My RB109 written assessment experience in Launch School

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There are a lot of articles written about this and I think I read all of them more than once while getting ready for this test. The study guide provides a few links to articles written by students and teachers and some of them have links to other articles and so on (I’d like to add to that tradition and offer up this one) I found all of them to be very helpful in picking up little tricks to be more prepared. Specific timer strategies, study habit pointers, writing techniques and many more. So I’d like to thank all those who wrote about their experience for providing some perspective on what to expect and how to try and get ready for what was the most intense experience I’ve had taking a test in a very long time. I am now getting ready for the live assessment and I hear that can be way more intense… I actually just laughed out loud (You know that nervous laugh that some people have as a natural reaction to stress? Yup, I’m one of those)

As it has been stated many times before, the study guide gives a really good snapshot of what will be covered. Basically what material you need to make sure you understand so that you can explain it in a way that makes sense to someone else in a clear way. All the concepts, ideas, methods etc…

In this article I’d like to contribute my perspective in case it might help someone have more clarity as they venture through the process.

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You see, I thought this would be way easier. I thought once I got to 109, I would just review a little, take the assessments and move on to bigger and better things. But as I progressed through the process of meeting with other students to discuss code snippets and attending study sessions with TAs, it became clear that this was going to take way longer than I thought. There were just so many gaps in knowledge. There was so much I still could not explain all that well even though I understood it and it made sense in my head.

And that’s when my first 109 key moment. Circular learning was here and I had to embrace it. And for some reason that just unleashed a torrent of epiphanies that were not fully comprehended until AFTER I took the assessment.

So how did it go? Well first I’d like to talk more about my process to get there. I did everything I was told. Read every article, did all the practice problems more than twice (Thank you Christian for that wonderful Google doc you put together and shared with your peers) read, re-read, reviewed and “refactored” all of my notes. (Not a proper use of refactoring? Sorry, English is my second language so I am taking some liberties… 😬) Exchanged code with fellow students, wrote out all the things that would help me come test time, practiced typing in markdown and damn you (I’d like to state for the record that it is a love/hate relationship that I’ve developed with back-ticks, and love might be winning but on my keyboard might have something to say about that)

I was fully armed with knowledge and a proper plan of attack to win this battle. Hello “cheat sheet”, terminal, notes, rubber duck companion, second monitor, water, timers, snack… (I’m sure I’m forgetting some stuff but hopefully you get the point) Anyway, even when I felt my most confident, I was still not completely sure I was ready. But then I heard this voice (or was it a message on Slack?) “you will never feel fully ready for the first one, just trust yourself” That was another moment of clarity (thank you Rodney)

Then some of the students I had been studying with started taking the exam and started sharing their experiences of how they felt about it. I felt my confidence building some more. My plan as it stood was based on solid timers, copying and pasting some of my written explanations on methods and concepts to save time and then review all my answers. One of the blog posts did a great job of breaking down the timer into chunks so that you are able to pace yourself and make sure you are on the right track. Pay attention to the time closely but don’t obsess over it so that it does not interrupt your flow. Easy enough…

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But then I began the test and “Houston we have a problem”! I heard my thoughts speaking to me “What are these questions? This wasn't part of my review?” I was warned about this a few times by TAs but failed to visualize what it might look like. It fully threw me off. They were very specific questions and not at all the way that I had studied for this. Right off the bat my plan was falling apart, that whole thought of spending the first 5 minutes reading every question was off by about 17 questions. I went from calm and confident to stressed and anxious before I had even begun typing my first explanation. I realized right away I had to wing it. Fortunately, having meditated before hand I knew just what to do… “focus, breathe and trust yourself. You’ve got this” And so I did, I answered everything as best as possible focusing on the questions being asked and not so much on explaining every bit of code. (Please re-read that line a few times and take that to the test with you, it was in the end what saved me from wasting a lot of time) I did not get into a proper rhythm until around the 9th or 10th question. And that was stressful at the time, but then when I went back to review everything, I felt better about my answers than I had the first time around. Even though I only had enough time to edit and make sure I corrected any typos but not much else. I wound up submitting my answers with seconds to spare.

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I felt good but not completely confident about the outcome which was a surprisingly anxious place to be. Like I told another student when she asked me about my performance, “ I think it felt harder than it was” Ultimately I passed and did very well and all because of everything I did to get there. You see, this is what I was referring to earlier when I wrote about understanding things better after the fact. In talking with my friend (Hi Karis) we had a back and forth after she mentioned how similar her experience was and she put it very succinctly. “The standards are so high that they feed the anxiety of taking the test

Ultimately it came down to this for me. I had a plan and it was for naught when it came down to execution. But in reality, what really mattered was the path I took to make that plan. Along the way, I picked up everything I needed to pass the test because when push came to shove, I had to improvise and it all just flowed. So in fact, I learned more deeply because of the plan. And in the end that got me through the experience. I referred to my notes only once throughout the test. I just didn't have time to and in fact I didn’t really need it. It wound up being more like a security blanket to double check just in case. When going through Christian’s practice problems, it is encouraged to answer on each one what the return value is, what the output is and why. And then explain the underlying concepts. This is not what the test questions will look like. They are more focused on specific lines of code or why something happens on a certain method call. But practice answering and understanding the former and there’s a good chance it will help you immensely on the actual exam like it did for me.

The point is that the stress of wanting to excel on this test helped me focus and forced me to slow down and make sure I covered everything in the study guide. To the point were I was comfortable with explaining it to other people. So in short, go back and review everything you don’t feel all that solid on and even the stuff you feel good about. Just practice as much as possible along the way. Share code snippets and explanations with others ( I cannot overstate how much this helps) Reading other student’s explanations on code helped me so much to work on perfecting mine. And their honest feedback was key to get to a confident place (thank you Mia, Leena, Callie and everyone else who took me up on this) And lastly, try to do a dry run. I asked another fellow student (Hola Juan!) if he had any last minute suggestions and he offered that. I came up with 8 questions and timed myself to see how it felt and if my timing was good. There are 8 main points covered in the study guide so I made up a question for each point and tried to be thorough. If you can get 8 done in an hour or less, you should be in good shape. This was the final push of confidence I needed to click that link. And voila! In the end I passed with flying colors and all the hard work paid off.

But really, slowing the process down was key. It all makes sense now and thank you Launch School for warning me that this moment would come. It was much easier to accept and embrace my inner turtle that way. 🐢

I hope this helps someone’s Launch School journey in some way!

I’m very grateful to all that have helped mine so far. I feel very fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful community…

Single dad starting over and enjoying the learning journey…