Becoming a Spring Certified Professional without the Core Spring Course
Until recently, the only way you could become a Certified Spring Professional was to take Pivotal’s compulsory, 4-day, Core Spring training course. On completion of the course, participants received an exam voucher that allowed them to schedule an exam at a certification centre.
At approximately £2.5k per attendee, the course is not cheap putting certification out of the reach of many self-funded developers and those that work for organisations without generous training budgets.
In May 2017 Pivotal changed their policy. Spring Certification Exams became available for individual purchase without enrolling in the course. I set out to see if it was possible to pass the exam without the Core Spring course and only using publically available material.
I set myself a budget of £250, approximately 10% of the cost of the Core Spring course and allocated 32 hours, the same duration as the Core Spring course. I planned my study time to last a maximum of 6 weeks with the goal of having passed the Certified Spring Professional exam at the end of that period.
The first thing I did was to take a look at the study guide Pivotal provide for the Spring Professional Certification exam. This gives an idea of the areas covered and a list of questions that one should be comfortable with before taking the exam. It makes reference to the Core Spring course and slides from the course which I did not have access to but I still found this useful to get an idea what to learn.
I registered for the exam. This involved buying and exam voucher for $200 and then choosing an exam date. Something I found confusing was that it wasn’t clear where I could take the exam until I had bought the voucher. I assumed it would mean a trip to London to a testing centre. However, the exam was fully online and could be taken from my office. I will come onto the details of how that worked later but suffice to say it was a significantly more convenient.
I have been using Spring in various forms for several years but I was aware there was a lot of gaps in my understanding. The phrase "too much magic" is often used when my colleagues talk about Spring and my main objective was to demystify it. This meant although I wanted to make sure I knew what I needed to pass the exam my focus was to really understand Spring to such an extent the exam was not a problem.
The first thing I did was to go to Safari Online. This is a subscription service that gives online access to a large library of technical books and video material. I looked at the material available and compared the content to the exam objectives in the study guide.
I decided to split my study into three phases:
Video courses - to get a broad overview
Books - to delve into specific detail
Revision and Practice exams - to make sure I had not missed anything
Phase 1 - Video Courses
I was unable to find a video course that covered Core Spring in its entirety. I was, however, able to get good coverage through combining two courses:
- I found this video course a very clear introduction to many of the core Spring concepts covered in the exam. I was a practical Spring guide so was useful for learning Spring generally rather than the specific details covered in the exam. It was an excellent starting point for filling in gaps in my knowledge.
- This course covered the container, AOP and data parts of Spring well but did not cover touch on the web.
- I chose this course to supplement the material from the other course with the missing Spring MVC. This course was again good but went into far more practical detail than was needed for the exam.
Phase 2- Books and Documentation
While the video courses were good they did not give me enough specific information to write answers for all the questions in the study guide. For this, I started to refer to books.
- This is the most comprehensive and current book I could find on Spring. Although it was not written with the exam in mind it did more than cover the areas of the exams and I trusted what was written in it. When I found a question in the study guide I could not answer I was normally able to rectify this by reading the appropriate section in this book.
- If I had any doubts from the book I would refer to the documentation for a definitive answer. Sometimes this was still not clear but StackOverflow did a good job of explaining concepts others had problems with before.
- This was a recently published book. The content was relevant and well explained and unlike the material before very focused on the exam. This book did not give me the same level of confidence as Spring in Action as being a new book it was prone to mistakes.
- It let itself down when it came to practice questions. The quiz answers were not in the book but in an online appendix. The answers themselves also contained mistakes corrected in an errata. The practice exam was also only available online.
Phase 3 - Revision Notes and Practice Exams
I was now happy that Spring was starting to sink in and I had gained a good understanding of the concepts. I understood the magic. The goal now was to focus in on what was actually likely to be in the exam. I looked online for revision notes and practice exams.
- These notes were made by someone preparing for the exam having completed the Core Spring course. When I first read them my confidence was knocked because the amount of information overwhelming but they were an excellent resource for focusing in on the content of the exam.
- I was then ready to take practice exams to find any remaining gaps. I used two sources.
- This is a free online exam simulator asking 20 questions from what I estimate to be a question bank of approximately 50.
- The questions were slightly easier than the actual exam but I used this as a good warmup to build confidence.
- I purchased a set of 4 practice exams, 200 questions. These exams were similar in style of questions to the actual exam. Having taken the exam I felt they were at the same level of difficulty.
- The structure of some questions and the occasional mistake with the English created an extra barrier but overall these were a very useful resource.
- When I was consistently getting 90%+ at the Tutorial Point Exam and 80%+ at the Certification Questions exam I felt confidence in my ability to pass the real thing.
- Safari Online Subscription
- This would normally cost $39 (£30) / month and I could have needed two months subscription to cover the time I used it. However there is a 10 day free trial so total cost was £30.
- The subscription gave me access to:
- Certification Questions SPRING CORE V4.2
- $19.99 (~£15)
- 30 days online access
- Spring Professional Certification Exam Fee
- $200 (~£155)<
- Buys an exam voucher which can be exchanged for an online proctored exam
In total I spent £200 to get Spring Certified.
- Total time preparing
- 30 hours
- Over period of 5 weeks (18th April to 25th May)
- ~1 hour on average per week day
- Normally between 7:45-8:30 and 17:45-18:30
- Preparation was broken down into three phases
- Phase 1- weeks 1 & 2: Following video courses (11 hours)
- Phase 2 - weeks 3 & 4: Reading books and notes (10.5 hours)
- Phase 3- week 5: Taking practice tests (8.5 hours)
On exam day I had booked a meeting room in my office. My laptop had been prepared with a Chrome Browser plugin that allowed screen and webcam sharing. Before starting the exam a remote proctor introduced himself via text chat. He asked me to pan the webcam around the room to make sure it was free of people, notes or electronic equipment. He then made sure all applications and browser tabs were closed apart from the exam. As I was screen sharing with him and he was observing me through the webcam I can see cheating being very difficult.
I found the exam itself challenging. The questions were well worded but some were tricky especially when I had to choose multiple answers that were true. I did achieve 80% just managing to cross the 76% threshold. I was happy with the result. The areas I had good resources for were my strongest. My knowledge on some of the newer concepts that had not been covered in my video courses was my weakest area.
I recommend that anyone else following this course spend more time on the newer Spring features specifically REST and Spring Data as these questions areas not well covered in the practice exams as other topics.
Yes, it is possible to pass the Certified Spring Professional exam without attending the Pivotal 4-day Core Spring course. I managed to achieve it for less than 10% of the cost and with approximately the same amount of time invested. However, it is not a walk-over. If I had missed out any part of my study e.g. the practice exams I could have easily failed. I can see the value of the course if the budget is available but for those whom it isn’t, I hope you find this approach useful. If you do have any improvements or recommendations please let me know.