What Should You Do the Day Before Taking the LSAT?

Tomorrow is the June test administration for the LSAT.  What should you be doing today? 

You should do just enough to keep your head in the game for the next day. Teams don’t have full-contact practices the day before the Super Bowl. Similarly, you shouldn’t shift into high gear for the LSAT at this stage; indeed, the opposite is better. You understand what you understand, you have the techniques you have, and an extra day isn’t going to matter much. In fact, hard preparation the day before the test is usually counterproductive; it can induce panic, uncertainty in your techniques, and just generally wear you out so you’ll be less rather than more fresh on the one day that actually matters.

You should, in other words, follow the schedule for the day before the exam that you established weeks ago; seldom do adjustments to a well-conceived plan help. If you’ve been doing work on other Sundays, stick with that plan—don’t add a lot more.  Do refresher and review work but no more.  And that work should not emphasize content; at this stage, how you’re taking the test is the proper focus for the vast majority of LSAT takers.

If there’s not much content work that will be productive, there are still a few LSAT-related activities that can help lock you in to do the best work you can do (aside from the obvious getting enough sleep, having sensible meals, etc.). Hopefully, there’s nothing here that you haven’t been doing regularly during your LSAT prep, but it’s useful to remind yourself of them now (and on exam day).

There’s a simple fact and two general rules. The fact: most LSAT takers fall off significantly from their “best practice LSAT score.”  A couple of questions short of your best practice score are understandable, but not the drops that many LSAT takers experience.  Those drops can’t be content-related.

The two rules that follow from that fact: first, no surprises; second, the only thing that matters to you while taking the exam is the question in front of you.

To help minimize surprises, you should review LSAC’s rules carefully the day before the exam (if you haven’t already). They’re available here. You should have your exam-day packet ready at least 24 hours before you’re leaving for the LSAT.

The second rule, focusing only on the question in front of you, has a lot of LSAT exam day implications, a few of which follow.

Before the exam and at the break, it’s helpful to be thinking about one or two types of questions that have given you trouble and drill yourself on how you’re going to approach them (here, the “question in front of you” is the first question on the exam or after the break). If you’ve had issues in certain parts of certain sections (for example, you’ve tended to lose focus in the last half of sections, had trouble getting started in sections, or had difficulty recovering concentration after a difficult question), focus on those.

There’s often a lot of milling around and yakking before the exam and at the break, and you should not participate. Find a quiet spot and occupy it. There’s plenty of time to catch up with people after the exam is over. But in fallow times on exam day, all the chatter is a distraction from what you’re there for, which is getting your highest LSAT score. Drilling and review can be especially productive during the break, when you know at least one section that’s coming and can focus on approaches to question types in that section.

There’s also a registration gap, including filling in your demographic and test information, and writing your certifying statement. All the time you’re doing that, or waiting for others to finish, you should be thinking about approaches to certain types of questions on the exam. For baseball fans, it’s essentially “bullpen” work that a starting pitcher does before taking the mound.

During the exam, there will be distractions. Simple as that. The person next to you may be irritating, there are people who try to depress other takers, the proctors may be loud or walk around, their time cues may be inconsistent, etc. You need to tune those distractions out and focus on the question in front of you. You should have developed and refined specific techniques to do that during your LSAT prep, so just remember to use them.

You’ll also need to avoid self-distractions. One of the most common is constantly reminding yourself of whatever you believe the significance of your LSAT score is. It won’t help you to keep thinking, I’ve got to do well, I’ve got to do well, my future’s on the line, etc. That will prevent you from getting your highest LSAT score. To do your best on LSAT exam day, concentrate on the question in front of you.

Still, you will lose focus at various 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 last section don’t matter either. You’ve done what you can do, and there’s no percentage in missing the question in front of you because you’re still thinking about a prior question.  You need to focus on the question in front of you and make sure that you are so focused.  You will want to check your level of concentration regularly—how regularly depends on the level of focus difficulty you’ve experienced in your LSAT prep.

A special note on time cues: during LSATs, when the proctor notes time, there’s generally a mad shuffle of papers. That indicates a loss of focus among many takers. You should understand the significance of those cues (and your own cues when occasionally you check your analog watch) and use them to refocus. If the proctor gives a 10-minute cue, you still have ton of time to do great work. Often, it helps to think, ok, just focus for the next 10 minutes. Then, the cue isn’t a distraction but a refocusing opportunity. Even a minute left, even 30 seconds, is enough time to do some accurate work. At 10 or 15 seconds, well, maybe not, and you should fill in the remaining ovals on questions you’re not going to get to. And then forget about it as you turn to the next section.

Above all else, keep it simple and don’t panic—every bit of energy not focused on the question in front of you not only wastes energy that you’ll need for hard questions but decreases your speed and accuracy. If your preparation has been effective, you should be able to obtain an LSAT score at or near your top practice range—it’s not luck, nor is it (beyond a certain minimal level) “intelligence” that will get you your best LSAT score. It’s always knowing what the next step is and calmly and efficiently executing it. So, be calm and be efficient! Not as inspiring as “Good luck!” perhaps, but it is what you actually need to do.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on June 5, 2011.

One Response to “What Should You Do the Day Before Taking the LSAT?”

  1. Reblogged this on bajerry.

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