Any mistake that’s made during the National Cyber League (NCL) should be used as a learning experience. I made a lot of mistakes when I was a competitor, but after making them a few times, I learned from them and changed my strategies. Here are some of my most common mistakes and how I fixed them, so you can learn from my mistakes before you make them yourself.
Spamming answers when I was unsure and absolutely tanking my accuracy.
During my first couple of seasons, there was a lot that I still didn’t know how to do or just straight up wasn’t good at yet, namely Log Analysis and Network Traffic Analysis. Since those days, I’ve definitely improved my knowledge of these categories (okay, maybe not Log Analysis that much, but I’m definitely not as bad), but at the time I was so unsure of what the answers should even look like that I would just enter anything I could find that I thought might be remotely close to the correct answer. Nine times out of ten that strategy does not work, not for me, and not for anybody else. Not only do you tank your accuracy by making uneducated guesses, but if you do eventually figure out the answers, you may end up running out of attempts for the challenge you’re working on and messing up your overall score.
The main way I fixed this mistake was by learning when to walk away and take a break from that challenge. Whether it was just switching to a different challenge or physically walking away from the laptop and taking a mental break, I knew it had to happen when I noticed myself getting frustrated with a challenge and feeling the urge to start spamming the answer box. I know by now you’ve probably heard the Player Ambassadors, myself included, say this several times, but, taking breaks during the NCL Games is so important. By stepping away from a challenge and not thinking about it, you allow your brain to calm down a bit and reset so you can think about the problem in a different way. Sometimes, you’re so focused on a challenge that you don’t even realize when you’re making it much more difficult than it needs to be. You could be thinking that the solution needs to be steps one through ten, but when you take a break and come back later you may realize you only really needed steps one through four to find the answer. Many times all you need is a fresh perspective.
Not eating or sleeping enough so I could utilize as much time as possible towards the Games.
Now, this one should be pretty self explanatory, but eating and sleeping are wildly important for overall brain function, so not doing these as much as you should be during a time when you’re using your brain to its full capacity is an unbelievably bad decision. When I say eating, I do not mean the snacks you stocked up on for the weekend so you wouldn’t have to go anywhere, I mean actual full meals. When I say sleeping, I do not mean the one to two hour naps you’re taking at random points throughout the weekend, I’m talking at least five to seven hours each night during the Games. I always find that without enough food and sleep I get hangry and tired, two moods that lower my ability to focus on anything other than how hungry and tired I am, and that goes for my everyday life too, not just during the NCL Games. I know most people don’t want to hear this, but the Games will still be there when you wake up and after you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So, eat your three meals a day and get your normal amount of sleep, trust me you won’t regret it and your scores and accuracy will probably improve. The people you live with will probably thank you for this too because they don’t want to deal with your crabby attitude either.
Not taking notes on my methods for solving challenges while I was solving them.
Now I’m not necessarily a huge fan of taking notes, I never really have been. I’m bad at taking short hand notes and I was always the student who had to write down every single word my teacher was saying in order to understand my notes and I still take notes like that if I need to take notes during meetings. It seriously slows me down and I hate it, but, that’s just the way my brain works. So of course, being that I don’t like taking notes, I took zero notes during my first season of NCL. I didn’t realize how much of a mistake that was until my second season rolled around and I didn’t know which tools to use for what challenges or how to use the tools even though I had learned it during my first season.
Correcting this problem was definitely a bit difficult for me, but it may not be as difficult for you if you’ve made this mistake as well. I found the best way for me to take notes that I could understand, but wouldn’t be incredibly time consuming, is to write down the tool and which category I used it for, and then writing down either the syntax of a command I would need to use if it’s a command line tool or some settings I need to use for Graphic User Interface (GUI) tools to work the way I need them to in order to find answers. Now this type of note taking may not work for you and you may need to try a few different note taking methods before you find the right one for you. For some tips on this, check out Wolfshirtz’s blog on effective note taking for NCL here.
Now I’m sure I’ve made other little mistakes along the way to getting to where I am now, but these were the main three contributors that I needed to overcome in order to become a better player. If you have some more mistakes that you overcame and fixes for them to become a better player that you think will help other players, feel free to leave them in the comments below, or post them to Twitter and tag me @Jeana_Byte and the official NCL Twitter page @NatlCyberLeague.