CompTIA A+

CompTIA performance based questions

Darril Gibson
May 9, 2022 by
Darril Gibson

In 2012, CompTIA announced one of the most significant changes in its testing mode with the introduction of performance-based questions (PBQs) in three of its certification exams: A+, Network+ and Security+. While multiple-choice questions have the candidate choose one or more correct answers from a list of plausible choices, PBQs have them demonstrate specific knowledge or skills by performing a task or working on a realistic scenario in a simulated or virtual environment. This adds an extra layer of complexity to the test by ensuring the candidate has the knowledge and the problem-solving and troubleshooting skills required to address an issue.

Currently, PBQs are used in all CompTIA certification exams except  ITF+, Cloud Essentials+, Project+ and CTT+.

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Earn your A+ certification, guaranteed!

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What are performance-based questions?

Performance-based testing requires you to perform a task or solve a problem to answer a question. Normally, you will be given a scenario and will have to perform the task in a simulated environment and then click “Done” to complete the question.

Imagine if the police or military tested sharpshooters with a multiple-choice exam. It just doesn’t work. Instead, sharpshooters must demonstrate their skills on a shooting range by firing live bullets at a target.

Similarly, many technical skills can’t be accurately tested with multiple-choice questions. Instead, many certification exams require you to perform a specific task in a simulated environment designed to allow for multiple possible responses or paths that will test a candidate’s ability to solve problems in real-world settings. 

How many performance-based questions should I expect?

There is not a fixed amount for each test, but you can expect to see only a small number of PBQs for any exam, possibly two to six.

Do I get partial credit?

A common question people ask when taking these performance-based questions is if they get partial credit if they correctly perform part of the problem but not all of it. CompTIA mentions that there may be questions for which partial credit is offered both in the simulated and virtual environment. However, as scoring is confidential, no information can be provided regarding which of the questions allow partial credit. 

How are these questions graded?

CompTIA isn’t giving any specifics about how the PBQs are graded, but you can expect them to be worth more than a typical multiple-choice question. These questions are much deeper and require more knowledge to answer correctly.

How do I prepare for performance-based questions?

As this test section could become challenging, there are ways to prepare for certification exams with performance-based questions. Look for CompTIA’s book samples, exam objectives and practice questions to have a good idea of what kind of questions you may see. Prior to registering and scheduling for your desired test (online or in-person at authorized Pearson VUE testing centers), look for resources in the CompTIA Learning Center (eBooks, training videos and an online assessment for exam readiness) and for CertMaster Learn Training Media (a comprehensive learning tool that includes interactive learning with flashcards and performance-based questions) to be exam ready.

You can also use one of the many available options from reputable companies. CompTIA has asked all training partners to include PBQs in their products, so you will be able to access a wider variety of training to choose the route that best fits your schedule, learning style and needs.

Performance-based testing and the command prompt

The command prompt is relatively easy to simulate for a performance-based question. Also, the command prompt has many similarities between operating systems, so it’s easier to create vendor-neutral questions. Because of this, make sure you have a good understanding of any command prompt objectives for the exam you plan on taking.

Performance-based testing in the CASP+ exam

The CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP) exam was the first to employ a mix of multiple-choice and performance-based questions, with virtual and simulation PBQs for practical hands-on operating specific tasks. Virtual PBQs must be answered before continuing with the rest of the exam as soon as the candidate accesses the virtual environment.

Also, unlike other certification exams (e.g., A+, Network+ and Security+ that have been adjusted and converted to a standardized scale), CASP+ only gives testers a score of pass/fail rather than a numerical score. No results are given to the candidate other than a pass or fail notification after completing the test. If they’ve passed the exam, they’ll receive a congratulatory email from CompTIA.

Performance-based testing in the A+ exam

The new version of the A+ exam (220-1101 and 220-1102) launched in April 2022 includes PBQs. You can expect performance-based questions using the command prompt or Control Panel applets on the A+ exams but also simulations that cover many of the scenarios listed in the test objectives, from fixing connectivity issues for users to configuring accessories and ports of mobile devices to the steps necessary to install a secure, wired/wireless small office/home office (SOHO) network.

Check out the “CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, Eleventh Edition,” which includes many exercises explicitly written with these performance-based questions. As you’re reading the book, go through the exercises, and you’ll be better prepared to correctly complete these questions.

Another way to ensure you are prepared for these questions is to get as much hands-on practice as possible. You can get some of this in A+ Boot Camp-style courses by reputable providers.

Performance-based testing in the Network+ exam

CompTIA’s current version of the Network+ exam (N10-008) launched on Sept. 15, 2021, contains simulation PBQs. Once again, you can expect questions that require a command prompt. As a simple example, you might be tasked with removing a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) lease for a client and then obtaining a new lease. When you launch the simulation, you’ll see a command prompt. You’ll then need to enter the following two commands:

ipconfig /release

ipconfig /renew

The first command releases the current DHCP lease, and the second command requests a new lease.

You can practice online with simulation PBQs or see how to answer this type of simulation PBQ by going to the CompTIA Sample Performance

Based Question Answer Key.

If you’re currently studying for this test, consider a hands-on course or Network+ Boot Camp to fully prepare for your exam.

Earn your A+ certification, guaranteed!

Earn your A+ certification, guaranteed!

Enroll in a CompTIA A+ Boot Camp and earn one of the most popular entry-level certifications — guaranteed.

Performance-based testing in the Security+ exam

The current version of Security+, SY0-601, launched on Nov. 12, 2020, and consists of performance-based testing questions. Once again, you may see scenarios involving the command prompt. For example, you might be asked to calculate the hash on a file, and when you click the button, the simulated environment will put you into a command prompt simulation. If you type in dir and press Enter, you’ll see the files in the directory, and you might have the md5sum or sha1sum executable file.

You’ll need to be familiar with using these programs to calculate a hash. For example, you can calculate the Message Digest 5 (MD5) hash of a file named study.txt with the following command:

md5sum study.txt

The program then outputs something like this:

eb574b236133e60c989c6f472f07827b *study.txt

The first string of hexadecimal characters is the hash of the file, and the file name (study.txt) is after the star (*).

You could also see scenarios in which you are asked to identify and mitigate an ongoing attack and collect evidence of an attack during a forensic analysis.

Again, a boot camp style course can help you practice with tools and scenarios to apply your learning. 

Check out Infosec's CompTIA A+ and Security+ hubs to learn more.


Darril Gibson
Darril Gibson

Darril Gibson (A+, Network+, Security+, CASP, SSCP, CISSP, MCITP...) has authored or co-authored more than 25 books including books on A+, Network+, Security+, SSCP, and CISSP. One of his newest books is the CompTIA A+ Training Kit (Exam 220-801 and Exam 220-802) (ISBN 978-0735662681) and it provides comprehensive coverage for these exams. His CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-301 Study Guide (ISBN 978-1463762360) has received rave reviews and regularly helps people take and pass the Security+ exam the first time they take it. Similarly, his CompTIA Network+ N10-005 Practice Test Questions (Get Certified Get Ahead) (ASIN: B007IYF3Z8) book helps people test their readiness for the Network+ exam. You can reach Darril through and he regularly blogs at