In October, CompTIA announced the release of new tests, the 800 series, that will replace the 700-series exams that had been the basis of CompTIA’s A+ certification, the certification that covers entry-level technicians. The 700 series will remain in use through August 31, 2013. Until then, candidates can choose either series as a testing option for the A+ designation.
The new series differs from its predecessor in several significant respects, but it retains the two-part format of the earlier series.
According to CompTIA, exam 220-801 is devoted to “the fundamentals of computer technology, installation and configuration of PCs, laptops and related hardware, and basic networking.” Exam 220-802 focuses on installation and configuration for the PC operating system, on security in different contexts and on troubleshooting a wide variety of systems and devices. Responding to the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets, the new test also covers the configuration of features for both iOS and Android devices.
“The changes reflect new demands being placed on the entry-level IT technician, who must now help integrate and manage computer networks interfacing with a wide range of devices,” according to CompTIA’s Janet Pinkerton
While the inclusion of mobile devices represents a change in emphasis for the exam, the adoption of a new format may be the most dramatic difference for test takers.
Earlier exams had consisted solely of multiple-choice questions. The 800 series adds “performance-based” questions. As described by CompTIA, the test will present candidates with a simulated IT environment in which they must solve problems or complete tasks. Likening the new format to the difference between written tests and road tests for drivers’ licenses, CompTIA sees the performance-based approach as the best way for a candidate to demonstrate the ability to do more than provide critical analysis of a problem.
The simulated environment attempts to replicate a variety of scenarios that candidates are likely to encounter in the real world. “The simulated environments may include different aspects of IT infrastructure, such as command prompts, Windows or networking environments,” according to information published by CompTIA. “Once candidates use the simulated environment to perform the requested task or solve the stated problem, they click a 'Done' button to submit their answer.”
CompTIA advises candidates to pay close attention to problem details and wording. The company also recommends that candidates supplement textbook preparation by seeking out opportunities for hands-on practice.
The adoption of the 800 series also brings a change in CompTIA’s recommendations with respect to experience. While candidates taking the 700-series exam were advised to have six months or 500 hours of experience, CompTIA recommends 12 months of experience, whether in the field or in the lab, for candidates intending to take the 800 series.
In addition to those changes, the 800 series adds comprehensive coverage of Windows 7, eliminating Windows 2000 from the test, and adds areas devoted to virtualization and mobile devices, two topics that were not part of the 700 series. The new test puts increased emphasis on troubleshooting in varied hardware and software environments, adding wireless as an entirely new troubleshooting focus. Testing on security-related issues has been extended to include those issues especially relevant to small office and home office situations.
CompTIA updates its A+ exam every three years, revising the test in consultation with large technology companies and the U.S. military. The company also surveys certified professionals in the field in order to evaluate the usefulness and value of proposed changes.
Phil Norton, a systems analyst who serves on the CompTIA committee charged with exam review, sees the changes made by the 800 series as a way to insure that candidates stay abreast of developments in IT and that the A+ test is a meaningful one: "The new objectives attest to the trends in the marketplace, and with the deeper-level, performance-based questions, we are making sure the exam is the benchmark we want it to be."