jeanne’s SCEA 5 part 1 experiences

Six weeks ago, I decided to take the SCEA 5 (Sun Certified Enterprise Architect) exam.  Today I passed part one with a score 87%.

(See part 2 and 3 notes as well)

Note: I did not pay for any mock exams.  I’m sure I would have scored above 90% had I done so.  I don’t think paying money for a higher passing score is worth it.  That isn’t learning for the sake of learning.  It is learning specifically for a test.

Since people at JavaRanch‘s SCEA forum often ask how one studied and about experiences, I decided to blog about it.

Deciding to take the test

The first thing I did was make sure the SCEA was not going away.  After all, who wants to be one of the last people to take the test before Oracle changes things?  As you can see in What’s next for Sun certifications now that Oracle is in charge? The SCEA looks quite stable and likely to continue.

While I’ve read the SCJP book, I’ve never taken the exam.  Multiple choice exams based on minutia that one doesn’t encounter in real life isn’t high on my list of things to do.  The SCEA doesn’t have the SCJP as a pre-requisite and emphasized the practical over trick questions and memorization so I decided to go for it.  Granted it is Sun’s view of the world so Spring and the like don’t fit it, but I find it a lot more relevant that the other exams.

My study plan

My plan was a wee bit vague.  I intended to get the study guide, see what was involved, study/practice as needed and register for the test.  I planned to spend 5-10 hours a week on this.  (I probably did this half the weeks.)  Here’s what actually happened:  [note this is a list of what I did and not what is good to do; see the next section for comments on the resources]

  1. Week 0
    • Decided want to take SCEA.  (My employer thinks it would be nice for people to get certified.  I’ve thought about doing so before, but this provided the final motivation to actually go for it.)
    • Convinced myself it is ok to do shortly before Oracle changes things because the SCEA looks intact.
  2. Week 1
    • Did sample questions to see where I stand.  (I copy/pasted the questions to notepad and removed the (*) next to the correct answers since they aren’t in a form one can use.  It still takes discipline to cheat, but I wanted it as a benchmark.  I got 5 or 6 out of 8 correct.  One of the answers was obviously incorrect.)  While this is (barely) above the passing score, I want to feel more confident before spending money to take the exam.  Decided if I read the SCEA book and practice some, I’ll be more reliably above it.
    • Ordered “Sun Certified Enterprise Architect for Java EE Study Guide“.
  3. Week 2
    • The only thing I did until the book came (Thursday) was look where the testing centers are me.
    • Once the book came, I read the first 5 chapters.  I was surprised by how easy the content was.  I guess this is because I already serve as an architect in some capacity.  This is good; I’ll be able to take Part 1 earlier than expected.
  4. Week 3
    • Registered for exam – since it doesn’t look overly difficult, I decided to take it soon.  I didn’t want to take in July 4th weekend and happened to have a day off work July 16th anyway, so I decided to go with July 16th.
    • Read remainder of book.
    • I had/was fighting off a cold part of the week so didn’t get much done.
    • The book contains sample questions that are supposed to be the level of difficultly of the exam.  (They seemed too easy, but turned out to be correct about the level of difficulty.)  Looked at scores to see how I am doing.  My scores for the chapters were 100%, 50%, 85%, 85%, 67%, 75%.  Some of the questions are not included in this percentage because I saw the answer before choosing one.  It was difficult to cover up the answers well.
  5. Week 4
    • Identified the areas I want to get stronger at:
      1. Make sure I can identify the design pattern names from descriptions.  While I am familiar with all the patterns, I often look them up in real life.
      2. Web Services – I know them in the capacity I have used them , but not as extensively as some of the other content.
    • Made flash cards for the design pattern names.  There are a few that have similar sounding descriptions and I wanted to make sure I could tell them apart.  After making the cards, it turned out I know almost all of them.  I imagine the act of making the cards did that.
  6. Week 5
    • Take free JavaBeat mock exams online to practice.  These were for the SCEA 4 exam, but interesting so I kept going.  Plus they gave me practice taking multiple choice closed book exams; a skill I haven’t used since college.
    • JavaBeat exams showed I need to review design patterns more didn’t do much this week though.  It was just too hot in New York City to think!
  7. Week 6
    • Reviewed the questions I got wrong so they are top of the mind
    • Looked at references from people in the SCEA forum at JavaRanch
    • Remind self not to read into questions (Sun doesn’t seem to think a web app is more secure than a fat client despite the logic being only on the server)
    • JavaChamp mock exam – got low score, but doesn’t tell how many correct answers there all the time so you have to guess how much to think about each question.
  8. The night before
  9. Take the test!

How were the resources I tried or read about?

Resource Cost Tried? Comments
Cade & Sheil Study Guide $40 Yes I relied on it heavily.  See my review on Amazon (which should be up within a day or two for more details.)
Whizlab Mock Trial free Yes 15 questions.  (got 93% on this which is slightly higher than real exam.  others have noted larger differences for Whizlab being easier.)  Satisfied with quality.
Whizlab Mock $100 No n/a – didn’t need extra help passing exam
Epractice Mock Trial free No I wanted to try this but you need a “free license key that gets e-mailed immediately” and it never came.
Epractice Mock $80 No n/a – didn’t need extra help passing exam
Sun’s epractice exam $65 No 120 SCEA 5 questions from Sun

n/a – didn’t need extra help passing exam

JavaBeat SCEA questions free Yes this is NOT for the SCEA 5 exam.  I found the design patterns and scenario questions to be good practice and comparable though. SCEA questions free Yes this is NOT for the SCEA 5 exam.  I found the design patterns and scenario questions to be good practice and comparable though.
JavaChamp Express Exam free Yes 20 question sample exam

Remember the SCEA 4 exam is quite different and study materials for it should only be used selectively.

What did I read?

Another thing people at JavaRanch typically state is what they read for the exam.  I really only read the Cade & Sheil study guide because so much of the content sounded familiar.  Prior to even thinking about taking the exam I have read many books including:

  1. EJB 3 in Action – see my review at JavaRanch from 2007
  2. Core Java Server Faces – see my review at JavaRanch from 2004
  3. JEE 5 tutorial – see my review at JavaRanch from 2006
  4. Other books further in the past including Gang of Four, Core J2EE Patterns, Design Patterns, etc

My impressions of the exam

  • I had a ton of time.  I completed pass #1 in 45 minutes.  I wrote down on paper which ones I wasn’t 100% sure of.  After pass 1, I calculated the total and I already had more 60% of the questions correct.  I then spent another 25 minutes on pass 2 thinking about the ones I wasn’t sure of or where more complicated.  Caveat: In school, I always finished tests with a load of extra time.  This just means the SCEA was consistent with other exams.
  • I dislike that you can’t review drag and drop questions.
  • Two of the questions I got wrong were because I didn’t realize they were in scope of the test – Java Cryptography Architecture and CORBA.
  • The questions were not tricky.  Subjective maybe, but not tricky.
  • I think this is one of those exams where having more experience hurts you a bit because you read into the questions.  For example, I know that a three tier app is more secure than a two tier app because you aren’t executing business logic on the client.  Sun disagrees.  I know because it is Cade’s book.  I imagine there are other things like that where the experience I have clashes with the test.
  • Most of the questions were high level.  There was only one I can recall that was at the level of what API/class name you would use and it was one every enterprise developer should know.
  • My section scores confirm these impressions.  I got 100% on web tier, applicability of JEE and Patterns.  I got 75% on Security (which would be the cryptography question), 66% on application design concepts and principles (which is only one wrong), 83% on integration and messaging (CORBA plus legitimate mistakes) and 87% on common architectures and business tier technologies (the two areas I suspect real world experience clashed.)

All in all, it was interesting and I felt the test was fair.