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Page 1 1002 Software Troubleshooting Study Guide for the CompTIA A+ Core Series Exam

How to Prepare for Questions about Software Troubleshooting on the CompTIA A+ Core Series 1002 Test

General Information

When a software program doesn’t perform correctly or adequately, the user will turn to the tech person—that’s you. You’ll need to know how to determine what is wrong and devise an action plan to get things back up and running. Approximately one-fourth (26%) of the questions on the CompTIA A+ Core Series 1002 test address software troubleshooting, so you’ll need to be familiar with all of the concepts in this study guide. All software troubleshooting questions will begin with a scenario.

Problems with Microsoft Windows OS (scenario)

Many organizations utilize Microsoft Windows as their operating system of choice. This means that, as a tech, you should be able to troubleshoot issues with the Windows OS and quickly identify common problems.

Common Symptoms

It’s important to be able to recognize common symptoms in the Windows OS and quickly determine how to best resolve the issue. Let’s look at several common symptoms that we see when there is an issue with the Windows OS

Slow performance— One of the most common reports that techs hear from end users is that their computer is running “slow.” Unfortunately, this can mean different things for each user. When users tell you that their computer is running slower than normal, it’s important that you ask for specifics.

Limited Connectivity— Limited connectivity is a type of network issue. Essentially, the computer is able to see the network, and even partially connect to it, but there is an issue with that connection. For example, if a computer connects to a network but doesn’t receive IP address information from a DHCP server, it will show the limited connectivity message.

Failure to boot— A failure to boot occurs when the computer is unable to load the operating system. One type of failure to boot is “No OS found.”

No OS found— No OS found is a specific type of failure to boot. No OS found occurs when the computer is unable to locate OS files. This can be either because the storage devices do not contain any OS files, or the boot configuration loader is pointing to the wrong partition.

Application crashes— It is not uncommon for applications to crash on a computer and there are many different causes for these crashes. When an application crashes, the user may see the application close unexpectedly or simply “freeze.” If the application freezes rather than closes when it crashes, it may be necessary to end the task in Task Manager.

Blue screens— A blue screen, or more commonly known as BSOD (blue screen of death), is a proprietary crash screen on Windows OS. A BSOD that occurs during the initial boot sequence could be caused by bad hardware, drivers and/or bad applications. Since a BSOD can be caused by many different things, technicians will need to do research on the specific error message given during a BSOD.

*Black screens— Black screens are similar to blue screens, but they are usually caused by an error at POST. When a black screen occurs, the best course of action is typically to attempt to reboot into Safe Mode or last known good configuration.

Printing issues— Printers are a great resource for users, but they don’t come without their own set of problems. Printing issues can range from not being able to print at all to printing only gibberish. Printing problems can be caused by driver issues, network issues, and even physical hardware issues.

Services fail to start— Services are the backbone of our computer. Sometimes, necessary services do not start when the computer loads. Services can be stopped, started, and restarted in the services menu and can be also be viewed from Task Manager. When a service associated with a specific application won’t start, it might be time to consider reinstalling the application.

Slow boot-up— If a system is taking longer than normal to boot, this could be caused by a myriad of circumstances. The hard drive may be experiencing errors. In this case, running a defrag could be beneficial. Slow boot-ups can also be a symptom of faulty or outdated hardware.

Slow profile load— A profile that takes a long time to load can be a result of having too many applications load at startup. It could also be a result of insufficient hard drive space or memory.

Common Solutions

In the above section, we have discussed some of the common symptoms of computer issues. Below, let’s look at some common solutions to these problems.

Defragment the hard drive— Disks can become fragmented as files are created, deleted, and modified over time. Defrag realigns all the file fragments into contiguous files on the drive. This not only speeds up disk access, but also eliminates wear on the drive. Keep in mind that solid-state drives should never be defragmented.

Reboot— The phrase “Have you tried rebooting it?” is a common joke among IT folks because this is typically the first question that must be asked when a problem arises. However, rebooting should be taken seriously because many issues can be solved with a simple reboot. Before diving into any more complicated troubleshooting, a reboot should always be one of the first steps in troubleshooting.

Kill tasks— If an application freezes or will not close, ending the task from Task Manager is often a quick way to resolve these issues. To end a task, launch Task Manager and locate the application in question. When the application is located, click “End Task”.

Restart services— Services are related to both system functions and specific applications. If an application or program isn’t running as it should, the service should be restarted to see if that helps. To restart a service, open Services.msc. In the services menu, search for the service in question. In the left panel, there should be an option to restart the service.

Update network settings— Network issues can arise when a device is given the same IP addresses as another device by accident, or when something in the network has changed (such as the gateway) and the devices haven’t been updated. When a device is having network connectivity issues, technicians must check the network settings and update as needed.

Reimage/reload OS— In some extreme cases, it may be easier to simply uninstall and reload the operating system. Windows has options so that files can be saved even when a refresh of the OS is needed.

Roll back updates— Although updates are meant to improve computers, sometimes they can corrupt files and cause issues. In these cases, it’s necessary to roll back the updates and take your computer to a previous state before the updates were installed.

Roll back device drivers— In the same way that updates must sometimes be rolled back, device drivers may require this also. If the computer isn’t behaving as it should after a driver has been updated or installed, it is best to roll the device driver back.

Apply updates— When a device is not acting as it should, it’s important to check to see if the latest updates have been installed. Updates are often put out to resolve security or performance issues.

Repair application— Applications can be repaired from the Add or Remove Programs menu. Locate the program in question, and instead of selecting Uninstall, select Modify. This will usually give you the option to repair the program. This can be especially useful with regard to Microsoft Office products.

Update boot order— At times, it is necessary to boot to a different location than the default. The boot order can be changed in the BIOS of the device.

Disable Windows services/applications— If a windows service or application seems to be causing issues on the device, it’s best to disable it while troubleshooting further. To disable a service, navigate to the Services.msc program, locate the service in question and double-click on it. In the menu for that service, you can choose the disable option.

Disable application startup— If an application is causing the startup to be slower than normal, it can be disabled from the startup programs. In Windows 10, open Task Manager, and the Startup tab is displayed. This shows all of the startup programs and allows a user to disable a program from startup.

Safe boot— Booting a Windows computer into Safe Mode or Safe Mode with Networking will boot the computer with only the necessary configuration. Safe Mode boots the system with only drivers absolutely necessary to do so. If you suspect problems with drivers, or need to modify system settings that are otherwise unavailable due to booting issues, Safe Mode can help. To enter Safe Mode, repeatedly press F8 during initial boot.

Rebuild Windows profiles— If there is only an issue with a specific Windows profile, it may not be necessary to rebuild the entire computer operating system; instead, rebuilding that user’s profile could do the trick. This is because profiles can become corrupted.

PC Security Issues (scenario)

Some computer issues have to do with security. To address them, you should spot the signs of particular problems and know what tools are available to render a solution.


Pop-ups occur from a variety of reasons. While in a browser, a pop-up may expose you to malware if you choose to click on the pop-up. Pop-ups that occur randomly should be addressed with one of the available malware cleaners.

Browser Redirection

If you find your browser has been changed, or that the results of a search come from a third-party site, it is likely that your browser has been redirected by malware. An anti-malware cleaner may or may not address the issue. You may want to restore your system from a known good backup.

Security Alerts

While browsing on the Internet, you may receive a security alert. This may tell you that the site is not secure or the site certificate is not trusted. Your browser will give you an indication of the problem and you need to determine the best course of action.

Slow Performance

While slow system performance could be the cause of faulty hardware or an operating system problem, it could also be caused by a security issue. If a system is infected with malware, system performance may be slowed considerably.

Internet Connectivity Issues

Internet connectivity issues are not always the result of networking. Malware-infected systems may prevent you from browsing to certain sites or you may be redirected somewhere else altogether.

PC/OS Lockup

Malware can attack the operating system in a number of ways, even to the point where the system will no longer boot. A malware cleaner may address the issue or you may have to restore to a known good backup. You may be able to find the root cause by accessing the Event Viewer.

Application Crash

Application crashes can be a sign that the computer has been infected with malware. Malware may cause applications to crash or you may get a message that says the program is no longer working.

OS Update Failures

If an operating system won’t install updates, this could be a symptom of a virus. Malware can interfere with normal operating system updates.

Rogue Antivirus

Antivirus should only be installed from trusted antivirus websites and vendors. Attackers can create their malware to look like antivirus and when the user installs it, they are actually infecting the machine with a virus.


Spam is unsolicited email messages, usually advertising a product, but may actually be a phishing attack. A good spam filter is one way to control this.

Renamed System Files

Malware can attack an operating system by simply renaming a system file, rendering it useless.

Disappearing Files

Malware can cause files to disappear by deleting the file or simply renaming it.

File Permission Changes

File permissions and ownership can be modified by malware.

Hijacked Email

One of the results of spam is to make a user the author of yet more spam. The unknown user is now being hacked to send out spam to others.

Responses from users regarding email— If a user is receiving numerous responses from other users regarding email he supposedly sent, but doesn’t recognize, this is a sign that the account has been hijacked. The hijacker will probably have deleted anything from the Sent folder as well to cover their tracks.

Automated replies from unknown sent email— Another sign of a hijacked email is receiving a lot of automated replies to an email that the user doesn’t recognize sending. Because spam is often sent out in a large bulk quantity, it’s likely that there will be automated replies sent back.

Access Denied

Malware can change the permissions of files, preventing access to the rightful user.

Invalid Certificate (Trusted Root CA)

If you are browsing the Internet and receive a security alert that the site has an invalid certificate, it could indicate the site should be avoided or possibly that there is something as simple as an incorrect PC clock setting because the site certificate date is too far from your PC’s date.

System/Application Log Errors

The System and Application logs in the Event Viewer can show a user what has been occurring on their device. If there are a lot of unknown errors or log in attempts, this could be due to an unauthorized user or attacker attempting to gain access to the system.