The Devil is in the Details: LS 109 Written Assessment Minutiae

My success in passing the Launch School 109 written assessment was threefold: putting in the hours to study, setting a limit date to take the assessment, and most importantly, preparing in little ways to have everything as stress-free as possible during the actual test. Every little detail adds up. That rock in your shoe at mile 1 will not be fun at mile 20, so work to eliminate as many of the tiny barriers to success as possible so that the problems that will definitely come don’t seem so overwhelming.

Since the other blog posts that are written by LS students usually cover the big picture stuff, and very well at that, I am going to go to the opposite extreme to give you some overly particular recommendations to consider before and while taking the assessment. I took a lot of time to figure some of this stuff out, so I hope it helps someone out there with their own 109 Odyssey to spend more time on study instead of comparing different text extender app reviews.

Minutiae for before the assessment:

  1. Text Blaze. The free version of this Chrome extension text extender lets you have up to 30 shortcodes to speed up your writing tremendously. This saved me. Practicing with these codes until I had them memorized saved me.
    /bf and /bt helped me write “boolean false” and “boolean true” in less than a second. /v helped me nail that “local variable “” every time. /scope reminded me that “local variables initialized outside of the block are available inside the scope of the block, but not vice versa.” /init became “on `line `, initialize the local variable “ and assign it to object with value “”. The most important thing is that you know your own codes up and down. I used the Sticky Notes app until I had them memorized, and my browser always had a tab open with the Text Blaze dashboard ready to go. I figured them out as I made my notes in markdown and took practice tests. I refined them constantly.
  2. Markdown. I thought I was okay with markdown because I had practiced with it using Boostnote, but not all markdown apps are the same. Or maybe they are, and I just hadn’t learned it well enough yet. I still don’t know. This turned out to be my Achilles’ heel. Do not assume you will figure this out as you do the test.
    Practice writing in markdown using the Launch School comment boxes. Go to any practice problem and practice writing your explanation there. Use the preview button to see what it will look like. Use bullet points instead of numbering things. Leave one whole line of space between code and text. Figure out how the Launch School markdown makes text italicized or bold.
  3. Timers: find a timer system that works for you, and take your practice tests with that timer. I used a simple browser timer, and it worked well. I set it to beep at quarter intervals through the test to keep me on track, and I made sure to give myself both a 20 minute and a 5 minute warning. The important thing is to practice using the exact same system you will use during the assessment.
  4. Write out everything: I know others have mentioned this, but I can’t stress enough the importance of this step. I took the time to write out my own examples of every item on the study guide, even taking the time to think of possible “trick” questions or outliers, and explain every single one of these problems fully in your own words (take the time to practice using the text completion app). Do the same with quiz questions. This will pay off because you might be able to use parts of your carefully written explanations in the assessment itself, saving you precious minutes.
    [A further note: others have said that the assessment was not tricky like the quizzes. I actually found it to be more like the quizzes than I had hoped, so don’t let your guard down! Prepare!]

Right before taking the assessment:

  1. Turn off that Grammarly extension. I normally love my Grammarly extension, but it turned out to be a nuisance during the exam because it kept hiding my writing beneath the number of errors it shows in the bottom right corner of the text box. This was enough of a nuisance to warrant writing about. The occasional spelling mistake will not be worth the lack of visibility.
  2. Set a cellphone timer. You can never have enough timers. What if you accidentally exit out of your browser timer? Make a cellphone countdown timer and set it to 2 hours and 50 minutes. This will let you know when you should really be wrapping things up. Remember that the test will not let you know when your time is up – you must submit it yourself before the 3 hours are up.
  3. Things to have open in your browser: Timer tab, Launch School 101 tab, a Ruby Docs tab already set to Array, any notes tabs (mine were in Google Docs and Dillinger), your online REPL ready to go (I used repl.it because it shows you return value)
  4. Things to have on hand: notepad/pen for quick notes about which problems you might want to go back to later. Water. Small snack item. I also had coffee and bug spray. Eliminate any possible distraction.