Jeanne’s experience taking the 1Z0-819 in the time of COVID-19

I took the 1Z0-819 exam today. I guess that makes me “triple qualified” having already passed the 1Z0-817 upgrade exam and the 1Z0-815/1Z0-816. I took the AWS Associate Architect exam two weeks ago.

COVID-19 logistics

I’m not willing to take the exam online so I signed up at a local testing center. I took this exam at a different center than where I took the AWS one since it wasn’t offered there. This exam center is a short bus ride away. (The AWS one was walking distance.) Overall, I think this center handled it better. They have more space so I was naturally further away from other people. I was also given hand sanitizer immediately on entry.

I was asked to take off my mask twice (once to verify I match my id and once to take a photo). That seems like it could have been combined.

Writing instruments

I haven’t been offered pencil/paper at an Oracle exam in years. This was the first time I wasn’t given an eraser for the erasable board. The proctor did come by towards the middle to see if I needed a second one though. (I did not).

Getting the score

I received my score immediately on completing the exam. It appeared right when I clicked finish. I was then given a printout saying “Your exam results are not available at this time… 30 minutes”. It looks like they are transitioning how it works. I’m happy to get a real time score again though! It’s been a while. (My score was 72%. That’s just barely passing. But that’s a story for another blog post)

Exam timing

You get 80 minutes to answer 50 questions. I can easily imagine someone running out to time on the exam. I finished going through a first pass of all the questions with 30 minutes left. However, I essentially skipped two (aka I guessed.) They weren’t hard – about control/flow. But they were time consuming. And I wanted to use the remaining time to go through the questions again to make sure I could say that our Complete Study Guide prepares you for the 819 exam. And it does.

Test taking skills are definitely important on this exam. For example, I looked at the answers before reading questions with a bunch of code. This gave me a clue what to look for. And also told me that I could read faster if there was “do not compile” option.

Question Distribution

When taking an exam, you have to agree not to share what was on it. So no details about what was covered. Sharing the distribution of questions by objective is fair game though!

Objective# Questions
Working with Java Data TypesAbout 5
Controlling Program Flow3
Java Object-Oriented Approach10-15
Exception Handling4
Working with Arrays and CollectionsAbout 4
Working with Streams and Lambda Expressions10
Java Platform Module System4
Concurrency2
Java I/O API3
Secure Coding in Java SE Application2
Database Applications with JDBC1
Localization1
Annotations1

(The counts don’t add up to 50 because a few questions covered multiple objectives for the early objectives)

815 vs 816 topics

Our books are labeled with 815 and 816. On the 819, it was split almost evenly. However, the difficulty of questions was uniform. It was just the topics that got distributed.

Where the topics what expected?

Almost. Enthuware wrote that doPrivileged was on the exam. We had used the Secure Coding Guide when writing our security chapter. Oracle updated the guide since the 816 came out. They also revised the exam. The word “privileged” was not in the objectives for the 816!

Should I take the 817 or 819?

Those who hold a Java 6, 7 or 8 certification are eligible for their choice of the 817 or 819 exams. They cost the same. The 819 allows half the time, but has a little over half the questions. So you have less time per question on the 819. Additionally, the 817 passing score cutoff is a bit lower.

While the 817 has a lot on modules (3/10 objectives), there are a lot of topics on the 819 not on the 817 (concurrency, secure coding, JDBC, localization, and annotations). Combined with the longer time for the 817, you are likely to find it an easier exam.

And important disclaimer about randomness

With only 50 questions, randomness is a bigger factor. This means you could easily not see questions on a topic. Or get more than someone else on another topic. Be careful as you read the experiences of people who have taken the exam. Just because they didn’t get a question on X doesn’t mean that you won’t! So you don’t get to skip studying topics.

studying for and taking an exam during a pandemic

In the past two weeks, I’ve taken two certification exams: The AWS Associate Architect and the Java 11 819 exam. Taking a certification exam during a pandemic was not a good idea for me. I didn’t realize that until a few days before the first of the two exams.

It’s easy to read about how people are using all they time they have during lockdown/pandemic to accomplish things. In May, I talked to someone who got two AWS certs and talked about wonderful it was to have so much extra time to study. By contrast, this is how I was doing in May.

I’m posting this about my experiences with the certs because it is ok to not be normal right now. Some people are going to be able to study in these times (if that’s you, buy my Java 11 certification book!) But if that’s not you, it is ok. You aren’t alone.

Why I took the two exams

Work set a goal for me to take the AWS Professional Architect exam. We then downgraded it to the AWS Associate Architect exam. (you need the knowledge of the associate architect on the professional).

For the Oracle Java 11, 1Z0-819, I wanted to make sure the existing book Scott and I wrote was appropriate to study for the restructured exam. (It is). Which meant taking it as close to when it came out as possible.

Timing and needing to pass

This was unfortunate timing. When I took the AWS Practitioner and AWS Associate Developer, I didn’t know if I would pass on the first shot. But I figured that i’d rather pay out of pocket for a second attempt (knowing what to study the second time) than overstudy the first time around. However, a re-take would have been after the Java exam. Which meant I had no hope of remembering the AWS stuff for a retake. So the “one and done” approach was far less than ideal. (My employer didn’t pressure me about passing during pandemic. But I didn’t want to go through all of that only to have to take it again)

I’m already Java 11 certified. So it didn’t matter what score I got. Still, it’d be embarrassing to fail an exam that I author a book about!

How studying went

As I wrote in my AWS blog post,

While things have been better since Memorial Day, I don’t know if I’d all them good. One of the problems I have with working from home full time during pandemic is remembering stuff. I remember things spatially. And apparently, I can only remember so much that happens in the same place in a day. So during the week, work “takes” all of that. So I’ve found it incredibly difficult to retain anything and had to learn the same things over and over and over…

This was a major impediment to studying for the AWS exam. It wasn’t for the Java exam, because I already know most of that material. (There are some things I have to “re-learn” for each attempt at an exam though because I don’t have them memorized.) Also, I didn’t fully study for the Java exam because of lack of time and because I’d rather do worse than go through that again.

Mock exams are an important part of studying for a certification exam. I wrote for the AWS exam

I also got frustrated during (practically) every mock exam when I couldn’t remember stuff I knew I “should” be able to. This gave my brain the opportunity to freak about about all the other stuff I’m worried about (going back to a coronavirus winter and the like)

I didn’t get frustrated for the Java ones because I knew what was going on. Also, while I was having trouble concentrating, I knew it didn’t matter. That said, I wasted a bunch of time trying. I just kept making the same mistakes over and over.

It’s funny because I always study with the mock tests at home. But I’m home far less overall. The concentration energy I have is going to other things (like my actual job). Whereas normally, I “get home” and am in a different mental space.

How taking the test went

While I was able to concentrate in the AWS testing center far better then at home, I still had a problem. I couldn’t recall stuff “I learned” at home. So I got frustrated because the problems from home felt like they were following me. This is something I’ll have to be careful with when we finally do go back to the office. I’m sure I’m accumulating all sorts of “mental debt” with things that I’m not learning as well as “normally.” But at least then it won’t be an open ended stretch of time ahead of me.

For the Java test, I was fine at the testing center. I was able to recall stuff far better than I did at home. Including stuff I didn’t study.

My score

On the AWS exam, I got a 760 (passing is 720). On the Java one, I got 72% (passing is 68%.) Both of these are lower than what I normally get on cert tests. But a pass, is a pass :).

(I found a couple of errors on the Java test. They might still be shaking it out.)

Why I think it was so difficult

First of all, I don’t do the lion share of studying for a certification exam from home under normal conditions. I study on the subway. I make “cheat sheets” of things I need to memorize and leave them in different spots (my desk at work, a paper to carry around the robotics lab, etc.) This allows me to “anchor” things I learn to specific spots.

Second, it’s been hard enough to do my job from home all the time. Learning/remembering more things from home on top of that is not helpful.

Third, I keep comparing how I’m doing to “normal.” I like to push myself as I can (at times). I like to feel productive by knowing I accomplished so much. Things aren’t normal. And I have trouble convincing myself that shouldn’t be the baseline. So when I did worse than normal, it was like a frequent reminder of this.

In Conclusion

I don’t want to take another certification exam until things are far closer to normal. In particular, I want my work stuff out of the middle of my apartment, not to be “using up” my finite ability to retain things from home on work and to have a commute again.