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What to Expect from Launch School’s RB109 Written Assessment

So I just took Launch school’s first written assessment in RB109, and in some ways I was really prepared. In others…well, there were things I just wasn’t ready for.

It left me scrambling towards the finish line on a 3-hr test — clocking in my submission with only a few minutes to spare. Had I managed my time better, things would have been different.

But hey — it was my first one. And having been a true beginner in programming, I think I did a good job. At least I know what to expect the next time round.

When I did get my result back, I was surprised to see I did quite well! However, I still felt that my expectations of the test weren’t quite aligned with what it actually asked of me. So in hindsight, I thought I’d put together a post on what to expect while approaching this first assessment.

  1. First things first. Adjust your expectations for how long you’ll be studying for this test. If you’re new to programming like me and are used to maybe 20ish hours of study before you sit an exam — that isn’t gonna cut it. We’re now at the stage where we’re applying circular learning to really cement what was just learned during RB101. By not studying enough, you’re only hurting yourself and your chances of really grasping these concepts. So pace yourself — try not to fly through it. Endurance is key.
  2. REVIEW THE TOPICS OUTLINED IN THE STUDY GUIDE. When I say review, I mean rewrite your notes on these topics. Seriously. Go to the lessons related to the study guide that were covered in RB101 and the Introduction to Ruby book. Read them until you understand them. Then read them again. Don’t be afraid to experiment with code in irb too!
  3. Copy rules and/or code examples into a word doc or spreadsheet, and color code each topic. The brain remembers things you can relate to in everyday life. Things like color sink into your long-term memory. And before long, you’ll remember that “blue” rule was about truthiness and those “red” rules were about local variable scoping. Make color your secret ally.
  4. Rules first, language precision second. I personally think it’s more important to get a strong grasp on the rules/underlying concept of each topic before figuring out how to write precise answers to questions. Like Barbara Oakley says in her Learning how to Learn course: we’re dealing with abstract stuff here, so we need an overarching ‘bigger picture’ for chunks of code. So know your underlying concepts and know them well. You should be able to recall them straight away when you see a piece of syntax because, quite frankly, you don’t have the time to look it up.
  5. Attend at least 1 live study session with a TA. Now I’m not the most social person — especially while I’m studying. So while a live session wasn’t my first go-to, I will say it was one of the best ways to fine tune my language precision. And here’s why: working with a TA helps you notice what you’re lacking. Is it rules? Language precision? Both? Now’s the time to find out.
  6. Team up with a buddy on Launch School’s chat. Working with a buddy allows you to put yourself in the teacher’s hot seat. if you recall George Cohen’s book on Mastery, one of the paths to becoming a pro is to demonstrate what you’ve learned to someone else. Believe me, you’ll catch what you don’t know straight away, and if you don’t — your partner will ;). You can also help out your buddy with their answers too. It’s win-win!
  7. And finally the step I missed out on but sorely needed — beware of the example questions you or your buddy set, and more importantly how they’re answered. This is what stressed me out the most in the assessment, and why I lost so much time. All the hours I spent studying I was looking at broad examples and giving long-winded answers about return values, outputs and their underlying concepts. By the time I’d finished the first one I was writing way too many sentences and the test just wasn’t structured like that! Set yourself some really specific questions. Something along the lines of:

“Explain why outputs instead of on line 10 . What structure is defined on lines 4–8? How does this structure affect ‘s final output and what is the underlying concept here?”

With 20+ questions to answer like this one above in just 3 hours, broad, long-winded responses won’t get you anywhere! Your answer must be short — a few sentences, really specific and answering the question directly without too much explanation. This is where knowing your rules and underlying concepts will come in handy. From my personal experience, start with the rule/underlying concept of the code and go from there. You don’t need to write about every little thing that’s happening. Just focus on the areas that the question is asking of you.

And that’s about all the advice I have from my own journey at Launch School so far. Hopefully this should help any future students avoid the pitfalls I had in this assessment — especially when it comes to time management. Happy studying!