If you are preparing for LS assessment 139, I know how you feel. And if you are not preparing for 139 assessment and still reading this, I don’t know what to say? Thanks?
LS assessments are no joke. The bar to pass the assessments is set so high that there is no way you will pass an assessment without mastering topics to the core. For me, the assessments are like a bridge that we have to cross at the end of each course, in order to land in the next course and start working towards the next bridge. Only problem is, the bridge is a thin Tightrope and you have to walk it like an expert funambulist(I had to look up this word). If you don’t maintain a perfect balance and posture, you will be asked to go back and prepare to cross again.
So you can imagine my anxiety while preparing for LS assessments. The good news is, with enough preparation and some tips, you can definitely learn how to cross that bridge. 139 assessment is special in particular because there are no study sessions operated by TA’s like for the previous two assessments (109 and 129), and it is a written assessment. It is 4 hours long (previously written assessments being 3 hours long) and includes a coding challenge. So this is the first assessment for which, you are pretty much on your own. I believe there is a good reason behind that. Because that definitely pushes students to take charge and don’t just expect someone to lead the way for them.
Having now taken the 139 assessment, and waking up this morning to the good news that I had crossed the bridge and now was in the land of 170, I think there are certainly some tips I can share with fellow students who are or will be preparing for the exam. These are lessons I learned while preparing and taking the assessment.
This might sound pretty obvious and even silly to suggest as good piece of advice, but seriously, be prepared. Be prepared in every way. Following is the list of things to keep in mind while getting ready:
- Make sure you have mastered all the topics mentioned in the study guide. Read the study guide twice if you have to. Because if something is mentioned in the study guide, trust me, you will be tested on it.
- Have the required
YAMLfile placed in the directory where you have the folder you will be converting to a
zipfile. You don’t want to do all this during the assessment. Your complete focus would be on answering the questions. I was even in the appropriate directory in the command line and had a
sublimefile ready in case I needed to test some code. All these little things add up and save you time during the exam.
- The exam is 4 hours long so make sure you eat something. And keep a bottle of water handy but don’t drink loads of water during the assessment, otherwise, you will have to run to the toilet. When I said I learned some lessons while taking the assessment, I wasn’t lying.
- Keep some nuts or snacks around. 4 hours is a long time, and you may need to recharge the batteries a little bit.
- Decide on how you will keep track of time. I had two separate timers on. One for 2 hours and 50 minutes and the other for 3 hours and 58 minutes. So when the first timer went off, I knew it was time to start the coding challenge.
Trust Repetition. It works like magic
I know you probably heard it already but I believe it is worth re-iterating(pun intended). Even if you are confident that you understand the topics in the study guide, make sure you go through them again. Repetition works magic for me. Going through the concepts, again and again, solidifies them in a way it won’t do the first time. Even if you perfectly understood it the first time. So, trust repetition.
Cheating is bad but Cheatsheet isn’t
Prepare a cheatsheet for every topic, especially the topics mentioned in the study guide. Even if we understand certain concepts perfectly, it is hard and time-consuming to come up with code examples to support our theory during the exam. Often just the process of getting the cheat sheet ready will equip you with the knowledge and examples you need to answer the questions. You may not even check your notes, but have them ready anyway. What’s the harm?
Decide on a Strategy
Before you start the exam, decide how you will approach answering questions. You can start with question 1 and work your way up-to question 21, which is a coding challenge. Or you can get the coding challenge out of the way first, and then attack the rest of the questions. Whichever way you feel comfortable, decide before you start and follow that approach. Don’t be making these decisions during the exam. I personally decided to skip any question I felt was a bit tricky, and got back to it in the end. This approach served me well.
The Coding Challenge
The last question is a coding challenge so make sure you leave at least an hour for it. There are few tips I believe can be helpful for this particular question and here they are:
- Don’t think of it as a
Coding challenge. Think of it as a
Understanding the problem challenge. Because if you are preparing for Launch School 139 assessment, I am confident that you are fluent in Ruby syntax. It’s not a problem for you to code. The real challenge for you is to understand the problem. Because if you understand the problem, writing code will be a mere triviality for you. So before you start coding your solution, be 100% certain that you understand the problem.
- Use PEDAC liberally. Write all the pseudocode you want. You can delete it before you upload the file.
- Read all the test cases carefully and twice. Reading the problem description will give you the core idea, but test cases might open up edge cases that may not have been mentioned in the problem description. Don’t worry if it is consuming time. Read every single test case carefully and then read it again.
- Come up with a working solution and then refactor it. I believe when we are confident about a coding problem, often we have this urge to write smart code. We feel that fewer the lines the better the solution. I don’t know where we get this idea from, but we do. It is wrong. Don’t worry if your solution is 5 more lines than your brain would want it to be. Come up with a solution that works and then you can work on it.
- Run the test file by deleting one
skipat a time. So if you encounter a problem with your code, you know straight away exactly where that problem is and you are in a better position to fix it.
- And before you submit the file, remember to run
rubocopon your code.
- Last but not least, if you are stuck and don’t see a way forward. Get up and walk away. Yes, I mean during your exam. But do come back after a minute or two of deep breathing. You may lose a couple of minutes but you will gain more when you come back to the problem and start again.
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I think the written assessments of LS are probably not really considered as difficult as interview assessments by a lot of students. And there is a good reason for that. Coding in front of another person, when you know you are being judged, can induce a certain type of anxiety. But the presence of a coding challenge in 139 assessment makes it different from the previously written assessments. Hence we need to make sure we prepare for it accordingly. If you have any advice that might be helpful to me and other students, please do share with us!