The CompTIA A+ is a great entry-level IT certification that has helped many people get their careers in IT and cybersecurity started, including myself.  One thing that I have noticed is that many people underestimate how hard the A+ exams actually are, so in this article, I will cover how hard the A+ certification is, and what you can do to prepare.

So, is the CompTIA A+ hard?  The CompTIA A+ is a professional industry certification and has the same level of difficulty of any other entry-level professional licensure exam.  Many A+ test takers underestimate the difficulty of the exams and the amount of study the exams require.

Let’s jump in and discuss why the A+ exams are such a challenge for test takers, and what you can do to ensure your exam success.

Why are the CompTIA A+ Exams Difficult?

Reason #1: Test Takers Underestimate the A+ Exams

The CompTIA A+ is certainly a worthwhile certification, but the biggest problem I see with CompTIA A+ test takers is that they tend to underestimate the difficulty of the exams.  This is understandable in some ways, considering that for nearly everyone who tries the A+, it is the first professional certification exam that they have attempted in their careers.

The fact is that for most people pursuing the A+, their only testing experience prior to the A+ is usually limited to college or high school exams, or at best, a standardized exam like the SAT.  Many people don’t consider that a professional licensure or certification exam is not like what you’d see in the high school or college classroom.  

For those classroom-based exams, a typical student will study up to one week on average for any given exam.  But working professionals who are pursuing career certifications or licenses commonly spend two to four months preparing for an exam, as well as hundreds or even thousands of dollars in courses and materials costs.

One way to look at this is to consider that a common exam in a college course may test on two to four weeks of material that was covered in class during the semester, and a student may study for a period of up to 7 days for that exam.  But for the CompTIA A+, most instructors, including myself, recommend a study period of 60 – 90 days, meaning that to be adequately prepared, you should be studying for a time period as long as the entire semester.

This should be a good indication of how much material really is on the A+ exams, and how detailed the questions can be expected to be.  You really have to be knowledgeable in all objectives on the exam, and that kind of proficiency takes time to build.

Reason #2: Large Amount of Exam Objectives and Content

Take some time to look at the full list of exam objectives for the A+ exams, and you’ll see a lot of information that you’re responsible for knowing.  Compare this amount of content, or objectives, to any college exam, and I’m sure you’ll find that a college professor is not testing on as many items, or on as much detail, as you’ll see on the A+ exams.  

Overall, there is more that you’re required to know for the A+ than there is for other certification exams from CompTIA, such as the Network+ and Security+, which is why CompTIA uses two complete exams to cover it all, compared to just one for the others.

Reason #3:  Memorization Requirements of the A+

The CompTIA A+ tests on a lot of practical knowledge, but also requires you to know quite a good bit of facts.  These items can be a challenge because there is no way to learn them other than through sheer memorization.

In my opinion, there are many things on the A+ that are perhaps worth knowing, but that most IT professionals don’t know and don’t need to know to complete their jobs.  Some of the items on the A+ are just not used or referenced that much on a regular basis in the field, so IT professionals don’t always keep them top of mind.  These pros know of these things, and most importantly know how to look them up and verify them when needed, but don’t keep them memorized.

What this means for you as an A+ test taker is that you will be faced with more memorization than you have needed for a job you might have in the field, and in some cases, you’ll be learning things that you won’t reference much after your exam is over.  Either way, you’ll still have a lot of memorization and study ahead of you, which can be a challenge.

Tips to Pass the A+

Hopefully, I’ve made it clear thus far that they A+ exams shouldn’t be taken lightly, and that you’ll need to put in a good bit of study to ensure a passing score.  Let’s go through a few strategies you can use for preparing for the exams.

Study Tip #1: Spread Out Your Study Over 60 – 90 Days

One mistake I see from A+ exam takers is that they work hard to cram all of the material into a timeframe that is unreasonable or overly stressful.  It’s important to understand that learning the A+ content to the level you’ll need to pass takes time, and for most people, that timeframe is at around 60 days or more.

Don’t make the mistake of rushing through the material in a month or less, or thinking that a crash course is an effective way to learn it all.  Even if you could cover all of the exam objectives in 30 days or less, your ability to absorb the material is limited.  So plan on spending around two to three months working on the A+, unless you have substantial background in the field.

Study Tip #2:  Study Consistently

You’ve probably heard that practicing some skill for 30 minutes a day is better than just practicing once a week for a three hour session, even though the hours invested are basically the same.  The same thing applies to your A+ study.

You are much better off studying some amount every day for those 60 – 90 days than to skip days and have long study sessions instead.  The consistency of studying every day, for at least 30 minutes each day, keeps the A+ material fresh in your mind, which makes for much easier recall on the real exam.

When you begin your A+ preparation, build into your schedule a dedicated study time daily (and ideally at the same time every day), and don’t miss a day of study.  Staying consistent will help you as much as any other study habit you can do.

Study Tip #3:  Use Multiple Resources to Study

I see quite often a student that picks a video course or book for their A+ study, and makes a comment that this one resource is the one thing they are going to use to prepare for the certification.

In my experience, it doesn’t work that way.  Every resource you’ll use for any certification will be lacking in some capacity, and there is a great deal of benefit from learning from more than one person.  When you’re preparing for the A+, be sure to pull your information from multiple resources, and ideally in multiple formats.

This can mean using a textbook from one author, a video course from someone else, and a study guide from a third person, for example.  Using more than one resource, in more than one format, from more than one provider, is the best way to ensure you’re fully covering everything you need to know. 

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About the author 

Matt Day

Matt Day is a cybersecurity professional with over twenty years of experience in the IT, cybersecurity, and technology training fields. He has a degree in Computer Information Science and CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, Server+, CySA+, and Cisco CCNA certifications.