05 Feb 2010 A Challenging but Rewarding Experience with SCWCD
Those who have completed the SCJP exam would recall some of the challenges faced while tackling weird looking code problems aimed at thoroughly testing your understanding of the Java language. While the SCWCD exam has minimal code related questions, which are easier to interpret, it does have its own series of challenges to overcome. Preparation is one of them and can be quite daunting for those new to JEE.
Before I begin, I would like to highlight some of the advantages I experienced after obtaining the certification. Firstly, it provides you with an in-depth knowledge of the JEE platform. Your mind may not retain much of what you studied over the passing months but the strong fundamentals do help you to question best practices when working on a project. Secondly, it also allows you to formulate solutions based on what JEE has to offer and thirdly, the fundamentals could also aid you to spot similarities with other web technologies on the market and eventually become proficient in them.
To ensure that your preparation is effective, it is very important to choose a good study guide. For this, I chose the Head First: Servlets and JSPs book. There are two reasons that made me use this book. Number one, it was an advice from my colleague Glen Worsley, who had already taken and passed the exam. Number two, Head First books market themselves as “Brain Friendly” guides. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a brain friendly guide for something rather complex like JEE. Most textbooks are crammed with words and too much details. The simple diagrams and humorous examples (it’s good to be idempotent!) do help the reader to retain important bits of information. There is plenty to remember and selecting an exam date is as tough as hitting a moving target as I came to learn later.
Progress was slow. The original plan was to complete a chapter a week. An ideal plan it was, but I only managed to read through about 2 or 3 chapters within a month. I dutifully did the questions in the book after each chapter and found them rather tough which is for my own good. I did reasonably well on the first few but I was having a really difficult time when I got to the chapters on expression language and JSTL. There are several ways to accomplish the same thing and one of the difficulties is in trying to remember the JEE APIs taught in the earlier chapters as well as the various JSTL/action tags, which exist for similar goals. A handy tip would be to memorise and understand the various possible tags within the deployment descriptor by heart. Doing so would mean that you have studied a few portions of several chapters in the book. Six months had passed by the time I finished the book and the chapter questions.
While searching the Internet for good SCWCD training tools, I eventually came across Enthuware’s software. Its a really affordable exam simulator with about 8 mock exams and various questions for each chapter. Questions are categorized by their level of difficulty. I attempted the questions for all the chapters and found them not as tough as the ones in the book. Nevertheless, those questions were good practice as it helped me to gauge my strengths and weaknesses. These were presented as graphs and they are a good indicator of which chapters to re-study.
The mock exam questions found at the back of the Head First book is the penultimate gauge to indicate your level of preparedness. It should be done only once and when you truly feel that you know JEE kung-fu. Doing the mock exam too many times can lead to inaccurate results and a false sense of security which may lead to a severe defeat on exam day. Another technique I developed while revising for the exam is to tackle questions from random chapters in the book. This indicates that you are well trained to handle any surprise attacks which you may not see coming. It also means that you have kept the study material from both the early and late chapters close to your heart.
I eventually picked a good date to sit for the exam and passed with a good score. As usual, I marked the unsure questions and did the ones I knew. I had about an hour of extra time by the time I finished my first run of the questions. I then used the remaining time to ponder on the marked questions. Months of preparation had finally paid off and I was able to enjoy a healthy balance of work and personal life once again. As with most exams, the preparation does require some amount of sacrifice to personal time, but the returns and benefits are rewarding.