However, other than Microsoft’s MCP certification, there are few choices for computer technicians seeking to prove their skills. Fortunately, CompTIA has long filled this void with its A+ certification.

CompTIA has revamped the original A+ certification program and now requires that you pass two exams to achieve A+ status: the Core Hardware exam (220-221) and the Operating System Technologies exam (220-222). Here’s what you need to know to pass the Operating System Technologies exam.

About the questions
The OS exam comprises 20 to 30 questions to be completed in 30 minutes. This exam is adaptive, meaning it will adjust the level of difficulty of the questions based on how you answer them. Each question on the adaptive exam has a known difficulty level. Your exam score is based on the difficulty level of questions answered correctly. You must score a 600 out of 1300 to pass the exam. If you answer all the questions correctly, you will get a high score, but not necessarily a 1300.

Because the exam is adaptive, you can’t mark a question and go back to it later, as you can in the Network+ exam. When taking the exam, be careful where you click. If you click out to the side of the question, your answer may change. Make sure that when you click on a choice, you’ve really marked it. Be careful clicking anywhere on the screen.

The majority of questions will be multiple choice, and there are different types of multiple-choice questions. Some require a single correct answer, while others have several correct answers. When more than one answer is required, the question will tell you how many answers to choose. You must select all correct choices to receive credit; there is no partial credit for a multiple-answer question.

Exam categories
The Operating System Technologies exam is broken into four categories:

  • Diagnosing and Troubleshooting: A large part of the A+ Core exam is troubleshooting. You will be presented with several scenario-type questions that outline a problem. You must choose the best answer to fix the problem based on the information provided. You should know basic troubleshooting techniques, including how to diagnose memory leaks, create emergency boot disks, and use system utilities like MSCONFIG and CHKDSK.
  • Installation, Configuration, and Upgrading: As its name suggests, this section requires you to prove your skills at installing, configuring, and upgrading operating systems, primarily Windows 2000. However, you should also know about Windows 9x, including how to deal with Plug And Play issues and system resources.
  • Networks: This section of the exam doesn’t deal directly with network servers and specific networking issues. Instead, you’ll need to focus on support issues, such as mapping drives, file shares, peer-to-peer networks, and protocols. You’ll also need to know the common Internet extensions, like .mil, .net, .org, and .com. Finally, you should be familiar with support utilities, such as PING, NSLOOKUP, and TRACERT.
  • OS Fundamentals: This section covers some of the basics of operating systems, such as file systems, files necessary to boot an operating system, and system utilities such as EXPAND, DIR, and XCOPY. Additionally, you should be familiar with the differences between operating systems, including the various flavors of Windows 2000.

Get an A on your A+ exam
Even if you have worked with operating systems for a while, you will find that there are still things to learn. In a test environment, you don’t get the opportunity to guess. For example, you may know one way to map a drive, but the question presented may ask for three ways to map a drive. It is to your benefit to not take any exam lightly and to devote an adequate amount of time to study. At the cost of $139 per test, you want to make sure you get the most for your money the first time.

Remember, to obtain your A+ certification, you need to pass this exam as well as the Core Hardware exam (220-221). If you are interested in pursuing the Microsoft MCSA track, and you’ve passed the Network+ and A+ exams, you can substitute them for the required MCSA elective course.