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Passing OCAJP8/OCPJP8 - boosting confidence with "RAG status".

 
Theo van Kraay
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Hello all. I hope this is the right place to post this.

I passed OCAJP8 and OCPJP8 exams over the last 12 months. I had intended to share my experiences after the OCA exam but got caught straight up in projects and could never find the time. Also after reading other's posts I didn't think there was anything I could usefully add that wasn't duplication of other's experiences. However, since going through the OCP there is one technique I used on both (more so on the OCP but I still think it may help some with the OCA) which seems somewhat unique (at least, I've not found anyone else using it, though I'm sure there must be a few who did something similar) and helped me so thought I would share it.

First things first, resources. Like many others, I used the excellent Selikov/Boyarsky Study guides, in addition to enthuware software for both exams. I started studying at the back end of September 2015, having about 5 years prior experience in Java programming. Passed the OCA November 2015 and then had a 9 month hiatus before picking up study on OCP again August this year before passing a few days ago. Although I'm quite experienced, it was a little tough for me from the beginning as I'd been in a consultant/architect role for about 2-3 years already and wasn't too hands with Java anymore; also most of my "hardcore" experience didn't stretch much beyond Java 6. Anyway, most of what I can share is very much in line with what others have said about both these exams. 

However, as alluded to, I took the decision when going through chapter exercises, and later the mock exams, to assign a RAG statuses (Red, Amber, Green) to each wrong answer. The criterion went something like this:

Green: should have got this question right, or I would easily answer a similar question correctly next time as long as I have absorbed a simple one line study note.

Amber: also seems an easy question that I could easily have got right, but I need to go through a full code example to make sure I haven't missed anything.

Red: ok, I don't even understand why I got the question wrong. Really need to go through this one with a fine toothed comb, and read around as well.

The purpose of doing this might not seem immediately apparent so let me explain. A lot of people (me included), while they might have a good capacity for understanding complicated concepts, may not have the best memory retention at the first pass through. Such people are likely to get questions wrong that they really should (or easily could) get right, but may be tempted to get discouraged by a low score. The purpose of the RAG status is purely a psychological boost, and is intended to distinguish understanding (or "potential knowledge") from retained knowledge (or "actual knowledge"). 

To illustrate, at my first pass through of the chapters in the OCP book, I was getting a "failing score" on all but two of the chapter tests. However, I didn't concern myself with that. I simply assigned RAG statuses to the wrong answers, and then worked out a "green score" (actual score plus green wrong answers) and an "Amber score" (actual score plus green and amber wrong answers). This told me my "potential score" if I had been able to retain simple information that wasn't at all beyond my understanding. In all but 3 chapters, my green score was a passing score. My amber score was a passing score for every chapter. This gave me the boost that if I just focus on these areas at the second pass, I should crack it easily.

I should point out that this isn't a short cut to success (in fact, it may actually increase your effort). However, these are pretty tough exams, and psychological boosts can be important! The reality is, although the concepts are tough, the exams themselves do contain many questions that are not terribly difficult but simply tricky and intended to test whether you've really grasped the concept. It can be easy to think that you're not really getting things if you see initial scores of 40 or 50%. However, a little analysis over the wrong answers, and more importantly WHY you got them wrong may in many cases reveal a different story: actually you may understand the concept ok, but were just caught out by a trick, or ignorance of a simple rule or general concept that would have allowed you to spot the correct answer. In other cases, it will reveal that you need to go over things again.

I hope that this technique will not only help at least a few people in boosting their confidence for passing the exams, but also help them learn and work through the tough concepts better, and retain the knowledge, as you will be iteratively focusing on your areas of greatest weakness all the time. Hope it helps for some people.
 
Theo van Kraay
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p.s. I should point out (though my wording suggested otherwise) that I focused on the Amber and Red scores, when going over the wrong answers, and not the green and amber (I left the green wrong answers as points I should easily pick up when going through the chapter again, and my study notes). The point is to zone in on areas of weakness (which is a fairly obvious concept), but also to recognise that you are a lot closer to understanding some wrong answers than others (not always so obvious) and to recognise this in terms of your "potential" and how far you have to climb (as I mentioned, low initial scores can sometimes make you think that you have further to climb than you really do).
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Great technique. Thanks for sharing. Have a cow.
 
Theo van Kraay
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Well... thanks! I thought "have a cow" was maybe an American phrase I hadn't heard of (I'm from the UK)... I spent a few seconds googling before I realised... the truth. Guess I'm new round these parts
 
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