Time Management During Launch School Assessments
What I learned after taking RB109 part 1
As a board certified Emergency physician I’ve lost count of the number of standardized exams it took over 12 years to obtain a Human Physiology degree, Medical Doctorate, and board certification in Emergency Medicine. Some of these exams were two days long and had us sitting in a standardized pro-metric rooms answering 300 multiple choice questions for eight hours each day. For doctors to pass all of these exams, we had to become professional test takers.
Throughout all of those exams I’ve never had a problem with time management, and I’m certainly not saying this to toot my own horn, but I was usually in the top quarter of quickest to finish — not that taking an exam is a race. So why did I feel I hadn’t enough time AT ALL when I was taking the LAUNCH SCHOOL written RB109 test?
First off I felt I knew the 109 material, and I was prepared. I read through the study guide many times and I was comfortable with everything. I even noted that if the exam took 105 minutes, and there were ten questions, it meant I had ten minutes and thirty seconds to answer each question. I had a timer pulled up on my desktop and was ready to go. “Let’s do this.” I thought.
My plan was to roughly designate 9 minutes to each problem, and I estimated that 2–3 problems would take much less than 10 minutes, and maybe one or two that would take longer. If I succeeded in doing this, I would have 10–15 minutes to go over all my answers at the end. But from the very start this plan crumbled.
I want to first emphasize that in no way did I feel the exam was unfair. What it also did require, for me at least, was some very deep thinking and most importantly, explanation of my thoughts. When I was halfway through my explanation for problem 1 I glanced at my timer — 7 minutes had gone by. “Crap, this isnt a good start.” I thought to myself.
“Thats ok, maybe this is one of the longer questions”. I tried not to rush the rest of my explanation, and felt good at 12 minutes when I was moving on to problem 2. I figured I’d make up the time.
For all but one of the 10 problems I knew the answer straight off the bat, and dove right away into the explanations. The issue I kept running into was my efficiency at putting my thoughts understandably on the screen. Problems number 2, 3, and 4 all either took ten minutes, or slightly more. Thankfully by the last half of the exam I was able to move slightly faster, but my answers became less and less complete. In the balance of speed and completeness, I had overcompensated towards speed.
To top it all off, and I think this was because it was 6am in the morning, somewhere in my hurry I thought I only had 95 min total to complete the exam. I definitely found myself out of time and wasnt even able to complete the exam by my original goal of 95min. I ended up submitting a half-unanswered problem.
Where did I go wrong?
I definitely think I approached the exam with too much confidence, but considering my extensive history of test taking I knew when I was ready to take a test, and knew when I wasn't. I was ready.
But what I didn’t factor in is that software engineering is a different beast than medicine. The majority of written tests in medicine are complex multi-layered multiple choice questions — this launch school exam had zero multiple choice questions. I knew in my head what was going on, but I couldn't type it out fast enough or in proper order (and I am and average speed typist, so that wasn't the issue).
What I did not practice prior to this exam was writing out explanations to previous problems on my own. I had done some by hand with arrows and symbols and less words, but never strictly by text. This was one of my downfalls. I would highly suggest typing out practice problems prior to 109, you will be more efficient at it!
The following is from test taking company Cambridge Coaching , which guides students through the MCATs, LSATs, and GMATs. The title of the post is ‘The best way to prepare for an essay exam’. It does so in terms of an English course exam, but the fundaments still apply. It is very similar to the PECARN process.
PRACTICE YOUR ESSAY-WRITING STRATEGY USING YOUR SAMPLE QUESTIONS.
I recommend practicing the three steps with a timer set for five minutes — these steps are for preparing and organizing an essay (not actually writing it), so you want to practice doing them relatively quickly. They’ll give you a clear structure to fill in.
The first thing to do when you start an essay is to quickly brainstorm a list of everything you can think of in relationship to that question: key terms, details, facts, dates, authors — whatever seems relevant. This should just be a quick task of getting everything in your head on paper.
Then figure out your claim. Answers to essay questions should have an argument that clearly answers the question and that makes a claim that is debatable (as opposed to factual or descriptive). If you’re having trouble, an easy format for writing an argument is “Although ____________, ______________.” For example, your claim could be, “Although both O’Neill and Williams use realism in their plays, Williams is more interested in how psychological realism can be achieved through design elements.” (This format works especially well for compare-contrast questions.)
Finally, outline the essay. The argument will come first, in the introduction, and then map out the main point you want to cover in each body paragraph.
While the above does not apply to software engineering, the overall technique emphasizes think/plan/outline before you begin writing. If I had practiced doing that, I would have been much more efficient, and I would have had more time!