By Beau Carnes
I completed an entire Software Development bachelor's degree from Western Governors University in only six months. This school is unique in that you can work at your own pace so as soon as you finish the requirements for one class you can go immediately to the next class. I would like to explain how I accomplished this to hopefully help other students.
First of all, I should confess that I already misled you. I am not quite finished yet. But I have passed every class except the final project and I still have 1.5 months left until it has been 6 months. So I have passed every class except the final project in only 4.5 months! I am sure I will finish in time but I did not want to wait until I finished completely to post this. I have done this all while working full-time and spending time regularly with my wife and two young kids.
I am currently an elementary teacher (that degree also from WGU) and before starting I had very little experience with software development. All my general education classes were transferred in from my previous degree. Also, 15 years ago I got my A+ and Network+ certifications. While they did not initially transfer over to my WGU degree because they were so old, after I passed Security+ those other certifications were automatically renewed and then WGU allowed me to get credit for them. That alone took care of four classes for me. So that left me with 76 CUs (credits) to complete.
One of the biggest skills that helped me is being a good test taker. It is very important to understand questions completely. Also, many times one question will give hints to the answer of another question. It is also very helpful to regularly check the course chatter or reddit to see if there are suggestions from other students on how to do well in the exams. I spent time trying to figure out what things were most likely to appear on the exams so I could just study those things. For the most part, I only went through the entire learning resource for the classes that had to do with Java. For the rest I would find another way to learn the required material quicker or just skim. I also found study material that other WGU students made on Quizlet.com that helped me to just study the important concepts. Also, I was constantly reviewing upcoming classes to make sure I had all learning resources before it was time for me to start the class. I ordered books and reserved books from the library so they would be ready as soon as I needed them. WGU makes all the books available online but it was nice to not have to read everything on a computer.
I took all pre-assessments "open book". Usually the final exam asks similar questions so the pre-assessment helps to know where to study. I would usually take the entire pre-assessment without looking at the book and I would mark the questions I did not know. Then I would go back through and look up the questions I did not know. I would keep a count of the number of questions where I changed my answer. After I saw my final score on the pre-assessment I was able to calculate what my score would have been had I not changed any answers. This allowed me to judge how ready I was for the final. Sometimes I would leave a question wrong on purpose so my final score on the pre-assessment was not too high. I thought it may seem weird to my mentor if my final exam was always way lower than my pre-assessment. I took screenshots of all the questions I had trouble with so I could study those concepts further. I only retook a pre-assessment once. Since the second time had the exact same questions as the first time I decided not to retake anymore pre-assessments. It was easy to score high enough to not have to retake since I was taking them “open book”. It was not helpful to retake the same exam since I already had screenshots of all the difficult questions.
Another key thing that helped me get through quickly is that I made a schedule of when I planned to pass each class. I usually gave myself between 1 and 3 weeks for each exam based on reviewing what the course entailed. The schedule motivated me to put in extra time studying so I could pass the exam on time. WGU recommends spending 20 hours per week on coursework. I may have even averaged less than that. It does not take a lot of extra work to finish quickly. You just need to work smarter.
While I don’t remember everything I did to pass the classes, I have made a list of some of the things that were very helpful for me to get through the classes quickly. I also show how long each class took me and what grade I got on the exam. I do not give my grades on the projects but most of them I passed on my first try.
Network and Security - Applications - C178
Time: 3 weeks, Grade: 853
This class is all about earning the CompTIA Security+ certification. All classes that you pass by earning a certification have a lot of resources online that you can use to help pass. I read a lot of forums about different tips for this exam. I watched Professor Messer videos about Security+. Here is the first (of two) playlist:
I watched all the videos at 2x speed. I also watched some of his study session videos and I purchased his Network+ notes for $10. I read the notes a few times. I took all the practice exams on uCertify but I did not read much of the material on there. I did read the sections that I scored low on when I took the practice exams. I also took some other practice exams I found online.
Introduction to IT - C182
Time: < 2 days, Grade: 81%
The only studying I did for this class is during my ‘open book’ pre-assessment.
Principles of Management - C483
Time: < 2 days, Grade: 71%
52% to pass? This is a joke class that they don’t expect you to actually do. Studied during pre-assessment.
Scripting and Programming - Foundations - C173
Time: 4 days, Grade: 89%
I quickly went through the learning resources on Udacity and Codecademy. This material is not very long, especially when you watch the videos at double speed. There are not actually very many videos they want you to watch on Udacity according to the pacing guide. This exam was pretty basic.
Scripting and Programming - Applications - C169
Time: 5 days, Grade: 82%
I read “Java for Everyone” completely. I was able to check it out from the library through interlibrary loan. This was the only learning resource I used. I watched a cohort recording that helped with the final project. Also, the course mentor sent me a file called “ArrayListExample.zip”. This contained code very similar to what was required in the final project. Looking at that code, along with watching a few YouTube videos from Derek Banas, helped me to complete this project quickly.
Operating Systems for Programmers
Time: 5 days, Grade: 88%
The main thing I did for this class was to read the powerpoint presentations that are accessible in the learning resource. These basically provide a summary of all the important concepts. I also did the practice quizzes and read through the parts of the actual book that I struggled with. This is the class that I retook the pre-assessment. I was a little concerned about this class so I read through more of the book than I originally planned.
Data Management - Foundations - C175
Time: 7 days, Grade: 78%
As far as I can remember I just went through the entire learning resource for this class.
Data Management - Applications - C170
Time: 7 days, Grade: 86%
I think I went through most of the learning resource for this class. Also there was a pdf from the course mentors that was very helpful for completing the project.
Data Management for Programmers - C192
Time: 8 days, Grade: 85%
Don't be intimidated by all the reading. There are not that many questions on the exam and they are all about core concepts. If anything in the reading seems complicated (i.e. relational algebra and calculus), it is probably ok to just skip that section entirely. Just keep asking yourself, "Would they really use one of the 56 questions to test for this concept?" Also, keep open the study guide while you read. When you get to a new section heading, do a search in the study guide using the keyword from the section heading. If that keyword is not in the study guide, it is probably safe to skim the section very quickly and not read in detail. A lot of the exam involved actual SQL commands. Also, there are quite a few questions about schemas (star, snowflake, starflake). Some of the chapters in the in the pacing guide do not have concepts in the objectives. I skipped chapters 3,10,11,12,14,15, & 16. I probably read less than half the book in detail and skimmed the rest.
Organizational Behavior and Leadership - C484
Time: 1 day, Grade: 81%
Another joke class only needing 51% to pass. In the ‘course tips’ section there is a link to ‘Key Terms’. I read over this before the exam.
Data Structures - C189
Time: 4-5 days, Grade: 93%
I read through the entire learning resource. I think I got this book from the library through interlibrary loan. Videos and code samples from Derek Banas on YouTube really helped on the project.
Business of IT - Project Management - C176
Time: 9-10 days, Grade: 831
This class was for the Project+ certification. I mainly just studied notes that someone else made for the exam. You can get them at this link.
Besides that, I just skimmed uCertify (focussing on the chapter summaries) and did the practice exams on there.
Software I - C482
Time: 9-10 days, Grade: 90%
I read the book “OCA Java SE 7 Programmer I Certification Guide” by Mala Gupta. The book was for version 7 and I took version 8 so I did some additional reading, some through the WGU library, to learn about the version 8 concepts. I did not read any of the uCertify material but I went through all the practice exams on uCertify. These are the exact same exams as the Enthuware exams. The course mentor told me that if I could score at least 65% on the practice exams then I would be ready to take the final since the practice exams are much harder than the final. That was true.
Software Engineering - C188
Time: 4 days, Grade: 65% (minimum grade to pass!)
I read all the suggersted reading and I reviewed this a few times
I don’t think I did the practice exam in the learning resource.
Business of IT - Applications - C179
Time: 6 days, Grade: 87%
The course mentors provide a fill-in-the-blank study guide. The following quizlet has almost all the answers.
. I used just studied this quizlet and some other quizlets and the study guide and I was able to pass the exam.
Software II - Advanced Java Concepts - C195
Time: 20 days, Grade: 66% (1% more than minimum)
This is the most challenging class in the degree. I read through all the uCertify material. Instead of doing the practice exams on there I purchased and completed the Enthuware practice exams. Here are some other helpful resources I used:
Client-Server Application Development - C193
Time: 11 days, Grade: 80%
No secrets to this one. I just read the book and did the practice quizzes.
Mobile Application Development - C196
Time: 17 days, Grade: 80%
I watched the suggested Lynda.com videos, along with part of another Lynda.com video called “Android SDK: Local Data Storage”. I did not read any of the book from the WGU library. YouTube videos from Derek Banas and The New Boston were very helpful. I also used the camera tutorial from the ‘course tips’ and countless searches on Google and Stack Exchange.