Study Guide: How to Prepare for the Backend Skills Assessment
Jun 11, 2021
cartoon man on blue background and backend lambda shieldu

Backend development is a challenging and well-compensated career path with plenty of growth opportunities for engineers willing to put in the time and effort needed to achieve mastery. As opposed to frontend engineering, which focuses on the site’s design and user experience, backend engineers own a website’s behind-the-scenes infrastructure, including servers, applications, and databases, which are all critical for the site’s functionality. Backend developers are in very high demand across the tech industry because of their specialized skill set and are paid accordingly. 

Lambda School recently announced that our first full-time 9-month Backend Development cohort will begin September 27, 2021 and we are now accepting applications! The curriculum was jointly developed by Lambda School and Amazon, based on Amazon’s internal Amazon Technical Academy.

To ensure that we’re admitting learners who will be successful in the new program and in the workplace, we’ve designed a Backend Skills Assessment, which will test applicants on their knowledge of programming fundamentals, problem solving, and data structures.

We have partnered with Codecademy to bring you Learn Java, a free 25-hour prep course, which will help you ace the Assessment and hit the ground running in your first unit. This course will teach you foundational programming concepts, including object-oriented programming (OOP) with Java, conditionals, arrays, debugging, and more. You’ll also build 7 Java projects—like a basic calculator—to help you practice your new skills along the way.

Below you’ll find practice questions for each concept you’ll encounter on the Backend Skills Assessment, as well as additional resources you can study to help you prepare. Let’s dive in!

Programming Fundamentals

The Lambda School Backend Development program is designed for learners with some previous coding experience, so in this assessment, we’ll test you on your understanding of basic programming concepts and Java. 

Java is one of the most critical programming languages used by backend developers for app development and is the foundation of the Lambda School’s backend program. To ensure that you’re fully prepared to ace the programming fundamentals questions, we recommend studying the following resources:

Programming Foundations with JavaScript, HTML and CSS - A Coursera Duke University Course

This self-paced Coursera course discusses programming fundamentals using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.  Every developer is expected to have a rudimentary knowledge of these three languages so now is a good time to start studying. This course is the first in a series of three self-paced Coursera courses that are recommended as prerequisites for the Lambda School’s Backend Development program. The concepts that are learned in the course are directly transferable to the Java programming language.

Greenfoot: Joy of Code

If you prefer a Java only approach, The Joy of Code video series is a good resource. This video series walks you through the fundamentals of programming while creating two-dimensional games using Java and a development environment called Greenfoot.

If you prefer written tutorials, check out Beginner's Book: Java Basics.

Programming Fundamentals practice question: 

programming fundamentals practice question
Programming Fundamentals practice question

Problem Solving

You’ll spend a lot of time solving problems, finding bugs, and fixing errors in your work as a backend developer, so in this section, we’ll test you on your ability to identify and solve problems with Java. This section will also evaluate your ability to set up a Java Program and understand basic Java syntax. You don’t need to be a Java expert to pass this section, but you should be able to demonstrate a basic grasp of the following materials:

Java Programming: Solving Problems with Software - A Coursera Duke University Course

This Coursera tutorial will teach you how to set up a Java Program, understanding basic Java syntax, and how to produce a complete, useful Java program. Note that the coursera course will teach you similar concepts as the Joy of Code course, but does not cover CSS, HTML, and JavaScript.

Problem Solving Practice Question:

problem solving practice question
Problem Solving Practice Question

Data Structures

A major portion of backend development deals with data, including storage, retrieval, and manipulation. The validity and reliability of that data are important but so are the time and resources consumed in handling data. Data structures are the foundation of how data is stored, retrieved, and manipulated. Backend developers need an understanding of which data structures are appropriate for which type of data and the trade-offs between efficiency, effectiveness, and complexity between different data structures. You will be making decisions on what data structures are best for your project, and you’ll need a good knowledge base for making those decisions! 

The following resources will help you prepare to do well on the Backend Skills Assessment and be successful at Lambda School:

Java Programming: Arrays, Lists, and Structured Data - A Coursera Duke University Course

This final recommended course in the Coursera series expands on your knowledge of Java, adding important programming concepts such as arrays, lists, and data collections. This is done through a series of tutorials where you develop several, complete Java programs.

For written material, check out the Java Collections Tutorial.

Java Programming Masterclass for Software Developers is a for-cost course on Udemy.

“This is the best self-paced MOOC Java course available,” said John Mitchell, Java Instructor at Lambda School. “This course takes you from beginner to advanced concepts of Java,” he continued. “Way more material is covered in this course than is needed to begin the Lambda School program. However, the first part of this course does prepare you for admissions and for being successful at Lambda School while the rest of the course is great supplementary material.”

Data Structures Practice Question:

data structures practice question
Data Structures practice question

How to complete the Backend Skills Assessment

First, start an admissions application, fill out your personal information, and select Backend Development as your program of interest.

When you’re ready to begin the skills assessment, log in to your admissions dashboard with the email and password you chose when you began your application. On the checklist page that you’ll see when you log in, navigate to the “Backend Skills Assessment” page, and then click “take the skills assessment” to begin. You will be redirected to the CodeSignal website and you will need to create an account on CodeSignal to access the assessment. Please be sure to use the same email address that you used when you applied to Lambda School so we can access your assessment score.

There are 10 multiple-choice questions in the assessment which you can complete in any order. You will need to submit each task after you have completed it. You will have 30 minutes to complete all ten.  The assessment is open-book, and you may use a Java resource of your choice if necessary. You can take a practice test here to help build your confidence.

You will need to achieve a minimum score of 60% to proceed to the next phase of the admissions process.  If you don’t pass the first time, don’t worry!  You can retry the assessment after one hour.

We recommend taking the assessment in the area where you plan to do most of your studying and test-taking at Lambda School. You might consider it a stress test to find out if anything about your set-up needs to change for you to be successful in school. 

Be sure to test your tech ahead of time, eat a snack and hydrate yourself before you begin so you can do your best on the assessment. 

Good luck!

If you run into issues with the Backend Skills Assessment or have a question about how your score is used, please email admissions@lambdaschool.com

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