THe Associate cert is a "lower" level cert than the professional, but Java 1.6 is fast becoming obsolete. You will have to take two exams to get a java 7 professional cert, but I think that's the better way to go.
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.
If you are a beginning java programmer the OCAJP7 exam is the one best suited for you, because it's the entry-level exam. Here on CodeRanch we have a dedicated OCAJP 7/8 forum for all your questions and doubts. We also have an OcajpFaq with a lot of useful information.