Test Anxiety and the LSAT: Some Thoughts for Test Takers

The June 2017 LSAT is almost upon us. As I contemplate the June 12th test date and the anxiety that plagues many test takers, I thought back to something I wrote when my daughter was in sixth grade. She’s now about to graduate from high school and will matriculate at Penn in the fall (I’m so proud of you Ally!). I decided to dust off this missive because some things stay relevant even though time marches on. So, for LSAT takers everywhere, I re-post these thoughts.

You’ve spent months poring over logic games and you’re probably really nervous.  You’ve heard enough at this point about test strategy. I’d like to talk about test anxiety.

Recently I was helping my 6th grade daughter study for a math test. Although she’s usually pretty Zen-like, she became overwhelmed by the amount of material confronting her.  Before long, her focus had shifted from long division and decimals to performance.  “Mom, what if I don’t do well? What if I get a bad grade?!”  That was it — the train had left the station. The more she panicked the less she was able to concentrate on the problems in front of her.

You’re probably thinking that a 6th grade math test can’t be compared to the LSAT. After all, the LSAT will play a huge role in where you’ll be admitted! Well, you’re right about that, but I think there’s a life lesson here from the annals of 6th grade math. Test anxiety is about as helpful as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

I’ve seen my share of well-prepared students stumble on LSAT day due to nerves, and I don’t want it to happen you.  So, here’s some practical advice along with some food for thought. I hope you find it helpful.

First, don’t listen to the talk on the street.  So much of it isn’t accurate. I’ve heard things like “the February test is always the easiest” and “peoples’ scores always go down the second time.” Not true! If you listen to your neighbor you might believe that everyone but you has been scoring in the 170 range on practice tests. Also not true. Second, don’t waste valuable test time worrying about what your score will be. If you do that you won’t be focusing on the one thing you should be: the question in front of you. After all, at that moment, it’s the only thing you have any control over.

Third, make sure you know how to get to your test center. Do a practice run if necessary so you won’t get lost or be late on test day. If you’re driving you should figure out parking in advance. The last thing you need to stress about on test day is logistics.

Fourth, make use of your own relaxation techniques during these last days before the test. If jogging clears your head, go for a run. If yoga or meditation relaxes you, take the time to do it. Taking a little break from studying to recharge your batteries can do more good than you might realize.

Finally, relax the night before the test. At this point you basically know what you know, so don’t try to cram. Enjoy a good meal and your favorite form of relaxation, be it a good book, a movie, a hot bath or nice music. Get a good night’s sleep and make sure that your alarm is set to give you adequate time for breakfast. Also, make sure to double-check the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) list of approved items for test day. Pack those things (and only those things) according to LSAC instructions the night before so they’ll be ready for you in the morning.

On a more philosophical note, try to remember that life is a series of tests. Yesterday it was a 6th grade math test; tomorrow it’s the LSAT. Sooner than you think it will be the bar exam and later it might be the prospect of a judge shredding you in court or the challenge of negotiating a multi-million dollar contract. Yes, the ante does go up as we are tested, but we should try and maintain some equilibrium in the way we judge the outcomes, and thus ourselves.

Right now you might feel like the world will end if you don’t break 170 on the LSAT and get accepted to XYZ law school. Trust me, it won’t. Great schools open doors, we all know this. But ten years from now, people will judge your true mettle as an attorney by your work performance, not by where you went to law school.

Yes, a lot is riding on your LSAT score but, trite as it sounds, the universe has a way of working things out. I’ve counseled hundreds of applicants and for some reason, almost all end up at schools that are right for them. Do your very best and then allow yourself to be satisfied with the results. Remember, if you have a little faith that things will work out as they are meant to, they probably will.

Good luck to all of you!