Where’s All the Support After 109?
If you are at the beginning of the Launch School curriculum or are just considering Launch School and perusing student-generated blogs, you might notice what seems like an unusual phenomenon: there are dozens of articles with study guides, strategies, and support for the very first assessment, 109, yet student-created resources for subsequent exams are extremely scarce. Why is that?
(Before I proceed, I want to be clear: the support provided by Launch School staff is consistent and plentiful throughout the curriculum — there are TA-lead study groups and TA’s are available to answer questions on the Slack channel no matter the course. I’m speaking specifically to the lack of student-generated study material following the 109 course!)
If you’re early in the curriculum, it might feel almost like a bait and switch. Maybe the reason for so much support initially is to “suck you in,” but then you’re left to trudge alone through the rest of the program. Or maybe the other exams are just much easier, so there is no need for additional community support. Or maybe Launch School really is a competitive place once you’re past the first course.
I can’t say definitively why other students who wrote about the 109 exams choose not to write much (or anything) about subsequent exams, but I can confidently say it is not for any of the reasons above.
While Launch School is supportive and encouraging of student-generated work, it is neither required nor incentivized. So when students choose to write about something, it is just that — a choice. And for many (most?) of us, the Launch School pedagogy is such a significant departure from our previously ingrained study habits, completing the first course requires a monumental overhaul in our approach to learning. It feels incredibly overwhelming and daunting, as it is a fundamentally new way to learn. So for the 109 assessment, many of us aren’t just learning the material, we are learning how to learn. Additionally, for those of us who are entirely new to programming — which comprises a large subset of Launch School students — the material itself requires an entirely new mental framework and the learning curve is steep, to say the least. So for many students, both studying for and completing the 109 course feels like (and is!) a massive accomplishment. And it’s human nature to feel inclined to document such accomplishments, to have the desire to impart wisdom to the next group of people preparing for the same challenge. Thus there are a lot of blogs about that first exam.
But these new frameworks for studying, learning, and thinking about programming that are acquired in the first course are all things that carry through to subsequent courses. So while they still require effort, each new course doesn’t entail the same hurdle, in terms of a fundamental shift in thinking and studying. So while exams are not easier — not by any stretch — after completing 109, there isn’t as much of a struggle about how to even approach them. And while finishing them still feels like a victory, it doesn’t feel quite like the same earth-shattering accomplishment as finishing 109 for many of us, and thus the inclination to document it is decreased.
The other (much cooler) reason, in my opinion, that you see less public student support materials for later exams is because after 109 your support system gets personal. While it may be possible to get through 109 without joining any study groups, that’s certainly not the common path — or an advisable one.
The community is one of the greatest resources in Launch School, and as we all study for 109, we form connections, get “study buddies,” and find people that we work well with. And the nice thing about Launch School being self-paced is that there are always going to be people in your circle that are a little farther along in the course, and a little earlier in the course than you are. This means that when exam time comes around, there are always experienced students that you can work with who can help you identify your blind spots in the curriculum, and help you hone your understanding of especially confusing nuances. And of course, we all get to return the favor for those who are grappling with challenges we have already completed. The peer-to-peer wisdom-sharing absolutely still occurs, just in the personal sphere, rather than the public one.
In fact, the Launch School community is so tight-knit that we are all willing to help each other — whether we’ve worked together before or not. So the idea of writing or reading an instructional blog feels almost excessive — if you have a question or are stuck, just ask! It is kind of a foreign notion, and feels a little scary when just starting Launch School because in so many other educational contexts, everything is competitive and asking for help can be perceived as weak or burdensome. But that is just not the case here. Everyone really is able and willing to help. And you quickly learn that supporting other students actually helps you learn — explaining a concept, or helping someone work through a misunderstanding adds depth and clarity to your own understanding, so time expended talking another student through a problem is far from time wasted.
If you have social anxiety or are an introvert, rest assured, you are not alone (I happen to check both of those boxes myself!). But this really is a safe, supportive place, so please don’t let your nerves get the best of you. And if you are someone who did make it through 109 by “going it alone,” and just felt a pang of dread reading this, don’t worry, we’re all still here for you! This community is not judgemental and very eager to help — we’re all facing the same challenges, and we all get a lot farther by collaborating.
So new students and prospective students, don’t fret over the lack of blogs detailing exam strategies following 109! The support is absolutely there! And welcome to Launch School!