On today's episode, J.Y. Ping invites six 7Sagers who all scored a 170 or higher to tell you what they did in the week before the LSAT.
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J.Y.: Hello and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. My name is J.Y. Ping, and today we have an episode all about how best to prepare yourself a week out from the test. Understandably, many of you are feeling nervous and want to know what the best course of action is. I don't think there's a single set of things that everyone should do. Lots of people have done lots of different things and have had good results.
Instead of listening to me make some things up about what you should or shouldn't do, I invited six 7Sagers who all scored a 170 or higher to tell you what they actually did. As you'll hear, the routines and practices vary by a lot and yet they also overlap quite a bit. For example, they all agree that sleep is important, so set a cut off time for your screens at night and get your butt in bed. But what about making small talk with other test takers? Well, there you'll hear different opinions. The point is, there isn't a single right answer.
Let's just hear it straight from them. First, let's hear from Allison.
Allison: Hi, everyone. My name is Allison. I got a 173 on the LSAT and I am currently a 3L at Harvard Law School.
J.Y.: So Allison, what did you do the week before the test?
Allison: So the week of, let's see if I can remember. I mean I know some things that I did. I don't remember exactly everything but I do know that someone had given me this advice, maybe it was on the forums or maybe it's on a video you do J.Y., I think it's very solid, like really in that last week, you have to just trust all of your prior prep and you're not going to really be able to learn something new that's going to significantly benefit you on your administration. It's sort of like a lower key week. I was in that mindset of like, "This is about maintenance. This is about keeping a good dose of the LSAT in my life without me being kind of aggressively in learning mode. It's more about like habits and familiarity." For me, the point of that last week was like drill some stuff, drill from sections in order to keep feeling really familiar with it, but not in order to try to learn new things because I just don't think it's realistic. And because of that, I didn't score my last test. So I did take one last test.
Someone else had maybe mentioned this to me that this is a good idea to not score it. I've told students that I've tutored to do this as well because the chances like on the one hand, it could go great, it could boost your self-esteem, and it could be like a higher score you ever gotten. Chances are unlikely that it's going to be the highest score you've ever gotten, most probably already in the bag for you. So I think it's really smart. If you're going to take a full administration, just put it down and not score it. If you're super curious, you can score it later but then you're not running the risk of, "Oh, that wasn't what I was expecting and now I'm really nervous. You know about my capabilities." So that's my recommendation, or at least what I did is take a test if you want to either drilling or taking a full test. You could drill a couple sections throughout that last week or you could take one full test, and maybe on a different day drill a couple sections, just don't score any of it. Like, what's the point? You know, but it is helpful to kind of keep it in your system. I don't think it's a good idea to take a week away from the LSAT because that little edge of rustiness is not what you need when you're starting.
J.Y.: Great. How about the day before?
Allison: Obviously, everyone's very nervous the day before. There's only so much you can do to mitigate your nerves. I will tell you what I did. In Seattle, there's this part called Green Lake that is like a path that goes around a man-made lake, it's really beautiful though. I walked around Green Lake three or four times. It's a couple miles. I just walked all day because I wanted to exhaust myself and I listened to the Hamilton soundtrack the entire time. I just want to pump myself up, I want to be out in nature, and I want to go to bed thinking I'm not throwing away my shot. I want to be in that mindset of really positive but also kind of like motivated. My priority the day before was to wipe myself out physically so I would sleep. I thought about doing a hike instead, but it was just more viable for me that day to stay in the city than to get out. So yeah, that's most of what I remember from the day before. Also, I remember I might have been writing down when I was peeing. I was definitely trying to track my kind of body analytics so that I had the best sense of when to stop drinking water the next day.
J.Y.: Oh yeah, this way you can time your bathroom run to that 15-minute break. What about sleeping? Did the exhaustion work and you slept like a baby?
Allison: I think it really helped. I wouldn't say I slept like a baby but I didn't get a terrible night sleep, which I think was totally possible. I think it helped quite a bit that I had kind of worn myself out physically and just been outside all day, kind of like when parents try to run their toddlers around so they'll sleep—that's what I was doing to myself. So I think it helped a lot. I wouldn't say it was the best sleep, I probably got six hours despite laying in bed for nine hours, but it's pretty good the day before a big test.
Another thing is (and I told students to do this as well when I've tutored) if you think that sleep is going to be a problem for you, I think it's a good idea to experiment with sleep aids and see what you can take that feels you're still normal the next morning. Be careful because you don't want a drug hangover of some serious prescription. I mean like the over the counter stuff. Everyone's got their own kind of medical profile but I wasn't talking about prescription sleep aids. I was talking about over the counter stuff and melatonin, like more natural sleep aids—Sleepytime tea. Experiment with that and see how it works for you. I think that's a good idea. I can take melatonin really any night without it affecting me the next morning, which I think is how melatonin works, but you should still see what works for your body.
The whole month before the test, I was getting up at like 6:00 or 6:30 and going to the morning yoga class most days of the week. I was on a body clock kind of setup where I woke up pretty early, and I was able to go to sleep pretty early. It was good for me to do it for most of the whole month, because then by the time I was toward my administration, it was like a very set habit for my body. I was very awake by 9:00 am. I wasn't groggy because I just rolled out of bed. I didn't go to yoga class the morning of the administration. I bought one of those passes for this yoga studio that lets you get a month for a lower amount of money, and then I just used it for that month.
So I was sleeping really well, because that was a big priority for me. But really, all I was doing in my life was trying to really take care of my body and doing the LSAT during, like, business hours. So that was my whole setup—the whole month of some physical activity. I was not really working out before that, and I think it really helped me get the quality sleep. It helped me go to sleep at a more normal time. Because when you're using your body more, your body is like, "Okay, time to go to sleep." But if you're just all in your head, anxious and you've been sitting on the couch all day, it's really weird. There's like a mismatch between the sleep your brain needs and the sleep your body needs.
J.Y.: How about the day of? How did you manage that stressful day?
Allison: So I'll talk about kind of like general management, and then kind of environmental management because I think there's self-management and then there's the context in which you have to deal with as well. Just in terms of my anxiety, I think it was hugely beneficial that I'd prepped so much. I'm sure that so many 7Sage students have done this. It's just that sort of ability you get to relax a little bit—like not a ton, we're all nervous wrecks—because you can trust your prep. I would just tell myself that over and over again, because I had the numbers on my side. I knew what my average was. I knew it was really solid. And I knew that it would take something completely out of the ordinary to knock me like 8 points off my average. As it happened, I went down a few points, which is totally typical. It's like the test day low. But that's okay because I wanted my average to be at a point where I could afford that. And that's exactly what happened.
So I think if you go in knowing what's in your little personal data analytics, or on my side, I know that I'm in the range I want to be, you can trust that the test is predictable enough that you're going to score in that range. And that's very much outside of yourself and it's like a rational thing you can tell yourself to manage your anxiety because it's very true. You're not just feeding yourself what you want to hear. So that I think was hugely beneficial.
I had also taken a test at the test center. So I took it at Seattle University, and I had gone and taken a couple of prep tests in that last month in a classroom that was nearby the classroom or the administration was. I did all the things to try to calm myself down. And that was helpful. I think knowing what the building felt like, that helped a little bit, just what kind of an environmental sense of, "This is okay."
Nothing was weird about my proctors. They did delay our tests because someone's shrink wrapped packet when they opened was missing part of the instructions, I think. They had to go hunt around and find another shrink wrapped packet for this girl, which put us back by, like, 40 minutes probably as a group. The reason I was nervous about that is because I am a person who has to pee off, which is why I was timing my pee. I was like, "Oh no, we're 40 minutes off. I might have to go before the break." But I also had kind of dehydrated myself that morning on purpose so I got through just fine. So that was kind of annoying. I saw a girl pull her phone out when this was happening. I was like, "Oh, you are a crazy person. I don't even know how you got in here with that." I was nervous for her. She must be totally oblivious and not realized that she can get disqualified if they find it.
So there were some things that happened that I was thinking about, that just made me more anxious, but it's just not the core stuff. I think my experience of when we sat down and started the test, I remember of course being nervous for the first couple questions. I think the first section was LR on my test, I can't remember. But I was nervous for a couple questions then I remember thinking, "Oh, I really can do this. I've done this so many times, dozens of times." So it's all about the prep, I think, in terms of how rational you can be in that moment, about not letting the testing hijack your experience.
Then during the break, I didn't talk to anyone, which I recommend. Someone else on the forums mentioned this. Honestly, I would have liked sat and had my snack bar in the corner, and like, paced just to keep my kind of physical energy up. I kind of wanted to get back in there and finish. I was like, "The breaks are good. But I don't want the break to throw me off." So I was just kind of pacing and not talking to other people because I didn't care what they thought about what had happened so far. I need to stay in my zone.
J.Y.: And one last question: If you had to do test day all over again, would you have done anything different?
Allison: No, I don't think so. I really went all in. I had the whole month planned out in terms of my exercise and my eating. I felt like I tried to think about all of the variables that could affect my performance. I'm kind of like in control for those as much as possible. One thing that helped me a lot, which is part of why I'm glad that I did so much prep, was having bad PTs. They were like, I would do a section and feel really bad about it, or think I tanked it, because that did happen during my administration. But because I had that history, I know what it's like to have that feeling and then be able to know that that feeling could or could be true or could be pretty inaccurate, and be able to kind of like, let myself go into the next section fresh or as fresh as possible. Bad experience of having felt like I failed on PTs and realizing that that feeling was sometimes accurate and sometimes wasn't, was the reason that I didn't let it take me down on test day. Because once you have a bad section, you can feel like you threw the whole test, but that's not true.
J.Y.: That's right. That's so important. When you feel like you had a bad section, that's just it—you feel like you have a bad section.
Allison: That’s it, all you know is that you feel like that. The data point is about an emotive response, right? That's it.
J.Y.: Yes, exactly. You could have actually done really well because your feelings aren't reliable trackers of actual performance. That is so important that you have that experience during your PTing phase, so that you learned to basically disregard your feelings.
Allison: Right, and you also learned that sections are kind of isolated. Once you're at a certain level, when you're performing close to the average you want to get, you have a little wiggle room unless you're trying to get a 178 or 179. You have a little wiggle room to not be at your best and you could still zero out the other sections, like you just don't know what's coming. So yeah, I don't think I'd do anything different but I was pretty extreme with all my practice.
J.Y.: Okay. Allison, anything else you'd like to say?
Allison: Good luck, everybody. I know that if you're listening to this, you're invested enough and you're spending enough time on your prep that you're probably both giving a ton of your time to this part of your life and also dealing with a fair amount of anxiety about it. But the test is learnable. You can trust the process. The 7Sage community, as you know, is really helpful and supportive. It's like a place to find truthful, honest, and encouraging advice on the same community. Just keep doing what you're doing, keep plugging away, and your hard work is going to be rewarded. Good luck.
J.Y.: Thank you, Allison. Next, we're going to hear from Glen.
Glen: My name is Glen. I got a 171 on my LSAT and I'm currently a 1L at Northwestern.
J.Y.: Glen, the week before, what did you do?
Glen: Actually, the week of, I took everything extremely light. When it came to the actual LSAT studying, I didn't do anything extreme or practice test. Every time I would get anxious, I would sit down and do maybe a page like LR or a logic game just to calm the nerves. But I wanted to keep myself fresh for the actual test day. So during the week of the test, I wasn't doing too much LSAT studying. I was also working full time then, so I worked with first two days of the week and then I took three days off—Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I took those days off, just kind of relaxed and didn't play video games, stuff like that.
J.Y.: How about the day before?
Glen: The day before was the most anxious I think, because it's like a pending life-changing event coming. That was the day that I didn't touch LSAT like at all. I played video games pretty much the entire day. During that time, I was probably playing Rocket League a lot. It's like a race car game with soccer ball. Because when you're playing the actual game, you're pretty focused on the game, you simply have your mind wandering if you're engaged with it, so I did a lot of that.
My girlfriend came over. We went out to just to grab nice dinner. Nothing like crazy. But then that night I couldn't sleep very well. That's when the anxiety really kicked in and I didn’t fall asleep until I don't know one in the morning, even if I was trying. So that was the rough part of the day before for me. The thing with that is if you've done the work ahead of time, once at a time, you've kind of made up for that. Even with the lack of sleep, I had done so much LSAT that even with a hiccup like that the night before, I was still really confident with my ability. It wasn't like the end of the world for me.
J.Y.: Right. How about the day of? How did you manage to the stress? How did you manage to the proctors?
Glen: The proctors were actually really cool. One of them threw little gummy bears at us and everything, which was kind of nice. She seemed to understand we were all stressed and was cool enough to kind of keep us calm by joking around with us. That was actually kind of cool to break the tension. It was the fellow test takers that would make you more nervous, so like right before the test you're sitting outside the waiting room where you were going to take the test and everyone's talking about how they studied and how they don't know how many section there was on the test. I didn't want to do hear any of that stuff, so I kind of removed myself from all that and sat in a little corner by myself.
J.Y.: If you could do test day all over again, would you do anything differently?
Glen: This is going to sound really weird but having taken the test multiple times is really good. As much as you do PT, the actual test day environment is a lot different than your PTs and there's nothing you could do to make it exactly the same. But I would have taken my PTs more in an environment instead of my house when I have this sense of comfort. I would have [17:09] [removed] myself more when I was doing PTs.
When you actually have to get up and drive to the hotel, get to sit outside of a room and wait, instead of just jumping right into the test, you have to undo the packet, people will have to learn how to bubble their names again, and I had like 80 people in my test center, so we didn't start the test, probably it's almost 9:15 or 9:20. It's an hour of just administrative stuff that can throw you off your game if you're ready to just jump right into the test. So that's something that you definitely want to take into account in your studying—to know that on test day there's going to be stuff like that. Also during the test, you'll see people get like administrative tickets or whatever—they're cheating or bubbling after. That could be nerve-racking, too, so I didn't really look up from my desk very often. I just focused on my test.
J.Y.: Yeah. So people got administrative violation tickets?
Glen: Yeah, on all three of my tests someone got one. I took three full tests and each time someone would bubble after, someone flipped back in their book one time, and then I don't know what the third one was. That was when I took my own advice and have and had my blinders on, so I wasn't paying attention to what happened. On my second test, the one that flipped back in the book to a different section got kicked out. I think the one that was bubbling after the call time just got a little sticker on her things, but they kept taking the test.
J.Y.: Yeah, okay. Glen, anything else you'd like to say?
Glen: Tell everyone taking the LSAT you got this. You've done your work. Don't let other people get into your head. Good luck.
J.Y.: Thank you, Glen. Next, we're going to hear from Bart.
Bart: Hi, my name is Bart. My handle on 7Sage is NotMyName, and I scored a 174 on the July 2018 LSAT.
J.Y.: So Bart, one week before the test.
Bart: One week out, I was maintaining the same schedule—the same approach to prep as I had during the month before. My prep has become very regimented in my PT. It followed my PT cycle. I just continued that because I knew that I felt fresh and ready when I took my PTs within that cycle. I didn't want to feel any differently when I took the LSAT, so no change one week out. I guess as far as the PT cycle went, I would take one every 10 days. I'll take a PT and then that would be day zero. Day one and two would be spent uploading the video. I will be recording the PT, so I uploaded it to YouTube undisclosed. I would rewatch it all back, fill out my timing sheet, and then begin to BR on day two. This is where some variance in the PT cycle came into play. As my scores increase, this part of the cycle shrunk. So I would probably take two days to BR the whole test. I would meet with my tutor when that had finished and we would go through all the LR questions that I had difficulty with. And at that point, I still didn't know the answers, so she would know the answers. She would, if I had no overconfidence error, and make sure we spoke about that. So she played a big role in that also. And then after we had BRed LR and RC together, I would score the test and then spend the next two to three days drilling problem areas, and then take another PT.
J.Y.: Okay, so that routine was repeated the week before. You just wanted it to be the same. You don't want to treat the week before any different.
Bart: Yeah, no differently. I had been doing that same cycle for close to a year up to that point, and I got very comfortable in that familiarity.
J.Y.: Did you get a chance to speak to your tutor?
Bart: Yeah. I took the test in June and July this year, and she gave me the same message both times—that it was just another PT. I had planned my PTs so that the tests would fall in line for when I would be taking my next PT. She said, "Don't chase a score. Enact your process. Don't be thinking about how many you're missing per section and what you need to do to get to a particular score, just enact the process as you can, and score above a 160." It was a great advice and I knew what she was trying to do—just take some of the pressure out of it. I was scoring a 170 consistently, or at least a 168 to 172 very consistently. Scoring above a 160 is like, "Yeah, no doubt." When you're not chasing score, you're able to just focus on your process. I think your processes are a better route to a goal score than hyperventilating during the test.
J.Y.: How about the day before? Did you do anything special?
Bart: The day before the test I went to the test center. I'm happy I did that because the address was misprinted on the ticket. It took me an hour to find it, even though it's a 10-minute walk away. So that was the day before the exam. Go figure out your parking situation, figure out the walking, give yourself plenty of time, and sit in the room if you can. You don't want to be rushing on the day of the exam.
J.Y.: What about physical exercise?
Bart: I exercise a good amount in general. I think it was one of the reasons why I was able to maintain my PT cycle for so long. I was doing about 40 minutes to an hour of exercise five to six days a week. I continued that and made sure I got good sleep, ate very clean and healthy, and tried to keep sugars out of my diet. But that wasn't something special, I do that normally.
I was typically studying for about six hours a day. And for the day before, I cut that down to basically an hour and a half. I didn't even do very hardcore stuff for that hour and a half. I did probably one or two logic games, probably something from 1 through 35, something I've done 10 plus times before. I had a binder full of LR problems that had given me difficulty over the course of the last year and a half, and I kept them in there. I slipped through that, read it like a magazine, just re-familiarizing myself with the structures and little tricks that they've gotten past me in the past. And I didn't work. I was working like 30 hours a week. Two days before the test I stopped, took days off, went for walks, and tried to stay active and stay relaxed.
J.Y.: Okay, the day of, how did you manage stress?
Bart: For the day of—managing stress—one thing I did was speak to other test takers sitting in the hallway. It's kind of awkward. Some people know each other, most people don't. Everyone's very nervous with high expectations as lots of anxiousness and tension in the room. I think it helps everyone if people are maybe just more at ease with one another. Just small talk about anything, laughing about LSAT, stupid LSAC's stupid rules, or whatever. I think that helped me stopped thinking of these kinds of competitions like wondering what they're going to score. They're nervous test takers just like me.
Another thing was meditation. I started doing that probably about six to seven months before, so I guess in, like, January before the test. I did 10 minutes in the morning before studying and 10 minutes in the evening, just sitting on the edge of my bed. There are lots of different ways to meditate but what I like to do is think about things going wrong in the test as I meditated, say I've mistranslated a rule or I can't figure out a weird game or I had a bad read on an RC, and visualizing myself responding to that. I guess what's that be like behavioral psychology. It definitely worked for me though. I did that in the hallway, too, before beginning, and then on the chair, just closing my eyes and thinking about the test and how I wanted to approach that and all the habits that I worked hard to instill.
J.Y.: Like visualizing your response, visualizing your reaction if you mistranslated a rule, so that way you can see yourself going through the corrective motions in your mind's eye as a way to prepare for that happening in reality.
Bart: Yeah, because I know one of those things is going to happen in reality. I've never taken PT where everything went smoothly, not even on my 174 day. So that's something you can bank on, just like I banked on there being five sections, one experimental. What I couldn't take for granted was that I would have the proper response.
J.Y.: Yes, good. One last question: If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
Bart: I wouldn't do anything different. I think what I learned was that I had to learn what circumstances were optimal for me, because I wasn't comfortable not prepping the day before. I had to figure out what I like to eat the day of a PT. I had to figure out if I could have a cup of coffee—all of those little nitty-gritty things. I think I did as good a job as I could of replicating test day conditions in my prep and I'm very happy I did that. I'm very happy I spent all that time visualizing my response to a curveball on the test.
And really, test day is your day to shine. I had done so much work and so much thoughtful preparation going into that test that it was just about execution for me. I think that says a lot about taking it when you're ready. I took it in June and also I got a 164, so people look at that and say that's a 10-point jump. Well, it's really just an under performance. Sitting down to take the test on testing, knowing that you are ready to score your goal score, is you know, it's just you should do that for yourself. The day is going to be stressful enough. I should also say that I took the test in 2016 before I was ready. Just don't do that to yourself, that's something within your control so take advantage of that.
J.Y.: Right. Anything else you'd like to say?
Bart: Try to have fun. Just focus on the things that are within your control and know that everyone else in that room is just as nervous as you are. There's no one in there scoring 180 consistently on a PT. You're not alone, there's a whole army of 7Sagers across the world sitting down to take the test that day. Just kick ass.
J.Y.: Thank you, Bart. Next, we'll hear from David.
David: Hi, guys. My name is David. I scored a 174 on the LSAT. I'm a 1L at Harvard Law School. I'm Accounts Playable on the 7Sage forums, so feel free to message me if you have any questions.
J.Y.: I'm sure someone will take you up on that. So David, one week before the test.
David: The most important thing that I did the week of the exam was to get plenty of sleep. I tried, at least 5, 6, or 7 days before the test, to go to bed a little bit early to get 10 hours of sleep a day. That way if you know the day before the exam, if I had those nerves and I couldn't sleep, at least I had a lot of sort of accumulated sleep built up.
When it came to prep, I tried to take it really easy. I took the June LSAT which was one o'clock in the afternoon on a Monday. The Monday before my Monday exam, I took an exam like I had always done. I tried to replicate my routine but I picked an exam that I had taken as a retake relatively recently, taken like maybe two or three weeks ago, and that really was a confidence boost. I didn't want to take a fresh exam or an old retake and risk bombing it and totally messing up my nerves, so I took a relatively recent retake and I very leisurely blind reviewed over the next few days, sort of a secondary, to make sure I was well rested up until the actual exam.
J.Y.: So that's it—just one retake exam followed with leisurely blind review.
David: Yeah, one retake exam for a confidence boost. Don't kill yourself trying to go crazy with four or five hours of prep like maybe people have been doing, but maybe 45 minutes to an hour prep tops a day, just focusing on resting, that kind of thing. Don't go crazy with it.
J.Y.: Great, and the most important thing is sleep. Make sure you get plenty of sleep.
David: Yeah, absolutely. Plenty of sleep is key. You don't want to take the test tired or things like that. It's just going to just wreak havoc, especially if you're taking a Saturday exam where it's already in the morning. I had the benefit of taking a one o'clock test, but if you're taking a Saturday test, you don't want to be extremely groggy or very tired taking it in the morning.
J.Y.: Okay, how about the day before?
David: The day before the test I didn't do any prep at all. I really took it easy—I watched the movie, I meditated. As I said before, I tried to go to bed early and get plenty of sleep, but I just kind of took the day off by getting a big meal and loading up on carbs, that kind of thing. At that point, you're going to test where you're going to test. There's really nothing you can learn in under 24 hours. So I took it easy, I was like I said—I watched the movie, I watched YouTube videos, and I just tried to relax the entire day.
J.Y.: Were you able to get a good night's rest the night before?
David: I was actually and I think that was because of meditation. It's kind of a practice, I'd never really meditated before prior to a month or maybe six weeks out from the exam. A friend of mine was like, "Hey, give it a shot. If you don't like it, you can sort of give up on it." I did it for about a couple weeks and I really wasn't feeling it, then it just sort of clicked one time. And I found it very valuable. I think meditation can really help calm your nerves to be sure, to help you get a good night's sleep. Maybe an hour or two before bed, make yourself a cup of tea (make sure it's chamomile tea), if you want to put a little slush of milk in it or something, that's good. You don't want to drink Earl Grey or something, that's caffeinated, because that's going to undo everything. Needless to say, don't drink. Don't have any alcohol, especially the day before the test but if you can, in a week, 10 days, or two weeks plus. I tried not to have any alcohol six or seven weeks before the test, not even like a glass of wine or anything. I think that's sort of apparent to do, especially the night before. Don't have any alcohol and everything like that.
J.Y.: Yes, it might help you fall asleep, but it'll greatly diminished the quality of your sleep. So don't. Okay, day off the test.
David: Again, I had the benefit of taking a one o'clock exam, and I'm not a morning person at all. It was sort of one of the factors that kind of pushed me to the June exams. So that day, I tried to wake up at around eight or nine o'clock, which was the time I tried to sort of consistently wake up while I was prepping. I went through my daily routine that I had cracked by. I had my one or two cups of coffee. I usually would go to the gym in the morning but this time I decided to stick a half hour walk around. I had to drive a couple hours to the testing center so I got a hotel the night before, but I went into about a half hour sort of leisurely walk just to kind of wake up. I walked and got breakfast at this little diner place with some of the pancakes I took in a college town. They had a great little diner place for breakfast and that was pretty good.
I just tried to take it easy from that time I woke up at like, eight or nine until eleven o'clock. Then at about eleven o'clock, I decided to do a game or two just to get the muscles flowing. I did one or two really, really easy sequencing games that I have brought with me to the hotel. Again, nothing crazy. Don't do a timed-section or anything, just do something just to get your brain moving.
And then when I got to the testing center, I checked in, have all of the paperwork, and whatever. I really didn't have a problem with the proctors, and I say they're probably more casual than most. We sort of skipped out on the break between the third and fourth section. Instead of the 15 minutes, I think they were like, "Let's do 10 minutes or something and let's get back to it." So my preference for really, really kind of chill out people.
When it came to the nerves, I tried, again, to rely on meditating. I found that very helpful because everybody's stressed out. It's sort of palpable when you're looking at all of these people taking the LSAT at once. Everybody is jittery and nobody really wants to talk to each other. So I just sort of went to my little corner, sat down in a chair, closed my eyes, and meditated a little bit. I was ready to go because I did that. So when I flipped open the test book with section one a game section, I was ready to do it. I think having that mindset because I meditated right beforehand put me in the right mood just to take the test, and it really just to calm my nerves down.
J.Y.: Great. One last thing, what would you change if you could do it all over again?
David: That's a really interesting question because I did do it all over again. I took the LSAT twice. The first time I took the LSAT, it was a total disaster. I talked about this in a webinar that I'm certainly not at all in the right fundamentals. Like if you want to talk about fundamentals, I struggle with understanding even the basics of say, like, what a necessary assumption was, or what does it mean to weaken an argument. So, like, fundamentally I was not in a good spot. And then also I think, from a mindfulness standpoint, I was not in a good spot.
Those issues that arose when I took the test the first time were the things that I tried to focus on a lot when I decided to retake the test in June 2016. I tried to focus a lot on getting my getting my nerves under control. I think meditation really helped with that. I tried to really focus on timing—making sure that I allowed myself enough time to come back to the questions that I had skipped or questions that I found were difficult. And that really helped immensely because having a really good timing strategy builds in time to where you know you're just not going to run out of time. So if you do, say, 25 questions in 25 minutes, you know you've built in 10 minutes to go back to the questions that you thought were hard, so you're really not running out of time. I found that a very comforting thought.
Additionally, and I think most importantly, is knowing when you're ready to take the test. As I've said before, I wasn't fundamentally in the right spot to take the test. I think that's so hard for people to admit to themselves that they're not ready to take the test. If I were to go back in time to when I took the test the first time, I would just sort of grab myself and go, "What do you expect? You've been taking practice exams and you've been scoring where you've been scoring, how could you possibly expect the score 10 points above that?" When the data is there, that it shows your scoring in the 150s or low 160s, you just really can't expect to show up to the test to score a 175 or 174 or anything like that. The evidence doesn't suggest that and trust that evidence to be your friend—to go, "I'm not ready to take the test."
Now you can take the test an unlimited number of times, which was not the case when I took the test. The test is offered more often than it used to be, schools really like to see people work for a year or two, more so than they did when I applied to law school. There's every incentive you have to delay and you're not harmed one bit. So if you're not ready to take the test, it's not going to cause a problem on your law school application, which is really at the end of the day the end goal is to present your application the best it can be.
J.Y.: Right, and I think the converse of that is true as well, which is that if you are ready to take the test, meaning your prep test scores do bear out what you're capable of performing at, then you also have every reason to trust the evidence. Then you can just go in and be confident.
David: Yeah, absolutely. Very true.
J.Y.: Okay. Anything else you'd like to say?
David: I wish everybody the best of luck. Nobody likes taking the test and even the people who do great on the LSAT feel terrible after they took the test. They feel bad like once they come out, they think they bombed. Think about it for a second, you're going to remember one or two questions that stumped you and you're going to forget the other 24 questions that you got right, so don't dwell on that. You have three or four weeks before you get scores. Take those weeks off, go relax, you probably did fine.
Additionally, if you end up not doing right as well as you thought, like I said before, you can take the test an unlimited number of times. You're not penalized for taking the test multiple times. In the grand scheme of things, over a 40-year law career, delaying six months to retake the test isn't a huge deal. Put that in perspective if you have to retake the test. It's really not the end of the world. But I do wish everyone the best of luck and I do hope everyone earns the score that they deserve.
J.Y.: Thanks so much, David. Next we're going to hear from Josh.
Josh: Hi, I'm Josh Aldy, on 7Sage you may know me better as Can't Get Right. I studied for the test for quite a while and eventually worked my way up from somewhere at about a 150 range until ultimately, I scored a 176 on the September 2017 LSAT.
J.Y.: Josh, the week before what did you do? How did you prepare?
Josh: It was just like a normal week and there was a very strict routine that I followed. So one thing that I did is I had very high ambitions for what I wanted to do on the LSAT, in a lot of ways kind of shaped my life around it. Maybe the most important of that is to acknowledge the fact that I'm not a morning person and this test is administered in the morning, for the administration I was taking. That was something that pretty far out kind of like looming as a problem. So I turned myself into a morning person and that took some preparations. I started getting up at 5:30 every morning.
These are the questions I asked myself a few months out: "What's my ideal test day morning?" "What would that look like in a perfect scenario?" Well, I want to get up early, I want to be able to relax and have my coffee, I want to be able to have a big breakfast, and I want to go for a run to wake up and get my blood pumping. These were the things that I wanted to incorporate into what in my mind was my ideal test day morning. Then I started as best as I could. It was a struggle at first until I kind of got my rhythm and I started living this morning. And so I've been doing that for a while in order to adjust to the morning test and need to be in my peak mental sharpness at 8:30 in the morning.
So, the week before the test, it was kind of comforting because, as the test arrives, the anxiety kind of starts to build and it's comforting to have something to fall back on when you're kind of in your head thinking like, "Oh my God, what do I do with myself?" I had an answer, and that was really nice. I guess to answer the other part of that question as far as the prep, I feel like in the final week—the haze in the barn—your worry is going to be on test day.
I think I've seen too frequently people undermine months, if not years, of really high level and healthy study habits with last minute cramming. That's the worst thing you can do. So I really, really [44:39] [backed] off. Every day I did an LSAT warm up. I would do a half section of LR, one reading passage, and one logic game. So altogether about a quarter of the test, I added up to about a section. Every four days I would go through an entire test-worth of material in my warm up. I did that in the mornings at the usual time. And when it got to what had been my study time, that was when I had to figure out what to do with myself because I really wanted to just chill out, relax and decompress, so that I would be going into test day fully charged and almost kind of eager to get back to them, get in there and do some LSAT.
J.Y.: Nice. How about the day or night before?
Josh: I think the one thing that I kind of arrived at what was the best possible thing for day before or night before was to watch old movies that have been my perennial favorites—the kind of movies that you can quote every single line to. For me, they're like Big Lebowski, Life Aquatic, and maybe The Lord of the Rings movies—that'll get you through a weekend if you go with the extended editions. Do something that's not just comforting and low stress, but also something familiar where you can really engage with almost passively like you know it so well. To me, that was perfect. I imagine everybody has their own version of that, maybe for a lot is reading Harry Potter or something. I think for a lot of people that would be a great day before test day.
J.Y.: How about sleep? How did you manage to make sure you got enough sleep? Did you get enough sleep the night before?
Josh: Yeah and no. I did actually go to sleep but it was like a very kind of restless sleep. I never liked deep peaceful sleep. But I did sleep, part of that was because of my regimented schedule. It was a lot like, "Oh, it's 10:30. That means you're asleep now." I was just so used to that kind of optimal bedtime the night before. So, I did sleep. It was actually when I tested before, my 176 test the year before, I was in a hotel room and there was a basketball court right outside my room. The dribbling basketball was very loud. Its percussive quality was very disturbing. Luckily, about a half an hour into that they called it a night. I felt like I was about to call the hotel and switch rooms.
J.Y.: How about the day of?
Josh: One thing that I think was a big benefit is that I always had great proctors. I think for the first time I ever tested, they forgot to call five minutes on one of the sections. That was the worst thing that ever happened. Not great, but I managed.
Actually, I think—managing nerves and managing to be successful despite all the emotions, pressures and everything—my 170 test is the thing that I'm maybe proudest of, in all the things that I did preparing for the LSAT. I like having that 176, but keeping it together on that 170, the way it played out, was pretty enormous undertaking. This was back in the day when you only got three takes and this was my third take, so right away that was it—there's no more pressure than that. My average practice test going into that test was a 175, so I was going in with very high hopes, if not expectations. Technically, my target score was a 170 so I had some room to breathe.
So I opened the test, got a bit of jitters (I think that's unavoidable and natural), and it was logic games. I was like, "Okay, great. Logic games—I'm really good at logic games." I was going to tell that myself for any section. I think logic games (or there's a level of comfort that a lot of us take) is the one where you can really sometimes kind of master to a level—that you can kind of just let it happen and it's not stressful. But I bombed that logic game section. Relatively, I think my average from analytics was -0.6 going into that test. On that section I went -6, which is 4 out of 175 average my entire margin of error for the whole test. And I knew it, I estimated, like kind of between sections one and two. I remember thinking very specifically, I think I went about -6. And that's exactly happened.
So going into the second section, I was very emotional and in an anxious place. It was really running out of control. I think this is probably a familiar feeling to people who have taken the LSAT and kind of experienced that anxiety. To me, it's like, if you've ever like started running down a pretty steep hill, there's this momentum that builds up that you start losing control of, and you've got to keep going, you've got to run faster and faster and faster, or you're going to fall in and tumble. I think that's kind of what the LSAT feels like a lot of times when a lot of these test day anxiety start kicking in. It was in full force for me.
The second section was logical reasoning. That was, I think, my strongest section, but I started taking it and I just wasn't doing my thing. I wasn't following the plan. I was so terrified of missing any individual question that I was just taking way too long, and that's just not my strategy. My strategy is aggressive. It's "I'm 90% confident here. I'm done if I miss it, and so be it. But if I'm 90% confident, I pretty much got it." So that's my strategy, it's highly aggressive. And I was being very slow, very cautious, and very careful. I've used to take the test like that and it got me only so far. I knew that it was not going to result in this -1 average that I had kind of put together. I recognized I was off the plane very quickly.
When I finished question number one, I was like, "Okay, that wasn't right." Then I went to number two and it's like, "Well, that wasn't right either." So at that point, I knew I had to get it together. I put my pencil down. I just put my head in my hands and closed my eyes. I kind of have this duality in my head where I had a conversation with myself. There was the emotional part of me that was falling apart and then there was the very rational LSAT student who was kind of speaking like, "Look, you know what makes you successful at logical reasoning. Those strategies right now are really terrifying. But whatever happens on this test, whatever happened on that first section, the best path forward is still the same. It's the thing that has consistently given you the best outcome in practice every single time. If you want to do the best that you can on here—maybe you're not going to score that 175 average—you need to maximize the returns from the rest of this test. If you hit your average for the rest of the stuff, you're still probably going to break 170."
So I kind of taught myself down, but I never got rid of the anxiety. It was always there. I was terrified of that whole test, but I didn't let that influence the way that I took the test. I did it anyway. It was kind of like there was just one side of me taking the test and the other side of me just suffering all the emotional consequences of every decision I was making. It was psychologically intense. I don't know if I've ever shared this publicly, but after that test, my nerves were so wrecked. I was physically ill. I spent the whole rest of that day just vomiting. It was terrible. It was such an intense psychological response that I responded physically, but it wasn't until afterwards. I went I think -5 on the rest of that test and eked in a 170.
Getting control of that was one of the hardest things I've ever done, because I was absolutely terrified. One thing I always tell my students is like, "You probably aren't going to go into the test fearless. Fearless and courageous are very different things. The difference is that to respond to something with courage, you have to be afraid. If you're not afraid, then courage is not something that can even happen." So that I think is the quality that people have to keep in mind on test day. If you can figure out a way to not be afraid and can do that, tell me because I don't know what it is. But just because you're afraid doesn't mean that you have to respond to them. You can take the test with courage and do what you know you need to do even if in the moment that feels scary and terrifying.
J.Y.: That's good advice. Josh, one last question: If you had to do it all over again, what would you do different?
Josh: I definitely got a lot better from the beginning to the end. Actually my first ever test, I don't think this is another thing I've probably ever admitted, I had two reading comp sections as my first and second, which is just the worst way to start. But I turned to the second section, I was like, "Wait, there's only supposed to be one reading comp section. Something's wrong." I considered like, "Do I need to tell the proctor?" I was so unprepared.
There are so many different answers for that. Maybe one thing is think about, like, your coffee and water intakes. That was one thing on that first test, about halfway through section two, I needed to go and I knew that wasn't an option. So yeah, I just sat there. It was awful and very distracting. That's something to actually think about and plan for.
J.Y.: Yeah, Allison mentioned that also. Do you want to wish everyone good luck?
Josh: No. I never say good luck, because if you've prepared for this test you don't need to get lucky. If you are feeling like you need to get lucky then you need to consider postponing. Otherwise, not good luck but just go in there and give your best test. That's not a matter of luck. So I'll say go in there, do your best test, and let that mean what it means. The important thing is to stick to the plan and let it happen the way that you practiced.
J.Y.: Thank you, Josh. And finally, we're going to hear from Daniel.
Daniel: Hey, everybody. I'm Daniel. I scored a 170 on the LSAT and I'm currently a 2L at the University of Michigan.
J.Y.: Great. Daniel, the week of, what did you do?
Daniel: It was really interesting. What I did was I think different than what I was expecting I would do. So going months out before the test, I thought I was going to be drilling really hard on sections and PTs a week out before, but I really did basically the opposite of that. I didn't really do a whole lot. I think it made a lot of sense because I've been setting for the LSAT for a long time—all the mechanics, learning the materials—and if I'm taking the LSAT I'm supposed to be ready for the LSAT. It didn't really make much sense to focus on the material so much trying to learn new things because it really just devolves into cramming. I really focused on the softer, more subjective elements to the test. Getting the right mindset was a big one, and then focusing on some of like test taking skills, really solidifying those so I hit the ground running on test day.
For me personally, that really revolved around mistake making. I would make a lot of stupid mistakes. I would make careless errors, especially when it came to reading or misreading, or just failing to read like glossing over things. So the week of, I was really focusing a lot on concentration, and then just building momentum. I was doing a lot of easy drills, just focusing on timing and skipping. Skipping questions was a huge strategy that I focused on. I employed a lot and it saved my butt on test day, big time.
So yeah, those are the main things and then I guess the last thing I did was to incorporate some really difficult materials, but only the stuff that I'd seen before. The reason why I did that is I wanted for it to really come down to the mental game. I wanted to come into test day knowing that everything I saw I mastered. There was, like, one game I struggled with. When I was going into high 160s, I sat down on time, like an hour and a half, just trying to figure out this stupid logic game, and I couldn't do it. I had to do the game probably four times before I started to understand it, and I mastered it. I kept doing that game before the week of actually. So those were the main things. No PTs, really, or serious drills. That was really what went down to.
J.Y.: Did you do anything special for your diet or exercise? Or you're just kind of day to day living routine?
Daniel: Sure, I tried. My diet was pretty strong. I ate relatively healthy. I didn't do as much exercise as I wished I would have. That was actually one of my biggest regrets, in part, because the night of the test, I had a little bit of a hard time sleeping because I had so much adrenaline. I think being exhausted from a workout would have counteracted that. But I certainly wasn't going to work out the day before, after having that really worked out a whole lot, and then be like super sore the morning of. I had no choice but to just kind of not get as much sleep as I wanted. So I would definitely recommend doing that.
And then my sleeping habits—I tried to get down pretty consistently. But again, I didn't give myself enough time, I thought a week's time is enough. You got to be doing it before that. It really needs to be like a month, if not more. Your routine is sort of an extension of yourself. It's not something that you're having to work towards doing, you just do it naturally. And then on test day, or rather the night before, when you have all this adrenaline kicking in and you have something new before you, which is the real test, your habits are still going to kick in. You're going to get a good night's rest, you're going to wake up, and you'd be able to eat whatever you've been eating every other morning. So yeah, I think eating my diet was pretty solid. But sleep schedule—I wish I would have gotten a little bit better. And then working out or something. Basically all the stuff that you've told us to do all this time, I didn't do enough of. It did have tangible effects, unfortunately, but not too big of a deal.
J.Y.: How about the day before?
Daniel: I'm not a particularly stressed out person or anything, at least I would like to think that, but I did feel the nerves the day before. They are real and I think they're unavoidable. I would not go in and try to get rid of the nerves. I just don't think that's going to happen. Your body's going to react with nerves. I think the best thing to do is to acknowledge your nerves, to know you're nervous, and to really reinforce the reality that you're ready to take this test.
So the day before, I was just telling myself throughout the day, "You've been studying for this thing for a long time. You've got the scores to back it up. You know the mechanics. You're ready to take this thing." I also kept telling myself to be really excited to take the test because I was. I didn't want to dread the test. I wanted to be excited to take it. I wanted to look at it like an opportunity rather than an obstacle, because that simply does affect how you deal with obstacles on the test, and there are several that I remember having on that test. I'll never forget them. They were very crystallized in my memory, to say the least. As far as the mental thing, that's what I did.
I did not do anything as far as prep until the evening because I was getting a little nervous. And again, I wanted to hit the ground running. This I would not recommend for everybody. For me, personally, I thought it really helped to just sit down and do some, like baby drills for 30 to 45 minutes, just to focus on my concentration, skipping, and errors. That was it. I was not trying to learn anything. I wasn't trying to correct anything. I was just reiterating the things that I needed to do—the test taking skills that I needed to do on the day of.
I did that in part because I actually was at a testing center three hours away from my home or from where I live at the time. It was my alma mater. I picked up my old university as my testing center because I knew where it was going to be and what room I was going to be in. They didn't have desks, they had tables. I knew there'd be plenty of room. No one was going to be there. It was a dinky college in the middle of nowhere, and all the surrounding towns had colleges and universities. I knew there was going to be like 15 people there and a room made for 100. And that's exactly what turned out. I'm so glad that I did picked a hotel nearby.
It was nice, too, because I got to catch up with my professors the day before the test, surrounding myself with sort of positivity. One of my professors officiated my wedding and I got to see him again. I hadn't seen him since he officiated my wedding three years ago. That was awesome. I was just so excited to take the test because it was like, "Man, I made it!" All these professors, I was telling them about law school and hoping I could one day get there, and I'm about to finally do it. So, I was ready.
J.Y.: That's a really good way to frame it. Look where you are now. They must be so proud of you. Okay, it's the big day. How did you get through it?
Daniel: The nerves again, we're real. I had so much adrenaline. The morning of when I was trying to eat, I was nauseated. And I never experienced that in my life. By the way, a big part of that was so stupid and this goes back to routine. I ate something in the morning that I had never eaten for breakfast before.
J.Y.: What did you eat?
Daniel: So, I ate a Thai fried rice. It's kind of funky. It's got like fish sauce, and it's sour and spicy. It's not breakfast food.
J.Y.: But why did you decide to, of all days?
Daniel: I know, I know, so here's my logic. Follow me with this and maybe you won't hate me too much with it. So I thought, what's the thing that gives me the most energy and even if I eat a lot of it I don't feel sluggish, I don't feel like just kind of blah—it's that Thai fried rice. Like, I feel so good after having it. It has the right amount of protein and carbs and everything. I thought, "Oh well, of course, that's the best thing to have at seven in the morning, on the day of the test." And oh my gosh, I'm not even kidding, it took me like an hour to eat it. Luckily, I woke up two hours before the test so that it made easier.
But aside from that, when I was actually taking the test, there were two ways to deal with my nerves. One was sticking to my habits—just trusting what I done before. Skipping questions, for example, very first question on the very first section, I couldn't process it because of my nerves and I skipped. I was 30 seconds in, flipping the page, and I saw question eight. It was like a really short, it was an easy-looking question. I thought, well, I can pay attention for two lines worth, and so I did. I got that question immediately. That allowed me to build momentum. Skipping throughout the exam was so huge, and keeping up with all my other habits was so huge. I would not have gotten my score if it were not for that.
And then the other thing was, I think you told me a long time ago that you did this. I don't remember if you literally said you set down your pencil when you're taking the test when you kind of had to communicate with yourself. But I did that myself. I was on the last section. It was logic games. I knew it was the real one because my experimental one was, I think, RC. The very last game was a weird game that no one like it had ever been on any other LSAT. I realized with just three and a half minutes left, and five questions left that I forgot the first rule of that game. I just totally missed it. I was feeling really good up until that point. I thought, "Oh, my God, is this it? Did I just blow it?" I had to stop for a second. This is the conversation I literally had with myself, I said, "You've got a couple options. One, you can just give up—that's not really going to get you anywhere. Or you can make the best of the situation and realize that it's not ideal. But you can't change the past, you've just got to figure out what you could do with the three and a half minutes you have." That conversation—it was the 22nd conversation that I had to have—saved my butt. I was able to get every question but one. The question I got wrong I just didn't have time to get to. I was able to go back to one that I wanted to revisit, and that was literally necessary to get that 170.
Dealing with nerves on those two fronts, saved my butt. On test day, you will face things that you've never faced before, both in questions and just in emotions. But if you have habits and things that you can rely on, just rely on those, and that will carry you through the new experiences that you have on that test. That's the whole point of these skills and habits that you develop. Don't try to do something new. When you're faced with something new on test day, stick to always what you have done, and it's going to get you through it.
J.Y.: Good advice. Last question: If you could do the whole process over again, would you change anything?
Daniel: Two things, actually. There are two big things that I looked back and wished I would have changed. One, I wish from the beginning I wouldn't have just doubted myself so much. I took a practice exam with another test prep company that went to my university and I got a 150, but that was with bubbling in like over a dozen answers, just literally randomly bubbling in because I was so nervous about getting a low score. I even asked the proctor what could I expect as far as improvement he said, "Maybe about 5 points." He also said, "I had one guy that worked his tail off. He had a 15 point increase." I stand here at a law school that I never thought in a million years I'd be at with an over 20 point increase. I wish I would have not focus so much on the statistics or the probability of improving and just tried to improve. You know what, I don't know what my score is. I don't know what my ceiling is. Who really cares, I'm going to try my best and whatever happens, I can walk away and be happy with that.
So that's one and then two—my ceiling was around the low 170s but it was really because I didn't put enough effort. I did 99% of the work but there's that 1% which is fully understanding and really getting into the weeds on the questions that you missed, and now just taking them for granted, and not just glancing at them and looking at the answer being like, "Oh yeah, I see how that is." Also, like never looking at a question thinking, "Oh well, that's a five star super crazy curve breaker question, only 30% got it right. I'm fine with missing that." I wish I would not have had that mentality. I wish every single question I would have strived to 100% to get right. I think I could have done better on the LSAT with that in mind, if I had that mentality.
J.Y.: Oh, but you did fine. Just to clarify, everyone, Daniel is talking about during the review process. He wished he had paid more attention to the curve breaker questions. When the clock is ticking, that's not the time to pay attention to those. That's the time to just identify and skip them. Anything else you'd like to say?
Daniel: I think it's undeniable that this is one of the bigger moments of your life. I think you can look at that in a negative way, but I also think you can look at that as a positive. I never, again, in a million years that I thought I'd be at a school like Michigan. Seriously, not even in my wildest dreams. I'm here, I think, much in part because I saw the LSAT as an opportunity.
Just be proud of what you've accomplished. Seriously on test day, on that very day, literally tell yourself that you're proud of what you've done, and that you're ready to take this test. The nerves are going to be there. That's unavoidable. But if you're taking the test and you're ready, force yourself to recognize that, in spite of your nerves, and I think that'll help you conquer them.
J.Y.: Well, that was beautiful. What a great note to end this episode on. Thank you, Daniel. And thank you all for listening.
If you're taking the LSAT soon, trust yourself, trust the test. For most of you, you already know what score you're going to get. You take your last three recent properly administered LSAT prep tests and average those scores. You'll get +/-3 points of that average. There's really nothing that separates you from that score except the mere passing a few days’ time. And you are as prepared as you can be. You have already seen everything those crafty LSAT writers will throw at you and you've amply demonstrated with your ability to respond with craftiness of your own.
Saturday is not going to be a new day. LSAT you take on that day won't be a new LSAT. It'll only be LSAT prep test whatever, which will be just like all the other prep tests you've taken. So for Saturday, remember to trust the process. Yes, you will encounter a few insanely difficult curve breaker questions. Every LSAT has them. Every student who has ever taken the LSAT before you has encountered them. You will encounter them on Saturday. I'm telling you this now so you'll be prepared. Skip those questions. Maintain your rhythm. Keep moving. You got this.