What awaits you on exam day is a majority of multiple-choice questions and a significantly weighted minority of a special type of question: the CompTIA A+ performance-based questions (PBQs). They may be the toughest part of these exams. How should you go about solving them?
Look no further: this article is the answer you’re seeking. We start with an introduction to PBQs, what they look like, what topics they cover, and our best tips for approaching them. By the end of this article, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what to expect when these otherwise challenging questions pop up in the A+ exams.
The ability to nail each performance-based question quickly and accurately is crucial to success in the A+ exams. Remember to make a note to share this article with a fellow student after reading it. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
- What Are Performance Based Questions?
- How Many Performance Based Questions Can I Expect?
- How Are Performance Based Questions Scored?
- What Do A+ Performance Based Questions Look Like?
- What Skills Are Tested in A+ Performance Based Questions?
- Sample A+ Performance Based Questions
- What Is the Best Way to Approach the A+ Performance Based Questions?
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Performance Based Questions?
Most questions on each A+ certification exam are multiple-choice, in which one or more answers may apply. A good grasp of the study material and appropriate test-taking skills will help you excel in them. To understand PBQs, we’ll look at an analogy in high school.
A huge reason for the recognition CompTIA certifications enjoy is their inclusion of PBQs. PBQs assess your practical skills in IT. They’re the digital analog to doing graded experiments as a senior high science student aiming for college. Whether you’re working with test tubes or computing devices, excellence in your lab work demonstrates competence.
As an A+ candidate, instead of having computers, tablets, or phones to tamper with, you only need to solve the graded lab work (the PBQs) on the computer where you take your exam. Such PBQs are called simulations (simulation PBQs). You may return to simulations anytime during the exam, and you may reset each simulation PBQ you want to redo.
Advanced CompTIA exams such as that of CASP+ contain a virtual environment in which you solve problems on the spot in a specified virtual machine (virtual PBQs). Unlike simulations, candidates cannot skip them or reset them. They must solve them right there and then.
The good news for an A+ candidate like you is that A+ PBQs don’t consist of virtual PBQs, only simulation PBQs.
How Many Performance Based Questions Can I Expect?
Each of the two A+ exams has a maximum of 90 questions, and the allotted exam time is 90 minutes, which, at first glance, might imply that you must answer a question every minute on average. However, expect to spend more time on PBQs and less on multiple-choice questions because PBQs require more thought.
At least one and at most 10 PBQs appear at the start of each exam, and the typical expectation is three to six PBQs. Some PBQs may take more time, but you won’t know which ones would be challenging in advance. Therefore, manage your time in your practice tests accordingly.
How Are Performance Based Questions Scored?
Each A+ exam is 90 minutes long and has a maximum of 90 questions. Therefore, the more PBQs you get, the fewer multiple-choice questions you have.
The official stance of CompTIA is that exam questions and the scoring scheme are confidential. However, CompTIA admits multiple approaches to solving PBQs, and the scoring scheme addresses different possible methods and may reward partial credit. You don’t have to solve a PBQ a certain way out of fear that all other alternative correct answers give you no points.
What Do A+ Performance Based Questions Look Like?
A PBQ fills the screen. It contains instructions and several buttons: the next/previous buttons are for navigating between questions, and the reset button is for returning to the initial configuration of a question if you mess it up and want a clean slate on which to work.
In simulation PBQs like the ones you find in A+, you may hide the instructions if you want to see the entire PBQ layout and bring them back up if you want to reread them and recall what you need to do.
PBQs come in several variations:
- Fill-in-the-blank: This is a simple question in which you fill in the answers;
- Drag-and-drop: In this type of question, you drag items, such as images or text boxes, into specified places in the question to match the larger image, such as a table;
- Scenario/Performance-based: This is a detailed question where you have open dialog boxes or other configuration windows. Your role is to configure the various elements in the question as the instructions require.
Such questions are versatile, and you may see different topics manifest in all three formats, along with checkboxes, dropdown menus, radio buttons, and other dynamic elements that you can find in web forms.
A good grasp of the foundational knowledge translates into getting the right answer quickly during the exam. Therefore, it’s vital to master the concepts in A+ through diligent study and practice much more than obsessing over specific techniques for tackling the various ways these concepts present themselves in the PBQs.
What Skills Are Tested in A+ Performance Based Questions?
As the main purpose of PBQs is to assess your practical skills as a technician with the most up-to-date tech expertise, PBQs test your real-life problem-solving skills in the following areas:
- Troubleshooting hardware and software
- Installing and configuring operating systems and software applications
- Troubleshooting networks, such as connectivity issues
- Implementing security and data privacy measures
- Troubleshooting mobile devices
- Applying virtualization and cloud computing concepts
Review your material with practical applications in mind, and make sure you solve as many A+ PBQs in practice tests as is necessary to consolidate your learning. A senior high school science student who can’t conduct an experiment is no more competent than a technician who can only solve theoretical problems.
Sample A+ Performance Based Questions
As CompTIA keeps its exam questions confidential, the following sample A+ PBQs are not actual exam questions, but they’re typical of what you can expect during your A+ exams. The more familiar you are with them, the fewer unwanted surprises you’ll encounter on exam day.
We’ll display a sample of each type of PBQ below as illustrations of what you might expect in each of your A+ exams.
The following PBQ might be a simplistic one, but it illustrates what a fill-in-the-blank PBQ looks like, with additional follow-up questions to test your practical understanding:
This fill-in-the-blank question asks you to find information from the packet capture image. A cursory look at the provided screenshot shows you that it tests your knowledge of IPv6:
Now that we’re done looking at fill-in-the-blank questions, we’ll move on to the next type of PBQ: the drag-and-drop question.
The following sample PBQ tests you on the CompTIA A+ technical troubleshooting steps, which are a fundamental part of the CompTIA A+ curriculum:
From the instructions, you can tell that you’ll have a drag-and-drop PBQ. Getting full marks for this PBQ is elementary if you know the technical troubleshooting steps below. Recall this diagram from our A+ cheat sheet (we make the best cheat sheets):
The next type of PBQ, the scenario, is arguably the one that most A+ candidates expect and prepare for whenever they think of PBQs.
Arguably the most practical of A+ PBQs, the scenario PBQ assesses how well you solve a technical problem. To a well-prepared A+ candidate, scenario PBQs are nothing to be afraid of and are great opportunities to demonstrate how to solve them quickly and accurately.
Most scenario questions can be quite involved. Here is a straightforward scenario question that falls within the scope of Core 2:
Instructions: Given a scenario, use the appropriate Microsoft operating system features and tools.
An off-site work team has a remote computer connected to the company LAN which they access via remote desktop software. To ensure the computer doesn’t burn out due to being turned on all the time, they would like their computer to reboot at 5:00 am and 7:00 pm every day, regardless of what the computer is doing, and the timeout to be 10 seconds long.
Solution: Use Task Scheduler to create a new task and make it run the “shutdown” command-line tool with the correct arguments:
%SystemRoot%system32shutdown.exe -r -f -t 10
Now that you know what to expect in A+ PBQs, let’s look at how best to approach them.
What Is the Best Way to Approach the A+ Performance Based Questions?
PBQs appear first in the exam, followed by the multiple-choice questions. Should you do them first or last? The answer depends on what kind of test taker you are, and this highlights the importance of practice tests.
- If, according to your experience in your practice tests, you’re worried about losing points heavily because you don’t have enough time to complete the PBQs, do them first.
- If you excel in the multiple-choice questions and have ample time to finish the PBQs, you may do PBQs last.
If your mind goes blank at a PBQ, you can come back to it later in the exam: all you need to do is use the “Mark Question” option on the PBQ and review them afterward. The only caveat is that marking the question for review doesn’t mean you’ve answered it, so you must look at the questions you’ve marked before the time is up.
You must read the instructions carefully to answer correctly in both cases above. If you make a mistake, remember you can reset the simulation, although you can’t regain any time lost. Ultimately, the best way to handle A+ PBQs is the one that works for you.
While the A+ is by no means easy, it’s within the ability of anyone willing to put in the time and effort. We hope this article on CompTIA A+ performance-based questions gives you an extra boost when you attempt this exam, and you can proudly show that you’re A+ Certified on your profile soon. Our article "Best CompTIA A+ Practice Questions to Prepare for the Exam" can be a big help in getting there.
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