You know, not only does your experience not surprise me, but it's not unusual either.
My whole motivation for writing the SCJA Certification Guides was to help all of the people that I saw tackling the exam and failing. The whole idea of the exam is to demonstrate a full, well rounded knowledge of Java and Java technologies. Syntax and code structures, which is the heart of the SCJP exam, is only one part, and a small part or SCJA. People without real-world expeirence often have great trouble on the server technologies and client technologies sections of the exam (which humbly, I believe is where my book shines. )
People have had great success tackling the SCJA exam after going through my SCJA certification books. Study hard, and I'm sure you'll be extremely successful the next time around.