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On Confidence and Time Pressure

  • by Maria LaBella
  • May 25, 2018
  • General LSAT Advice, LSAT

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The Law School Admissions Test would, of course, be substantially easier if it didn’t impose time limits. Without them, test-takers could mull over RC passages, LR stimuli, and LG intros to their hearts’ content, and debate every answer choice at length. The perceived pressure of the whole testing ordeal would abate considerably, and virtually everyone would be likely to score markedly higher in the end.

Unfortunately, the LSAT does have strict time limits. And that’s not likely to change anytime soon. After all, if everyone had unlimited time, administering the LSAT would pose severe logistical challenges, to say the least. And if everyone scored extremely well due to lax timing, the purpose of the test would be defeated, as law schools would struggle to use it to differentiate applicants.

So, as a test taker, your task is to make the most of the precious moments you do have — attempting to score as many points as possible in the allotted 35 minutes per section.

This challenge is daunting for many folks. When the clock is running, nerves tend to skyrocket, as people struggle to find the chance to build confidence in their work. Students will frequently select answer choices they only half-heartedly like, in order to promptly move on to future questions — where the unfortunate cycle will then repeat itself.

The good news is that such a cycle is hardly inevitable. That is, it’s possible to both build confidence in your work and thrive under timed conditions. Consider the following recommendations for doing so:

First, avoid looking at your watch when you’re thinking about actual material. Whether it’s a RC passage, a tough games question, a LR stimulus, etc., if you’re checking your watch while contemplating test content, you’re breaking your focus. If that happens, you very well might have to waste time backtracking through your previous thought process to get to the point where you already were. And you might even forget what you were thinking about altogether.

In any case, when you check your watch in the middle of a question, you put yourself in a position to lose confidence in the progress and insights you already made. And you waste time having to deal with that.

There’s a time and a place to check your watch. But that’s not while you’re productively thinking about the material itself. Wait until you have a natural break — such as the end of a passage, question, or game set-up — if you’re really itching to see how many minutes you have left. That way, you can keep yourself accountable as you move through the test expediently, but without interrupting your important cogitations.

Second, don’t be afraid to reread. There seems to be a peculiar stigma in the LSAT universe against rereading, as if it’s necessarily some devastating waste of time. It’s not. Many great test takers reread on multiple occasions throughout the course of an exam, and still finish before the clock hits zero. That’s because the second time you read something, you already have a basic sense of what’s coming. So, it should go more smoothly and quickly than your first read. Rereading, then, doesn’t have to double your time investment.

In fact, it can decrease the overall amount of time you spend on a question, by improving your understanding of the material. Note that the LSAT is a dense test: each paragraph is filled with multiple complex ideas. Test takers often miss some of these nuances on their first read — nuances which are tested in the answer choices. When such oversights happen, students can feel quite confused when they read the potential answers. Nervously toiling over that confusion, they waste a lot of time.

By rereading, you can avoid this situation altogether — you will catch more key details, notice how ideas interact, and overall arrive at a richer understanding of the material. From there, you’ll be in a better position to confidently discern the correct answer, and you won’t have to waste time scratching your head.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that, on occasion, you might be thorough in your reading, but nevertheless struggle when deciding on an answer. To that effect:

Third, focus the most on building confidence for your tentatively selected answer choice (rather than the remaining four). Chances are you won’t waste as much as time if you prioritize the one answer choice you’re really considering committing to — as opposed to devoting lengthy consideration to the others.

The math is pretty simple: chewing over one answer choice is faster than chewing over five. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at all the answer choices. But, if you lack confidence after seeing the five options, you may be best served by honing in on the one you like best, and channeling your time and energy to verify if it’s really correct. Consider each word in that prospective answer choice, and apply the relevant Blueprint tests. (For example, if it’s a Flaw question, ask if the answer choice constitutes a flaw and if it happened in the stimulus).

Once you’ve established confidence in a particular answer choice, you’ve established confidence that you scored the point — and that’s what counts.

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