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Strike 3, Failed the OCA Exam a third time

 
Brian Brumpton
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I feel terrible having to write this but I'm completely at a loss...

I just made a third attempt at the OCA exam and failed miserably. My score was 48% (my previous scores were 43% and 45%). What's most upsetting is that I didn't even come close. I know that I just wasn't comfortable on my first two attempts, ran out of time, and guessed on many of the questions. Before this attempt, I took 6 months and studied, wrote more code that I ever had previously, read the K&B guide (at least 3 times through each chapter), memorized all of the two minute drills and numerous other terms and definitions on the Java class I created on Quizlet.

I took the K&B practice tests and my scores were as follows:

Quiz 1 - 1st Attempt 53% taken on 03/16/15
Quiz 1 - 2nd Attempt 88% taken on 03/17/15
Quiz 2 - 1st Attempt 55% taken on 03/30/15
Quiz 2 - 2nd Attempt 88% taken on 04/04/15

I made sure to put 24 hours minimum between attempts to keep from memorizing answers.

Then I switched to Enthuware exams:

Starter Test: 1st Attempt 56% - Taken on 04/06/15
Starter Test: 2nd Attempt 95% - Taken on 04/07/15

Test 1: 1st Attempt 59% - Taken 04/08/15
Test 1: 2nd Attempt 67% - Taken 04/16/15
Test 1: 3rd Attempt 97% - Taken 04/17/15

Test 2: 1st Attempt 60% - Taken 04/21/15
Test 2: 2nd Attempt 97% - Taken 04/20/15

Test 3: 1st Attempt 59% - Taken 04/21/15

Kaplan Test Prep: 1st Attempt Questions - 74% (This was a 90 question format).

I also took the WhizLabs free test in there somewhere and score 92%. I honestly don't know what else to do. Am I just not cut out to be a Java programmer? The Oracle feedback is not very helpful as they send you back a list resembling all of the objectives. Anyone have any advice? Give it to me straight, but at least wrap it in some emoticons if it's really harsh.


 
Roel De Nijs
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Hello Brian,

Sad to hear you failed again!

But what I don't really understand: why do you take the OCA exam if you fail 3 Enthuware tests in a row Second and third attempts don't count! So Enthuware mock exams clearly tell you, you are not ready for the challenge and what do you do? You take the challenge. If you had posted these numbers yesterday or the day before, I had very firmly advised against taking the OCA exam at all (maybe even forbidden you )!

You definitely have the appropriate resources: K&B7 and Enthuware should always be a winning combo if used appropriately. So now the question remains: why did you only score in the fifties on each of the mock exams you took (on 1st attempt). This indicates there's still something missing in your knowledge or your exam question answering skills. Based on just these numbers it's impossible to tell and give you some meaningful advice. So when you took the actual exam (and/or the mock exams), what are/were your impressions? E.g. I had to guess on a bunch of questions? When I have to evaluate code snippets, I struggle to correctly interpret the code in the time period I have to answer a question? I'm very good at theory (ask me rules for method overloading/overriding and I give them you before you can blink your eyes) but I have difficulties to apply them on code snippets? I have still some weak spots in my Java knowledge (inheritance, polymorphism,...) and that's why I lose precious time (and have to rush through other questions)?
And I assume Enthuware gives you a list of exam objectives which you have failed on (or scored very poorly). Any specific exam objectives which are mentioned on every failed 1st attempt? Or are these exam objectives more randomly on every failed 1st attempt?

And one final question: you said
Brian Brumpton wrote:wrote more code that I ever had previously
Did you use an IDE or a text editor (and javac/java) to write all these code snippets.

Hope I was not too harsh (added some emoticons), it makes some sense and is a little bit helpful!
Kind regards,
Roel
 
Guillermo Ishi
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The pattern of the scores show that not only did you memorize the answers, but that you have an outstanding memory (97%)! That much of a difference in 3 days, well you can't learn that much that fast; it has to be memory.

Are you not cut out to be a java programmer? Well, I've flunked it twice and I've been programming for 20 yrs (not java) and am named co-inventor on several software patents... We are probably good programmers and bad test takers.

Study real hard and know the most intricate things (at the ocajp level), and more importantly recognize them in the code you have to unravel during the test. And focus, focus, focus during the test - see everything. We'll kick its ass sooner or later. If we don't run out of money.
 
Brian Brumpton
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But what I don't really understand: why do you take the OCA exam if you fail 3 Enthuware tests in a row Second and third attempts don't count!


Roel, I know this seems like a foolish thing to do. I was feeling a lot of pressure to get this exam done, to graduate, and to quit spending so much time away from my family. I don't work as a programmer, I'm a real estate agent. My income has suffered dramatically because of the amount of time I've spent studying. All those things amounted to an incredible level of guilt.

Based on just these numbers it's impossible to tell and give you some meaningful advice. So when you took the actual exam (and/or the mock exams), what are/were your impressions?


I thought my weakest areas, based on the exam results, were loops, arrays, and exceptions. Two days prior to taking the exam I studied the Enthuware exams by objective on those three things and felt I had resolved my issues with those problems.

I'm very good at theory (ask me rules for method overloading/overriding and I give them you before you can blink your eyes) but I have difficulties to apply them on code snippets?


Yes, yes, yes. I have literally memorized the two minute drills from the K&B book. I had another student from school who did poorly on his first try and scored somewhere in the eightieth percentile send me some code examples of he saw on the exam. I immediately spotted the issue, which was one he was not trying to point out (a compiler error), and when he corrected me (he was trying to demonstrate a runtime exception) I fired back a page long explanation of how he would have to change the enhanced for loop block variable to a compatible type etc...

It's something about an exam, when it counts, that makes the voices in my head echo and the code runs together. In the first two exams I ran out of time. I didn't feel like time was an issue on this one. I had plenty of time to finish all of the questions (but as much time as I would have liked for review).

I assume Enthuware gives you a list of exam objectives which you have failed on (or scored very poorly). Any specific exam objectives which are mentioned on every failed 1st attempt?


Looking at the progress report, the only two objectives in the red are inheritance and miscellaneous. I was having trouble with which method gets called reference variable type or object type. I thought I had that straightened out too.

Did you use an IDE or a text editor (and javac/java) to write all these code snippets.


Always a text editor (JEdit).




 
Roel De Nijs
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Brian Brumpton wrote:Roel, I know this seems like a foolish thing to do. I was feeling a lot of pressure to get this exam done, to graduate, and to quit spending so much time away from my family. I don't work as a programmer, I'm a real estate agent. My income has suffered dramatically because of the amount of time I've spent studying. All those things amounted to an incredible level of guilt.

I definitely can understand all these things put you under a lot of pressure and you feel you have to take (and pass) the exam as soon as possible. And my brother is also combining an additional course with a day-time job, so I know it's very hard to combine. You have to put in so much effort, it asks some sacrifices as well and there's no much time left for a social life and/or (family) quality time.
But now you have to process another disappointment, one that actually was totally unnecessary if you made an objective assessment of your 1st attempt mock exam scores on (without letting your personal situation influence the decision).

Brian Brumpton wrote:Always a text editor (JEdit).

If you didn't have done it already, it would definitely be my main advice.


So now we need to find the source of your poor scores, both on the mock exams as on the actual one.

Brian Brumpton wrote:The Oracle feedback is not very helpful as they send you back a list resembling all of the objectives.

In your score report Oracle lists the objectives for which you answered a question incorrectly. I checked my score report and I have just 3. You have in total +- 40 exam objectives for OCA 7. So it seems your score report lists plenty of them, which could mean your Java knowledge is still not at the desired level and you should keep studying and practicing.

Another possibility could be that you know the theory very well but you have some difficulties when you need to apply this knowledge on code snippets. Perhaps maybe even strengthened by the fact it's an exam. So nerves and stress will almost certainly come into play. You would definitely not be the first one who snaps on an exam and mix up everything he knows. And in your case, it could be intensified by the additional pressure you are experiencing due to your personal situation.
But that would (in my opinion) not explain why your results on the mock exams were so weak. I would assume nerves and stress wouldn't be an issue at that time. It's like taking a decisive penalty on the World Cup soccer final (or semi/quarter finals) compared to a penalty during a MLS game when your team is already leading with 3-1

This forum contains lots of posts with additional questions having some minor tweaks of existing questions and/or code snippets (which I often add to make you aware how a small change could have a whole other outcome). Do you try to answer them as well? And if you do, what's your success rate?

Kind regards,
Roel
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Brian,
In addition to writing lots of code, I recommend going through the mock exams again, but with a different goal. You'll probably remember the answers since you are good at that. Instead for each one, write or say out loud a sentence on WHY that is the answer. This will get your brain focusing on finding the problems that come up on exams.

After that, take a mock you haven't seen before to see where you stand. There is a list of free ones here. One of which is the free 20 question assessment in my OCA 8 book. (a few questions won't apply to the OCA 7, but will be obvious as they cover topics not on the OCA 7 - dates and lambdas)
 
Brian Brumpton
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@Jeanne -
Instead for each one, write or say out loud a sentence on WHY that is the answer. This will get your brain focusing on finding the problems that come up on exams.

I did this on many of the self-tests at the end of each chapter. I wrote down my justification for my answer. It was very helpful and I will definitely extend the exercise to the practice exams. One of the things I tried to do with the self tests and the exams was not to look at the answers (knowing I would risk memorizing them without knowing the concept behind them). If anyone is writing practice exam features in the future, I would love one that showed you the questions you got wrong but did not give you the answer. That way I would be able to go back and study until I could answer the question.

After that, take a mock you haven't seen before to see where you stand. There is a list of free ones here. One of which is the free 20 question assessment in my OCA 8 book. (a few questions won't apply to the OCA 7, but will be obvious as they cover topics not on the OCA 7 - dates and lambdas)

I did take the free test from whizlabs and I scored 90% on that exam. I didn't think it was near as difficult as Enthuware, then again it was only 25 questions. I will definitely check out the others you have listed and I greatly appreciate you taking the time to offer up some advice.
 
Brian Brumpton
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@Guillermo -
Study real hard and know the most intricate things (at the ocajp level), and more importantly recognize them in the code you have to unravel during the test. And focus, focus, focus during the test - see everything. We'll kick its ass sooner or later. If we don't run out of money.

Thanks for the words of encouragement. I'm trying to look at with a cup half-full mentality. If I don't run out of money, I may be the one person who has seen every question in the OCA exam bank by the time I'm done.
 
Brian Brumpton
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@Roel -
In your score report Oracle lists the objectives for which you answered a question incorrectly. I checked my score report and I have just 3. You have in total +- 40 exam objectives for OCA 7. So it seems your score report lists plenty of them, which could mean your Java knowledge is still not at the desired level and you should keep studying and practicing.


You are correct. I have 27 objectives that I need to review. Obviously any one question could contain multiple objectives. I can place four or so questions that I knew I got wrong in those objectives alone.

One was a simple order of operations like so: int i = 48 - 12 /(5 * 2) + 6;

For the life of me, I should not have missed this one. I just couldn't sort it out. I knew the parenthesis were first. I knew the division would throw out the remainder but I screwed up the evaluation by doing the left and right sides first and the division last when I should have evaluated it from left to right after doing what was in the parenthesis and the division.

Another was a question about the advantages of an ArrayList. I knew that they were dynamically resized and that was an advantage but there were a couple other options that I couldn't rule out. One was that it was part of the Collections API (which I knew but didn't necessarily know why it would be considered an advantage). I also didn't know whether or not ArrayList were thread safe (which I now know they are not). I have since re-read the OCA study guide and it does mention that the ArrayList are part of the Collections API but doesn't mention anything regarding thread safe operations. If I were a better test taker, I should have just gone with what I knew I had read and ruled out thread safety operations by means of knowing it was not on the exam.

The other part I noticed is the K&B Study Guide says the only two declarations you need to be familiar with for the exam are:

ArrayList<type> myList = new ArrayList<type>(); and List<type> myList2 = new ArrayList<type>();

however, I found most of the questions that included ArrayLists were formatted as:

List myList = new ArrayList();

I don't believe it affected my answers as I had seen and worked with ArrayLists enough to know that it would compile.

There was a third question, very similar to an Enthuware question: Checked exceptions are meant for...

which had two answers. I know I got one of the answers right because I knew remembered the answer from the Enthuware test but I'm not sure I got the second.

I don't know if I'm odd (actually that's not true, I know I'm odd) but in reviewing my results of the Enthuware exams, I seem to do much better on questions rated as tough and real brainer than I do on questions that are marked easy and very easy.

Another possibility could be that you know the theory very well but you have some difficulties when you need to apply this knowledge on code snippets.


I believe this to be correct. I've spent so much time studying how to write things the correct way that I don't seem to be able to spot the incorrect versions. I will just keep studying and practicing. I feel if I back off now, I will have to start all over again and I already know nearly 50% of what's needed. Half way there is better than just starting I guess.


 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Brian Brumpton wrote:I don't know if I'm odd (actually that's not true, I know I'm odd) but in reviewing my results of the Enthuware exams, I seem to do much better on questions rated as tough and real brainer than I do on questions that are marked easy and very easy.

I think that implies you are reading into the easy questions!
 
Roel De Nijs
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Brian Brumpton wrote:You are correct. I have 27 objectives that I need to review. Obviously any one question could contain multiple objectives.

So you know what to do

Brian Brumpton wrote:I don't know if I'm odd (actually that's not true, I know I'm odd)



Brian Brumpton wrote:but in reviewing my results of the Enthuware exams, I seem to do much better on questions rated as tough and real brainer than I do on questions that are marked easy and very easy.

So when a question seems (too) easy, you seem to take that question too frivolously! That might explain why you failed to answer a no-brainer like the simple order of operations.

Let me share a little secret. You think I have superhuman Java powers, but if I don't fully concentrate on the exam, I could fail as well. Every single certification exam question requires complete focus and full concentration. And there are absolutely no exceptions to this rule! You can prepare yourself for months, even a complete year; if you don't fully commit yourself when you take the exam, you could fail. For the OCA exam you have to be on your toes, completely focused and 100% concentrated until you click the Finish button. So that's approximately 120 minutes of utmost concentration and complete dedication to approach each question on the same focused way!
I even have a little trick/rule: if a question seems way too easy to be on a certification exam, I automatically assume there has to be a catch somewhere. So I look at that question (and code snippet) very closely for at least 3-4 times to convince the little voices in my head the answer I had selected was the correct one
 
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