Bootcamp Mastery: How to Ace Your Senior Checkpoint at Fullstack Academy

I recently finished a coding intensive at Fullstack Academy in NYC. These articles are part of a series about how to get the most out of an immersive bootcamp experience. Check out my stories for more!

After your first few weeks at Fullstack, you’ll start to hear rumblings about an upcoming “Senior Checkpoint”. I think it’s named a checkpoint to take the edge off. It’s really just a comprehensive final exam of everything you’ve learned in the Junior phase.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous when I heard about the test.

Here was a chance to test your learning through one of the most intense periods of the program. Plus, if you did very poorly, you could be asked to repeat the junior phase. We were warned on the first day that some of us would undoubtedly fail to move on to the next phase.

Not to worry! Here’s how you can ace your Senior Checkpoint.

Spaced Repetition is Key

Science suggests that spaced repetition is key to learning new things. Don’t settle for so-called “conceptual understanding”.

That usually just means being able to talk in broad strokes about parts of the tech stack. Just like talking about music doesn’t make you a better musician, speaking generalities about the tech stack isn’t going to make you better at producing code.

This means: don’t spend much time watching Youtube videos or reading articles. Use videos and articles only as a tools to prepare you for spaced repetition.

Once you have the new bit of information, make a flashcard and build something with it. Practice coding from memory.

You’ll be able to use documentation on the test, but having a lot of what you’ll do committed to memory saves you time, energy, and brain power to focus on the tougher stuff.

Do the Practice Exams Several Times

Fullstack prepares you well. You’ll receive several practice exams that each focus on a separate part of the stack. Do them. And then do them again.

While preparing, I made a schedule where I repeated each practice test every 3–4 days before the checkpoint. One day I would do the Sequelize exam. The next day I would do React. The next day, Express. Then Sequelize again. Similar to point one, this technique uses spaced repetition to ensure that you don’t forget what you’ve learned.

Do the Enrichment Project

Fullstack provides an Enrichment Project that applies many of the technologies you’ll learn during Junior phase. Some people skip it. Big mistake.

The tough, rubber-hits-the-road process of building the application will pay dividends later: first with your exam and then in Senior phase when you’re tasked with far more development from scratch.

Start the Hardest Problems First

Many people think that you should start on the easy problems when you take an exam. It gives you some quick wins and gets the wind at your back. This is a big mistake.

First, the harder questions are usually worth more. You don’t want to run out of time before you solve them.

Second and more importantly, your brain does a lot of work without you knowing. The best way to solve a hard problem is to spend a few minutes focused on it. Let your mind become fully absorbed in the problem. Then, if you’re stuck, go and do some easy questions.

Your brain hasn’t forgotten the earlier problem even though you’re focused on something new. It’s still processing. You will often find that you can solve a tough problem quickly after giving your brain a chance to work on something else. But this technique only works if you first try the hard problems.

Follow these steps and you’ll find the Senior Checkpoint a fun and not-too-stressful part of your Fullstack experience.