Contains a complete practice test in the book with answers and explanations, in addition to the practice exams on the CD-ROM. Includes specific information, tips, and strategies created to help the reader pass the adaptive test format to be released early third quarter. Features an exclusive Self-Assessment section that will help the reader evaluate their knowledge base against the requirements for A+ certification under both ideal and real circumstances. Contains adaptive practice exams that are created specifically to cover the new A+ Adaptive exam that will be released by CompTIA in April 2000. Adaptive exams customize the questions asked based on how the test taker answers each question, requiring a more focused study approach than previous fixed-length exams. The test taker is not allowed to skip and return to a question as in previous exams. Adaptive exams use much fewer questions than traditional exams.
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The A+ Exam Prep is a woefully mismarketed book. As a guide for prospective technicians who really want to make it in the outside world, it is exhaustive and far-reaching, revealing in minute detail what it would take to be a PC repairperson in a real-world situation. But if this is your only guide for the A+ exam, you might consider using it as your main introduction--and then buying another book to keep your focus on the facts.
You see, the A+ Exam Prep gives equal weight to all facts, emphasizing none--and given that the A+ is about knowing certain concepts, this can be a major drawback. It's not designed in the least to help you study for the A+; the chapter-end tests are fill-in-the-blanks 90 percent of the time, not the multiple-choice questions you'll see on the actual exam. Don't expect to study the Core and the DOS/Windows exams separately, because they're mixed together in the book without regard to test sectioning. And worst of all, the obvious test questions aren't stressed at all but rather are presented once in passing--or mentioned, almost misleadingly, as a sideline.
For example, the two chapters that deal with disk drives imply that most drives need low-level formatting, except for modern drives, and that autodetection is a newfangled technology that you might come in contact with ("modern" and "newfangled" drives being almost any drive made since 1996). Likewise, the book mentions that one drive on an IDE connection must be configured as a master drive only once; says once that the SCSI controller counts as a slot toward the eight-device limit on SCSI chains; doesn't even mention that the usual SCSI boot ID is zero; focuses in on old disk-encoding methods; and doesn't say that some system boards have on-board disk controllers. In general, the text leaves the reader swimming through a mass of facts, with the testworthy facts camouflaged neatly among the sea of otherwise-vital but untestable topics.
It's not that the information isn't here: all of the left-out topics mentioned above are addressed eventually. As stated, it's very comprehensive, going so far as to provide extensive details on topics that are barely touched on in the actual exam, like Windows NT. But the nature of the writing makes this an all-or-nothing gambit: if you're willing to read through it diligently and study every last word and concept, you will not only have an easy time passing your A+, you will also be well-schooled in many methods of repair that the A+ doesn't cover. However, if you skim the book and don't pay attention to the right subjects, you could easily fail. This is a book that depends heavily on commitment.
The A+ Exam Prep has some valuable features that no other exam book offers: the "Projects" section is a commendable addition, for one thing. By giving you hands-on, real-world Things To Do, like opening up your PC to identify cardslots or creating Emergency Boot Disks, the Exam Prep both expands your knowledge and gets you more comfortable with the technology. Likewise, there is much wisdom to be found here on the frequently misunderstood Debug command. (If there is a minor flaw in the Projects section, it's that it pretty much assumes you already own Norton Utilities--but then again, anyone who's serious about PC troubleshooting should probably have a copy anyway.)
The tests at the ends of the chapters are tough (though they're not in the A+ exam format), and the two sample tests are real teethgrinders. In addition, the tests presented on disk are plentiful--over 150 questions--a nice change from the usual meager array of questions found on most bundled CD-ROMs.
To sum up, this is a great book if you really want to know everything about PCs; the information here is clear and understandable if you apply a bit of effort. It will also serve you very well as a reference in your post-exam career. But if you're not willing to give it the attention it deserves, you may need to buy another book to tell you exactly what topics you need to focus on for the actual exam. --William Steinmetz
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