Deciding to take the test
If you’ve been following this blog, you may know that I’ve been a Java developer. (tech lead and architect count if you still code <smile>). Last year I took the SCEA and Core Spring certs. So why go back and take the “entry level cert.” I’ve thought about taking the SCJP twice. My thought process to finally getting here:
- Bert Bates mailed me a free copy of K&B version 5 so I could help spot plagiarism of questions on BlackBeltFactory years ago. I read the book then. I learned a lot. I scored poorly on the sample questions because I didn’t take any time to memorize the relevant information. And I didn’t care to spend the time learning obscure details.
- In 2009, there were rumors of the Programmer Plus exam. If that exam existed, I wanted to take the beta of it because it sounded *so cool.* I re-read K&B version 5 and actually studied APIs. The programmer plus never came to be and I wasn’t motivated to take the traditional SCJP.
- A year or two ago, I was one of the cadre of JavaRanch moderators providing technical review of the K&B SCJP 6 mock exam book. Reviewing that book actually made me less likely to want to take the test because I read it questions about obscure details. (It did make me interested in doing technical reviews of future books though. I actually did one for a yet to be printed Manning book – The Well Grounded Java Developer.)
- When I noticed the Java 7 OCJPJP had JDBC and NIO sections, that got me interested again. JDBC is one of my favorite topics and I moderated the CodeRanch JDBC forum for many years with Scott Selikoff. The beta of part 2 was only $50 so I decided to take it. I decided to take it on 4/19 and took the beta on 5/9. I’ll be blogging about this separately in the next week or two. While I don’t have the score yet, I think I either passed or came really close. If I fail, I’ll pay full price to take it again. I’m never going to be more prepared for it than I am right now and don’t want to learn obscure details again! Once I realized this, I needed to take part 1 of the Java Programmer exam to actually get certified.
My study plan
In all fairness, most of the studying went on before I decided to take either exam. Both by reading/reviewing the SCJP books and by just picking things up over the years. I had a week and a day between part 2 of the exam and this part (part 1). For two of those days, I didn’t do anything at all. What I did the rest of the time:
- re-read chapters 1-5 along with parts of chapters 6, 7 and 10 of K&B SCJP which Bert recommended
- take all 6 mock exams from Enthuware JA +V7
How were the resources I tried
- K&B version 5 – Granted you’d buy version 6 at this point. (or the OCA/OCP 7 version once it is out). If you plan to take the OCP afterwards, I recommend going with this book to study. If you just want to take the OCA, it is overkill as the information you need is mixed up with lots of harder information you don’t know.
- K&B SCJP 6 mock exam book – If you are planning to take the OCP afterwards and don’t mind the material being mixed together, this is a great resource. If you want to get your OCA first without being exposed to the OCP information, it isn’t helpful though. Also, some of the content is no longer on the exam so you have to ignore these parts.
- Enthuware JA +V7 – This was a great resource. It was more difficult than the exam, but not overwhelmingly so. The only topic that stood out as being on the mock and not needing to know was the ranges that primitive objects could hold. A free 14 question trial is available so you can see what it is like before committing the $10. Yes, you read that right. You get 6 full length mock exams, analysis on your weak areas and the ability to retake questions by subject – all for ten bucks. Even though there aren’t drag and drop questions, the mock exam still includes them because they are harder. It also includes one or two fill in the blank questions. (I found this to be practically impossible as a one character typo marks it wrong and then it is hard to compare to see why you were wrong. But it isn’t frequent.) The mock has been updated for Java 7 and the new objectives/difficulty. I was highly satisfied with it. [My scores were 78%, 82%, 82%, 83%, 80% and 88%]
My impressions of the exam
- Just like on the SCEA, I had a ton of time. I had an hour left after taking all the questions and carefully reviewing them. (I found one wrong answer on review.)
- Unlike the SCEA, the questions are designed to be tricky/subtle.
- It was similar to the Enthuware mocks in terms of facts/skills you had to know and format. The Enthuware questions used some of the same variable names, class names and structures. Kind of like the SCJP talks about horses.
- I really like how the exam uses incredibly similar looking questions to ask different concepts. Even within the same exam. This prevents you from remembering much of use or memorizing much in advance.
- A few questions had you flipping between the “exhibit” class and the question. This was annoying because if you are looking for subtle details, it is a lot to remember between flips or *a lot* of flips.
- While taking the mock exams, I found a technique that helped me limit stupid errors. My score jumped 8-10% of the last mock I took (the only one using that technique) and then again on the actual exam. On the mocks, I went too fast because the questions appeared easy. On the final mock and real exam, I subvocalized as I read the code for *all* code questions. This prevented my brain from going too fast and missing anything.
- When you get your score report, it tells you which objectives you missed questions in. Mine was “flow control” which tells me I made a stupid error in that space.
And finally, why you should visit a testing center in advance
Note: the testing center fixed the problems I had – see comment below this post for updates
I took the SCEA and Java Programmer part 2 exams at my local testing center which I am happy with. They provide you with pen/paper and a detached room from the office to take the exam. The only distraction is if there is another person in the room with you and he/she stops and starts at a different time. They take care to be quiet.
Then there was the center I was at today. They gave me a *one sided* erasable markerboard to write on. But that’s within their rights. If you want paper, you should call and ask. The exam was held in what looked like a closet. A small table with two computers and poor ventilation. It was hot! And no soundproofing. I heard everyone who walked into the office while I was there. Which included an irate customer who had computer troubles and was dissatisfied with the speed at which they were fixing it (this went on for 10 minutes) and another potential customer who was inquiring about training. It was loud enough that I had to hold my ears to think. Which doesn’t go well with using a mouse to select answers or trace code on paper.
I wanted to take the exam today because I was off work today. And I figured minimizing the time between part 2 and part 1 would give me less time to get out of the habit of looking for details in exam questions. It was the right decision. But I wouldn’t recommend “Horizon Technical Consultants of Flushing” as a testing center for anyone.