Personal,  Tech

My experience passing the CompTIA A+ Core 1 (220-1001) with no IT experience and a helpful roadmap.

Earlier this year, I decided to dive into the world of IT and tech. A friend turned me onto CompTIA and the common certification pathways available to learners. There are three certifications in particular known as the “trifecta” which many people earn to build a foundation in IT which they can then branch out from into different pathways. These are the CompTIA A+, Networking+, and Security+ certifications. The A+ certification covers basic hardware, software, and networking concepts as well as fundamentals in troubleshooting and is divided up into two sections.

I decided to go for this trifecta this summer and use it as a launching pad to learn more about cybersecurity in the future. I passed the first of A+ core 1 exam and I got a score of 799 (wish I could have gotten that extra point somewhere to get a nice even 800, but not complaining).

I wanted to share how I studied to pass with zero IT experience with about 3 solid weeks’ worth of prep. This is a long post, but I’ll include a TLDR at the end since I want to go into some detail to help folks who may be struggling in finding a method that works for them just like I did. I won’t discuss any of the actual content on the test for obvious confidentiality reasons, but I will share everything leading up to it.

First I bought the Prof. Messer course notes (about 25 bucks) and watched his A+ videos on Youtube as I went through the notes. His channel only shows so many of the A+ videos, but if you click the next video thumbnail at the end of each video you’ll find all the content in order. You can also find this playlist with all 79 or so videos if you’re having trouble finding them in one place. Initially, I started making my own Anki flashcards as I went along based on areas that I needed to know and review. This slowed me down considerably but it was fine until I got to the common port numbers. I began to try and memorize the port numbers with the flashcards but got incredibly frustrated and put my studying on hold because I just couldn’t move past this section. I did not want to go to the next section until I felt I had mastered or memorized all the concepts in each sequential section. This was a bad move, as I later learned because many of the concepts that are introduced at the start are explained and given more context in later sections.

I then decided to move on and come back to the ports later, which was smart, but I also made the bonehead decision of copying every single bullet in the videos into a notebook (with notes or annotations that I would add). My thinking was that the active taking of notes would help me with the memorization since as everyone must know, these concepts are a mile wide but an inch deep.

This ground my pace to a crawl and the date of the test was only a couple of weeks away and I hadn’t even finished with the second section yet! I ditched the notebook and went back to the Anki flashcards, but this time I copied and pasted every concept from the notes into a flashcard, so the bolded concepts would be the front of the card and all the sub-bullets I would paste onto the back. I was essentially converting the notes from a long PDF of bullets into electronic flashcards I could review and even organized them by sections. This seemed to be a good approach, but I found out that I wasn’t really reviewing the flashcards since my concern was first getting to the end of the notes and there was so much info on the flashcards that it was difficult to assess when I had fully understood a concept.

So I abandoned that method and in my desperation due to the approaching test date, decided I would just watch all the videos anytime I could, and then at the end, decide what I needed to study more for and review. This was the right approach for me, and I wish I had done this from the start. I watched videos during my breaks, got comfortable, and put them on my TV in my bedroom, basically in any situation where I could relax and absorb the information and eliminate distractions. The concepts repeat and reinforce themselves especially when you get into the networking and hardware sections.

When I finished all the videos, I realized I needed a gauge to test my knowledge so I bought the Dion course on Udemy (about 10 bucks) and watched the videos. He has great tips specific to the CompTIA exam and general exam tips that help increase your odds of selecting the right answers such as skipping the PBQs and coming back to them. This was a lifesaver.

Before I took my first Dion prep test, I reviewed materials that I knew I just had to memorize, such as common ports and services. I laid out all the important port numbers and related services in numerical order (FTP first and RDP last) on a sheet of paper and made a sort of diagram. I put the name of the service/server in a box, and then made a kind of molecular structure where I connected the port numbers to each service. I put the connected port number inside a triangle for TCP and a circle for UDP. This gave each service a shape I could picture and an order I could follow when studying so there was a flow. I am a visual learner so organizing information into diagrams and images was the key to help me with this.

Here is the diagram of the common ports I made. Pardon the sloppy handwriting! The one mistake I made was that the SLP and HTTPS should be switched places to keep the ports in ascending chronological order, otherwise, this is the sequence that helped me memorize them all fairly quickly.

I took the first Dion practice exam (his course offers 2 full practice exams) and scored a 73%, which means I was only one or two questions from passing. It lets you retake them so I reviewed all the questions I missed (I missed so many cable type questions) and made a note of concepts that I didn’t know, and got a 100% on the second try but this was mostly just from memorizing the correct answers.

Quick note, his practice tests only cover the multiple-choice sections. he has videos where he shows you how to tackle PBQs and you can kind of play along but there are no PBQ simulations or practice PBQs for you to practice on but I’ll tell you where you can find those below.

Before my second practice exam, I reviewed the areas I was shaky on and I got an 83% on that one. I finished watching his videos and was feeling pretty confident about what I needed to review more but I felt like I had a grasp of what kinds of questions to expect. I think it would have been very difficult for me to pass without the Dion course to be honest, because the concepts from the Messer notes and videos cover so much, that it’s difficult to know what areas or types of questions come up the most.

After completing the Dion course I used the following website for mini practice tests (20 questions) and ran through all of them, scoring between an 80 and 85% on average.

For the PBQ’s I found this site that includes many free simulations that the A+ exam covers and more. The motherboard labeling was especially helpful.

Then at the end, I took handwritten notes and made diagrams of the concepts or tables I needed to review more. The concepts that I found necessary to study more in-depth based on practice questions.

– Common services and servers with port numbers (DHCP always comes up a lot in practice tests).

– 802.11 versions

– Networking cables and categories

– Cable types and connectors/connections

– Troubleshooting steps and common issues and solutions (when in doubt, always back up hard drive!)

– Raid arrays

– IP addresses (public, private, and AIPIPA). This came up in a practice test. I found that the messer notes never covered private IP ranges but I found this helpful:

– Components for different computer builds

– Cloud service types and virtualization!

I found it helpful to also go through the Messer notes one by one a few days before the test and quickly google or brush up on any acronyms or concepts that I didn’t immediately recognize or understand. This final pass through gave me so much confidence because I found myself realizing how much I learned just from the trial and error of the practice questions and helped me catch stuff that might have taken me by surprise on test day.

Took the test and passed it using this roadmap!


Bought Prof. Messer course notes and Jason Dion Udemy course for about 10 bucks each.

Winning strategy: Watched the Messer Videos straight though, then did the Dion course. After identifying problem areas in Jason Dion’s course, I used the breakdown to target specific areas to study and memorize and used the Messer notes to help with this. Used two websites (linked above) for more test and PBQ practice and after devoting most of my energy to this test prep and immediate “damage control” I then went back and reviewed the Messer notes section by section and googled anything I needed more context or info about.

Things that did not work for me: Making flashcards and taking notes as I watched the videos (took too much time and I found myself not reviewing enough). Another thing that slowed me down was trying to master or memorize each section before moving on. Got stuck on the networking section forever doing this. It was better for me to watch all Messer videos straight through since lots of times concepts repeat and build on one another, then go back and target areas that require memorization or more review.


  • post

    Awesome! I really like how you have presented the course and how you have made it so interesting and easy to understand. Do you recommend any site to buy the course?

    • Alejandro Avalos

      Than you! Since I don’t have any personal experience in enrolling in a prep course, I wouldn’t really have any recommendations. I put all my recommendations in the article since all I did was use the prof. Messer videos and purchase his notes and exams.

      I have had some good experiences with Udemy with Jason Dion in the later exams but I can’t say if his A+ course is worth it since I never took it for A+.

  • GW

    Hey Alejandro,

    Many thanks for the resources and your personal experience with the tests! I’m new to the IT world and didn’t know where to begin in order to prepare for the 1001 & 2. So many great resources are out there but your break down in my opinion is the best yet. Looking forward to applying this to my study regimen!

    Gracias amigo!!

    • Alejandro Avalos

      So great to hear that!

      Happy this helped, I’d love to hear any updates. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions and best of luck on passing the exam. you got this!

  • Taylor

    I just stumbled on your Reddit post and found my way here. I just wanted to say, I’ve been trying to grind out A+ for awhile now. I was approaching it in the same way (master a section then move on) and got stuck at the common port numbers. I got discouraged and put it aside for a few weeks.

    This post is super helpful and I’m going to give your approach a try. Hopefully, this is exactly what I needed!

  • Mark

    Alejandro –

    Thank you for taking the time to write about your “adventures” with the CompTIA Trifecta. I am a neophyte when it comes to IT anything and am currently self-studying for the A+ Certification 1001 & 1002. I chose to update my current skills with hopes to find a job I actually enjoy going to everyday. I don’t have to make a huge salary; just enjoy what I do is my (hopeful) goal.

    Just a quick Thank You for the information you have provided above. I’m sure some of what you have shared will help me in my A+ studies.

    Take care and best wishes for a bright IT future, sir!

    • Alejandro Avalos

      Hey, Mark

      I really hope these posts help. Please update me on your progress and if you have any questions, just shoot me a comment!

    • Orion M.

      Hi Alejandro!

      I found your blog here via reddit this week when researching about Comptia certifications. I wanted to say that this and all your other blog posts are one of the best things I’ve found so far on the subject. I really appreciate you taking all the time to create and share everything you have. It has helped me a ton, and I imagine everyone else who has read it has gotten something out of your blog info.

      That’s all I got for now. I just wanted to make sure that I throw some respect your way and thank you.
      Hope you and yours are well and I wish you continued progress!

      Orion M.

      • Alejandro Avalos

        Hey Mark!

        Thanks so much! Always great to get a genuine comment among all the spam comments I have to delete. hahaha

        Appreciate the love, and I’m very glad you found this helpful.

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