The main goal of a certification is to prove your expertise in a certain field. But the most popular certs, like Microsoft’s MCSE and Novell’s CNE, are sponsored by the companies that write the software and therefore focus on specific products.

CompTIA’s Network+ is designed to help those in a multiple-OS environment demonstrate their skills across platforms while maintaining vendor neutrality. If that’s your goal, you’ll need to know what it takes to pass the exam. Here’s a taste of what you can expect when taking the test.

Certification double-duty

If you’re interested in pursuing Microsoft’s MCSA track, you can use Network+ and A+ certifications as a substitute for the required elective course.

Before the test
Before you actually start the Network+ exam, you are given the option to fill out an online survey. It doesn’t take time away from your exam and can actually help you by providing time to prepare. When you enter the test room, you are allowed to take in only one piece of paper and a pencil that the exam facility provides. As you’re taking the survey, use the time between questions to jot down notes. You can answer a survey question and then spend a few seconds writing before continuing to the next survey question. These notes may prove helpful later in the exam and will allow you to use the exam time for actually taking the exam and not for writing.

About the questions
The Network+ exam consists of 72 questions, and you have 90 minutes to complete the exam. You must score 646 out of 900 to pass.

The majority of questions will be multiple choice, some that require a single correct answer and some that require multiple correct answers. When multiple answers are required, the question will tell you how many answers to choose. On a question requiring multiple answers, you must select all correct choices to get credit; there is no partial credit for a multiple-answer question.

You may also face a fill-in-the-blank or drag-and-drop question. According to the information on the screens prior to taking the exams, some of these questions are for evaluation only and will not be counted toward your grade.

Unlike Cisco’s CCNA exam, you are able to mark a question and return to it later. Similar to Microsoft exams, you will face some scenario questions or questions that display an exhibit.

Network+ categories
The Network+ exam is broken into these four categories:

  • Media and Topologies covers types of network devices, network connectors, and network topologies. You must know the types of cabling you’ll face and the functions of routers and network devices, such as switches and repeaters.
  • Protocol and Standards covers the OSI model, connection speeds, network services, and protocols. You should know what the layers of the OSI model do, the major network services such as DHCP, DNS, and NAT, and the kinds of protocols used on the Internet.
  • Network Implementation covers some of the basics of network administration. You’ll be asked about access control lists, disk management strategies, forms of encryption such as Kerberos, and what PDCs and BDCs do in Windows NT.
  • Network Support covers how to troubleshoot problems on a network. You’ll be questioned about network utilities such as NBTSTAT, TRACERT, and IPCONFIG, tone generators, network analyzers, and troubleshooting strategies.

Careful clicking
One final word to the wise when taking the test: Be careful where you click. For some reason, the test engines used by Cisco, Microsoft, and CompTIA may actually change your answer if you click to the side of the question. Be sure that when you click on a choice, it really has been marked, and be careful clicking anywhere else on the screen.