Monthly Archives: January 2014

What Certification Should I Start With?

Sorry for the long delay between posts, I’ve been quite involved in, not so ironically, certification study towards the CCNA Voice exam and that has eaten up a lot of my free time.  Remember, study hard for success!  With that said, here’s the post proper:

People generally don’t decide to get certifications on a whim, there’s an underlying purpose for the pursuit that resides in each individual’s mind.  It could be anything:  your new job requires a certain cert, a job you want requires one, or just because you’re bored and you think studying for a cert is a good application of your abundant free time (and I certainly can think of worse).  Whatever the reason is that triggered your decision to jump into the cert pool, you need to pick a starting point.  I’m going to suggest an incredibly obvious first cert to chase, the CompTIA A+, and I’ll explain why, but first let me pull CompTIA’s own brief description of it:

“The CompTIA A+ certification is the starting point for a career in IT. The exams cover maintenance of PCs, mobile devices, laptops, operating systems and printers.”

“But wait, I don’t want to be a computer janitor!” you might be saying right about now, and that’s okay.  The A+ still makes a great starting point for a number of reasons:

1)  It’s an entry level cert by its own definition:  People will say the A+ is “easy,” well, easy is an extremely relative term.  I would say the A+ is certainly easier to obtain than many, if not most or even all other technology certifications, perhaps because it draws on a lot of knowledge that would be obtained through general experience with Windows-based computers.

2)  The vast amount of available study material.  Publishing houses and training companies are acutely aware that A+ is the launchpad for more new learners who are out to get certified, so they follow the money.  There are plenty of study guides available, both in physical and eBook form, so you will be flooded with choices if you search for “A+ Study Guide” on Amazon.  If you’re into the whole “not paying for stuff” thing, I’d suggest a look at Professor Messer’s online certification videos at www.professormesser.com, however, even he would recommend you supplement his videos with additional study material .  In-depth study guide reviews is a topic that I will perhaps explore further down the line.

3)  Practicality.  If you are a Windows user, this may be your first formal training experience with the deeper management functions of the OS.  The A+ curriculum also discusses the functions of each component of a modern PC and how they inter operate with each other.  That may all be simply refresher material for you, but even I found myself muttering “Oh, right, it works that way!” as I read through my study guides.  The A+ study might even be the push that sends you down the path to becoming a true power user, that is, if you aren’t already!

But here is the most important reason:

4)  It gives you your first chance to prepare for a certification exam that happens to be relatively low pressure.  It will be your first attempt to create a study plan that will lead you towards success.  Every adult learner is unique, and while it’s a topic for another day, developing a plan that’s best suited for you will take some practice.  Let me share a brief look at my A+ study plan of attack:

Full review of a quality A+ study guide, viewing Professor Messer’s certification videos, teardown and rebuild of a Windows PC, completion of practice exams from the A+ study guide.

Even though the A+ is relatively easy in the cert exam difficulty scale, I recommend you take your study for it seriously.  Developing good habits early on will pay off when the topics start to get more complex.

CompTIA is just now starting to add in simulation questions , of which I have not encountered as my A+ was obtained before they launched. Prior to that, it was simply all multiple choice. 

 Now, being heavily multiple choice based alone doesn’t make an exam easy, because I have failed cert exams that were comprised solely of them.  What multiple choice-only exams DO offer, though, is a generally shorter time required to complete them.  When you first sit down in front of the test computer, it’s nice that your initial experience doesn’t have you staring at the countdown timer and sweating bullets the whole time.  You should easily be able to complete the A+ exams in less than the allotted time. If you continue along with more complex certs, you will eventually feel the time crunch during an exam.

CompTIA exams also allow flexibility that some exam vendors do not, such as being able to go backwards to previous exams and even flag them for a final review that allows you to jump around the exam as needed for final corrections.  Altogether, it’s about as friendly as an exam taking experience as you’ll find, and it will help get familiar with the exam-writing process in general, allowing you to feel a little more like a seasoned pro (even if it’s not true!) when you head back to the test centre for the next challenge.

More information on the CompTIA A+ certification can be found here:  http://certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/a.aspx