Friday, August 22, 2008

Sun Certified Java Programmer (SCJP) Exam

Today, I passed the Sun Certified Java Programmer (SCJP 1.5) exam. Throughout this post, I will share my experience preparing for it.

Before I get started, a little bit of background. I started developing in Java in 2001 (second year of college). Most of the software I have written was using the standard and mobile editions of the Java Platform. I have some knowledge of the enterprise world of Java, but mostly through Servlets and JSPs than anything else. In addition, I took a 6-months Java tutorial back in 2005 that covered OO Topics and Java Core (everything up to concurrency), Java Advanced (concurrency, networking, RMI, JDBC, XML) and Java Enterprise (Servlets, JSP, Custom Tags, JMS, EJB). Hence, I was not knew to this technology when I first started preparing for the SCJP exam in mid June (I also became a SCJA in January this year).

First step was to find a study book. This was not hard since I already knew about the SCJP for Java 5 Study Guide from Sierra and Bates (I already had the 1.4 version of the book). This is an excellent material, no doubt about it. It has a complete coverage of the exam objectives, examples, exercises, exam watches, basically anything you would possibly want from a certification book. Highly recommend it. I only went through this book once, done most of the exercises, and took the free practice exam that comes with the CD (you also get a bonus MasterExam practice test). Once I indentified my weaknesses, I went over again through the specific chapters in the book. At the end, I took the MasterExam practice test and did a little better. How many times you read the book really depends on you, on how familiar you are with Java, on how fast you graps the topics detailed there. I read about people who read the books as many as five times. If you think it helps, and you have time, it is up to you!
Now I have to mention that the two practice tests were the hardest from all the test that I have done afterwards, harder than the exam, hence if you nail these tests, the real exam will feel much easier. It might be harder also because, like other practice tests I took, when you get a multiple-choice question, they don't specify how many correct answers you have, while the real exam, and some of the other test, does. I understood the reason why it is not specified, but I would have wanted an option from where to choose if I should be given, or not, the number of correct answers.

Next step, a combination of taking many mock exams, and reading online SCJP notes. The best place to go for this is to the Java Ranch SCJP Forum webpage. How much it helped me? Enormous! Beside the benefit of having a forum specifically dedicated for SCJP, you get links to basically anything that you might want (and need) for this exam, such as faq, notes, mock exams, etc. Such a pool of resources gathered under one roof is almost impossible to find. Two thumbs up for everybody involved there!

If you want commercial practice tests, I would suggest Whizlabs, uCertify, Sun's own ePractice Certification Exam. From what I read, and from my own experience, I would say that Whizlabs is harder than any practice exams I know (except the one from the book). It contains tips, study notes, and 4 practice exams - best overall preparation kit. uCertify is a bit easier than the real exam, and it contained minor software errors, but was a good resource in the end. Bundled in it come 7 tests, tips, notes, etc . Sun's web-based practice exam came the closest to how the real exam was (which kind of makes sense, I know). This is the main reason I bough it. The score that I got form the third (and last) practice test was the one I got in the real exam.

Going through many mock exams and practice tests, I started writing my own SCJP Notes document. It contains everything that I thought was essential for the exam (inspired from the book and many existing online notes), together with things I have missed at tests (my own weaknesses if you like). You can read the document here.

As for the exam itself, you get 210 minutes (I was done in around 130 minutes). Honestly, I thought I would do worse than I did. I was unsure on some of the answers I had given, but when you take so many mock and practice exams, when you read from the many resources available out there, you have to start trusting your guts. And this is mostly true on API related questions, i.e. does the reverse method exist in both String and StringBuffer classes? What about replace? Java 1.5 specific questions (topics not present on older versions of Java) were on the exam quite often (such as generics, autoboxing, varags, etc). The Thread-related questions were harder than I expected, and I did the worse on that section than I did on any other (only 75%). In the practice exams, threads were one of my strongest suites. If you aks me, Concurrency, Generics and Collections are the hardest topics around.

What can I say more? Good luck to any of you who want to take this exam, and if you have any questions, drop me a comment.

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