The BriefA Blog about the LSAT, Law School and Beyond
First, a word of caution:
The honest truth is that for the vast majority of students, low scores are not properly attributed to LSAT anxiety, because the vast majority of students have large gaps in their fundamentals that have nothing to do with nervousness. Your mindset counts for a lot, but you can’t relax your way out of knowing how to take a contrapositive.
If you’re looking to improve your score generally, the curriculum is this way. If you’re looking to ensure that you can apply what you’ve learned correctly on test day and hit the same range of score that you’ve been hitting in practice, then keep reading.
1. Interpret your bodily reactions differently
Let’s say that you get the butterflies every time you look at the cover of a fresh LSAT practice test. Rather than interpret those butterflies as nervousness, train yourself to interpret those butterflies as excitement, a sign that you’re about to do something awesome. This has two benefits – it avoids the nervous thoughts, and it puts your mind into a positive mindset.
2. Put your fears on paper
Also known as “Flooding Therapy”, this is a great way to alleviate stress. The key to this technique lies in the fact that your brain interprets your thoughts differently once they’ve been expressed concretely, versus just floating around in your brain. You know those times when you just have to get something off your chest? Yeah, it’s basically that. This technique has been used with varying degrees of success with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder patients, so it’s probably more than powerful enough for even the most test-anxiety-crippled LSAT taker.
To do this, simply sit down for about 10 minutes or so before you take a practice test and make a list of all the things that you’re worried about. It can be as large scale as thinking you’re going to flat out bomb the test, as detailed as thinking that you missed 15% of your flaw questions on the last test, which is higher than your usual 12%, and you’re scared that it might get worse, or as seemingly irrelevant as you thinking that you don’t look very presentable on this particular morning. Whatever it is, get it out. One study showed that a 10-minute “emotion-dumping” session led to a 15% increase in performance over a control group that just went through their normal pre-test routine.
The goal of meditation is to train your mind to block out distractions. We’re not just talking big distractions, either – while the ability to focus while sitting next to the guy who blows his nose every 4 seconds is a nice side bonus, it’s not the main thrust of the exercise. The goal is to be able to focus through the more subtle things that creep into your mind – in particular, the thoughts of doubt and worry that sabotage you while you’re busy trying to take the test.
You should be entirely awake and alert during the process of meditation – this is not an excuse to take a nap before you start a test. Close your eyes and focus on something. Focusing on your breathing is great since it’s readily available. Don’t let any other thought enter your head. If you find your mind wandering, give yourself a mental slap on the wrist, push those ideas out of your head, and return to focusing on your breathing. Do this for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, twice a day if you can manage it.
This will be exceedingly difficult for the first few weeks, and you will probably be pretty bad at it to start. Eventually, though, you’ll begin to notice that your mind wanders less and less. This is the mental training that, down the line, will enable you to push aside those feelings of doubt and worry and focus your entire attention on beating the LSAT.
4. Positive Self-Reinforcement
One of the simplest and most effective ways to get all those feelings of doubt and worry out of your head is perhaps the most obvious one – just remember how awesome you are! By the time test day arrives, you should know exactly what you can reasonably expect to score, so why allow the doubt to creep back in? Test day is neither the time nor the place. Remembering that you’ve been hitting your target score consistently for the past month and a half goes a long way toward squashing your nervousness. Remember your highest score, remember that time you wrote a perfect logic game section, remember that time that you got every flaw question on the test right – remember SOMETHING that will remind you that you can conquer the test in front of you.
5. Practice under mild stress
Practicing under stress doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you should have the weight of the world on your shoulders every time you take a test. Actually, all that really matters here is that there is something – anything - at stake. If you adhere to a practice test schedule, odds are that you already put some amount of pressure on yourself to do better the next time. Unfortunately, there’s no real pressure to perform and no immediate consequences to doing poorly in practice (except perhaps a slight ego hit). And you’d better believe that on test day, when so much is at stake and the consequences of doing poorly are very real, you’ll be feeling the pressure to perform.
So, create your own consequences. For example, maybe you can put a quarter in a jar every time you miss a logic game question, or maybe you can do five pushups for every logical reasoning question you miss. No matter how trivial the stakes seem, the fact that your performance now has real consequences attached to it on a day-to-day basis will train your brain to function under stress.
Again, I must reiterate – none of this replaces real understanding of logic, and you still have to make sure that your actual LSAT capabilities are on point to do well on this test. That being said, if you get nervous when thinking about test day and you want to avoid a big letdown, try one (or all) of these things, and stick with it. By the time test day rolls around, you’ll have trained your mind to dispense with the worry and the nervousness, leaving you free to rock the LSAT to your fullest capabilities. The rest, as they say, is up to you.
Jonathan Wang is a professional LSAT tutor and featured instructor for 7Sage.
IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT “ALL JEDI USE THE FORCE.”
For this edition of LSAT Fundamentals, let’s engage in a little verbal sparring. Say the above sentence differently. By that I mean use a different grammatical structure to express the same meaning. Give it a shot, young Skywalker.What? You are done already? Let me see what you got there.
Think you know what the word "or" means? You might not! Check out this video to find out more about one of our favorite LSAT fundamentals.
“OR” is a Very Confusing Word In English
The word “or” and the often interchangeably used phrase “either or” are ambiguous. That means they have more than one meaning. Sometimes “or” means “or, but not both,” sometimes it simply means“and,” and sometimes, it means “and/or.” Context will tell you which meaning is intended and let me save you a lot of trouble and tell you right now that the meaning that the LSAT summons most often is “and/or.” That’s why we included “or” as a Group 3 logical indicator.
SUFFICIENT ASSUMPTION (SA) QUESTIONS.
Sufficient Assumption questions are like Inference Must be True (MBT) questions, in reverse.
In MBT questions, you’re given all the premises and asked to find the conclusion that would make for a valid argument. Here, you’re given the conclusion and all the premises (minus one). You’re asked to supply that missing premise which will make the argument valid. So really, they can easily turn any MBT question into a SA question by switching out the right answer choice for a premise in the stimulus. Or vice versa.
TRUTH IS NOT VALIDITY.
Truth and validity are two concepts that are as different from each other as football is from origami. Truth and validity are not the same. You should never, ever, confuse the two—especially on the LSAT.
Truth is a property of sentences (or to be more precise, declarative statements). I think we all know the definition of truth and yes, it’s what you think. For a statement like “all dogs go to heaven," it’s true if all dogs go to heaven. It’s false when it’s not the case that all dogs go to heaven. False statements are sometimes called lies.
TO STRENGTHEN ARGUMENTS, STRENGTHEN THE SUPPORT RELATIONSHIP.
For LSAT Strengthen Questions, you want to strengthen the support relationship between the premises and the conclusion. That means you make the beam thicker. (Remember Goku's Kamehameha from the lesson on Weakening Arguments?) You can do that by either adding additional premises – the analogy there would be to appeal to Goku’s friends to also fire up some beams. Or you can add information that makes the existing premises more relevant to the conclusion – the analogy there would be to feed Goku some magical beans that make him stronger.
THIS IS THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL SKILL FOR THE LSAT.
We tackle LSAT Main Point (MP) or Main Conclusion questions first because these questions test the most fundamental of your LSAT skills: Can you identify the main conclusion of an argument? It’s that simple. Here’s a label with “main point” printed on it. Go slap it on the part of the passage that you think is the main point. If you can’t do that, then you have no business doing any other type of question in the Logical Reasoning section.
REMEMBER, THE LSAT TESTS YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF RELATIONSHIPS.
The relationship is called support and the relata are called premise(s) and conclusion.
When you take an LSAT containing even a few questions that you've already seen before, your resulting score will be inflated. Your score will be an overestimation of your true performance.
There are at least two factors that play a role in this. Continue reading
DON’T BE FOOLED BY THE QUESTION STEM.
That means there is only one correct answer choice and four very wrong answer choices. This question type, despite what its name may suggest, is not actually asking you to decide between some marginal differential in the intensity of support between two answer choices. Which answer choice is better supported is the wrong question to ask. Rather, the right question to ask is which answer choice has some support and which four have no support whatsoever. Continue reading