How to Succeed on the 209 Assessment

I’ve just completed the 209 Assessment and wanted to reflect on my experience in studying for and completing it. Thus far, this assessment was the hardest one for me and I solidified an incredible amount of HTML & CSS material in my brain for the assessment. In this post, I want to go over my thoughts on the course, assessment, and what I think is the best study plan for it.

Caveat: I completed this assessment after finishing the 201 course, which has since been replaced by 202. While there are differences in the content between the two courses, there is still a lot of overlap and I believe that this post will still be relevant and useful for students taking the assessment.

Reflecting on the Course

Overall, this course hit me like a ton of bricks and I struggled a fair bit in learning all the material. I personally found all of the back-end courses to be more suited to my prior knowledge of programming and easier for me to succeed in.

This was due to my past experience in both Python and Ruby prior to Launch School from college and online resources, along with being comfortable in the logical process of solving the back-end problems. In comparison, the topics and projects in this course were more difficult for me to complete and feel confident in since there are so many different ways to accomplish the same design in HTML & CSS.

With each project, I felt like I was given a blank canvas and a bunch of new, weird art supplies to complete a portrait, and I had little confidence in myself to properly lay everything out and style accordingly. I found myself griping over each little detail that I missed or how to know what was just the right amount of padding to give an element. However, with each struggle, I gradually learned how each piece came together throughout the course.

I believe it is vital to take each lesson slowly so as to properly absorb the huge amount of information covered. You need to get a feel for how each element and style works on its own and in conjunction with each other so that you can understand the “why” when something breaks and how to fix it. Drill the concepts into your mind with the practice problems and small projects (examples offered below) in order to stay on top of all the topics.

I encourage everyone to work each project in the course a second time without looking at the completed project code. Add each line of code one at a time to take in and recognize the visual effect on the project. Over time, this will help you get a feel for how things should look and you’ll more easily be able to know how to adjust as you build each project. In fact, you may find that over time the process actually becomes more logical as you grow to understand how each element and style interplays with each other and can then exactly pinpoint what creates the issue you’re facing.

My Impressions of the Assessment

If I can emphasize one thing upon you regarding the assessment, it’s to not take it lightly! The project will require nearly everything from the course in one way or another. You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons regarding what HTML structures you should use to create the project and consider how it will affect your overall styling.

You’re given 48 hours to complete the project and it’s essential that you commit as much of that time as you can to work on it. By my estimate, I spent roughly 11–12 hours on the project from start to finish, and could easily have spent more.

Don’t let the seemingly generous time allotment fool you! This project is also a test of your time management, including your ability to gauge how long each requirement will take to complete and how much respect you give to the time needed to design and troubleshoot each feature. I urge you to only start this assessment when you can commit two full days to it like a weekend.

If you are studying at Launch School part-time and have other obligations that prevent you from committing two entire days for the project, then it’s absolutely critical that you relentlessly practice the concepts until you have them down cold. Then when you do start the project, you won’t need to look over the course material as much to troubleshoot and overcome any issues.

Amazingly, I found the assessment to be as much of a learning experience as a test of my skills and knowledge, which was also expressed by fellow student Tommy Caruso in an excellent discussion post under “Start Assessment 209” that I highly encourage you to check out. A lot of the material that is covered in the course truly sunk-in and synthesized when I had to figure out how to make the project’s various features and design work together.

Topics that I was shaky on became solidly ingrained after this trial by fire experience and I want you to know that it’s ok if you have to re-visit some topics while working on the project. Manage your time well, give each requirement it’s due time plus some, and you’ll make it through!

My Recommendations

In preparing for the assessment, I reviewed nearly all of the course material and redid all of the course projects a third time over. However, this process gave diminishing returns as I felt more accustomed to solving each project in the same way as shown in the course, and re-reading the material doesn’t truly help concepts sink-in. Beyond the second run-through of the projects, I didn’t gain much from re-working them.

A better approach I found was to complete a series of small projects in which the goal is to cement specific concepts in your brain with each project. This will force you to think deeply about how to complete something new and will require you to review material as you struggle, thus forming deeper connections on when to use certain topics and why they work the way they do.

This is what mastery-based learning is all about! Pick a project that pinpoints an area that you’re struggling with. Work on it until you hit a snag, then look up the relevant readings/practice problems to figure out a solution. Rinse and repeat until you’ve got a completed project and with a deeper knowledge of the material to boot.

It’s an important skill to be able to create our own practice for the topics we struggle on the most. Re-working past problems has diminishing returns and we must find new ways to stimulate our brain and maintain our edge.

Here is a list of projects I recommend you complete prior to starting the assessment:

  • Create a web page that features several columns/rows of varying sizes and arrangements on the page. Review using floats, liquid & fluid layout, CSS positioning, and media queries.
  • Create a web page with several icons/images that you can click on, which causes the icon/image to pop-up in the center of the page. The pop-up should be a larger size, and a dark background should appear behind it (hint: review opacity). Toy with changing where the pop-up appears on the screen.
  • Create a web page with content in several different containers (divs, articles, sections, etc.) and attempt to target different elements using complex CSS selectors.
  • Create a web page that has multiple forms to be completed by the user. Practice spacing and positioning all the form elements evenly, then change have some take up more space than others. Incorporate liquid & fluid layouts.
  • Create a web page that uses tables to display the inventory of a store.
  • Create a web page that displays rows of content. Attempt to fill each row with 3–4 elements of various types (paragraphs, spans, images, inputs, labels, etc.). Style the elements to be evenly spaced in the row, then change them to be unevenly spaced (one can take up a fourth of the row, another half of the row, etc.).
  • Take any of the above projects and add media queries for the following breakpoints: 1080px, 768px, 480px.

If you can complete all of these projects and understand all the concepts, then I think you’ll do very well on the assessment.

Onward & Upward

I hope that this post has been helpful to everyone preparing to take the 209 assessment. It was certainly a challenging and rewarding experience for me and I look forward to studying the next course. What do you think of the HTML & CSS course? How are you preparing for the 209 assessment? If you could offer any ideas for projects to practice the course topics, what would they be? Thanks for reading!