I cleared OCPJP on Nov 12th . The journey was a challenging one for me. I have got little experience in Java, apart from a core Java course, that I had taken a couple of years back. But my preparation for the exam made me realize that there was more to Java language than any course could offer.
First phase: Started off with Head First Java by Kathy Sierra & Bert Bates and Absolute Java by Walter Savitch. These two books are very good for beginners. It took me 3 to 4 months to get an overall picture of Java and its features.
Second phase: Got the Sun Certified Programmer for Java 6 study guide(K&B) and went through the objectives. The exercises were tough for me at the beginning. I scored poorly and had to go back to basics and write codes. Java Ranch and Google search helped me to get additional study materials to clear the concepts.
Third Phase: Mock Exams
At first, I took short exams from Java Champ.com. It helped to find weak areas and improve upon those. Next, I cracked lengthier exams from Certpal. It was easy but again helped to strengthen weak areas. After that I took an exam from K&B and it was a disaster. I had to go back to basics and take short exams. Then came Exam Lab, the results were much worse than K&B. I wanted to just give up but somehow I pulled through those failures by analyzing my mistakes. Towards the end of my preparation, I found out a pattern in questions and the possible errors that could happen. I took mock exams with that point in mind and started scoring pretty well. I had scored only 38 to 48% in exam lab in my first try. But after a few weeks of focused preparation, I scored like 80%, 70%, 65%, 69%, 80%. In K&B, I scored 88% which became my actual certification score. I decided to give my actual exam, when I started scoring consistently above 80% in mock exams.
Last Phase: Actual Exam.
I went through K&B book two minute drills and the exercises as last minute preparation.
The exam standard was equal to K&B mock exam. I had around 10 drag and drop questions which made it tougher. The key to crack the exam was not to loose focus on seeing tough questions. Exam got much easier towards the end.
The flip side of the exam was I got two plastic sheets as scratch paper and it was difficult for me to write,erase and focus on the exam. Another was drag and drop questions, I had to click on the blank space once and then drag and drop the answers. It took me some moments to figure it out and they did loose the answers, if reviewed again. The exam user interface was similar to Exam Lab. There is no change in syllabus and K&B book is a big asset.
This is a lengthy post, but I hope my experiences will help people who are new to Java and who want to crack this exam. K&B, Exam Lab and the other mock exam links given in Java Ranch will definitely help to achieve this goal. Also, SCJP forum and the questions posted by other aspirants are a real help.