I passed the SCJP today after about 2 months of part time study (I have a full time job that is not related to Java).
MY BACKGROUND I am an experienced Win C++ developer, and experienced in taking certification exams. I am currently employed in a Subject Matter Expert (non-technical) role.
STUDY METHOD I took about 1 month to skill up on Java fundamentals. I started with Deitel & Deitel (ISBN 0131202367) but it was too slow and ponderous. I switched to Ivor Horton's Wrox Java book (1861005695), having had a good experience with his C++ book. For the SCJP exam you only need chapters 1 - 7 plus 13 and 15, or about 400 pages.
After this foundation I switched to an exam specific book, Heller & Roberts ( 0782142761). The first 8 chapters (250 pages) cover the SCJP. The practice exams after each chapter are too easy as a mock exam, but suitable to reinforce each chapter. After H & R I started using the Whizlab mock exam, having a good experience with them for the IBM XML exam. As always the Whizlab exams are harder than the actual certification exam.
One disappointment with the Whizlab exams is the lack of ability to hone in on incorrect answers. (Try a Self Test Software exam for comparison). I feel this hurts the study aspect, but the drilling aspect of Whizlab is great. You will be tired after spending a few hours using their exam.
I picked up the Sierra & Bates (007222684) just a week before the exam. I had poor experiences with the Osborne series during Microsoft studies but was very pleasantly surprised with the high quality from this book. This was probably the best book overall on the exam. This book, plus the Wrox if you need a tutorial, plus any free on-line mock exams, should be enough for a self study program.
WAS THE EXAM TOO EASY? I knew the pass score was lower than any other exam I've taken, but everything I read said the questions were harder. Maybe I just really studied the right stuff, or got lucky, but I did not feel the exam was all that hard. I had question after question on immutable strings, and it was not that hard to pick out in each case. I only had one or two questions with inner classes. "Does not compile" questions were also easy to spot.
It may be that the gruelling Whizlab exams sharpened the brain and eyes for what to look for. I have never read so much code character by character! I also thought the Sierra & Bates was brilliant as a last book to look at, but I appreciated the compact 250 pages of Heller & Roberts compared to the 500+ pages of Sierra & Bates. I am glad that I have them both because both also cover the Developer's exam.
Whatever book you get be sure it is the most recent edition, and go IMMEDIATELY to the publisher's web site and download any errata.
NEXT STEP Well I plan to reclaim my bicycle from the spiders, but then it's on to the Developer's exam.
Kevin Conolly MCSD, ICSD(xml), SCJP, Security+ [ November 16, 2004: Message edited by: Kevin Conolly ]