Insights on performing well on the LSAT under stress/nervousness

TheoryandPracticeTheoryandPractice Alum Member
edited October 2017 in General 1008 karma

Hi, I haven't taken the exam yet, (my first time will be December), so please take this post with a grain of salt.

I know that many of the September takers under-performed. Although I haven't taken the LSAT myself, I know that my PT scores used to drop dramatically when I get nervous. I've been developing strategies for a while now to address this universal question: how can one be nervous/anxious/feel pressured and still perform well?

I think there are many outside resources, like meditation, exercising, positive thinking. But these are to set up one's mindset for the test day; but what if something goes wrong during the actual exam? What if meditating for 10 seconds during the exam doesn't help?

So I developed some strategies that I can fall back on.

Let's first think about what happens when we get nervous. From the fight or flight perspective, if we are in the "fight" mode, I think we develop an urge to move as fast as we can, to CONTROL the situation as quickly and much as we can. This is absolutely detrimental to performing well, especially for the LSAT, because LSAT rewards picking up on subtleties that can only be noticed when we are completely engaged and immersed with the text. Engaging, and not controlling, is the key. Similarly, if we are in the "flight" mode, we are probably panicking, not knowing what the next step should be. This is also detrimental, because LSAT tests what we can infer out amidst of uncertainty.

Regardless of whether we are in the "fight" or "flight" mode, we stop engaging with the text, which I think is the biggest reason for under-performing.

So the question becomes how to engage with the text when we are nervous. I think this is such a crucial question to performing well, but no one really discusses about it. The key is to internalize a consistent process that would force us to engage, so there is no room for your urge for control (or panic) to take over. The urge or panic will be there when we are nervous; This is out of our control. What is within our control is how we respond.

I'm sure that many of us normally engage with the writer, but lose the focus when we get nervous, because being nervous means that the attention is shifted back to us ( and how we are feeling). Below strategies help me to do shift my attention back to the author on a consistent basis.

For LR:
1) make the most out of the Q stem: I know that people read the Q stem to identify what type it is. Don't just stop there. Notice who the speaker is. Is s/he a scientist? A journalist? To engage with the text means to engage with the writer, to read from the writer's perspective. So knowing WHO the speaker is actually helpful in orienting ourselves to what the author is thinking and doing, and forgetting about what we are thinking or feeling at the moment. The point is to turn our attention to the speaker.

For example, if it is a scientist speaking, I take a moment to imagine a scientist talking about some study and hypothesis. If it is a mayor, it is probably something about a city policy and its effects. This is a part of prepping myself to listen and immerse with the speaker. This is helpful because as I am reading the stimulus, I can quickly identify and predict the function of the sentences. Oh, here is the study. So where is the hypothesis? So on and so forth.

2) slow down reading the first sentence of every LR stimulus. The beginning is what sets us up our mindset for the question. If we slow down and remind us to be mindful of what's going on, then that orientation carries through the rest of the question. If we quickly glimpse through the first sentence (or just minimize it as "oh this is just a context. Not important"), that mindset carries through the stimulus as well, which results in reading the stimulus and still not understanding what happened (or missing some crucial detail).

When I start a new LR question, I slow down, doing the following:
- identify the subject and the verb and try to visualize what is going on, who is doing what, etc.
- evoke my own emotions , because that helps me to stay tuned to how good the argument is (ex) "yes, this information makes sense. I'd do the same, or "ok...why?" etc)
- think about why the author wrote that sentence and what the author might try to do next (to orient myself to the author)
- casually summarize what I just read to make it mine.

Doing this might be counter-intuitive in the beginning, but with practice, this becomes second-nature. I can usually do all four in a couple of seconds (it's really more like a spark of thought), as they are not really a separate task. It's literally just stopping for a moment to orient myself. These strategies help me because I force myself to focus on the author and engage with the text and prepare my mind to be that way for every single question. I imagine a scene that the author created for me, give a personal response, think about why s/he wrote it, and capture it in my mind. The strategies also help me to manage the stimulus. I am not trying to control it; I am trying to break down the complicated information and sort it out into manageable pieces.

That way, I don't answer 10 questions mindlessly only to realize too late that I was going too fast.

I have similar strategies for RC and LG as well, but the philosophy is the same. It is finding the way to consistently engage with the text, so that the immersion beats and prevents nervousness.

The above strategy is just an example of what works for me. I am sure that everyone's strategies look different.
But I am writing this because I think we are overlooking that the half of the battle is psychological, and finding a way to be present and engage with the writer is probably the solution.

Also, please share any insights you have, too!

Thanks :)


  • apawalterapawalter Member
    357 karma

    Thank you so much for this @TheoryandPractice I love your insights! I often struggle with rushing and not fully absorbing everything I'm reading because of it, I will definitely try implementing these tips! So true that half the battle of the LSAT is psychological, we are all capable of overcoming this though <3

  • AlexAlex Alum Member
    23929 karma

    Very insightful post :)


  • lsat 1101lsat 1101 Alum Member
    267 karma

    I really appreciate this post and your advice, thank you and best of luck with the December lsat!

  • sillllyxosillllyxo Alum Member
    708 karma

    Im going to throughly read this once my son is in bed but thank you so much for taking the time to make this post ~ i have severe anxiety and i have ignored it but it definitely is coming up in this exam and i have to beat it.

  • jennybbbbbjennybbbbb Alum Member
    630 karma


    Honestly, I have really bad anxiety and I want to thank you for taking out the time to write this. I greatly appreciate it!

    I will definitely try it out and I honestly think this will help me. I feel like I am always afraid of the test instead like you said "consistently engage with the text, so that the immersion beats and prevents nervousness."

    Again, thank you!

  • FerdaFreshFerdaFresh Alum Member
    561 karma

    I'm saving this one :)

  • whatlieswithinmewhatlieswithinme Alum Member
    edited September 2019 53 karma

    It's been already two years you wrote this post but I want to say thanks to you for sharing your awesome insight! I'll practice the way you teach and I feel like that would really help me to get better scores!:)

  • a. valdeza. valdez Member
    112 karma


  • Trust the ProcessTrust the Process Alum Member
    304 karma

    @hi_haejin said:
    It's been already two years you wrote this post but I want to say thanks to you for sharing your awesome insight! I'll practice the way you teach and I feel like that would really help me to get better scores!:)

    Thanks @hi_haejin for bringing this post back! This post needs to be read by every 7sager.

Sign In or Register to comment.