I found this forum when preparing for my OCA Java SE 7 Programmer I exam. I found some posts here sharing experiences with preparing and taking the exam which were very useful to me, so hereby I'll share my own experience.
Background: I've studied something like "business & IT" and I've been working on the border between the two as an "information analyst" for about 7 years now. I'm not afraid to sit down with the developers in my team and dive into code, even though I'm not really required to in my job. Before the exam I had no more programming experience than a course J2EE 1.2 about 15 years ago and some personal PHP/MySQL projects about 10 years ago.
I've used three kinds of study material (in this order):
From the book from Deitel I only read the first 11 chapters. They cover approximately the exam material, but they do not expect any existing knowledge or experience. This really worked for me to get started. There are many examples in the book, and also many exercises to get some hands-on experience.
Then I decided I wanted to get certified, and I found the book from Gupta. This really is an excellent book to prepare for the exam! All the topics from the exam are covered, and Gupta adds many tricky situations typically tested in the exam. It also includes one full mock exam, on which I scored 73% after studying the book.
Finally I bought the ebook from Deshmukh which covers the same 6 mock exams as Enthuware, for which I achieved the following scores:
exam 1: 71%
exam 2: 68%
exam 3: 73%
exam 4: 74%
exam 5: 71% (tests some aspects not covered in the exam)
final day exam: 72%
Indeed, I never passed one mock exam. Also, I needed about 160 minutes per exam, while the real exam has to be completed in 140 minutes. Each time after the exam I went through all questions I failed. I made sure I understood my mistakes, did some hands-on practice and tried the next exam. After some exams I got kind of desperate, because the results didn't really improve even though I thought a really prepared well and studied hard. Then I read some other experiences here at CodeRanch explaining the Deshmukh/Enthuware exams are a lot more tricky than the real exam. This persuaded me to book my exam anyway. This morning I passed with 93%!
I can really advise my approach (Deitel, Gupta, Deshmukh/Enthuware). Don't let the mock exams discourage you: just do them all, learn from your mistakes and keep going. When you've already got some practical experience, skip Deitel. When you've already got a lot of experience, you could start with the mock exams to test your current knowledge, and only buy Gupta when the results are disappointing.
Thanks a lot to Gupta, Deshmukh/Enthuware and this forum for giving me enough confidence to book the exam!