It's been a couple of weeks since my last email. Our family actually moved back to South Korea, where my husband is from, so the past two weeks have been spent in a strict quarantine, trying to get our apartment organized while not leaving home except for getting two Covid tests each. (Covid testing a 7 month old is not fun, by the way.)
We're free to go starting tomorrow, and one of our first trips is to Ikea to buy a proper desk I can use while tutoring students back in the US. (Thank goodness for online tutoring! And thank goodness that the timezone conversion actually works perfectly for students wanting to meet in the afternoon and evening, US time.)
In fact, I just met with a student from Michigan, and I wanted to share with you one of the important takeaways we had from that session.
Especially if you struggle with LSAT test anxiety, my hope is that you'll benefit from these takeaways as well.
This particular student does well with logical reasoning questions in isolation. He's good at following the logic of an argument, and the right answer often just "clicks" for him. He's occasionally distracted by some wrong answers, but in general, his reasoning skills are pretty solid.
He did a timed practice test section this past week, however, and only scored 8 out of 25 within the time limit. He was pretty down about it.
We talked through what happened during the test, and it was clear that for him the psychological component of the test is the real challenge.
He reported repeatedly thinking while taking the test that he had to hurry up, move quickly, and get to the end of the test. But that little voice in his head was also telling him that he had to get the questions right, or else. He was putting a lot of pressure on himself, and it was starting to affect his performance. He could tell he was overthinking questions, and he was getting stuck between two a lot more often than is normal for him.
When we reviewed the questions he had missed, it was nearly always perfectly obvious to him what the correct answer was. It really was a matter of nerves.
So I gave him the same advice I give all of my students about dealing with LSAT test anxiety.
Actively practice positive self-talk
LSAT test anxiety often manifests as a little voice in your head convincing you that you're not doing well, you're not smart enough, you need to go faster, your whole future is riding on the outcome of this test, etc.
In order to combat the anxiety, you need to replace that unhelpful voice with a more helpful one.
This takes active work.
Next time you notice that little voice in your head making you feel anxious, try actively responding to it and reframing the situation.
For example, you may be hearing thoughts of "I'm going too slow. I need to hurry up."
Respond to those thoughts with "Actually, no. The best thing I can do in this situation is work calmly and carefully on the question in front of me. So that's what I'm going to do."
Or your thoughts may be more like "I'm terrible at weaken questions. I'm going to get a terrible score because of this."
In that case, respond to the thoughts with "Wait. That's not a helpful way to think. The test is not entirely made of weaken questions. And even if it were, I've learned how to approach these questions."
Give yourself reminders
One of the reasons my student had fallen into anxiety during his practice test was that he was not applying the methods we had worked on during tutoring.
He does really well when he focuses on how he can eliminate the wrong answers, but in his practice test, he found himself finding what was good in each answer. That meant he was often debating between multiple answers, all of which he felt had some merit.
When there's a method that works very well for you, it takes time and repetition before you automatically apply that method under stressful conditions.
In order to work on making the process automatic, it can be helpful to give yourself some reminders.
For the student, I suggested he stick a Post-It note on his computer monitor, so that next time he takes a practice test section, he will remind himself to approach the answer choices from an elimination mindset. Instead of looking for why an answer might be right, he'll be reminding himself to look for why an answer might be wrong.
For this particular student, the two techniques I just described are likely going to be the most helpful for him. But that's not to say that other techniques aren't also helpful for dealing with test anxiety.
I've had students find success using specific breathing techniques designed to reduce anxiety.
I've also counseled many students to take a 5-second refocusing break during a section, especially when they notice that they're having to reread something multiple times and still aren't able to focus on what it means.
For students who obsess over questions they may have missed, I have them keep a tally of how many questions they are confident they got right so that they can reframe their thinking.
We also proactively anticipate what distractions or delays may occur during the test, and we create a plan of attack for how to regain focus if one of those things happens.
And one thing I make sure to tell all of my students is that anxiety is normal. In fact, it would be weird not to be at least a little bit anxious while taking a test like the LSAT. It helps to know that the goal isn't to eliminate your anxiety entirely. Instead, the goal is to make sure the anxiety doesn't negatively affect your performance. And if you can channel the anxiety into focused energy, so much the better.
Anything I'm missing?
Have there been other techniques that have helped you deal with the natural anxiety that comes from taking such a high-stakes exam? If so, I would love to hear. I would love to pass those techniques along so they can help someone else as well.