How to prepare for Written Assessments and Manage your time while taking them!
The goal here is Mastery over the fundamentals period.
Mastery-Based learning goals require a completely different mindset as compared to when you have a time-based goal or a performance-based goal to achieve. In my opinion, my goal was to achieve mastery over the fundamentals, but I had a time frame in which I wanted to achieve Mastery. I believed that one can’t achieve a goal without setting a deadline and the main reason why I believed that, is because all of us have the urge to procrastinate.
I believed that procrastination is a bad thing, and people who do procrastinate never achieve what they set their minds upon. But little did I know that procrastination had its positive side effects as well, that is, it lets the concepts you’ve learned sink in into the back of your mind, and that’s the place where real learning takes place, it helps with determining the gaps within the concepts you’ve learned, which concepts are clear to you and in which you’re a little rusty in, and later we can go back to those concepts and dust of that rust/ fill those gaps. So when the deadline I had set for myself arrived, I appeared in the exam knowing that I wasn’t fully ready although I had filled as many gaps as I could find in my learning and had filled them over and over again whenever I felt some concept had started to catch rust, but because I had limited resources and the deadline had arrived, I just took a very deep breath and reaffirmed myself that I’d take the bull by the horns.
The questions in the assessment required an unprecedented level of comprehension that I had never tried to achieve before launch School, during my 15 years of education where I just had to get enough scores to pass an exam to move forward. I had all the fundamental concepts at my fingertips but what I didn’t have was the ability to parse(making something understandable by analyzing its parts) through code with great speed. Technically I was sound, didn’t make any conceptual mistakes except a few silly ones. But I sensed for the first time when I started the written assessment that it took me longer to articulate my thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively under some pressure due to the assessment’s time constraints.
Before the exam, I had roughly estimated the amount of time I would spend on each question, and it was around 8 mins, but I was spending around 12 mins on average which was 3 mins more per question than I had planned, and it was also the reason why it took me an hour longer than the amount of time required to finish the exam in. Not all questions had the same difficulty level. They were ordered by increasing difficulty level, so they started with easy ones that get you warmed up, and gradually the level of difficulty increases.
Things I would do to improve my performance in the next exam!
If I had created numerous questions/ code snippets of my own on every topic to practice the concepts I had learned by parsing through those code snippets and tried to explain them to myself or anyone/anything unaided, and had also timed myself parsing through the code snippets while accumulating my thoughts in a written form, over and over again until it had become second nature to me, only then I would have easily breezed through the written assessment. This was the major reason why I failed to impress.
But there are other ways to get better at taking written assessments. Written Assessments are devised to test you to the core and bring out the depth of your knowledge, they are very difficult if you aren’t fully prepared, so a fool proof preparation is a key component if you want to achieve the other half of the written assessment goal which is impressing. Taking Written assessments is like literally throwing oneself under a bus and of course, no one in their right mind should ever do that, and neither am I suggesting anyone anything of any sort. Now the only way to come out from under the bus in one piece is if you have some hidden tried, tested and proven techniques and strategies under your sleeves. And if somebody does come out in one piece from under a bus after throwing oneself under one, wouldn’t that be impressive?
Now Launch school isn’t a high school or a community college. The material to be mastered is much more complicated and the expectations are as high as the sky. The need to manage one’s time during a written assessment is extremely crucial, it’s a skill that you absolutely must develop. A little planning can go a long way, to reduce your stress level during a written assessment. Having time constraints is exhausting, it makes it impossible to focus completely on the questions you are trying to answer and over time can lead you down to a path where your physical energy will start depleting at a much faster rate. And that’s exactly what happened to me, my assessment horror story is that 2 Hrs and 30 Mins into the written assessment I felt as if I was making a lot more typing errors than I normally do, my hands were all sweaty, and I had an issue focusing my eyes constantly on the screen. Time management lets you relax and be stress-free while taking written assessments.
Before you begin your written assessment create a table on a piece of paper with two columns. The first column will have the question numbers from 1 to 20 and the second is where you jot down a rough guess of the time it will take you to complete those questions. It will give you a somewhat realistic plan with a sense of how difficult or easy each question is and how much time you can spend on each question. You can even add a third column that would represent the level of difficulty of each question e.g. E for Easy, M for Medium, and H for Hard. The reason why I’m emphasizing making a table and not keeping this information in your head is that once you start attempting questions you don’t want your head to be unnecessarily cluttered and the key is getting this information out of your head onto a paper so your mind is relaxed and stress-free. Jotting down only takes a few seconds and then you can forget about them without worrying because this information will be on a piece of paper and running in the back of your mind at a subconscious level. You can also add a fourth column called review, if for example for some reason you think that you haven’t answered a question correctly or that you might want to add some more to your answer later, you can write an “R” in the row associated with that question. At first, this system might seem daunting, but a little organization goes a hell of a long way and with time it will become more natural and feel more like a routine.
When you begin the written assessment skim and scan through all the questions. Skimming will help to get a general feel of the questions, and scanning will help you find specific facts within them. Skimming will tell you what general information is within a question and it’s associated code snippet if it has one, while scanning will help you locate a particular fact. Skimming is like snorkeling and scanning is like pearl diving. After you’ve skimmed and scanned through a question jot down the time it will take you to attempt it, and its difficulty level. Spend about 20–25 seconds on each question while doing this activity. Once you start attempting the questions use the list after you’ve solved a question, to get a feel of what lies ahead.
Invest in some sort of academic disaster insurance, every student has an exam horror story to tell. These stories always seem to start in the same way. The first question on the test is easily solved, you still have plenty of time and everything feels good until you see a question you have no idea how to answer, leaving it blank will torpedo your grade, and as you sit and stare at the time to solve the other question quietly slips away, the good feeling is gone and in its place panic creeps in and you’ve just experienced an academic disaster. Conventional wisdom says that academic disaster is unavoidable no one can study every single topic and therefore you’re going to get nailed occasionally. But please do not Believe this. If there is a topic that flies by you without you understanding it put a question mark next to it. Don’t skip it, if you do, you gamble with the possibility of being truly in the dark on the assessment. To avoid academic disaster ask as many questions to your TAs or peers during study sessions about the topic that are not clear enough or of which you have a vague understanding. Come prepared for Written assessment study sessions. Before you arrive jot down all the topics in a journal that you’re unsure about. Don’t be worried about having a lot to discuss.
Passively reviewing a concept is not the same as actively producing it, you have to make the extra effort to burn it in your head. Use the quiz and recall method. To apply the quiz and recall method you have to construct a practice quiz for each section/ Assignment in your study guide. The quiz for any given section/ Assignment must be in a question-answer-example format. The quiz for any given chapter can contain all the concepts you could extract from the section/ Assignment. If you can answer all the questions unaided then you understand all of the concepts. Once you’ve built your practice quizzes go through them one by one. For each question try to articulate the matching answer and provide some examples. You don’t have to reproduce your answer word for word, but you need a reasonable summary of the underlying concepts containing all the pertinent information. The important part is don’t do this only in your head, get yourself some privacy and say the answers out loud as if you were explaining it to someone/ something or even a rubber duck would do the job. It will commit things to your memory in a spectacular way. Next put check marks in front of any quiz question you had trouble answering, I was using the Notion app so I used to change the font color of the questions I had a problem answering from the default(black) to red. Then glance through the answers to remind yourself of the right answers and then take a break. After a short break repeat the first step except this time you only need to answer the questions you marked during your first run-through. Put a new check mark next to the questions you still have trouble with, once again glance at the right answers and take a short break. Then go back to the question you marked on your second run-through. Repeat this pattern until you completely run through without adding any new check marks. At this point, you’re done. The power of this approach is its efficiency, you’re spending the least amount of time with the questions you understand the best and you spend the most amount of time with the questions you have the most trouble with.
I hope my insights on how to prepare and manage your time for written assessments will be helpful. One last piece of advice I’d give to everyone including myself is that don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself and don't be afraid to be different. You have to work harder than you think you possibly can. And it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in your life, because that's going to happen, all that matters is that you gotta get up. And whatever you want to do believe it, believe it, believe it, even if you can’t believe it play the game of belief, act as if you believe. That is power that is sheer power, and it will happen, believe you me. It has worked in my life it will work in yours. And you have to lose your fear of failure, it’s part of the process, people who never fail never try, you have to get it wrong to get it right, you learn nothing from winning you only learn from your failures.