Product ReviewA Must-Have Exam SimulatorMaya Consultancy's gEs: Java 2.0

CupCupCupCup
Version Reviewed: 2.0
Current Version: 3.0
Cup rating system:
5 Outstanding      4 Very Good      3 Acceptable
2 Has Potential    1 Poor
Vendor Info
Maya Consultancy Inc.

100 West Chestnut St., Ste. 2702
Chicago, IL 60610
800.360.5640
www.mayaconsultancy.com
Review in a Nutshell
This product is a robust and easily configurable testing engine, a powerful tool that takes only a few minutes to pick up and use. It provides a database of 250+ questions developed by Sun Certified Programmers. Despite some difficulty tracking missed questions during the test-review process, this is a must-have application for anyone thinking about taking the Sun Certified Java Programmer exam.

Platforms:
Runs on Windows, Mac OS, Unix

Price:
$55 downloaded from Flashline.com

System Requirements:
JDK 1.1.8+ or Java 2;
64 MB of RAM recommended

AT SOME POINT in their careers, most programmers will consider pursuing some form of industry certification. Certification is not for everyone, certainly, but it does hold big advantages for those who invest the time and effort in it. Certification establishes to employers that you have achieved a high level of competency in a given technology or language. When developers are competing for the choice projects, or that pay raise, certification can distinguish between two otherwise equally competent candidates. One of the most prestigious certification programs currently in place is Sun Microsystems' Certification Exams for Java Programmers, and it's the one every Java programmer will want to consider.

The Sun Certified Java Programmer (SCJP) exam is a particularly tough test. Even highly qualified programmers have a hard time with it. Each question on the exam can have more than one correct answer, all of which you must select to get the question right. And to pass this thing, you must score 70% or higher.

To help programmers prepare for the rigors of this exam, Maya Consultancy has developed gEs, an exam simulator for computer-based testing. Maya bills gEs as "an adaptive exam simulator...ideal for training companies looking for a one-stop solution for designing tests." The product is built in 100% pure Java and can be configured to provide practice exams for the SATs, GREs, GMATs, and a variety of other exams.

Although the basic gEs product is designed for a variety of exam situations, gEs: Java 2.0 focuses on the SCJP 2.0 exam. gEs: Java 2.0 covers both the 1.1 and 2.0 exams, and is designed to give users a chance to familiarize themselves with the format of the SCJP exam, to test their understanding of the subject material, and to just plain practice taking the test.

Installation
I downloaded the product from the company's Web site, and installed it on a Pentium 200 test machine running Windows. (The company also provides versions for other computing platforms, including Macintosh OS and Unix.) Because gEs uses a Swing-based interface rather than the Abstract Windowing Toolkit (AWT), you'll need JDK 1.1.8 or higher, or Java 2, to run it. It came packaged with ZeroG's Installation system, which made setting up the software as simple as running a self-extracting executable. Installing it was a breeze. Once installed, I simply ran the application and was ready for my first test.

First Practice Exam
I found gEs to be a powerful testing tool that takes only a few minutes to pick up and use. The product's Swing interface is very intuitive, with a beautiful GUI that utilizes either a menu or graphical toolbar. First-time users can start right away with a 60-question exam.

Screen Shot 1
Sitting for your first exam with gEs 2.0.

Like the real exams, the gEs exams consist of a series of multiple- or single-choice questions. Unlike the real exam, there is no time limit, so users can work at their own pace. The product allows users to skip over questions with a mouse click, and to come back to them later. The order and selection of exam questions are randomized, so users get a different set of questions each time they run a test.

The program's database of exam questions includes more than 250 questions developed by Sun Certified Programmers, and it covers virtually all types of questions administered on the exam. Maya claims to update its database regularly to keep up with changes in the exam.

Screen Shot 2
Reviewing exam results.

Although I've already completed the Sun Certified Java 1.1. Programmer exam, I have to admit that I failed my first gEs test. The product allowed me to review the test, which is the central, invaluable feature of gEs. But this review feature could use some improvement. The current version of gEs shows only the correct answers in the question review screen, making it harder to track down the missed questions. This is a minor flaw, however, and detracts only a bit from the overall usefulness of the post-exam review.

Customizing gEs
I particularly liked the ease with which I was able to customize the gEs exams. The settings menu allowed me to modify the gEs exam options (e.g., increasing or decreasing the number of questions given), and to modify the testing objectives (such as selecting only AWT and thread questions). If users find that they need work in particular areas, the program allows them to set up tests containing questions on that topic only. It also allows users to select multiple areas for testing, and to run through a smaller number of questions for a quick refresher.

Unlike some of the paper exams offered by study guides, this customization feature allows users to home in on problem areas, and to gain more experience answering particular types of questions. The ability of the exam to adapt to user criteria makes it far superior to other SCJP exam simulators. This feature is a big advantage over the types of paper exams offered in certification guides.

Customization of the exam can introduce repetition, so users should be careful not to limit the exam objectives to too small a range of topics. This is where gEs: Java 2.0 could probably use some improvement, as continual use of the software means that users will eventually encounter questions that they have already answered. Nevertheless, a test bank of 250-plus questions is large enough for most purposes, and when used in conjunction with study resources, can help get you up to speed with Java certification topics quickly. The gEs product includes a list of free online resources. This list, which links to additional sources of information, can be found under the Help->Online Resources menu item.

Summary
For any programmer considering taking the SCJP exams, an exam simulator is an absolute must. Although it can't replace hard work and Java experience, an exam simulator can show you precisely where your strengths and weaknesses lie. It can also familiarize you with the exam format and the exam-taking process itself. When used in conjunction with appropriate training and study, Maya Consultancy's gEs: Java 2.0 exam simulator is a valuable tool for achieving Sun Certified Java Programmer status.

Certification Initiative for Enterprise Development
Last spring, Sun Microsystems joined with a group of Java heavy-hitters-including IBM, Oracle, Novell, and the Sun-Netscape Alliance (SNA)-to establish a new Java developer certification program. Called the Certification Initiative for Enterprise Development, the new program offers standardized cross-vendor credentials for enterprise Java application development.

The purpose of the revamped certification program, its sponsors say, was to promote common standards for the skills validated by the program. It was developed in response to the scarcity of Java programmers and the shift in overall Java development focus to the server side.

"In the proliferation of Java to the enterprise from the desktop, the complexity of solutions can be overwhelming for many companies," said Novell Chief Java Strategist Steven Holbrook in a published report. "This [program] will simplify the process of cross-platform development and deployment of Java applications."

The revamped program tests a programmer's skills on three levels.

  • Level 1 Certified Programmer: Demonstrates proficiency in the Java programming language. One exam is required for certification.
  • Level 2 Certified Solution Developer: Demonstrates competency in application development using Java technology, object-oriented analysis, and design with UML. Two exams are required for certification.
  • Level 3 Certified Enterprise Developer: Demonstrates competency in enterprise connectivity with the Java platform and enterprise development with an application server. Two exams are required for certification.
Candidates must successfully complete each track before progressing to the next level. Level 1 of the program is based on Sun's Certified Programmer for the Java Platform Program.

Concerns about the program arose when it became clear that Levels 2 and 3 required developers to take exams that not only showed more advanced competency in Java, but also demonstrated their expertise with vendor-specific tools-all tools from sponsoring vendors. Sun's Web site currently lists IBM WebSphere Application Server Standard Edition, Oracle JDeveloper, Netscape Application Builder or NetDynamics Studio, and IBM OOAD on Level 2. Level 3 lists IBM WebSphere Application Server Advanced Edition, Oracle Internet Platform, and Netscape Application Server or NetDynamics Application Server.

"If this is how Sun and the other vendors plan to implement the process, it is unacceptable as adequate evaluation of Java developers," said Melinda Ballou, senior research analyst at The Meta Group in a published report. "It skews what appears to be a good measure for determining Java developers' qualifications toward those who sponsored the certification process."

At the time the new program was announced, Bill Richardson, Vice President and General Manager of Sun Educational Services, said that the group would welcome the participation of any vendor, as long as that vendor "wholly supports the open-systems Java technology paradigm ... and certification programs align with ... [the founding group's] road map."

A 1997 International Data Corp. (IDC) report concluded that 90% of Java-certified employees are likely to stay longer at their positions with a given company than noncertified employees. The same report also found that employers perceived a 40% higher productivity level among certified Java developers.

The average cost of each test is $125. Java certification is also currently offered by Microsoft in the form of the Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) certification. MCSD candidates must pass two exams on Windows architecture and services and two exams on programming languages of their choice-including a Java option.

About the Author

David Reilly is a software engineer, freelance technical writer, and Sun Certified Java Programmer living in Gold Coast, Australia. He can be contacted at java@davidreilly.com.

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