Book Review: Just about to fade away: thoughts on the CompTIA A+ Authorized Cert Guide, Third Edition

The A+ exam is nearing its rollover from the 801/802 tests to the 901/902 tests, and I’ll soon be doing my usual survey of new textbooks to teach from. It’s kind of the same decision every time: choose a smaller book that cuts to the point, which makes life easier on the student and directly addresses the tests, or choose a “big” book that really tries to be a comprehensive reference after the test. I don’t mind the big book model, as long as retired subjects are rightly removed and the material genuinely reflects both the new test and current computer tech.

This particular text from Pearson (which I was given by UNM for evaluation, and covers the 801/802 tests) runs over 1100 pages, and definitely falls into the “big book” camp. Now, when I use this as a class text, that’s not particularly a problem, because I tell students directly: don’t memorize POST codes or IRQs or I/O addresses, among many other things. Know the basics, and know how to look up the details. They’re right there in this book, in most cases – but you don’t need all this detail to pass the test. In fact, students can bog down in the exhaustive lists: video resolutions, processor sockets, floppy disk capacities: really? Far better that they spend their time learning troubleshooting techniques, and I’m glad to say they’ll find them here.

This book doesn’t try to artificially divide the subject matter of the two tests; functionally they’re about the same. That’s good, because it prevents a lot of the repetition I’ve seen in some texts. The topic areas are nicely divided, and work through a nice progression from the most elementary hardware to advanced Windows management. Personally, and as a teacher, I appreciate that.

I’ve found I have a strong preference for the Pearson practice tests, included in a CD in the book. The trend has been to online downloads, which aren’t bad in themselves, but often aren’t of such high quality. The offset is that online goodies often include things like videos and flash cards, which some students find really useful. What will this look like in the next version?

I’m waiting to see what the 901/902 edition looks like, particularly compared to its peers. This will be a whole new version of the A+, which means a total reset of the textbook market. This transition is never smooth, but if Soper, Prowse and Mueller can pull of another quality text, it will likely be my choice for next year’s classes.

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