LS Live Assessments: The Untold Story

Kim Ramirez
May 9 · 9 min read

Picture this: you are a newish Launch School student. You have made it through the Ruby Prep Course, Ruby 101 Course, and Ruby 109 Written Assessment. You have spent hours upon hours studying and practicing how to live code in front of people. You have done every CodeWars problem from every list and all the Small Problems from RB101 — insert Gerard Butler screaming “You. Are. READY!” like he does in the movie 300. Nothing can stop you now!

Fast forward to the day of your very first live assessment. The TA messages you and says, “are you ready to take your live assessment?”. You reply, “Yes!” but inside, you are saying, “No! I am terrified! Please tell me you have to reschedule?!” The TA sends the URL of the coderpad you will be using, and you hesitantly click it.

The assessment has begun! They paste in your first problem, and you are ready for battle! There’s no way you won’t pass this! It takes you one whole minute to realize you don’t know how to solve the problem. You don’t have a single idea for your algorithm, and you have never seen a problem like this! Which then makes your mind explode into a waterfall of negative thoughts. And just like that… you are tanking your very_first_live_assessment = assessment.insert(fear).max.

Not ideal, right? If you are a Launch School student, you know this nightmare all too well. It’s the one where you get a problem, and you haven’t seen a similar problem in the past to compare it to. You freeze, embarrass yourself, and get a “Not Yet”.

Of course, you never know the problems you will get before the assessment. Most Launch School students do hundreds of problems before live assessments to try and make sure that the problems you do get are not a surprise, and are similar to problems you have solved in the past. If you are a Launch School student, just reading this is increasing your heart rate a little!

If you have never taken the RB109 Live Assessment, I am probably adding to the growing anxiety that has recently made a home in the bottom of your stomach. I get it. Just stay with me a little longer, and you will see a point to this anxiety-inducing story.

You’ve likely heard some RB109 live assessment success stories in the past. Maybe even a few stories from people who got a “Not Yet” and then later passed. The story you don’t hear as often is when the worst of the worst happens during the live assessment and how you can overcome that.

The morning of my RB109 Live Assessment, I was very nervous. We are talking max level, throw up all over the place, n.e.r.v.o.u.s! At this point in my Launch School career, I had no idea if I was ready to take the live assessment or not. The only thing I knew was that I had done all the things I was supposed to. That should be good enough, right? Wrong.

The assessment started, and I got my first problem. To be honest, I’m sure in the past I have seen a similar problem to the one I got. But at the time it seemed foreign to me! It threw me completely off guard! All the hours of practice I had writing a good and solid PEDAC flew out the window. I didn’t even know what to type! It was one of my worst nightmares coming true.

At this point, I started rambling out ideas to show the TA I’m trying to solve the problem. I was pulling ridiculous solutions that I knew wouldn’t work out of my head to buy myself time to figure it out. I sounded ridiculous. Nothing worked; I wasn’t loading the problem in my brain. I couldn’t write the problem in plain English. I knew that this was it. I would get a “Not Yet”.

After twenty minutes of floundering, I wanted to give up. I wanted to tell the TA that I obviously wasn’t ready and hide under my covers for the following year. The TA tried to nudge me in the right direction, and I was responding and interacting with him, but my brain wasn’t registering the conversation. I let my anxiety get the best of me…… I failed.

I looked up at the clock, and it had been somewhere between 22 to 26 mins from the start of my assessment. At this point, I had a little over 30 minutes to write the PEDAC for two questions and solve them. “This is next to impossible,” I thought. And that’s when it happened… a lightning bolt of inspiration!

I don’t know if something the TA said finally hit me or the solution just came to me. But, the Ruby gods parted the clouds and sent down a solution to my brain! I saw the problem clearly in my head and knew how to solve it.

In the next eight or so minutes, I wrote the PEDAC and code for the problem. I was typing as fast as my fingers would allow! The glorious moment came when I would run my code and see the wall of truth. My trembling hands reached for the command and “S” buttons on my keyboard; the sun is coming out, the angels are singing, and finally, I was going to get my …… wall of false?!? They were all false! Which meant I had made a mistake somewhere in my code.

I was so close! I was going to have a shot at passing, and just like that, it all seemed far away again! To reenact what happened inside my brain, I am going to tell you a short story. We will now call the negative side of my brain Voldemort and the mastery-based learning side of my brain Yoda from here on out. Master nerves we must hmmm?

Yoda and Voldemort started a ferocious battle! Voldemort used his wand and threw the words “she is a failure” which slammed Yoda to the ground with a wounded arm. Yoda took his one good arm to raise his lightsaber half-heartedly, and sent “this problem does not define her!” spiraling through the air back to Voldemort… alas, he missed him.

Voldemort hurled his wand up with the strength of ten grizzly bears and sent the debilitating “she has spent nearly five months studying, and is still not worthy of a pass! She cannot get the wall of truth” back at the already defeated Yoda.

I thought the battle had ended, and Voldemort had won when the TA came flying past Yoda, karate-kicking “try IRB!!!” at Voldemort! (Launch School TAs are the best).

I ran to IRB and realized that I was using a non-mutating method, and I needed the mutating version to fix the problem!! My discovery refueled Yoda! He stood up and swung his lightsaber at the flying words hurling towards him and hit them back to Voldemort yelling, “the force is strong with this one. She is doing mastery-based learning at Launch School!!!”. Voldemort was no match for Yoda and was defeated.

In reality, I found my bug, fixed it, ran my code, and got the wall of truth — YES! Victory is mine! I think the battle explanation was way better than saying that — just my opinion, though. I went to the lowest of the lows and climbed my way back up. When I got the following problem, I ended up solving it with ten minutes to spare. Whew. A few hours later, I got an email saying I passed (thank you, Ruby gods!).

When the worst of the worst happens, your brain will tell you a long list of reasons why you should give up. It will say you’re not good enough, and all the negative subconscious thoughts hiding beneath the surface will come up into the conscious part of your mind. If you take anything from this article, take this: they are not right! The less dramatic truth is: you’re capable, but this is hard!

Now, I know what you are thinking. You want to say to me, “well, it is “hard,” however, other people do it, and they don’t have as many issues as me! You’re right, some people might not find this to be as difficult, and they may not have as many issues as you. Another conclusion could be that people just don’t regularly talk about their struggles. They seem like they struggle less because they’re better at hiding it.

Some people (not all, but some) will show their accomplishments without the struggle. They say how successful they were and how it took them a long time to finish, but don’t say how hard it was or how often there were failures. Then other people trying to achieve the same goal feel defeated because it’s not coming to them without failure or difficulty. When in fact, the first person did struggle. They just didn’t say they did.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there’s anything bad about not being comfortable with sharing the struggles you had! It is hard to be vulnerable enough to say, “I wasn’t the best at this” or “this didn’t come naturally to me; I had to work hard at it and fail a lot.” Or maybe you really didn’t struggle, which is also great! But as a person who does struggle with the difficulty level of Launch School sometimes, I think it would help my fellow “struggle buddies” to know that they are not alone. For that reason, I decided to come here to tell my very embarrassing and terrifying story.

We regularly hear about how to study for the live assessment and pass it. We don’t often hear about how to continue through the assessment when it goes all wrong (or at least I didn’t). The best thing you can do is remember to keep trying. If it doesn’t go according to plan, then that’s a good thing! You now have the opportunity to show that you do not give up under pressure, and you are a next-level Jedi coder. The assessment is not over until it is over, and every minute that passes is another chance to get back on track.

I know this is easier said than done. When you start to tank, you may compare your experience to others, or start to see Voldemort hurling nastygrams which make it hard for Yoda to defeat him. Here’s the thing though: there will always be people going faster than you, “struggling less” than you, and saying that something that you struggled with was “easy.” You will picture them taking a live assessment, making a latte, and typing their solution with one hand. They end up with 30 minutes to spare and of course, get an A+ (at least in your mind). It’s unrealistic, but sometimes our mind plays tricks on us.

Even though it feels lousy struggling, struggling is when the most learning happens. Most often, the reason people feel bad about struggling is because they think no one else does. If that resonates with you, feel better knowing there’s a hot mess of a person at Launch School with you. A person who gets problems wrong, finds lessons difficult, says, “what does that big word mean?!” when they read problem excerpts, and almost failed her very first live assessment.

Before this test, I would try to not think of the nightmare situation happening. Now I know that it is better to learn how to get through that rather than hope it doesn’t happen, and I can pass that wisdom to you. If you know how to get through these rough times and don’t let your inner Voldemort win, you can pass any assessment that comes your way.

More importantly, I have learned I am not alone in this battle. I’m just part of the select people who feel comfortable talking about my struggles. That doesn’t mean I am not as good at coding as others (be quiet Voldemort!), it means I handle things differently. I don’t need to tell you that though! I assume you already guessed I’m a little different when you read my epic Valdemort — Yoda battle. Don’t lie… It was pretty cool.

first_live_assessment = live_assessment.insert(success)

Launch School

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