Kieran Tully

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About Kieran

Software Engineering Manager @Mastercard_PGS.

Head banger @ low flying aircraft.

Views expressed are my own.

All material on this website is Copyright (C) 2017 Kieran Tully unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.

Here are some tips on the strategies I used and some things I wish I’d known in advance.

DRAFT - Work in progress. More to come :)

It’s not advisable to cram for any exam. You will get far more out of the process if you invest weeks or months preparing properly. I was in a non-ideal situation where (due to an expiring voucher) I couldn’t postpone the exam, but had not done any preparation. The day before the exam, I fully expected to fail.

There is no guarantee that using these tips will allow you to pass. Bear in mind also that I have been programming in Java on and off for two decades.

  • Be a mapper, not a packer. TODO c2 link. Look for organisational patterns and underlying structure in the material you're learning. Many seemingly arbitrary facts can be derived from first principles, if you particular think about why things are that way rather than another.
  • Take time away from studying. Breaks are important to help your brain make connections. I tend to study in the evening, test myself and then sleep on it. I often wake up with new insights or questions about gaps in my understanding (this works for problem solving too). You'll know best what works for you.
  • Know where your exam centre is and how you will get there on the day. Ideally go there beforehand to sus out public transport, parking etc.
  • Have a plan for your exam based on the duration and number of questions. For example, if you have 150 minutes to answer 70 questions, you might budget two minutes per question with ten minutes for review at the end.
  • Bring foam or wax ear plugs, so that the noise of other candidates doesn’t disturb you. My exam centre provided ear plugs and I was very glad they did. I wouldn’t have thought to bring them myself.
  • Review your summary notes and mnemonics on your phone on the way. If you’re driving, have your phone read them aloud to you. Otherwise skim read them yourself.
  • Aim to arrive at least 15 minutes early, or 30 minutes if you have not attended a proctored Oracle exam before. This will allow you plenty of time to complete the necessary registration preliminaries (remember there might be a queue!) and use the bathroom.
  • Ask for extra writing materials before entering the exam room. My exam centre provided dry erase sheets. I ran out of space and wasted time erasing previous work with a tissue. I could have asked for more sheets (from the very helpful attendant at the front desk), but wasn’t certain of the procedure and didn’t want to waste time.
  • Write down helpful notes on one of the sheets before you start. Your exam is individually timed; it doesn't actually start until you accept the terms and conditions, so you can afford to spend a few minutes setting your stall. Plan in advance what you're going to write down, and actually practice doing this at the start of any practice exams you take. I wrote down some helpful mnemonics, some maps (e.g. the Throwable inheritance tree

Pretend you are the Java compiler.

  • If one of the answers is “does not compile” or “compilation error on line N” you know there may be a compilation error in the presented source code.

Pretend you are the Java Virtual Machine.

Time keeping.

  • Check in regularly against your plan during the exam. For example, at 30 minutes in, you should have about 15 questions completed. You may need to speed up if you are behind.
  • Don’t panic if you are behind. Some questions are harder than others and will take more time. I got a bunch of easier questions in the middle which allowed me to make up time. If you must move on, strike out (on PC, right click) the answers you’re sure are not correct. This will speed up your review process later.
  • Provide an answer to every question. Press the Review button at the end to check. Pick the most plausible of the answers you did not eliminate in your earlier pass. You will never lose marks by guessing, but you may gain marks!
  • Celebrate! Pass or fail, you have definitely learnt something about the material.
  • You should get an email with a link to your results within 30 minutes.
  • The results screen will list which exam objectives you lost marks on. Review the material on these to solidify your learning.
  • If you passed, congratulations! Take some time to relax.
  • If you failed, hang your head up high. You were brave enough to take the exam and expose yourself to the possibility of failure. If you can’t fail, you can’t learn. Many competent programmers are not good test takers. And many good test takers are not competent programmers!