Law school and bar exam tutoring

Bar Exam Prep: Downtime Remains Important

Seemingly every day, another study is published confirming the effectiveness of test-taking techniques that LEX has been teaching for decades.  This confirmation is worth revisiting periodically so that students can feel confident that are preparing with America’s best law and logic teaching company.

Anxiety-driven studying

Students preparing for the bar exam naturally tend to feel a need to put a good effort into their studies.  After all, passing the bar exam is a necessary step on the path toward which most law students have been working for three years or more:  practicing law.  They feel that it would be a mistake, financially and otherwise, to slack off at this crucial moment.  This understandable feeling can give rise to a desire to “burn the candle at both ends,” to spend every waking hour memorizing rules of law—and to minimize the sleep they get at night or the breaks they taking during the day.

This give-it-all-you’ve-got attitude may feel comforting in that it may serve as a shield against anxiety.  The bar prep student may say to herself, “I’m feeling anxious about the approach of the bar exam, so I need to study right now and can’t afford to take a break.”  When she concentrates on that task, the anxiety disappears for a while, which feels good and confirms the feeling that she is doing the right thing by staying glued to her chair.

Reminder: what does—and does not—get you points on test day

However, it’s important to remember that the bar exam does not award you any points whatsoever for how hard you studied.  If you spend eighteen hours per day memorizing bar exam law, that fact, by itself, is worth exactly 0.0 points on test day.  The bar exam doesn’t care how you prepare; it only gives you credit for what you actually deliver.

Again, the bar exam doesn’t care how you prepare; it only gives you credit for what you actually deliver.

And delivering the goods—right answers—on test day depends on many factors. Study time is one factor in test-day performance, to be sure, but it is just one of many.  For instance, maintaining self-awareness and remaining resilient are hallmark abilities of a great test-taker.  But racking up 18-hour days of memorization may or may not help you cultivate these test-taking abilities at all.

Effective recall

Another hallmark trait of a great test-taker is the ability to recall the right information at the right time.  Effective recall partly relies upon storing the information in the first place, of course.  But mere data storage is definitely not enough to bring about effective recall when the test-day clock is running.  Effective recall is affected by one’s energy level, the will to bring up that information rather than curl up and go to sleep.  It is also impacted by one’s state of mind; anxiety interferes with recall.  And it is also impacted by how one stored the information in the first place, e.g., whether the information was learned in isolation or in connection with other information.

Downtime

Downtime—taking breaks from one’s bar exam study—plays an important role in setting oneself up to deliver on test day.  That topic will be specifically addressed in this second part of this article.  Coming soon!

Great test-taker curve

LSAT performance curve #7: the “great test-taker” pattern

This series of articles has addressed a number of patterns of LSAT performance, with a focus on common patterns in which a test-taker performs well at certain times during the test and then performs relatively poorly at other times.  An ideal performance pattern, called the “zen master” performance curve, has also been discussed to provide a model which all test-takers can aspire to emulate:  starting the test at maximum performance and maintaining that level of performance for the remainder of the test.

Realistically, maintaining “perfect” concentration for more than two hours of testing is an unattainable ideal.  But, if we prepare ourselves properly, we can get close to this ideal.

The “great test-taker” performance curve

What may be called the “great test-taker” pattern happens when a person is very well-prepared, not only for the material expressly being tested through the LSAT—reading, reasoning—but also for the psychological, emotional, and physical challenges this test presents.  The “great test-taker” curve is, in essence, the attainable version of the unattainable ideal LEX calls the “zen master” curve. Here’s what the great test-taker pattern looks like.

Great test-taker curve

Great test-taker curve

In this pattern, unlike that of the “zen master” curve, the great test-taker does experience occasional dips in her concentration, focus, confidence, intensity, will-power, efficiency, and effectiveness.  After all, the great test-taker is, like everyone else, just a fallible human being, subject to all the vulnerabilities revealed in the under-performing patterns.  But, by being highly self-aware and consciously prepared against such vulnerabilities, the great test-taker immediately counter-acts such momentary dips rather than allowing them to gain momentum.

As a result, instead of a momentary loss of focus growing into a full-blown example of the “dead-battery” curve, for instance, this loss is nipped in the bud, registering as only a tiny blip in the great test-taker’s performance.

Steps toward delivering a “great test-taker” performance on test day

The entire LEX blog an test prep experience is designed to help students deliver maximum performance on LSAT day.  This preparation involves honing one’s skills that are specific to the material being tested, such as one’s skills at diagramming for logic games.  But the LSAT prep process also involves developing self-monitoring and self-control skills and building up a foundation of healthy habits that provide psychological, emotional, and physical strength on test day.

Through articles such as those of the present series, the blog continues to provide guidance for such personal development.  But, in closing the present series, here are some highlights.

recognize your vulnerabilities
you are ultimately susceptible to all of the under-performing patterns that have been discussed, but it’s hard to take counter-measures against such vulnerabilities if you are “living in denial”
build great habits
a habit is a behavioral pattern to which we resort when we’re paying attention to something else; habits are our “default” patterns; but habits are changeable: by practicing an even-keeled, persistent, focused attitude in everything that you do, that attitude will become a habit
“pamper” yourself
your brain is the only thing that’s going to answer those LSAT questions for you, but it can’t do its job at maximum effectiveness when you haven’t had enough sleep, you haven’t eaten well, and you otherwise haven’t taken care of yourself properly
monitor your thoughts
there are risks, and then there are risks that materialize—those that grow from potential problems into actual problems; to be a great test-taker, you must monitor your thoughts at all times so that when a risk materializes—you actually do lose your focus, lose your confidence, etc.—you can immediately recognize the problem and take conscious steps to counteract it
develop powerful “self-coaching” skills
when a problem arises, the self-monitoring just described will allow you to recognize that the risk has materialized; that’s when your self-coaching skills take over to eliminate the problem; for instance, if you recognize that you’re about to get “psyched-out” by a particularly hard LSAT question, coach yourself through it by saying, “You know what?  If I miss this one question, that just shows I’m human. Let me ‘move on’ right away, regain my composure, and deliver a rockstar performance on the next question.”

Following these guidelines can be made easier if you have an ideal pattern to emulate, such as the hypothetical “zen master” pattern previously discussed. But there also may be an actual, living person in your life whom you know to be very good at skills such as those described above. Emulate that person’s behavior to help develop those skills.