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Handling the "don't know" questions

 
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Alright.... I test well. But I find on programming certification exams there's a different layer of testing complexity. No one knows "everything," and I'm sure a little talk about strategy could be helpful to all of us.

How do you handle a question where the answer in your head doesn't match an answer given?

Example: You read the question. You are pretty sure there will be a compilation error because of x.

The given answers are something like:
a. some output
b. runtime exception for w
c. compilation error for z
d. none of the above

My "test taking" skills say "go with c because your logic may be wrong." But I suppose not compiling because of x fits in none of the above. This fits for all kinds of questions... I'm particularly scared of complicated "what is the loop output" questions... one wrong step and a well placed incorrect multiple choice answer and you're done.
Moreover, there's always the situation where you "don't know" but two answers can look, "good." What do people do to try to sort those ones out?

What are some strategies people use to help "hedge a guess" ?
 
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I try to logically weed them out. For example if the answer is "Compilation fails due to X" and the options are

1. Runtime exception for A
2. Runtime exception for B
3. Does not compile due to Z
4. None of the above

Now the answer could be 3 or 4. It could be 3, if you are ignorant of a compilation problem due to reason Z. It could be 4 if X alone is the reason.

I would stick to 4 since I know that it is logical to go with that option. If option 3 turns out to be the answer, add that knowledge to your brain and get rid of the ignorance that used to occupy that space.

There were several cases where option N looked "good". After taking a couple of mock exams, these "good" choices turned out to be wrong. That is how I managed to eliminate the options anyway I do hope something similar works for you
 
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Use process of elimination. Please see my response to another thread in this forum
 
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Study enough so that there are no "don't know" questions Easier said than done.

My "test taking" skills say "go with c because your logic may be wrong." But I suppose not compiling because of x fits in none of the above.


If "c" is right, then you should definitively go for "c". Not because your logic is wrong, but because "c" is right. If you think "c" is wrong, then it's "d". I think that if you're scared of your own assumptions, you should read the answers first, and check the code after. This may help keeping your evil thoughts away.

I'm particularly scared of complicated "what is the loop output" questions... one wrong step and a well placed incorrect multiple choice answer and you're done.


Yes, these are tricky questions. I can recommend you Bert's recent Practice Exams book. It's full of mean mind-tricky questions. Cruel But after that, the exam will look like a walk in the park.
 
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There's good news and bad news

The good news is that you'll probably get a fairly even mix of topics on the real exam. So if you're not trying to get 100%, it's okay if you get fooled once or twice. The real goal is to be *solid* across the range of topics, not perfect.

The bad news is that the exam creators spend at least as much time on crafting the wrong answers as they do on the right answers. Wrong answers are often based on what would happen if you have *this* misconception or *that* misconception.
 
Janeice DelVecchio
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That's really bad news!

I guess the answer is to study for as many possibilities as possible. I'm not trying to get a perfect or near perfect score, just score consistently high enough on mock exams to know I'll likely pass.

Right now, I'm at the point where I know most answers if I can figure out what the question is testing on.
 
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Janeice DelVecchio wrote:
if I can figure out what the question is testing on.



Thats usually the hardest part IMO .
That and not making careless mistakes... which I loose a couple of points to every time.
 
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If I can't decide which answer is correct, I just mark it and move on to other questions. The correct answer sometimes can be found in subsequent questions.

If when I comeback, I still don't know the answer, I accept that I'm not perfect and make a (sometime random) choice. Thankfully, because of my careful preparation, I didn't have to do that often.
 
Deepak Bala
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if I can figure out what the question is testing on.



That is exactly it. I never assume the question is testing me on anything in particular. If I see a java.util.List for example, that does not entice me to dive into checking generic correctness. I still follow the routine of checking for scoping / syntax / static Vs non-static etc.

That usually helps. I hope the same works for you
 
Janeice DelVecchio
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Deepak,

So you have a routine for checking?

When I was studying to be a vet nurse we had to come up with a "physical exam pattern" .... so you know every animal got a complete physical exam, nose to tail. Start with heart and lungs, check eyes ears and mouth, et cetera.
Having a routine for checking code MAKES SENSE to me!

That's a good place to start. Thanks!
 
Sandra Bachan
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Janeice DelVecchio wrote:


When I was studying to be a vet nurse we had to come up with a "physical exam pattern" ...



You were studying to be a vet nurse?

How facinating!

For some reason, I always thought that most programmers were programmers their whole life. Of course, there are many facets to programming such as designing websites, creating games, animations, etc.

It is really great to broaden and diversify your knowledge.That way and use what you know from being a vet nurse and programmer to create something new.


Just went off on a tangent
 
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I once worked with a programmer that used to be a trauma surgeon in NYC. He told me that the doctor job was less stressful.
 
Janeice DelVecchio
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I was a vet nurse, for quite a while. I worked in emergency medicine. I decided to change careers when I realized the only way to make money in my area was to work nights and holidays.

When I was very young, I would say that computers would be a fall back career for me.
 
Sandra Bachan
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Tom Reilly wrote:I once worked with a programmer that used to be a trauma surgeon in NYC. He told me that the doctor job was less stressful.



My goodness!!!

I would think it is the opposite, considering that doctors work with human beings and one small slip up could lead to irrepairable disaster.

Of course on the other hand, computers are becoming more and more integrated with our day-to-day lives, including medical systems which people depend on.
 
Sandra Bachan
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Janeice DelVecchio wrote:I was a vet nurse, for quite a while. I worked in emergency medicine. I decided to change careers when I realized the only way to make money in my area was to work nights and holidays.

When I was very young, I would say that computers would be a fall back career for me.



One of the people I used to work with had a dog. One time, the dog was at the groomer's and accidentally fell off the table. This was after hours, after 5pm. Of course, the dog's leg was put in a cast, and is now all better.
 
Tom Reilly
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Sandra Bachan wrote:I would think it is the opposite, considering that doctors work with human beings and one small slip up could lead to irrepairable disaster.


He explained that for almost every situation, there are protocols to handle it. I suppose this comes from thousands of years of practice. Computers, however, are only decodes old.
 
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