"Zen master" performance curve

LSAT performance curve #6: the “zen master” pattern

This series of articles has covered several under-performing patterns into which test-takers can fall, including:

  • ramp-up pattern
  • dead-battery pattern
  • roller-coaster pattern
  • psyched-out pattern
  • zoned-out pattern

Each of these patterns undermine a person’s LSAT score relative to how that person could have performed if she had taken the entire test at her maximum performance level. Now let’s turn to an ideal pattern.

The “zen master” performance curve

What may be called the “zen master” pattern represents the ideal to which test-takers can aspire.  Here’s what the pattern looks like.

"Zen master" performance curve

“Zen master” performance curve

Notice that, in this ideal pattern, nothing changes.  The test-taker starts the test at maximum performance and maintains that level of performance through all five sections of the LSAT. The hypothetical test-taker—the “zen master”—does not lose focus, does not get discouraged, does not get overly excited, and does not let the test rattle her in any way.

Emulating the “zen master”

Obviously, the hypothetical zen master is just an ideal; it’s unlikely that anyone can attain such an ideal in practice. But it’s useful to have this ideal in front of our eyes so that we can consider what would go into such mastery.

For instance, the hypothetical zen master hits the ground running.  She does not waste time by getting off to a slow start, as does someone who falls prey to the ramp-up pattern.  She also finishes strong.  She does not let the sight of the finish line cause her to start coasting, as does someone who gets caught in the dead-battery pattern.

In order to avoid these traps, the zen master would, first, take note that these under-performing patterns exist.  Second, the zen master would recognize that, as a fallible human being, she is potentially susceptible to falling into one of these patterns, just like everyone else, and identify those to which she herself is particularly vulnerable.  Third, the zen master would consciously take measures to protect herself against these vulnerabilities.  To avoid the ramp-up pattern, for instance, she might warm up before the test got started.

You can improve your test score by following the hypothetical zen master’s example: recognize the risks—particularly those to which you yourself are most vulnerable—and take counter-measures.

The next article will wrap up this series of articles with a look at the performance curve that results when we do our best to emulate the “zen master” pattern:  the “great test-taker” pattern.

"Ramp-up" performance curve

LSAT performance curve #1: the “ramp-up”

Test-taking performance on the LSAT sometimes adheres to certain common patterns that can be generally graphed on a timeline, with performance being the vertical axis and time being the horizontal.  This series of articles aims to provide an overview of the most common patterns and some guidance regarding how we can avoid the bad patterns.

The “ramp-up” curve

The ramp-up pattern occurs when the LSAT-taker gets off to a slow start.  Here’s what the pattern looks like.

"Ramp-up" performance curve

“Ramp-up” performance curve

As shown, the test-taker who exhibits the “ramp-up” pattern doesn’t really hit her stride until the second section of the LSAT.  This is not good, of course, because those points that have been missed in the first section—while the test-taker was still “ramping up”—cannot be gotten back.  Those points are gone forever, regardless of how well she performs on the later sections of the test.

It could be that the given test-taker hasn’t settled into the testing environment.  It could be that the test-taker is distracted by test anxiety or just hasn’t fully “woken up” yet that day.  But whatever the reason, it’s important that we avoid the ramp-up pattern, i.e., that we are performing at the very best of our ability from the very first question of the LSAT.

Avoiding the ramp-up pattern on LSAT day

To avoid falling into the ramp-up pattern, here are some tips.  First, familiarize yourself with the test environment before test day. Visit the testing center a few days prior to the day on which you will be taking the LSAT and get comfortable with the environment (e.g., know where the bathrooms are, how bright it is).

Second, be aware that anything can go wrong on test day; bad proctors, technical difficulties, uncomfortable temperatures, a last-minute change—all of these things can happen. Reconcile yourself to these risks ahead of time, and prepare to roll with the punches, to take everything in stride without getting flustered.

Third, if you are at all susceptible to falling into the ramp-up pattern—you know yourself to be, for instance, a “slow-starter”—then do a little warm-up routine on test day.  Before you leave home and head for the testing center, take a couple of logical reasoning questions, read a reading comprehension passage and answer the main point question, and set up one game.  That exposure to the types of material you’ll be seeing on the actual LSAT will get your wheels turning.

The next article will discuss the “dead-battery” performance curve.

LEX Tutoring

LSAT Prep | Reading Comprehension

Original posting date: Feb. 2, 2007

Introduction

The law school admission test (LSAT) consists of four scored sections, each section representing one of three section types: (i) logical reasoning, (ii) analytical reasoning, oftentimes called “logic games “, and (iii) reading comprehension or “reading comp”. This blog entry will focus on the reading comprehension section of the LSAT.

Reading Comprehension Overview

Reading comprehension accounts for approximately 28% of the scored questions on the LSAT, while logical reasoning makes up about 50%, and logic games about 22%. Reading comprehension is therefore the second most important section of the LSAT in terms of numerical impact on one’s score.

However, reading comprehension seems to have become increasingly difficult in recent years, making it the “haymaker” section of the LSAT for many students, including those who are scoring well into the 170s. This increase in difficulty may be attributable to a heightened recognition by the test makers that reading comprehension is an indispensable and top-value skill for the successful law student. But whatever the reason, students must be aware that reading comprehension cannot be treated as an afterthought in one’s study regimen—which is all too commonly done as a result of the over-emphasis of the “games” section by most LSAT prep companies.

Check this blog periodically for more information on how you can “Test at Your Best” on actual LSAT day.

Happy reading — and comprehending!

LEX Tutoring

LSAT Intensity

Original posting date: August 1st, 2011

While the SAT, GRE, MPRE, bar exam and numerous other standardized tests are difficult in their own ways, the LSAT offers some challenges that set it apart from most standardized tests.

One such distinction is that the LSAT does not test your memory, at least not in an overt way. For instance, the bar exam requires that you memorize many rules of law and then competently reproduce these rules of law when writing your bar exam essays. The LSAT requires no such recall.

It should be noted, however, that the LSAT does require a great deal of memory in the form of a highly developed command of the English language and vocabulary. But this reality is true of any exam that has a reading comprehension component.

Instead of testing memory, the LSAT tests one’s ability to reason through problems on the spot in real time. In other words, the test selects for people who are good at what we might call colloquially “thinking on their feet.”

Given this emphasis on real-time thinking, the LSAT calls for test-takers to prepare in the way that a performing artist or an athlete prepares. Cultivating the ability to maintain a high level of concentration or intensity of thought for the duration of the test is, in short, a key aspect of effective LSAT prep.

Tags: bar exam, LSAT, lsat prep, lsat preparation, memorization, memory, prep, reading comprehension, standardized test, standardized testing, test prep, thinking

LEX Tutoring

Test-Taking Mandatory “Tip”: Do Not Count on Time Warnings

Original posting date: August 3rd, 2011

The Dangers of Time Warnings

Many test preparation companies—whether for the LSAT, bar exam, or other standardized test—provide proctors who call out or write on the board how much time is left in a given section of the test. These proctors are a pretty standard part of the landscape for diagnostic tests and timed practice exams. Unfortunately, students tend to learn to rely on these warnings, and that’s dangerous, because there might be no such warning on test day.

Thus, while professionalism may argue in favor of test prep companies providing this service, students must heed the following advice.

On the actual day of the test—LSAT, bar exam, MPRE, SAT, or whatever—, you cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot rely upon the test proctors to keep track of time for you.

If these employees of the given test-maker make a mistake and forget to warn you that there are “five minutes remaining” or “thirty seconds remaining,” you will get no sympathy from the test-makers themselves. In other words, you will not be able to get additional points on the test for this oversight.

The Bottom Line

If you lose points that you could have gotten if you’d been apprised of the time remaining, those points are lost for good. Don’t take that risk. ALWAYS keep track of the time yourself, and be sure to get in the habit of doing so by practicing accordingly.

LEX Tutoring

More about Proctors

Original posting date: August 8th, 2011

More Dangers of Practicing with Good Proctors

Practice and diagnostic testing is an important part of preparation for the LSAT, bar exam, and other standardized tests. Being able to perform during test-day conditions is, of course, crucial, and experiencing multiple rounds of “dress rehearsal” helps to improve such performance.

Test preparation companies, meanwhile, naturally want to impress their students by hiring proctors for practice tests who are dependably punctual, friendly, and otherwise professional.

Unfortunately, this habit may be good for a test preparation company’s image, but it’s not good for students.

Test-Day Troubles

The reality is that, on the day of the actual test, the proctor you get may not be at all like the proctor with whom you practiced. LEX students routinely report proctor-related disruptions on the day of the actual LSAT or bar exam. Some such problems include:

  • hostile proctor who had a verbal argument during or immediately before the time the LSAT or bar exam clock was running
  • late proctor who kept students waiting for the start of or return to the test
  • proctor who smelled like smoke
  • disorganized proctor who bumbled logistics of the test
  • forgetful proctor who did not provide one (or more) of the time warnings upon which students tend to rely

At LEX, we half-jokingly tell students that test preparation companies, when administering practice tests, should instruct their proctors to do everything wrong—or should simply hire people who are not able to handle the basic tasks of proctors, thereby ensuring that one or more of the above problems will arise. Such a practicing environment would prepare students more fully than does an atmosphere in which everything runs smoothly.

LEX Tutoring

Testing Centers: Some Warnings

Original posting date: August 11th, 2011

Things Go Wrong that Are Not within a Student’s Control

As discussed in a recent article about LSAT time warnings and bar exam time warnings, test preparation companies have a commercial incentive to ensure that things go smoothly for students. But this admirable work by test prep companies can be misleading for LSAT students, bar exam students, and other people preparing for standardized tests. Many things can and do go wrong on test day that have nothing to do with the test-takers themselves, and shielding students from these difficulties may give students a false sense of security.

Test Centers

Just as proctors can have issues, the physical testing facilities and the providers of these facilities can also give rise to extra-test problems. Such difficulties include:

  • test center is too hot, too cold
  • test center has bad desks or chairs (e.g., unstable, too small)
  • test center has to change rooms and relocate students at last minute
  • test center is very close to an external noise source (e.g., nearby construction, a noisy convention event)
  • test center causes other ambient distractions and discomforts (e.g., mildewy)

The Answer: Practice Being Unflappable

Taking the bar exam, LSAT, MPRE, or a law school exam is tough enough without the addition of such external obstacles. Such obstacles are particularly disturbing when they are unique to one test-taker or a small group of test-takers rather than presented to everyone.

But getting upset doesn’t do any good. No one gets extra credit for having had to endure unfortunate testing conditions.

Part of effective preparation is, therefore, developing an unflappable mindset. Resolve that, no matter what surprises come your way on test day, you will waste no mental cycles on or offer any emotional resistance to these difficulties. Treat all such distractions as part of the test itself.