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Frustration with puzzly IQ-type questions.

 
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I am pretty sure that many of you have puzzled and sweated over the puzzle question from Sierra/Bates (Chapter 4, Operators) self-test on page 308:

Place the fragments into the code to produce the output 33. Note, you must use each fragment exactly once



FRAGMENTS:
y y y y
y x x
-= *= *= *=

And here is my frustration...

What exactly is this question supposed to be testing? Maybe 5 to 10 percent of Java knowledge and the remainder is some IQ testing of basic subtraction/multiplication skills and deduction ability. And yes, I got the question right. But the time this question kills, if it were a real question on a real exam, would not be justified to even touch it with a 10 foot pole. It's a time killing trap.

A clever math puzzler can deduce some things: You cannot multiple x by y because you will lose the odd number value that you need in the end for the x. Also, since the puzzle starts with x, you must first square the x (the other option to keep the odd value x -= y does not work). And at the end you need to output x again. So again, you need to keep the x fragment ... etc... etc... You deduce the solution to an arithmetic puzzle. It seems simple, but for most of us isn't.

I am not asking how to solve these type of questions. They are just curious arithmetic puzzles. They have almost nothing to do with testing my Java knowledge. My comment and my question is this. Are these type of questions really expected at the SCJP exam? In the answer on page 313 the book says in fact "you might encounter something like this on the real exam". If it is really true, then I am incredulous. Is SCJP an IQ test? What is the point really?

Please note, I am NOT asking that anybody disclose any specific real question from the real exam! Please do not! But I am curious to know your thoughts about my exasperation here. I would appreciate it... Thanks.

Marcus J
 
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Hi Marcus,

You're definitely not alone in your exasperation. See this other recent thread for a similar expression of frustration. Unfortunately, only Kathy and Bert can tell you for sure whether such questions actually exist in the SCJP. But the good news is that even if they do exist, they seem to be extremely rare--and they definitely shouldn't make the difference between passing or failing the exam.

Personally, I agree that you shouldn't waste much time with these types of questions, both during your preparation and on the actual exam. If you want to, just skip them entirely. Sure, this wouldn't be a satisfactory approach if you're dead-set on getting a perfect score for the exam no matter what... but I think you'll agree that it's not worth the frustration to spend so much time on a question category that'll most likely show up only once in the exam, if at all.
 
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Hi Guys,

I'm not making any excuses, we could probably cook up something better, but here's the situation:

1- Because Sun administers these exams on a world-wide basis the delivery tool is restricted to running on the "lowest common denominator" hardware/software combination.

2- Because of the above, drag and drop questions have some severe limitations, but they are better than nothing.

3- The question you're concerned with (and I have to admit, it's not my favorite question either), is an attempt, on a flat, non-interactive piece of paper, to roughly simulate a few of the weird, "puzzle-y" drag and drop questions you might encounter on the exam.

I agree that you shouldn't give this question a lot of weight - there are probably a small handful of these "puzzle-y" kinds of drag and drop questions in the entire Sun question pool, so a given candidate could get none of them, or could get only one or two - definitely not a high priority.

On the other hand, our goal, as authors is to get you 110% prepared for the exam. (We don't always succeed, but that's our goal.) So, for the sake of completeness we had to try to emulate the occasional "puzzle-y" question you might encounter.

In an ideal world, with inlimited time and budgets, I think that we would be able to eliminate any questions like this from the exam. I will say that over the years I have seen these exams evolve in really good directions. My personal feeling is that these exams are a LOT better now than they were 5 or 6 years ago. Still, there is always room for improvement, and when it's time for the next upgrade we will keep these comments in mind.

Thanks,

Bert
 
Marcus Jastrebowski
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Hi Bert, I appreciate you taking your time to jump in here and answer my gripes. Kelvin, thanks for the link to the previous post on the subject (I was searching, but perhaps SE's have not yet indexed the thread are referring to in their DB).

BTW, I did a quick and fun experiment. I gave this question to my wife, who knows nothing about programming or Java (except for knowing that she drinks it in the morning); she is a financial analyst (and a pretty good one at that). She also enjoys Sunday Puzzle on NPR with Will Shortz . So I figured, what the heck. I spent a few minutes explaining the assignment statement and the compound operator. After that, she sat down, and with just a little help from me was able to figure out the answer in several minutes.

So... I do not mean to sound too disgruntled. I think that the replies to my post here have put me somewhat at ease. I also recognize the following: Any real-world test is usually designed around some intended perceived level of difficulty. SCJP is not an easy test, and that's fine. There are a few "simple" questions and a few "hard" questions. Most of the questions fall around the intended mean, still pretty hard on an objective scale. I do not have problems with some questions being more difficult. But they do need to be hard questions testing a candidate's knowledge of Java... This particular one is a stretch. It's primarily arithmetics and basic algebra made hard.

Bert, if this puzzle was meant to demonstrate the usage of drag-and-drop questions then I accept it at that. Cool. But I hope that the real hard questions on SCJP are more about testing the Java knowledge than arithmetics. So I'm just going to assume that this question was an odd outlier, and I'll shut up and go back to work. I'm feeling more relaxed now

And BTW, one questionable self-test question does not make for a bad book. This one is still the best damn self study guide that I have ever learned from!

Marcus.
 
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Just to clarify, most of the questions are about Java *knowledge*. (Even if it looks like a memorization question, most of the questions that look like "memorization" can be solved if you have good knowledge.)

But, on the real exam, you might encounter one or two D & D's that have a kind of puzzle-y feel to them, like the mock question we're discussing. It's the exception to the rule, but you might just get one.
 
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