CompTIA A+ vs Security+: Which Is Best For You? (2023)

comptia a+ vs security+ comparison

CompTIA’s A+ and Security+ are two of the organization’s most popular IT certifications. Both can be used to further your career in tech, however, what stage you’re at in your career as well as the direction you wish to take will dictate which certification you’ll want to pursue.

While there may be some content overlap between these two exams, one focuses on fundamental IT skills while the other drills down into the finer points of cyber security.

Before investing time and money into studying and paying for these certifications it’s vital that you understand the differences in content, requirements, difficulty, job opportunities, and cost between CompTIA A+ vs Security+.

What Are A+ and Security+ Certifications?

CompTIA A+ and Security+ are both designed by CompTIA, a non-profit IT certification and training organization. Internationally recognized, CompTIA is one of the most respected vendor-neutral certification-issuing organizations within the IT industry.

CompTIA offers a total of 15 IT certifications. Four of those certifications are considered core certifications. Both CompTIA Security+ and A+ are core certifications.

However, don’t let that label of core deceive you. These certifications are not interchangeable and have drastic differences you should be made aware of before deciding which one to take.

IT certification roadmap

About A+

CompTIA A plus graphic

A+ is an entry-level IT certification. It tests your fundamental understanding of an array of IT concepts that you must know in order to break into the field of IT and progress as an IT professional.

Obtaining the A+ certification shows employers that you have baseline knowledge necessary for entry-level IT positions.

Even though A+ is geared toward beginners, it expects test takers to understand a wide range of topics such as:

  • Hardware components and how they work together
  • Operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and Mac
  • Software troubleshooting
  • Essential networking protocols
  • Security against network and device vulnerabilities
  • Virtualization and cloud computing

There are so many areas of focus the certification wishes to cover that it requires students to take two tests (Core 1 and Core 2) to prove their understanding of the myriad of IT concepts.

CompTIA also updates the exam every three years to ensure it’s covering pertinent IT topics.

About Security+

CompTIA Security plus exam logo

When comparing CompTIA A+ vs Security+, it’s vital to distinguish that A+ is an IT entry-level certification while Security+ is an entry-level cyber security certification. The latter drills down into cyber security-specific topics, while A+ covers a broad range of IT topics.

If you aspire to become a cyber security professional, you may want to start by obtaining CompTIA’s A+ certification before moving on to Security+. That being said, if you already have ample experience in IT and networking, it is reasonable to skip A+ and take Security+.

Obtaining Security+ demonstrates to employers that you have a baseline understanding of the most significant cyber security topics.

The exam covers a myriad of cyber security topics, including but not limited to:

  • Threats, attacks, and vulnerabilities
  • Identity and access management
  • Risk management
  • Security architecture and design
  • Cryptography and PKI

Just like A+, CompTIA consults with leading tech-companies and professionals to update their exam every three years on the latest trends and technologies.

Exam Details

As Security+ is a more advanced certification than A+, there will naturally be overlap between the two exams. To understand more complex areas of IT you have to build on what you already know. Despite that, these two exams differ quite a bit when it comes to content.

A+ Exam Details

As far as entry-level IT certifications go, they don’t come more thorough than CompTIA A+. 

A+ is comprised of not one, but two tests (Core 1 & 2). Each exam consists of a maximum of 90 questions that you’ll have 90 minutes to answer.  

In order to obtain A+ you must pass both exams with a passing score of at least 675/900 for Core 1 and 700/900 for Core 2.

The reason CompTIA requires you to take two exams to obtain A+ is because it covers a wealth of material.

Here are the breakdowns of each exam:

CompTIA A+ domains

If you’d like an exhaustive list of everything A+ may cover, head to CompTIA to download to exam objectives.

The vast majority of questions will be multiple choice, however, there may be up to 10 weighted performance-based questions (PBQs). PBQs are more hands-on questions that will test your critical thinking skills in addition to your technical skills. The more PBQs you have, the fewer multiple-choice questions you will receive.

Security+ Exam Details

Security+ also contains a maximum of 90 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Like A+, the number of questions you receive depends on the number of PBQs you must answer. Each test differs, but you can expect to take around four to six PBQs.

An important distinction between these two exams is that Security+ is only one exam, whereas A+ requires you to take two. To obtain your Security+ certificate, you need only pass this one exam with a minimum score of 750 out of 900 which breaks down to a score of 83.33%. 

Security+ also differs in content. As you can see from the domain breakdown below, Security+ is a cyber security certification that focuses on the understanding of vulnerabilities, architecture, compliance, operations, and implementation.

Security plus exam domain breakdown

For a more detailed breakdown of the exam, head over to CompTIA’s website where you can download a detailed list of all the exam objectives, or see our breakdown of the Security+ domains here.

It should also be noted that both the A+ and Security+ certification exams can be taken in person or online with the help of the test proctor company, Pearson OnVUE.

To take the exam online, you’ll have to abide by the following rules:

  • Turn your microphone/camera on while taking the exam
  • Clear the desk of all objects, including notepads and even water
  • Stay within view of the video camera throughout the duration of the exam
  • No water or drink is permitted

Should you break one of these rules during the exam, Pearson VUE will either warn you or end the test, failing you.

Whether you schedule to take the test in person or online, you’ll have ample test times to choose from. You should easily be able to take the test at a date and time of your convenience.

Verdict: Tie

Considering these exams are both testing your understanding of different topics, it’s difficult to say that one test is better than the other with regard to the content covered.

Again, A+ is an entry-level IT certification that will test you on various basic IT topics. Security+ assumes you have a solid understanding of IT and networking but also delves into cyber security. The winner of this section depends entirely on your career goals and prior knowledge.

Eligibility Requirements

Some IT certifications require test takers to have prerequisite certifications or experience before taking an exam (see our CISM vs CISSP article for an example). This isn’t the case with CompTIA A+ or Security+.

While anyone can take either test, there are soft requirements that CompTIA recommends for test takers.

A+ Requirements

There are no hard requirements to take A+.

That being said, A+ does recommend students have between nine to 12 months of hands-on experience in the lab or field before taking the exam.

While this is CompTIA’s recommendation, we recommend test takers study pertinent material regardless of experience. Diligently studying with the help of quality resources should be more than enough to pass this exam.

We would also say that the recommendation is really the knowledge of someone with nine to 12 months of experience. Quality study materials are more than a sufficient substitute for this.

With so much material covered, whether you went to school for IT or already work in the field, there are bound to be areas you need to freshen up on. IT is an ever-expanding field with innumerable topics. Taking the time out to study the A+ exam objectives is vital to achieving a passing score.

Security+ Requirements

Security+ doesn’t have any hard requirements either. Should you wish to take the exam, you need only to log onto CompTIA and choose your test slot.

Before paying hundreds for the exam, you better make sure you’re prepared.

CompTIA recommends that test takers have two years of hands-on experience working as a security/systems admin or a comparable role.  

Like A+, we don’t think work experience is an absolute must and that with diligent studying, you can pass Security+.

While many Security+ test takers first obtain the A+ certification, CompTIA doesn’t require you to do so. That being said, taking A+ will benefit you when studying for Security+.

Verdict: A+

CompTIA has more manageable soft requirements for A+ than Security+. With a recommended nine to 12 months of job experience instead of the recommended two to three years before taking Security+, the former is the clear winner.

Regardless of the exam you plan to take, both certifications can be obtained by effectively studying. It’s quite often that these certifications (especially A+) will be obtained prior to any professional experience.

Exam Difficulty

Despite A+ being an entry-level IT certification and Security+ being an entry-level cyber security certification, both exams require thorough studying in order to pass.

A+ Difficulty

A+ isn’t like most other IT certifications.

This certification is spread out between two exams, each with a maximum of 90 questions and a max time limit of 90 minutes.

While it is an entry-level certification, it tests students on a vast range of topics. Look no further than CompTIA’s exam objectives to understand the depth of knowledge you will be tested on. We break down the topics on our CompTIA A+ Cheat Sheet.

It’s true that while these questions may not be as complex as more advanced certifications, but if you don’t have a strong background in technology, you may find the material surprisingly difficult to master.

To pass this exam you’ll need to score 650/700 for Core 1 and 700/900 for Core 2. You are required to pass both tests to obtain A+. If you fail one of the two tests, you are required to retake the failed test in order to obtain the certification. You can write the exams in any order.

Security+ Difficulty

Security+ covers a litany of cyber security related topics. Despite the range of topics covered, most multiple choice questions do not require an in-depth understanding of the material covered. It is a very broad but shallow exam, requiring surface knowledge of many things.

If you have taken the A+ or Network+, you will notice considerable overlap between these two certifications and Security+. While the overlap will help you prepare for this test, you’ll still have to invest in learning more about cyber security-related topics.

To pass the exam you’ll need a score of at least 83%. To prepare for the exam, take a look at this Security+ Cheat Sheet.

Verdict: Security+

It may seem odd that Security+ is the easier of the two exams. While it may be easier to pass than either individual A+ Core exams, A+ requires you to take two exams, unlike Security+. Not only this, but we’re assuming if you’re taking A+, you have little to no experience in IT.

Security+, on the other hand, is just one test and overlaps a great deal with less advanced CompTIA certificates.

Job Opportunities

Both of these certifications are designed to help your resume stand out to employers. Companies hiring for entry-level IT positions and entry-level cyber security positions will be on the lookout for A+ and Security+.

A+ Job Opportunities

CompTIA is one of the most respected and widely known IT certification issuers. For that reason, so many companies want candidates to have CompTIA certifications to their name. They prove that you have a certain level of IT know-how.

Being that A+ prepares you for entry-level tech jobs, it’s these kinds of jobs that will list A+ as a requirement in the job description.

Top 5 reasons to get your comptia a+ certification

Some of the jobs that list A+ as a requirement include:

  • Business Analyst
  • IT Server Technician
  • IT Specialist
  • Data Support Technician
  • Help Desk Technician
  • IT Support Manager

A+ is a step towards qualifying you for the aforementioned jobs, however, employers often want candidates to have prior work experience and pertinent hard skills.

According to Indeed, 8,352 jobs ask applicants to have CompTIA’s A+ certification.

Indeed image of number of jobs that require A+

Security+ Job Opportunities

Once you obtain Security+ you’ll qualify for jobs that want A+ in addition to entry-level cyber security positions.

These positions are more advanced and, as such, have higher salaries.

According to CompTIA, once you obtain Security+ you may qualify for the following positions:

  • Business Analyst
  • Cyber Security Manager
  • Systems Administrator
  • Security Consultant
  • MSP Personnel

While more advanced than A+, having the Security+ on your resume doesn’t automatically qualify you for certain jobs. You’ll also need a grasp of technical tools and perhaps other certifications and hands-on experience to be considered for certain positions.

After searching Indeed, we found 7,467 jobs asking that applicants have Security+.

Jobs that hire those with security+ certification

Verdict: Security+

If you could pick one certification to put on your resume, it’d be Security+. Even if you’re applying for an IT job that has little to do with cyber security, Security+ is still the more desirable certification. If you have Security+, it means you should have a grasp of the topics covered by A+ and a solid foundation in cyber security.

Cost and Recertification

CompTIA certifications aren’t cheap. Each certification will cost you hundreds of dollars. Recertification may also be pricey, depending on how you choose to recertify.

A+ Cost 

To take the CompTIA A+ exam you’ll have to pay $246 per exam. Remember that CompTIA requires A+ test takers to take two exams. In reality, the final cost is $492.

This price, however, can be offset should an employer decide to reimburse you for the exam, if you qualify for a nonprofit charitable program, or if you obtain a student discount. Should you qualify for a student voucher, you’ll pay as little as $97 for the exam.

If you fail one exam, you’re able to retake the failed test, but there are no discounts for retaking the exam.

The A+ certification expires every three years. To renew it you may:

  • Complete CompTIA CertMaster CE
  • Earn a more advanced CompTIA certification, such as Network+ or Security+
  • Earn a qualifying non-CompTIA industry certification (not all certifications enable renewal)

Renewal fees are not required should you renew via the CertMaster or advanced CompTIA certifications.

You can also renew by qualifying for 20 Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) over the three-year period. You can earn CEUs by:

  • Gaining professional work experience
  • Participating in IT industry events
  • Publishing white papers, blog posts, or books related to the certification
  • Earning a qualifying non-CompTIA industry certification

You need 20 CEUs a year to renew the A+ certification. With an annual fee of $25 you’ll pay $75 to renew if you choose to do so with CEUs.

Security+ Cost

Security+ costs $392 per attempt. There is no discount for a retake.

You can often find discounted vouchers online, or you may qualify for a discount if you’re a student.

Like A+, the certification is valid for three years. After which, you can renew by retaking the exam, obtaining a more advanced certification like CySA+, or Pentest+, or earning 50 Continuing Education Units (CEUs).

If you choose to renew with CEUs, you’ll pay $50 a year, which comes to a total of $150 for three years.

Cost And Rectification

Verdict: Security+

A+ requires test takers to pay $246 for each of the two A+ exams. This totals $492. Should you fail one exam, you’ll have to pay $246 to retake it. Security+ is only one exam totaling $392.

A+ vs Security+: What’s Better?

Our verdict is the Security+ certification.

While both certifications are highly valuable, if you could only choose one to have on your resume, you’d prefer Security+. As a more advanced certification, it demonstrates to employers that you have an understanding of a range of IT and cyber security topics.

Security+ has more clout within the IT and cyber security community, and as a result, qualifies you for not only a higher quantity of jobs, but higher paying positions.

What’s Better Final Verdict

Before signing up for Security+ or A+, consider enrolling in one of our preparation courses covering every topic on the A+ and Security+ exams.  

Level Up in Cyber Security: Join Our Membership Today!

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  • Spencer Abel

    Spencer is part cyber security professional and part content writer. He specializes in helping those attempting to pivot into the vast and always-changing world of cyber security by making complex topics fun and palatable. Connect with him over at LinkedIn to stay up-to-date with his latest content.

  • Philemon says:

    Very interesting outlines

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