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The Speed of Mastery: My Pacing at Launch School

I’ve been moving quicker than I thought I would through Launch School’s Core curriculum.

As I write this, I’m about to wrap up LS202: HTML and CSS. I’ve spent an average of one month per course since I started RB101 (although it’s a little less since I took a break for 90% of July). And the averages are deceptive: I took one month for RB101 and then just over one month for RB109; but then I took less than 2 weeks in another course. But it still averages out at around one month.

I’ve been asked several times how I was able to keep this pace. But, let me say from the start: I’ve hesitated in writing this post for a few reasons. First, mastery is person-dependent no matter how many of their habits overlap with others. Second, I don’t like to focus on speed, but on learning. Still, I thought it would be a good idea to organize my thoughts in a more coherent way.

So how can you fly through the Core curriculum?? I don’t know. I purposefully didn’t give this article a click-bait title like “How I Flew Through the LS Curriculum” or “How to Master Programming Fast”, because I don’t believe in promises like that. Your mileage may vary. You’re different from me. And there are plenty of students faster than me!

Instead of a magical list of five steps to instant mastery, I’m sharing five details of my study habits that I think enable me to move quickly. Take what sounds good. Leave what doesn’t.

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

I Have Experience in Online Learning

The second half of my Bachelor’s and my entire Master’s was done online. I think this gives me an advantage because I already know how I learn online. For some students, this is the first experience with a fully distant, asynchronous, self-paced program. But that describes my Master’s degree to a T. Thus, a lot of students are learning how to learn this way and learning the curriculum. So be patient with yourself as you learn what works best for you.

I (Only) Use Study Tools that Help Me

If you spend longer than 12 hours on LS’s Slack, you’ll see someone asking for or sharing suggestions on study habits. I think that’s great! One of the best parts of LS (aside from a rock solid curriculum) is the helpful and vibrant community. I live for it. In these posts, you’ll see a variety of tools and note-taking strategies. Lots to choose from!

I don’t read those threads anymore, though. I get distracted by shiny new things, and the way I study works really well for me, so I don’t need to look for new options. I’m set.

For example, a lot of students use/suggest Anki cards. And it works for them. Awesome! Personally, Anki cards just make me feel guilty for not studying them when they tell me. So I gave them up in RB120.

I just take well-organized notes in Notion. Aside from whatever is assigned by LS, that’s….kind of it.

I Study a Lot Each Week

This seems obvious, but it isn’t always. Until RB170, I was easily logging 18–25 hours of study time a week. That’s a lot more than other students can do — whether because of family, work, or any other kind of commitment.

And these are focused hours. No Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, etc. in any tabs. It’s easy to think that you’re logging hours when really it’s only your focus half or a quarter of the time. Be honest with yourself about your time usage. If you put in undistracted time, you’ll see faster progress.

Since becoming a TA, my pacing has slowed down a lot (Chris warned me..!), but I’m okay with that because my personal deadline is far off.

I Build Slip-shoddy Houses

When I talk to most students, they take mastery as one stone at a time: they master each slide in each lesson before moving forward. If they don’t fully understand something said, they’ll study that lesson (or other materials) until they have mastered it. Then, and only then, will they click “Mark as Completed.”

As an analogy, if they were building a house, they would be carving each stone to perfection, lining it up exactly where it should go, measuring it thrice to make sure it does everything it should. Then, and only then, would they begin on the next stone.

In the same analogy, if I were building a house, I’d be cutting rocks that were pretty close to the side needed, putting them where they basically go, and coming back to make it perfect later. There’d be a lot of crooked walls.

This is probably the biggest surprise to people. When I go through the curriculum, I read the slide once, then a second time and take notes. If there’s something I don’t understand, I look for the answer. But I don’t wait until I’ve mastered the answer or could explain it well by myself yet. If I pretty much get it, I move on.

When I finish the course, I go over my notes again and that is when I seek for mastery. Now that I have my slip-shoddy house built, I go back and improve where needs improvements: I do more exercises, I study fuzzy concepts. I like to have the entire house built (albeit imperfectly) before I try to make it perfect. Said another way, I like to have a bird’s eye view of the course before trying to master all of the details.

I Deeply Trust the Launch School Curriculum

One of the reasons I chose to do Launch School was because I needed someone more knowledgable to curate the resources for me. That’s worth the cost already. I didn’t want to have to figure out what to learn. And LS does that well!

After researching LS ad nauseam, I took the plunge. And since starting, I have trusted the curriculum implicitly. What does that mean?

  • When the curriculum says “This is called XYZ but you don’t need to know that right now,” I trust them. I don’t go down the rabbit hole. I move on.
  • When the study guide includes one concept but not another, I master the first concept and not the other. I trust them. I move on.
  • When I take a test and get an A+ and the TA says “No complaints, you’re ready for the next course!” I trust them. I move on.

I’ve talked to a student who spent hours deeply understanding the to_i method. Is that bad? Well, no. But does it possibly waste time that could be used moving forward in the curriculum and focusing on things that are more important? Well, yeah.

I know that I’ll never master every single there is to know about Ruby, let alone programming. So I don’t try to master everything. I try to master what LS tells me to master. And then I move on.

Whether your personal deadlines to finish Core are in order to make a Capstone deadline, meet financial needs, or just prove to yourself that you can do this, I still recommend focusing on the learning as much as possible. But there’s nothing wrong with tweaking your study habits and focus in order to move more quickly.

I hope this snapshot of my study habits can prove helpful to you. If you want to chat & you’re an LS student, I live on Slack (@callie). Happy to chat anytime.