Keeping Your Head in the LSAT Game: Focus-Recovery Rituals

Preparing for the LSAT is a lot like athletic training.  I’ve occasionally posted blogs using sports analogies because I do believe that preparing for taking the LSAT is a lot like preparing for and playing a game.  Now there’s a story in The Atlantic on Ana Ivanovic, the 22-year-old former top-ranked tennis player who has “slowly come undone on the tennis court” to the point that she was unseeded at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, losing in the first round of Wimbledon before making a recovery in the U.S. Open, losing in the fourth round to eventual champion Kim Clijsters.

So, what happened to this obviously talented player?  According to Tom Perrotta, the author of The Atlantic article (which was published before the U.S. Open), “mostly she has lost her confidence,” to the point that the ball toss before serve had become seriously impaired, a problem that tennis coach Heintz Günthardt declares is “obviously a problem from tension.”

Confidence and tension:  an emotion and an effect that tend to move in the opposite direction.  The more confident, the less tense, and the less confident, the more tense.  Of course, confidence needs to be grounded in reality—I can have all the confidence in the world that I can beat Rafael Nadal and I might not be tense when given the opportunity.  But I’d still be delusional.  And at some point, I’d either panic or feel defeated and give up.  I’m not going to talk about panic and defeatism here—they call for a very different analysis and techniques for overcoming them.  I’m also not talking about understanding content and the need for focused, as opposed to simply repeated, practice.

The inverse relationship between realistic confidence and tension is generally true for the LSAT, which is one reason all of my clients do their practice tests under “game” conditions—5 sections, breaks only when they’ll get them on the LSAT, etc.  You play like you practice.  It’s not just confidence, of course, it’s also endurance and technique.  That all works together—if you know you can last the distance, you’re not as worried when you start getting a little tired, and you don’t fret about the inevitable stresses and distractions of exam day.  You’ve been here before, you know how well you can do and you know how to recover your energy and regain focus.  So do it.  You can’t anticipate every eventuality, but you can anticipate and practice most of them.

Of course, that’s a little too simple, because exam day is very long.  Almost no one since television was invented (and I’m not so sure about the pre-television population) concentrates steadily for over 4 hours at a time.  During the LSAT, you will lose your focus at various times, and you should simply accept that—well, sort of.

What you shouldn’t accept are the errors—mostly stupid errors—that you’re likely to commit while you’re out of focus.  Again, as you practice, so will you do.  I work a lot with my clients to help them recognize when they are losing focus, often because the bad taste from a hard question lingers and takes away focus from the next several questions, or just because they get tired, and the mind takes its own little break while the eyes continue across the page, understanding nothing.  The result, if not corrected before exam day, is that LSAT takers give away a lot of points to fuzzy-headedness.

So, after you’ve come to recognize when you’re losing focus, what do you do?  This is the importance of ritual.  It almost doesn’t matter what ritual you employ, as long as it’s silent (Perrotta’s article has a few that tennis players and golfers use).  When I took the LSAT, I shook my head slightly (convincing myself that rattling the brain cage would wake it up—the explanation is dumb, of course, but it worked to bring me right back in focus and get a 180).  I’ve had clients who poked or pinched themselves.  Less masochistic types have rubbed the back of their necks or the tops of their heads, or (back to more masochistic types) pulled their hair.  It doesn’t matter what you do; some things work for some and not for others—but it’s important to find something that gives you a physical and mental wake-up call so that you can bring yourself back to paying attention to the only thing that actually matters for the 4-plus hours that you’ll be in the LSAT exam area—the question you’re staring at.

Like other LSAT techniques, however, focus-recovery techniques can lose their efficacy over time—what started as a meaningful ritual becomes a meaningless one, and doesn’t have the same power it used to.  If that happens, you’ll revert to some old patterns in your test-taking and your answers.  Then, you either need to find a new technique or, often as effective, vary your focus-recovery rituals, alternating between the old one and a new one.

You don’t want to give points back to the LSAT—it matters too much to make stupid mistakes.  And the best way to avoid those mistakes is to have developed enough self-knowledge to know when you’re checking out and develop rituals to recover your focus before you’ve missed a series of questions you “knew” better than to have missed.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on September 23, 2010.

6 Responses to “Keeping Your Head in the LSAT Game: Focus-Recovery Rituals”

  1. […] times during the LSAT, and you’ll need to recover that focus.  I’ve talked in the past about some rituals to do that.  But here’s the point: not only does nothing around you matter, but the last question and the […]

  2. […] times during the LSAT, and you’ll need to recover that focus.  I’ve talked in the past about some rituals to do that.  But here’s the point: not only does nothing around you matter, but the last question and the […]

  3. […] times during the LSAT, and you’ll need to recover that focus.  I’ve talked in the past about some rituals to do that.  But here’s the point: not only does nothing around you matter, but the last question and the […]

  4. […]      (2)    Tracking your content and test-taking patterns, and especially (on the test-taking side of the equation) your focus and focus-recovery techniques; […]

  5. […] That’s why Advise-In’s LSAT preparation program is structured to focus as much or more on focus-recovery and test-taking procedures as on “understanding.”  They’re related, of course—the simpler […]

  6. […] times during the LSAT, and you’ll need to recover that focus. I’ve talked in the past about some rituals to do that. But here’s the point: not only does nothing around you matter, but the last question and the […]

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