Tips for Any Written Assessment

After I’ve passed a few written assessments (currently in RB 175 now), I’ve found the following things to help right before taking a written assessment. Launch School tests are manageable, but it can still be stressful with Capstone is on your mind.

Here are some tips to help with test nerves, technical issues, and how to structure your test time! It’s quite different to take a virtual test, and different kinds of issues can arise.

Some of these tests specifically address confidence in your understanding of the material. Since you can start the written test at any time (no scheduling needed with a TA), getting the confidence to actually take the exam is needed. That freedom means you can push out the test an unneeded amount of time if you are actually prepared, but are just not confident. Despite this, this freedom can actually be great. This is because if you realize that you need more study time, even right before the test, then you can take it later.

On the same day that you take your assessment, I recommend that following:

  • Go through your notes, practice the recall technique from Barbara Oakley’s Course on Coursera.org. This means writing out everything hat you can remember from the course (or can just recall topics by thinking), without notes, including diagrams. Writing out what you remember from the course content makes your brain work a lot harder than if you were just reading directly from your notes. It shows you what you actually remember/understand regarding what you will be tested on. Barbara Oakley found that recall used while learning the content helps you better retain it. Even using this technique right before a test is a great concept refresher. If you find yourself remembering the content well, this can help you feel confident enough to take the test at the time planned.
  • If you have time, recall everything from the course content. Review your notes if a specific topic doesn’t come to mind . It’s generally faster with your verbal thoughts, but I find that writing them on paper solidifies the concept even more. I also that writing your recall on paper results in other related concepts for that topic pop up. Meaning it’s easier to recall other course content. (Tip: this may use a lot of paper over time, so I definitely recommend buying cheap notebooks for these throwaway notes, like from the dollar store.)
  • Review your past Launch School assessment grades (or if you haven’t passed any yet, use any old grade school/college tests you have lying around). You can view past assessment through Launch School’s ‘My assessments’ tab to help calm nerves and help with confidence. Seeing that you’ve done well on other exams, right in front of your eyes, shows yourself that you can do this!
  • Review the assessment course and all content, even the ‘Start Test’/’Take the Assessment’ page carefully. (For example, if you’re in the 101 course, be careful to read the test instructions for the 109 assessment course closely). When I reread the one of those assessment pages (right before a written test) , I realized that I had missed important information to leave extra time for a specific test question. The ‘Start Test” page can have specific information regarding how you submit your answers, like if you need to upload a file; or information regarding page markdown/formatting info. Be sure to read it all :)
  • Double check how much time you have for the test. I know it seems like the tests are always three hours, but that’s not always the case.
  • Check how much estimated time you have per question, especially if you’re told the last question will take longer. (The assessment test info course usually tells you an estimated number of questions). Multiply the test hours by 60 to get your available minutes. If they give you an estimated time for a longer question, subtract that time out. Then, divide your calculated minutes by the amount of remaining questions. Use this as a gauge for how to spend your time.
  • Set up a phone countdown timer. Points are deduced if you go even a minute over, and there is not a timer/time shutdown on the test. So it’s very important to time yourself. Be sure the phone countdown is visible(be sure to turn notifications/sound off).
  • Write down what time your test should end on a piece of paper in front of you. I recommend writing down a time about 2–3 minutes before time is actually up. By putting it in your head that you end at a certain time, those extra minutes give you time to submit so you don’t run out of time.
  • I would recommend submitting a full minute or two early, rather than using those last 30 seconds to fix a quick thing. It’s very stressful, and risky (technology issues could arise) to leave just a few seconds to submit.
  • If you’re told that a longer problem will take at least 30 minutes, be sure to tackle that problem before the very end. I find getting an understanding of a hard problem earlier, and then coming back to it helps with stress. By reviewing that hard question early, you’ll feel less of the time constraint. It feels a lot better to have ‘2 hours’ to tackle that hard problem than seeing the clock with 30 minutes left.
  • Be mindful to account for technology issues not typically encountered with regular pencil and paper tests at school (in a designated classroom). Correctly saving your answers? Uploading your code? Accidentally closing the test browser tab? Internet crashes? Issues like this don’t happen with a written test. (Leaving those extra few minutes to submit can give you time to handle if anything like this arises).

Of all the techniques here, I’ve found that the recall technique has made the biggest impact on my results. Thanks for reading!

Let me know if any of these tips work for you! Comment below if you have any helpful Launch School test taking tips!

Future Software Engineer, Powered by Launch School