The Night before the Live Assessment

Rodney Matambo
Jul 14 · 11 min read

Thoughts are in italics


‘Twas The night before… the dreaded Launch school live assessment exam.

I read a lot of articles on the preparation needed to get through the Live Assessments here at launch school. If you look in the study guide, there you will find everything you need in order to be technically ready for the exam. One thing I really didn’t see much of in the articles was how one goes about dealing with the emotions leading up to the exam ( it was there, just not much) and there were very few perspectives from students who had yet to take the Live Assessment(for obvious reasons). So, I started writing this article before I took the exam so that it may be most helpful to whoever is going through the emotional rollercoaster of the live assessment for the first time and how you can feel ready. We’ll walk through everything. 100% real, well… mostly unfiltered. Starting with the moment I pressed the button to schedule the exam.

Last week, when I pressed the button to schedule my exam:

I went into slight panic mode, I started thinking of each problem I couldn’t solve when coding with my friends, and each method I didn’t know how to use. I low-key needed to go use the bathroom.

Ok. Maybe a little more than low key. Seriously though, it starts messing with you the moment you press that button. Why did I just do that? Maybe I can just reschedule til later. I need to practice x, y and z. It’s intimidating since in that moment we see our weaknesses pretty clearly(we’ll come back to the weaknesses). We have this illusion of mastery because some problems we can pretty much solve in a second and we feel like we are the Codewars kings with our fancy one liners and the over X-hundred scores. Other problems? Well yea, we just have to take an L on those. With the standard of excellence they uphold at Launch School you never quite feel like you have mastery until you’ve passed the exam.

After the written assessment, that was when i finally felt like I had confirmed mastery, this time i said I’m going to get that calm before the assessment (as much as possible)


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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

So the question is how can I feel ready?

WRITTEN THE NIGHT BEFORE THE EXAM: I’m sitting here waiting for this dreaded exam with a slight hint of nervousness and a slight hint of calm. If you want to be emotionally ready for the exam you have to face the metaphorical elephant in the room. I call it the freeze — that moment where you are thinking about too many things at once and you can’t quite think clearly about what is in front of you.

Problems to deal with when it comes to the freeze: Thinking about the time. Thinking about what the other person is thinking. Thinking about how you’re not thinking about what you’re supposed to be thinking. Thinking about how you don’t know how to solve the problem in front of you. And, perhaps most daunting of all, that gut feeling that is like an inexplainable anxiety that just comes up and comes towards your chest. That thing that makes it hard to type or makes you type a word three times because you’ve lost concentration. Yea, that’s a problem too.

It shows itself differently for all of us, but it’s there. So here’s how I have dealt with and plan to deal with these things on tomorrow’s exam:

  1. Practice. I’ve practiced to the point where problems that used to take me a day now take me 3–5 minutes and I’ve practiced to the point where every person who is live coding probably knows my face by now. Practice gives me confidence and practice gives me a fall back. I’ve literally written my pedac over a hundred times and that will speak for itself. Emotional readiness comes from practice.
  2. Knowing your weaknesses. Believe it or not this is probably key to not freezing up in tense situations. We act like we didn’t know that we have uncontrollable panic or it’s a surprise when we are crumbling. It could be much easier for us if we know our weaknesses and compensate for them. A friend of mine was going to take the exam one day and we were live coding that day. He had a tough time with a problem and he was getting discouraged because he didn’t do his pedac correctly. He noted that when he’s solving problems sometimes he goes too fast and especially under pressure he won’t remember to slow down. My advice for him about same day fixes, you can’t do major fixes today so: write the word stop in your pedac process at the areas you always forget, by writing that word you can remember to always ask clarifying questions, always stop to check your test cases and always check that you have high level steps in your algorithm.
  3. Preparation: Picking back up on those weaknesses, I wrote down the areas of weaknesses. Live coding — my first one in front of a TA was pretty sad, i couldn’t solve the problem and he said my pedac was basically trash ( in nice, respectful and kind words). I knew i needed to live code, so i scheduled the whole week with people to do some live coding. Fluency — I was writing a PEDAC but i didn’t have a picture of what I wanted to do at every line. When I wrote, “separate the sentence into words” (easy example) I wanted to make sure I knew how I would implement that, and if not then i knew i needed to break it down into smaller steps until i could. Communication — surprisingly to many, I am an internal processor.

The act of speaking and doing something at the same time is distracting for me ( insert gender stereotype here).

So, Over the last week, I’ve pretty much live coded with everyone in launch school on almost every continent in preparation for the live assessment. For about 1.5 weeks, all I’ve done is live code and finish a few problems. Launch school people are really chill, and they are super helpful. Shout out to Srdjan, Mandy, Karl, Jordan, Christian, Clay, Carlsen, <deep breathe>, Alfonso, Jesse, Rona, Van, Vic<another deep breathe> Austin, Endjru, Josh and the random guy whose name i can’t remember.

special shout out to Leena: remember the first coding session? long way huh?

one more special shoutout to Callie: Had some AHA moments in the two study sessions I went to, anyone who hasn’t been to a study session with her needs to go( even if its at 3 am)

Reach out. The community is helpful and you can reach out to me on slack as well.

I figure tips will not be enough so below you will find a running monologue of what the test feels like and my thoughts throughout different stages. Maybe you can gleam something that was unstated from them.


Running monologue

The night before:

mostly feeling ready but every so often there’s a Codewars level 5 problem I can’t Figure out and that messes with me.

“ why am i still up, its 10 PM”

“ ok, one more problem”

“Why can’t I figure this one out? this is probably the exact type of problem I’ll get on the exam”

“…”

“ok, one more.”


THE DAY OF THE EXAM:

The feeling right now is basically I’m ready to get this thing over with. I’ve spent a lot of mental energy on it the last week and I’m pretty ready to get this done. To relax a bit, I : went down to hang out with my kids. I tried to do some push ups with my 3 year old on my back (oof! I’m so out of shape). Every so often I’d think about the exam and have a hint of nervousness and then be like whatever it’s fine. Thought process: relax, it’s just a mock interview and an exam no need to hype it up so much (the fact that I’m writing this article doesn’t help, I have to stay very conscious of the exam process and my every thought leading up to it).

8:16 am — exam is in 3 hours and the feeling right now is weird, it’s like you know what you know but anything can happen and will happen. Because, well, the entire universe hates you. Somehow your exam is gonna be the one where the power goes out or lightning strikes.

9am — in a study session with Srdjan — funny how I’m going to have the live assessment with you in about 1 hr and a half. he gave some good advice — don’t try to change anything major about your process on the day of the exam. Going forward, it is good to have better practices such as creating helper methods for specific actions but just do what you know how to do otherwise it will just mess you up(sounds familiar).

Trying to solve a problem during the study session — it was weird, my mind was blocked, and I was freezing up from time to time, it was like if I run into a problem, the very first thought is — the time! Your 3 seconds of not knowing how to solve a problem become 3 years and you enter into panic mode. You look at the timer — 16 minutes remaining, ok , I can do this. Deep breathe, fwooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh go back to what you know. If i don’t understand the problem i will not have a solution. Next, lets go back to my algorithm. The habits i’ve cultivated over the last two weeks of live coding will be the habits that carry me through

<look up at the clock: 10:24 AM > calming down — if at this point you feel nervous, its normal. I was starting to feel it. Thoughts: exam in 30 mins. Time to set myself up for success, let me check everything and make it ideal — where is the location I solve problems the best? what do I need to do to be comfortable and what kind of demeanor do I want to have? ( a nervous wreck? I think not) I’m kinda starting to understand the mastery approach. Chop wood, draw water — when it’s engrained, it doesn’t matter the circumstance, I’ll be ready to do my thing. Alright, no more writing for now, I’ll save the rest for after the test.

<Slack ping> “We can begin if you’re ready”

During the test:

total time taken ( ~40 mins)

Me: “hi. Long time no see”

Him: “ Heh, long time”

Observation: TA cyborgs laugh in their natural habitat, they seem to show human like tendencies.

<Back to very serious>

Him in a cool accent: “ok Rodney, Lets just check to make sure everything on coderpad is working before we start”

Me: ok…

<me: brain fart>

Him: “so just puts hello or something”

Me: oh right….

<brain working correctly again>

  • imagine confidential exam details inserted here

Him: “Ok you may begin”

2 mins in: “ ok I have the perfect method to make this work, but I don’t know if i should use it or not. You know what, no need to try things i’m not certain on, let me just do this the longer way i know will work”

5 mins in: I forgot all about the TA and was just chopping wood, drawing water.

What I had done so many times came back and I forgot about anything else. I was just doing problems.

10 mins in: “ Ok, good, here is your second problem”

  • imagine more confidential exam details here

22ish minutes in: “ I feel like I understand the problem let me start coding, < meanwhile I overlook a detail that’s going to come back and bite me>”

27ish minutes in: “ Ok everything should be good, lets test out with the test cases” … <insert problem here>

30 minutes in : My alarm rings and tells me it’s been 20 minutes since I started this problem. <hint of panic>

been here before, it’s ok, trust the process

< still checking problems>

31 minutes in : finally realize that I had only solved part of the problem — lets run back to our approach. (habit)

33 mins in : after 2 minutes of reshuffling the algorithm, I notice that my new approach is going to change too many factors at once, so I need to make an approach that will deal with the least number of changes to what I have already tested.

35 minutes in: “got it”

37 minutes in : all test cases working — relief.

Him in a “I’ve had to say this 1.73 million times” voice: “ Ok, Rodney, you will get your results within the next 24 hours, you will find out your score…”

My mind while he’s talking: “it’s finished… wait, pay attention!”

Him: “ any questions?”

Me: “ umm…no, thank you”

Him: “ ok, goodbye”

Me: “bye”

<awkward pause>

Him: “ Ok, goodbye now”

Me: “thanks, bye” <hangs up>


After the Exam:

First thoughts, were, he didn’t give any indication that I passed or failed, did I pass? I should have passed right? I solved the problemswell i took forever on the second one. whatever. I’ll find out tomorrow. Solved the first in 10 mins, and then took like 30 mins on the second because I forgot one of the key points (AHH!) 10 of those minutes were just used in revisiting my algorithm and changing stuff.

a few moments later:

<relief>

< thoughts of What if>

wife: So how did you do?

Me: I think I did pretty well, I mean I solved both problems, I feel like he’d have to hate me to not pass me right?

wife(who has a degree in psychology): That’s classic psychology — someone must have it against me if i don’t pass.

< we both laugh>

Waiting for results:

<3 years pass…>

<i grow a wavy beard>

< we have a new president>

< My kids go to college and see me still waiting at this computer>

Finally: I receive an email.

nope, that was an email from codepen about a new offer.

wait…


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Photo by Stephen Phillips - Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash

<notification buzz>

Two words.

You Passed…

Pause

That’s it?

That’s all you’re gonna give me?

Is that supposed to mean something?

100+ hours of study in 109 and you expect me to be satisfied with those two words?

Well you know what Launch School?!?

I AM satisfied with those two words.

I hate to say it but they DO mean something.

Those words represent the time I spent.

It takes a lot of time and those words are an affirmation that the time spent wasn’t worthless.

The emotions poured in are significant when acknowledged.

<then I notice the many lines of text after that saying in detail how I did> heh.

  • Insert confidential details here.

A smile came to my face. Feels good. Before I knew it I had passed a plateau that I thought would take much longer to pass.

Gonna take the day off tomorrow. And spend time with family. Then, onwards to 120 on Wednesday, OOP.

You too will have your moment with whatever exam you have to face, just keep chopping wood and drawing water. It’s the stuff that will pull you through when circumstances get difficult.


Circumstances can impact but won’t change the habits of a master.

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