Studying for the A+
October 30, 2013 6:08 AM   Subscribe

How can a computer novice study most effectively for A+ certification?

I keep asking computer questions. You are very helpful, and always solve my problem, but I am fed up with being so ignorant. Consequently I am now trying to educate myself about computers. I have decided to take the A+ tests as a way of giving myself an endpoint to shoot for, and a way of verifying that I am in fact no longer quite so ignorant.

I have three books. I am studying hardware now, and currently my method is to
  • Read the chapter dealing with a topic in each of my books
  • Watch the Professor Messer videos dealing with that topic
  • See what I have in my own computer, and try to understand why I have the part I do
  • Make flashcards for things that just have to be memorized, like which CPU goes with which socket and how many pins the different RAM sticks have
How did you study for the A+? Do you have other resources for me? Other books, other websites, another strategy for getting all this into my head for the first time? Do you think I can pass, with no practical experience and no grounding in CS other than this?
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I used a dedicated A+ Study Guide, as the test has its own areas of concentration. Looks like you're doing the same thing. Drilling practice questions helped a great deal. I also built a number of pcs, and troubleshooted others, which also helped.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:52 AM on October 30, 2013

The Michael Meyers book is excellent. I read it (and did the practice quizzes in which chapter) and the worked through the ExamCram book of practice questions. Anything I got wrong, I re-studied. Meyers also wrote the book on Network+, which was just as good.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:27 AM on October 30, 2013

Best answer: I passed the 700 series on August 31st, 2013. Some practical experience would help on the test, but most of the questions are going to come down to fact retention and memorization.

I did work as a help desk grunt for a couple of years before taking the test, but my test date was about six months after I left my job. I buckled down about a month before the test and studied hard, mostly using the Mike Meyer's All-in-One Guide.

My own advice is to regularly take practice tests and drill practice questions, as you are reading and going through your prep materials normally. Practice exams best simulate the questions you will face on the actual exam, and covers a variety of topics in a quick manner. I got a lot of questions wrong in the beginning on those practice sessions, and that's a good thing, because this showed me the holes in my knowledge. I would go back and review book sections in which I got the most questions incorrect on. Then test more, review more, etc.

The Meyer's book comes with a CD that contains about a few hundred questions. I believe they're divided into chapter review questions and a couple of times practice exams.
posted by FJT at 7:43 AM on October 30, 2013

Yep, Myers book here as well. Just studied, also took a one semester hands on computer repair course at my local community college. This was 12 years ago though so the test has likely changed a lot.

I think you can pass as long as you are good at memorizing info.
posted by gregjunior at 12:45 PM on October 30, 2013

The A+ test is meant to measure the competence of someone who theoretically has 6 months experience as a PC technician. Being a novice with no experience means that you will have a rough time passing the test, and if you do, it will be purely by memorization and of little practical use. Much of the information just isn't relevant for a computer user. Nobody needs to know how many pins anything has. (And I say this as a PC tech with 15+ years experience.) All you need to know is how to figure out what is compatible with what.

The most important thing about learning this stuff is developing a fairly rigorous internal procedure for solving problems. Finding the root cause of a problem is terribly difficult and mistake prone. Knowing the broader A+ basics, like data busses; how memory maps and locations work; and storage, input and output is very important. If you have the broader understanding of what connects to what and how they talk, that's all you really need to start figuring out problems. Beyond that, unless you are trying to get into the business, every problem will likely be different enough that any specific knowledge you have will just confuse you.

That said, I understand your plight. There are very few resources for the interested amateur. That upgrading and repairing PCs book was one I read cover to cover multiple times as a kid.
posted by gjc at 3:00 PM on October 30, 2013

I recommend getting hold of something much less inscrutable than a modern Windows box - an Arduino would be a reasonable choice - and learning how to make it do things. The blinking LED is the microcontroller equivalent of "hello, world"; start there.

Once you have a solid nuts-and-bolts understanding of how a relatively simple machine operates at a low level, it becomes much easier to see a PC and its various subsystems as a collection of outgrowths of and variants on those themes. Cultivating a gut feel for how these beasts work is much, much more important than knowing how many pins this year's crop of CPUs have.
posted by flabdablet at 4:20 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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