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Overcoming the Test Stress of the LSAT

We’ve all been there. The bottle of Jagermeister is empty. Empty beer cans are strewn about your living room. Lined up on the table is the final round of a delicious tequila-based beverage you dreamed up named Tequila Mockingbird.

You’re a little fuzzy on the details, and you have a message from your significant other that says, “We have to talk.” You hear a car pull up. A door slams. Your heart starts racing and you break out in a cold sweat.

And you think to yourself, “Well, at least I’m not taking the LSAT.”

The test stress associated with the LSAT affects everyone who sits for the exam. Add it to the list of things that are unavoidable: Death, taxes and test stress come October 1.

While this test stress is definitely something that can affect performance, it’s not something that has to. I’ve seen many different students deal with test stress in many different ways.

1. The Full-On Collapse

I’m going to roll a number of students’ stories into one worst-case scenario here — a cautionary tale, mind you, of how to not deal with test stress.

With three weeks to go, test stress tends to be at an all-time high. You’ve taken your third practice test, and you’re not where you want to be. It feels like the end is near, and you don’t realize that review is where everything gels and you see the greatest improvements.

So you try to relieve some of that test stress with a night out. When you wake up, you’re in Tijuana with the faint taste of tequila and failure in your mouth (this is much more likely for our West Coast students than the East Coast ones, though I’d be impressed by a Boston-to-Tijuana meltdown).

No passport, one kidney, and your LSAT practice tests in hand, you head to a small bistro to take an exam, only compounding the test stress. Your downward spiral is near-complete; all you have to do now is convince that drug lord to hire someone (though even he might second guess hiring someone with that practice test score).

2. The Jack Shephard

It’s one of the moments that made Lost a great show (for a season or two). Jack, crashed on the island, instructs Kate how to sew up his injury while relating a story of his first surgery. He messed up bad, but he knew he had to get back on track. So he gave into the panic, allowed himself to sit in that world for five seconds, and moved on.

That’s what you should do now to get rid of that test stress.

It’s a real and legitimate feeling; you can’t just dismiss it. But you also can’t allow it to define your next three weeks. So give the test stress a few seconds to take over. We won’t judge you if you cry*. Get all of that test stress out. Then, hit a pillow, hit the gym and hit the books. You’ll feel a lot better, and it will be reflected in your score.

3. The On-Going Battle

This situation is where most of you are going to find yourselves over the next three weeks. There will be a constant struggle, and the test stress will wax and wane. One day you’ll hit your target on a practice test; the next day, you’ll tank one.

First, realize that this is completely normal. Score fluctuations happen all the time, and they’re usually a sign of burnout. If this is happening, take a day to relax that test stress away. Shirley Temples by the pool, perhaps?

Second, test stress itself is, again, completely normal. Everyone’s experiencing it, and everyone will continue to experience it until test day. You’re going to have to come up with a day to cope with it, and that method is different for everyone. Try a few activities that relieve other types of non-test stress (innuendo!) to see what works for you.

Third, it’s not the time to add stress to your life in another way. So don’t make any major changes. Don’t decide to quit smoking. Don’t get married or move the week before the LSAT. Don’t become an air traffic controller. The test stress is enough by itself.

Finally, realize that there will probably be a moment on the actual exam where you don’t know what to do. Everyone has that moment. I had that moment on my exam. Your heart will race, your brain will start to panic, and the test stress will begin to take over.

Just take a deep breath and remember that the LSAT isn’t going to throw anything new at you. Whatever you’re stuck on is something that you’ve learned, only with a tricky coat on it. Figure out what normal question type it’s closest to, and build from there.

If you can do that, the test stress will fade into confidence, and you’ll burn through that test in no time.

Good luck!

*Well, we probably will.