Your first step after deciding what certification is choosing a good study guide to use as the starting point for your learning. Your study guide is the introduction (or refresher, in some cases) to the topics that will be covered in your certification exam. One thing you will notice about these A+ guides is that the introductory segments will often seem too simplistic in their explanation of their topics, but that is by design as a book for this ENTRY-LEVEL cert would ideally by written making no assumptions about previous knowledge as the exam has no prerequisites and is intended for ENTRY-LEVEL (emphasis mine as you might guess) IT jobs.
I’ve included Amazon.com links to each of the mentioned guides as they have a generous preview mode to allow you to review the guides and make your own decision on which book is right for you. If you sign in with your Amazon account you can view even more and I recommend this as these books tend to have lengthy Tables of Contents.
Author: Mike Meyers
Although I have never used one of Mike’s study guides during my own exam preparation, I have read many recommendations for his work. After reviewing his guide for this post, I can see where those recommendations come from. His writing style is very easy to digest and comes off quite natural, nothing really feels stilted or robotic. The book is about as engaging as a certification study guide can get while still providing the information you need to be ready for the exam. Plenty of black-and-white photos and diagrams help to break up the tedium of solid blocks of text. One critique that I would level against this book is that it is not segmented into sections for each of the two A+ exams, rather what the author does is occasionally mention if a topic will matter on one or both of the exams. What’s the problem, you ask? It’s not so much a problem, but as we’ll see in a later review, there’s a more eye-catching way to perform the same function. If you’re planning on just writing both exams in one go, and it’s not unthinkable to do so for a cert as basic as A+ if the exam center allows you to do so, this may not be a big deal. Ultimately, this “issue” with the structure hasn’t affected the popularity of this guide, so take my (very, very minor) concern about it as just one person’s opinion, and I’ll bring up a guide that I believe does it better.
The book includes practice exams (the most valuable “bonus” content for certain), free PC utilities that Mike recommends for A+ technicians, a small library of training videos, and a PDF copy of the book that appears to be hampered by Adobe DRM.
Authors: Quenten Docter, Emmett Dulaney, and Toby Skandier
One advantage, at least as I see it, that Mike Meyers’ study guide has over this book is that it’s a littler more illustration heavy. Yes, us adults often enjoy reading a long novel, but there’s a difference between walls of text about the design concepts of motherboards and the contents of a bestselling mystery novel. Plus, screen captures of things like Windows management tools allow the author a bit of a chance to show rather than simply just tell, and make a great guide when you want to walk through a process on a test machine. There’s nothing terrible about this guide, and the material provided will get the job done, I just think the Meyers guide does everything a bit better. There is both a Standard and a Deluxe version of the guide available, both include a 10% off coupon for the exams, practice exams, and flashcards. The Deluxe edition includes a CD with instructor videos, which doesn’t appear to be comprehensive for all exam topics but is a nice bonus all the same, and eBook versions of the guide.
Author: David Prowse
This next guide is a little more to the point than the other guides. Why is that a factor? It’s because it makes this guide lose some value as a general “learn about PC hardware and Windows” book. That’s not to say that it cannot be used for that purpose, but this book in particular is designed to cover the basic knowledge needed to achieve the certification exam’s objectives. You could level a similar criticism to all the other reviewed guides, but the Exam Cram guide takes this notion to a further extreme than the others, basically saying “Look, this is all you need to know for the A+ exam regarding this specific topic, now we’re moving on.” As an example, the author spends about 1.25 pages on motherboard installations with no pictures, whereas Mike Meyers spends about 5 pages and includes pictures of several steps in the installation process. Now, if you know how to install a motherboard from past experience and you just want to know what CompTIA is going to expect you to know about the process, the Exam Cram book achieves that goal quicker. For my hard earned certification training dollar, however, I prefer the more in-depth approach taken in the other books. The book includes a companion CD including something that I really like, the Cram Sheet, which serves quite well as a refresher in your final week or two of exam prep, as well as practice exams.
Author: Jean Andrews
The last guides, which are unfortunately sold separately, are the ones that I used in my own A+ studies. I was given hand-me-down copies from a friend for the 220-701 and 220-702 exams. Thankfully, the guides have been updated for the 220-80X exam series and it looks like they’ve retained their previous level of quality. What’s the first thing you notice about this guide? Color! The extra step up in print quality helps the book visually stand out from the competition. As with the Meyers guide, the author combines both exams across the books, the key difference here is that the when a topic or sub-topic is relevant to a specific exam it is marked with a very noticeable icon. Again, I don’t mean to imply that the Meyers guide does a poor job of calling out a topic’s relevance to a particular exam, this guide simply does it better. In terms of the quality of the material provided, the guide compares favorably with its competitors. The guide covers topics with a suitable amount of depth, and that’s something I would say about all of the books except for the Exam Cram guide, which falls in line with the entire intent of that guide being leaner and meaner. For colleges that offer A+ certification training as part of a computer/networking technician course, these will often be the textbooks used. The print version is hardcover but no bonus materials are provided.
My final recommendation between these four books is that Mike Meyers’ guide is the best choice in terms of value for your dollar. As much as I like the Andrews guides, you are paying quite a bit of money for the two of them. If you’re willing to invest in them I believe you won’t be disappointed. Before you make any purchase, however, take some time to review Amazon’s (or whichever site you purchase from) user feedback to help get a further grip on what the book offers.
Lastly, remember that a study guide is only one component of a successful cert exam preparation plan. What are those other components? Well, I need to milk this whole certification thing for a little longer so those will remain topics for another day!