I decided to buy a certification exam voucher at Christmas and for the last three months I have been doing a lot of studying for the exam. This morning there was a lot of trepidation as I made the trip to the assessment centre, not least because I paid for the test out of my own pocket and didn’t want to throw more money at retaking it.
I used three main methods of preparation: Sun’s own web-based practice exams, Sybex’s study guide and the excellent Examulator by Marcus Green. All three had their own virtues, Examulator was actually closer to the final exam format while the Sun practice exams had really good questions but were very pricey with only three mock exams all of which had to be taken in six months.
The Sybex book was spot on with its information; everything you need to know is in there and the example questions at the end of each chapter are good. However you need to check the errata and some sections are much better written than others. A particularly poor section is the explanation of Enums, it was only in the last week (via Examulator) that I discovered an Enum can be used anywhere a class is (I knew Enums where equivalent to classes but hadn’t made the connection) and therefore you could have inner and method Enums. All very odd and disturbingly last minute.
I knew when I started the exam that it would contain question formats and a UI that would be unfamiliar and that worried me. Also despite the geek stories of how easy the exam is and how so and so got 90% the first time they tried it after just three weeks revision I was fully expecting to fail the first time. After all this is meant to be some kind of global Java gold standard. I decided before I went in that I would make full use of the Mark and Review functionality and go for a first pass that would weed out the easy points. That technique definitely worked for me and settled me into the format and gave me some confidence to tackle the harder questions.
As for the questions you are not allowed to say too much (and it is not in your interest frankly to lower the bar for everyone else) but as someone who works with 1.4 day to day I found the 1.5 specific stuff (like Scanners, formatted printing and Templating/Generics code) harder because the reinforcement for the theoretical stuff just wasn’t there. Some of the drag and drop logic puzzles were very tricky and in the end for a few I had to just start playing around and eliminating some of the options to avoid analysis paralysis. I was also impressed how much stuff had been drilled into me about method overriding, variable scoping and Concurrent programming. I’m not sure how much of the certification course will come in handy in my regular work but I do now feel I have the confidence to go and do the consultant thing of looking at a bad piece of code, figure out what it is doing and how.
Why? Well obviously because I passed the test, I practically ran to the reception desk where the result was printed out and the minute someone said “congratulations” I just sagged with relief. Becoming Certified was a major goal I set myself this year and I have spent a lot of time, effort and money realising it. It feels fantastic to have achieved it more or less on time.
Of course what feels even better is that for the next few months my Sundays will not have to be centred around two hours of practice exams and when I take a book to bed it isn’t going to be the certification guide or Java in a Nutshell. From now on I can rely on the IDE to tell me what the API content is between version 1.4 and 5.0, hurrah!
I feel like I am getting my life and my free time back and that makes this achievement all the sweeter. After university I swore never to take an exam again and ten years isn’t a bad run to have stuck to a resolution. However the truth is that with globalisation competition for work in IT is still incredibly fierce despite the paucity of skilled labour in the UK. Certification is one of those things that shows you are willing to go that little bit further than the next candidate. Right now though the self-achievement is enough, the adulation can wait…