What changes are in store from CompTIA’s next A+ overhaul?

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Change is coming to CompTIA's A+ certification.Approximately every three years, the certification exams from CompTIA that are ISO certified get updated to new editions. It is a lengthy process that often begins with a target audience completing surveys about what related skills they think are important in today’s market, then morphs into a job task analysis (JTA), and a couple of versions of objectives. It is from these objectives that training companies and providers create books, DVDs, classes, and such to prepare candidates to take and pass the exams.

The time to revise the current CompTIA A+ exams is at hand and that process is being done with a hope of having new versions of the tests out by the end of the year. As I write this, CompTIA has not released any objectives or stated what will (and will not) be in the next editions once its A+ overhaul is complete. It is possible, however, to conjecture what to expect based on changes that have been made to other exams (most notably Network+ and Security+) as well as the questions incorporated into the initial survey that appeared for a short time a couple of months ago. In a way, these represent hints (not proofs) of upcoming changes.

I must ardently stress that what follows is only conjecture. CompTIA is expected to release a first round of objectives soon but they have not yet done so. This conjecture is only my opinion of ten significant changes that can be expected in the exams and it does not reflect what may or may not actually be there. That said, let’s start the list:

10. A Change in Windows Operating Systems You Need to Know

On the safe bet side, CompTIA is expected to update the Windows operating systems that the exam questions ask about. Currently, candidates need to know Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. Since support for Windows XP has ended, it would be hard to justify keeping questions about it in the question pool. While one can argue that Windows Vista is rarely seen in the workplace, I expect the questions that reference it will stay.

For as long as I can remember, three versions of Windows have always been tested on and you can’t start asking about Windows 10 yet, so most likely A+ candidates will need to know Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8.1 for the 220-901 and 220-902 CompTIA A+ exams.

9. An Addition to Operating Systems Overall

It is crucial that system administrators today know Windows desktop operating systems, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. With so many web servers — and other servers — running Linux, and with so many BYOD items being from Apple, it is a good bet that some very basic non-Windows OS topics will be tested on.

If you look back through previous iterations of the A+ exams, there used to be non-Windows questions years ago. In fact, at one point in time the idea was that you would take a hardware exam and a software exam with the latter including options to choose from. That concept disappeared a while back and Windows became the sole OS candidates are expected to know — not only that, but all the topics became related to desktop versions of the OS, and not server versions (this would have been around the time that Server+ was created to focus on that market). While it would be nice to see some server-related questions, I don’t think they will come with this update. My best speculation is that you’ll need to know basis Linux command line utilities (cd, cp, grep, ls, and so on).

8. More Emphasis on Mobile

A few years back, a computer was a desktop instrument only. Then laptops and tablets and such became more popular and the A+ exams expanded to include them. Now “mobile” is popular. As a generic, it includes laptops and tablets, but it also encompasses e-readers, smart cameras, wearable technology and so on.

I don’t anticipate this will be a huge topic, but CompTIA would be remiss in not keeping current and making it a domain with a fair number of questions/weight. Look for topics to include synchronization, hotspots, tethering, Android and iOS, etc.

7. Updated Hardware

Since A+ is often called the “hardware certification”, it stands to reason that technologies which have entered the market (or become popular there) in the last three years also need to be tested on. This will include changes in cooling, processors, printers and so on. Internet appliances and various servers (DHCP, DNS, Mail, Proxy, etc.) will also be there.

6. Cloud, Cloud, Cloud

Almost every vendor’s exam published in the past four years has had successively more cloud-based coverage. Part of this is due to the hype around the word itself, and part of it is due to the fact that you need to know a lot more about it in 2015 just to answer questions in workplace meetings, since everyone who knows nothing about it wants to implement a “cloud-based solution.”

Change is coming to CompTIA's A+ certification.Cloud computing and virtualization have been a part of A+ for a few years now, but it would be surprising if their content was not expanded with reference to NIST’s big three definitions: Software as a Service (SasS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

5. Updated Networking Technologies

The Network+ exam just finished updating and a number of the topics on it tend to show up on A+. Look for the addition of CAT6e (and maybe even CAT7). 8-2.11ac will also be added and some of the older connection and cabling types will be dropped.

4. Security Will Continue To Expand

Every system administrator today has to be a security administrator as well so it is a safe bet that there will be more security-related topics on the exams. There are already some questions there, but topics from the updatec (one year ago) Security+ should trickle down and include: zero day attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, spear phishing and spoofing.

Since you can’t just focus on attacks, there will be more prevention topics added as well: VPNs, smart cards, mantraps, biometrics, content filtering. All of these topics appear on Security+, but A+ tends to borrow from them all.

3. More Troubleshooting

When you start adding topics that include operating systems other than Windows, new hardware technologies and such, you can’t help but expand the discussion of troubleshooting to incorporate these items. Given that, look for new topics to include GRUB/LILO boot files, mobile issues (and tools) and solving problems with common applications.

2. Safety and the Environment

You can snicker all you want, but the CompTIA exams have always been very politically correct when it comes to best practices, legislative issues, and the environment. That should continue and will now include licensing-related topics such as handling toxic waste and complying with local government regulations.

1. Privacy and Professionalism

Ever since CompTIA started asking about whether it was ok to be rude to customers or not, this has been a central part of the exams. Given the rise of social media, the odds are good that questions will now ask about disclosing information through that outlet and policies that should be in place to govern it.

* * *

The first draft of the objectives for exams 220-901 and 220-902 are expected soon. It will be interesting to examine them when they are released and see how many of these topics are under condsideration. Until then, these hints — based on updates to other exams and pre-JTA surveys from CompTIA — serve as a blueprint of what might come from the next A+ overhaul.

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Emmett Dulaney


Emmett Dulaney is an associate professor and the author of numerous certification study guides, including the CompTIA A+ Complete Deluxe Study Guide, Second Edition (ISBN: 978-1-118324066).

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