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What helped me get through the LS181 Assessment

Disclaimer: I am currently a student in Launch School and am writing this article hoping that it helps other students in the curriculum of that program. If you find the article helpful or for any other type of feedback or questions, feel free to let me know in the comments section.

I just finished the back-end portion of the program, and I have to get something off my chest. In Launch School, all the assessments have been stressful so far. The time pressure and precision required to answer the questions and solve the problems make them more challenging than your regular test. But like everything else so far in this program (if I may borrow a phrase from my friend and recent core grad Josh Keller, who I think put it best) “everything Launch School throws our way is challenging but doable.”

Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

From my perspective, LS180 was one of the more enjoyable courses. Something about the nature of SQL makes it a little bit easier to digest and internalize. It is a declarative language which means it describes what needs to happen. Even if it does not tell you how to do it. Exposure to previous Launch School courses made it helpful to understand the material as well.

I enjoyed the course a lot. Hence I thought the assessment might be a little less stressful than the previous ones. I did find it to be somewhat easier to understand the questions and content. But the time aspect of this assessment made it as hard if not harder than the others. Having only two hours makes it a little tricky to stay sharp and focused. It also makes it harder if you dwell on a single question for too long. This last part was my big mistake.

I DID spend too long on a single question early on. And this detail made me rush through the rest of the exam. Don’t get me wrong. I came through the other side somewhat unscathed. But I felt like it was a fine line between that and a potentially catastrophic result.

That’s the reason for this article. I’d like to impart some advice for future students. My hope is that they can avoid the same mistakes and have a less stressful experience.

First, the obvious: do not spend too much time on any one single question. I wound up doing that at the beginning of the exam, and it cost me. As I mentioned already, I had to rush through the rest of it. That part was not fun. So if you find yourself having a hard time with a question, my advice is to move on and come back to it. In the end I had some revisions that I could have avoided. I feel it is better to have a smoother ride with a few bumps than a rough ride all the way through.

Photo by Saffu on Unsplash

Second, spend some time discussing concepts and practice solving problems with other students. Be clear on all the topics in the study guide as they are, as usual, the roadmap to success. Launch School does a great job highlighting the pertinent information in study guides. And this helps to prepare you for the assessments, so make it your friend.

Third, set yourself up for success with a markdown file before starting the exam. It will save you time during the assessment. This was also instrumental in why I was able to recover from my initial ‘wasted time’ stumble. I am a part of a study group that meets regularly. One of the members suggested this as something that might be useful. It turned out to be a great move. The way I did it was, I created a markdown file with my text editor (I use sublime) Inside the file, I created individual questions. In each question I typed an individual sql empty code snippet. I typed all my code in there and then copied and pasted my answers onto the exam. This helped me correct typos in an environment with which I was comfortable. It was also very helpful if I needed to double check anything on the terminal. And helpful with editing anything else code wise as I went along with the exam questions. It was a little tricky at first to visualize how to make this document so here’s a screenshot of an example. Remember to save your document as a markdown file and the rest should be pretty simple.

Photo by author

The last piece of advice is the one I would stress the most. Go over the study guide with someone else or a group of students. Make sure to discuss it out loud trying to explain every single one of the bullet points. This was probably the most helpful part of the process of getting ready. And by this I mean go over the study guide without typing stuff out. Just explain it to someone else. This helped me find my blind spots and solidify my strong points. I cannot stress enough what a great exercise this was. It was not something that I had planned on doing ahead of time. But came up with the idea in a study session with a couple of friends who were also getting ready for the assessment. It took us 3 study sessions to go through the whole study guide together, but it was time well spent. We actually did do some coding along the way. But it was minimal and we did so to reinforce what had been discussed and to double check our explanations. I know some of the bullet points are really more about typing out code. And it might even seem weird to talk about them. But being able to explain how to type that out, helped me have an easier time recalling how to do it in the exam. And of course there is a lot to be said for studying in a group. We get exposed to different questions that we might not think about while studying alone. That was a very helpful part of the process as well.

Now I am not saying this is the best or only way to study for this assessment. But as I mentioned before, I found myself stuck in the muck while getting through it and I had a chance to recover. After the fact, I was thinking about why that was the case. I thought about my preparation and how it probably saved me from a different outcome. I hope some of these pointers can help you to not get stuck. But if you do get stuck, I hope they can help you recover.

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