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!

"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.

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

Occlumency for LSAT, Law School, and the Bar Exam

Original posting date: August 12th, 2011

Test-Taking Distractions Don’t Always Come from the Outside

In recent articles, the external distractions that can from from a testing center facility or a proctor have been discussed. But these distractions can be relatively easy to handle compared to the distractions that come from within one’s own mind.

Clearing and Closing Your Mind: Occlumency for LSAT, Law School, and the Bar Exam

Internal sources of distractions include several different types of worry, such as:

  • —loose ends: the test-taker can’t concentrate during a part of the test because anxieties about not having paid the rent, not watered the plants, or not made travel or lodging arrangments
  • —under-preparation remorse: as the test begins, the test-taker is overcome with regret about not having practiced and studied more
  • —personal baggage: the test-taker has under-performed on some previous test and believes that there’s something inherently “wrong” with him or her that will doom him or her to failure on the present test
  • —habitual self-denigration: some test-takers have a more generalized form of baggage in which they have become perpetual—and vicious—critics of themselves, telling themselves they are dumb, a failure, a loser almost constantly; these antagonistic voices and messages can reach a debilitating pitch when a difficult task requiring a lot of concentration—such as the LSAT, a law school essay, or the MBE—is at hand

One part of the solution to all of the above distractions is essentially a real-world version of “occlumency,” a form of magic resistance from the Harry Potter fantasy book and movie series. Wizards in the Harry Potter world are taught to block others out of their minds rather than let their thoughts be meddles with. Test-takers need to do the same, i.e., to treat all of the above distracting thoughts as though they were just little “curses” or “spells” that are being cast against you in order to take you away from your work. Dispense with them accordingly.

Not Easy, But Worth It

Building up this mental resistance to distraction is easier said than done. But the first step is recognizing that each of the above mental distractions is counter-productive.

Each one of these thoughts takes points out of final score by burning up your time and diluting your focus. These thoughts are not friends, not teaching you valuable lessons, not helping you to develop a stronger character or to be responsible. They’re just undermining your abilities and hurting your scores. They are, in short, point stealers.

As such, they are not worth one moment of your time or one heartbeat’s worth of emotional energy on test day.