By Vikram S.

Certification in a particular technology increases advancement opportunities at the workplace and asserts that the certified individual is qualified to do a certain level of tasks. For the Java developer, Sun Microsystems‘ Certified Programmer certification is the starting point. In this article, I’ll tell you what this cert requires and how you can prepare for it. For a look at the various certifications in Sun’s Java Technology Professional Development Path, check out this sidebar:

The exam
The Certified Programmer exam consists of 59 multiple-choice and type-in questions. The passing score for the exam is 61 percent. There’s no limit on the number of attempts to pass the exam, but it costs $150 each time you take it, and there must be a gap of two weeks between attempts.

The exam covers topics concerning the basic syntax of the Java language and some standard packages. It doesn’t cover any other topics like servlets or Enterprise JavaBeans. In some cases, there may be more than one correct answer. If so, you will be told how many answers you need to choose.

To get an idea of the types of questions you can expect, here’s a question that’s similar to what you’ll find on the exam:

Choose best answer.
public static int main(String WRONG[])


  1. 1.      Code will fail to compile because the arguments to main are wrong.
  2. 2.      Code will fail to compile because main is defined incorrectly.
  3. 3.      Code will compile and run without any errors.
  4. 4.      Code will compile but fail to run.

The correct answer is 4. As you can see from this example, it’s necessary to have tried different options with the compiler. The exam does not require you to create the logic for a problem at hand; however, it expects you to be able to simulate a compiler. The exam is filled with code snippets, and you’ll need to recognize the output when that code snippet is passed through a compiler.

The official exam objectives are as follows:

  • ·        Declarations and access control
  • ·        Flow control and exception handling
  • ·        Garbage collection
  • ·        Language fundamentals
  • ·        Operators and assignments
  • ·        Overloading, overriding, runtime type, and object orientations
  • ·        Threads
  • ·        The java.awt package
  • ·        The java.lang package
  • ·        The java.util package
  • ·        The package

For a detailed listing of the objectives you can download the Success Guide by Sun. I would rate the sixth and seventh objectives to be trickiest.

Now that you know a little about the exam and the objectives, how should you proceed? What’s the best way to master the objectives? Let’s look at some of the books and other preparation materials that help you build expertise and prepare for the exam.

Recommended reading
The best resources for exam training are books, and when I think of Java certification, three books come to mind. My first recommendation would be the The Complete Java 2 Certification Study Guide, by Roberts, Heller, and Ernest (also known as the RHE book). It thoroughly covers all the topics required for the exam. Another good prep book is A Programmer’s Guide to Java Certification, by Khalid Mughal and Rolf Rasmussen. Both of these books are good and provide sufficient information, and you could do well with either of them. I would say the difficulty level of the questions provided by Mughal’s book is higher than the actual exam. So if you tend to get bogged down by your performance in practice exams, go for the RHE book.

My third recommendation is Java 2 Exam Cram, by Bill Brogden and William Brogden. This book is useful for reviewing the concepts you’ve learned from one of the other two books. It’s important to remember that all books contain quite a few errors. Make sure that you don’t let a typo or mistake in a book cost you points on the exam. Here are links you can follow to go through the errata for the book you have chosen:

Online tutorials
In addition to books, some online tutorials can be helpful in preparing for the exam. The most obvious tutorial is Sun’s Java Tutorial. Sun provides various download options for offline viewing of this tutorial. Another good choice is the Last Minute Tutorial, by Marcus Green. This tutorial covers each objective of the exam as listed by Sun with examples and provides links to other sources from which more information on that particular topic can be derived.

Practice exams
Practice exams can also help you get ready for the exam, and they’ll give you a good idea of your preparedness. I strongly recommend that anybody preparing for the exam take as many practice tests as possible. One of the biggest benefits of taking a practice exam is that it makes you realize the hidden tricks you may encounter in the real exam. After you take a practice exam, go through the answers and do a further study on related topics. Based on your scores, you should be able to decide whether you’re ready to take the exam or you’ll need more time for preparation.

The first practice exam to take is Sun’s ePractice Sample Questions. Unlike Microsoft’s certifications, many free sample tests and exam simulators are available for Java certifications. The best set of practice exams is by Marcus Green. Make sure you go through these mock exams at least twice before you take the real exam:

I felt that the content and the difficulty of these mock exams was the same as the actual exam. So you could consider the scores you receive on these exams to be a good indication of how you will fare on the real thing.

Some free simulators are also available:

Commercial software is available as well. This is optional, but if you want extra practice, these resources may help you gain more confidence:

  • ·        J@Whiz—This simulator has around 649 practice questions with 11 mock exams.
  • ·        JCertify—This simulator integrates with various Java training content like Bruce Eckel’s Thinking in Java and Richard Baldwin’s Java Tutorials.
  • ·        Practice Exams from Sun—These exams include sample test questions, correct answers with explanations, and suggestions for future study.

Success with certification exams comes from practice and preparation, and Sun’s Certified Programmer examis no exception. I hope the knowledge and confidence you gain from the books and practice exams we’ve discussed here pays off when you take the real exam.