When is it available/can I take the beta?
According to the Sun website at http://suned.sun.com/US/certification/java/java_progj2se.html The exam will be available in August 2002. The beta versions of new exams are available for a short time several months before the real thing. Once they have finished the beta test you will have to wait for the real thing before you can take it. Remember that the beta is just that, a test version so you are probably better off taking the real thing as it will have been tested and adjusted.
How have the objectives changed?
No more GUI topics
The new version of the exam no longer covers GUI programming, this means no more questions on the AWT (Swing has never been on the programmers exam). More surprisingly the new version of the exam no longer covers I/O, so this means no coverage of the new nio classes in JDK 1.4.
The big new objective for the exam is the assert keyword in JDK 1.4. This is incuded in section 2 of the objectives under the headings Write code that makes proper use of assertions, and distinguish appropriate from inappropriate uses of assertions. Identify correct statements about the assertion mechanism. You can find an article on assertions at http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.4/docs/guide/lang/assert.html Several books on the market also cover this topic, including Peter van der Lindens Just Java version 5. This is not a big topic and you should not need to spend a huge amount of time learning about it.
The wrapper classes
Section 8 of the objectives
FUNDAMENTAL CLASSES IN THE JAVA.LANG PACKAGE
Now includes the objective:
Describe the significance of wrapper classes, including making appropriate selections in the wrapper classes to suit specified behavior requirements, stating the result of executing a fragment of code that includes an instance of one of the wrapper classes, and writing code using the following methods of the wrapper classes (e.g., Integer, Double, etc.):
This seems a small and easily covered topic You can find out the basics in the API docs at http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.4/docs/api/java/lang/package-summary.html
Objective 9.2 now reads
Distinguish between correct and incorrect implementations of hashcode methods.
You can find out a little more about hashcodes from the sample chapter 3 that is available for the book Effective Java which is available in pdf format from http://developer.java.sun.com/developer/Books/effectivejava/
Which version of the exam should I take?
Being certified is generally the important thing rather than what version of the certification you have and a crucial part of being certified is having good study material. At the time of writing there is approximatly no material specifically for the 1.4 exam and heaps of material for the 1.2 exam it easy to make a case for the going for the 1.2 exam untill study material catchess up. Also if you want to demonstrate your ability as a GUI programmer the 1.4 exam is not appropriate. It is unlikely that an employer or project will place huge emphasis on a knowledge of the wrapper classes or the assert statement as a pre-requisite for a job but you may find positions that require gui knowledge.
How hard will the 1.4 exam be?
The passmark has been dropped to 52% (http://suned.sun.com/US/certification/faq/#java) so it is possible to make an argument that either the questions are harder or the exam will be easier. With I/O and AWT removed from the question bank I would guess there will be a renewed emphasis on fundamentals such as threading, package/class structure and OO. Remember that Sun want people to pass so they are not going to do anything to trick you, you just need to know the basics of the language.
Are the new objectives a “good thing”?
Much new development is for the web where GUI skills are not required so removal of the AWT objtives is a good thing, plus most people doing GUI work were probably using the Swing classes anyway. I am not so sure that removal of the I/O classes is such a good thing as most programmers at some time will require to do I/O programming. However it does make way to emphasise more of the basics of the language.
What free study materials are available for the new exam?
Writing comprehensive study material is a long and time consuming task and there will be a time lag until free materials catch up. Note that the changes only represent a small percentage of the objectives, I would estimate less than 10% by comparison with the 1.2 exam so 90% of current material will still be valid. Why not make yourself semi famous and write some material on the new topics.