Succeeding at the CompTIA A+ Exam

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Welcome to ExamNotes by CertBlaster!

This edition will focus on the methods to use to maximize your chances of success when taking the CompTIA A+ Exams i.e. succeeding at the A+ Exam. We’ll look at the testing environment, the test itself, and the psychology of the exam and how you can use that to your advantage.

OK, let’s get started!

First is First…

Before getting into the last steps of test prep let us point out that the most crucial element in our approach is your foundational knowledge and understanding of the content that the exam tests you on. Before going into test-prep, you must be comfortable with the subject matter.

Start by downloading and printing the exam objectives for A+ 220-1001 and A+ 220-1002 so you can mark them up, check them off when mastered, etc. These objectives reflect every concept or process that CompTIA can use to test your knowledge. Each objective is broken down into sub-objectives and content points that address these core concepts. In addition to that use any offline or online resources, you can lay your hands on. Textbooks and/or self-tests are also great resources. Get as much information as possible. A free content source is our ExamNotes for A+ 1001 & 1002.

The objectives also provide insight as to the context of any of the concepts. As you review them look for subtle manipulations in the language that can have a great impact on how to define a correct answer to a question.  You may be set in a scenario with a defective device or even a malfunctioning user. The ways the exam defines a scenario will provide clues to the response elements CompTIA wants to point you to. Whether the scenario calls for a situation that addresses an Installation, configuration, identification, or a compare-and-contrast situation, the context of the question formulation will, in part, determine the correct answer (more on this below).

At the Test

Complete the prerequisite permissions and agreements and pay attention to the non-disclosure agreement. Take as long as you need to understand what you’re doing and what is expected of you as the exam clock will only start after you review these preliminaries. There will be a complete recording of your entire session. Take a deep breath and get started!

Time management

Succeeding at the A+ Exam requires crisp time management. When you start the test, you will see your test timer counting down. 90 questions in 90 minutes?!!? Is that even possible?  OK, Stop right there. It is possible and you will probably find yourself with extra time on your hands when you are satisfied and ready to grade the test. How is this possible? Here’s how to transform the timer from a source of anxiety into a tool for success.

The key is a small checkbox labeled “Mark for later”. Marking a question does not stop the clock or provide some hidden benefit but it does, very importantly, allow you to move on to the next test question and return to it later. You will see that some questions will only take a few seconds to answer and so provide a time saving that you will benefit from later when you are more relaxed and comfortable with the process.

Question and answers

You will be presented with three primary question types:

Multiple choice single answer (MCSA)  This question type contains the question and four possible responses. With only one being correct. You can identify it by the responses having round (radio) buttons.

Multiple choice multiple answer (MCMA) This question has the question and more than four possible responses. With more than one being correct. Here you need to select all correct choices. These questions are identified by Square checkboxes for each response.

Interactive questions – some of which are the dreaded Performance Based Questions – PBQ, cover several types of interaction. These are usually graphic based. You may need to drag a label to an object on the screen, arrange a list of labels in order.

Screenshot of Performance based question for A+ exam
Performance based question for the A+ exam. Here the candidate is using the Disk Management utility to organize storage on this computer.

Determining the correct answer

CompTIA questions are not always the “one and only correct answer in the universe”. Because the questions are more subtle than that, they mostly require the “Best Answer” to be picked. The “Best Answer” is arrived to in part by looking at the context of the question and in part by deduction. The context of the question can include the scenario presented in the question text or the available distractors or both. In any case, what you believe is a wrong answer can still be a “best answer” given the alternatives. In an MCSA question each response you can disregard increases your chances of being correct by 25%! It is completely reasonable to arrive at the correct response by deductive reasoning.

Here is a good example. The question is:

“On the backside of a notebook, you generally see two connectors, one electrical for power and one non-electrical for security. Which of the choices best describes these two connections?“ and the available responses are:



Cable lock

USB port

12vDC jack

Here is how you apply deductive reasoning to determine the two correct answers:

First, we need to know what will satisfy the question. Here there are two ports on the device one is for power. Check the answers and the only one relative to power is 12v DC jack. Now you have one of your two answers since none of the others reference power at all. You’ll see other voltages in the field but remember that the world you are in right here only has one listing a power rating and so it is your “BEST” choice. Now to Security, we want to know which choice has no electrical properties and provides security.  On the list you can see a NIC, HDMI, and a USB port. All of those use some form of electrical energy, so they are out. We’ve used the 12v answer and we are left with the Cable lock which is correct because it is a security component.

Testing strategy

During the test, monitor your timing. The A+ Exam allows for approximately one question per minute. You will find that easy questions (i.e. any question for which you know the answer immediately) may take as little as five seconds to complete. However, as the questions become more complex, they may take you a lot longer. This is where you need to determine when something is taking too long and mark the question and jump to the next question. We recommend that, if after a minute you are still completely in the dark, you use the “Mark for later” feature and come back to the question after having had the opportunity to answer all the other questions you are comfortable with. This way you are less likely to run out of time. Also, your brain may have processed the question “in the background” while you were answering the rest of the questions. When that happens you may find that a question that seemed impossible to answer on the first brush is now suddenly “easy”.

Take the test in stages where you can look at (and answer) every question during your first look. Mark for later anything any question that will cost too much time and slow you down. When you do Mark for later an MCQ do take a quick guess as with four choices a completely random selection will yield a 25% chance vs. zero if you don’t take a guess. When you come back to all your Marked for later questions, the correct response may jump right out at you, if so great! Answer it and move on.  You want to work yourself down the exam questions to where you only “leave on the table” the questions you have no idea about (still take a guess on those though) but where you gave yourself the opportunity to answer every question you know the answer to.

Ending the session

Take the opportunity to review your questions. And responses. You may find that after seeing the whole test bank you may want to answer something differently or make a change. Often one question will shed light on another you can fix it. Having said that do not click through the questions making arbitrary changes.

When you are satisfied you can end the test and get your grade. You will be asked some demographic information and questions about your experience at the site.

Want more exam strategy for A+?

Click to download our 5 steps to A+ Certification Success (220-1001& 220-1002).


Best of luck in your quest for A+ certification!

The CertBlaster Team


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