Here is the catch, I've just graduated after some efforts and my first thought was to keep myself in the academia, but some troubles postponed that idea and I will have to wait some time and do some rethinking.
For the past 2 yrs I have been dealing with lots of Fortran and C++, all in a scientific environment, while not touching any single line of Java. Now I'm planning on getting back to a full time daily job and want to show possible employers something more tangible than some incomprehensible numerical methods implementations.
To cut the cheese, how much time do you think it would take me to get in shape to do the SCJP exam? I can get daily sessions of something like 3hs of studying everyday, but I'm at lost of how much time it will take to read through Berts & Sierra book and actually LEARN anything. After 4 yrs in college I realized that cramming just doesn't works.
It is a tough question to answer. The best I can do is tell you that this exam is more difficult than it would appear at first sight, and you will require a lot of preparation to be comfortable enough. Based on your experience with Java (which seems to be none) and the amount of time that you can spend each day, I would say that you might want to allocate at least 6 months to study for the exam. But only you can decide how long you need to prepare for it. If I were you, I would spend 1 week or so reading basic tutorials on the language, concentrating on how Java is different from C++ (this might be a very good idea, because that way you have a point of reference.) Notice that Java and C++ are very similar in many ways, but also very different languages, and that you are bound to have to fight the preconceptions that you have about how OO works, because what you know about OO is based on C++'s implementation.
Once you have spent at least 1 week getting familiarized with the language, then you can start by getting a basic Java book and do all the exercises that you can. Write a lot of programs, because that will shorten your learning time. When you are done with the basic book, then you can read the Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates book. You could perhaps try to take a shortcut and bypass reading a basic Java book, going straight for the Sierra and Bates book, but I would recommend to spend an extra week or two with a more basic book before starting with the certification guide. Once you are at that stage, it's just a question of being systematic, writing a lot of sample code, and asking a lot of questions here. You are going to need to be patient and disciplined in how you approach this process though. Don't try to build the house starting from the roof, take your time and make sure you learn the basics before starting to build further on your knowledge.
I wish you good luck with it!
All code in my posts, unless a source is explicitly mentioned, is my own.
Yes getting a certification at this point of time maybe is a good idea.
Ususally I have noticed that candidates who score well in the SCJP exam have at least six months hands-on programming practice with J2SE. But I have also heard of candidates who have done well with as little as three months practice. the questions in the exam can be rather challenging and often require you to carefully think through the problem. So, make sure that you get plenty of practice with problems involving the new features. Once you have adequate practice under your belt, you will be able to handle the questions in the exam.
A good place to begin maybe is by taking some sample diagonostic test based on the certification exam so that way you can access your preparation level rightaway and then estimate the time required to be spent on the preparation.
you can also take series of mock test to keep monitoring your level. SCJP study guide by Kathy Sierra & Bert Bates is avery good book to begin and you can include some mock tests also in the preparation plan.
I am planning for appearing SCJP1.6. I have a java background already but only a year's gap from the core java work has made me to forget few basics even.
Please find me the best approach of picking up the speed for the preparation.