Checklist for Launch in 3…2…1…

In this article, I’ll be giving some instructions as to how to use my checklist for Launch School’s written assessments.

I wanted to have a way to be certain that I wouldn’t forget anything essential while taking a written assessment, so that I could devote as much focus as possible on the questions at hand. After having tested it on myself in several iterations, I think it may be ready for general use. You can make a copy (on Google Docs) and customize / re-design it as you see fit (or just use it as inspiration for your own system). Let us know in the comments if you come up with what you consider a significant improvement.

First, a few words about my basic approach to Launch School’s written assessments. You can see here for some of my thoughts on preparation. When it comes to actually taking the assessment itself, I break it up into chunks. Each chunk is composed of a 5-minute period and a 55-minute period. The first 5-minute period is dedicated to getting acquainted with the questions and making a plan of attack. Then comes the 55-minute focus session. Then a 5-minute break. Then another focus session. The break-and-focus-session unit repeats until the hours run out.

For a 3-hour assessment this would look like: 5-minute overview, 55-minute focus, 5-minute break, 55-minute focus, 5-minute break, 55-minute focus.

Because those periods all add up to exactly the amount of time you have before losing a whopping 10% for submitting your answers late (woof!) and it might take a second to start/reset your timers, I also have two “Total time” timers set to 1 minute less than that time, for safety. So much for the 40,000 ft. view.

Let’s look at the top right, Pre-Assessment. The first step is to make sure the highlighted areas are customized for the particular assessment you’re taking. The Total time timers should be set for 2 hours and 59 minutes if the assessment is 3 hours long. The Total chunks line refers to the 55-minute focus sessions of the assessment, so one per hour. The Special problems time value is for assessments where you know beforehand that a particular problem should be expected to take multiple times what other problems will. For example, if you have a 20 question test, but one of the questions is likely to take 45 minutes, you want to factor that in here. Just approximate and type it in.

Step #2 is about having your environment set up. Are you prepared for an optimal performance?

Step #3 refers to the screen setup I use. I have a laptop, a cell phone, and a large screen. The large screen is divided into three columns (left, center, right). The allows me to have everything I need available without losing sight of what’s most important. Is everything you need up and running (and nothing else)?

Step #4 is for ensuring that the procedure outlined in the checklist itself is clear. You don’t want to depend on a parachute that you haven’t properly attached to your body.

With step #5, we are almost ready to begin. For the timers on the laptop I use this simple, free site, which lets me see exactly where (when) I am. Have them all ready and tested (sound on!) before proceeding.

Now we’ve made it to the Start of assessment steps! At this point you start the timers in italics, and then start the assessment on Launch School. Next (step 2), you fill in the Start and End times on the top left (just for good measure). Subtract 1 minute from the latter.

Next (step 3), you want to have a rough idea of the pace you need to maintain. If you have 3 hours and 24 problems, you want to make it through 8 per hour (Problems per chunk near the top left). At 55 minutes per focus session, that means less than 7 minutes per problem, so I’d put 6 in the Avg. minutes per problem (rounding down). If you have 4 hours and 20 problems, but you want to reserve an hour for 1 particularly substantial problem, you could count that 1 as, say, 9, giving you a total of 28 problem units, with 7 problem units per chunk and roughly 7 minutes per unit (rounding down). (Don’t overdo this step. It’s just to get a sense of pacing.)

That all takes much longer to explain than to do, once you get the very simple idea that it’s based on, so you’ll still have most of the 5 minutes to read all the questions and to make note of all the questions that stand out as particularly difficult, marking them with an “H” on the checklist to the left (step 4). Reading through all the problems is a very simple and effective way of allowing the diffuse mode of thinking to work on them in the background of your mind.

We’ve made it 5 minutes into the assessment! Step 1 of the Middle of the assessment is Hard start jump to easy. This (among other things incorporated into this plan) is referring to an idea from the course Learning How to Learn, which Launch School highly recommends its students take before beginning the paid courses. As applied here, you should start with the hard problems first, and if you get stuck at all, mark them with an “E” (for “extend” the answer) and leave them for later. Allow the diffuse mode to do its magic. Of course, do your best to have them in as good a shape as possible so that if you end up running short on time, you have a reasonable chance at getting at least partial credit. Go on to the rest of problems, doing your best to stay ahead of the clock (step 2), marking the checklist with some big, fat “X”’s as you complete them (or “E”’s if you want to circle back). Step 3 is simply directing you to resist the temptation to muck about with those questions until you’ve given at least partial answers to all of the other questions that you can — unless you have an unexpected “Eureka!” moment, and the answer is suddenly clear. In that case, go ahead and jump back to the problem concerned and finish it.

As the Total time timers wind down and the End of assessment draws near, make sure you submit your answers before they hit 0, regardless of where things are at. If you have time left, complete all the incomplete “E” answers (step 1). If you still have time, go over all the questions and your answers starting at the end, moving backwards to the beginning, using a right-hemisphere perspective (step 2). Ask yourself, “Does this really make sense?”

I hope that this proceduralized approach will free your mind up for tackling the challenge at hand. Thanks for reading.