"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.

"Zoned out" performance curve

LSAT performance curve #5: the “zoned out” pattern

People who take the LSAT are (like all takers of standardized tests) vulnerable to under-performing at certain times during the given test.  For instance, in the “ramp-up” performance curve, a given test-taker gets off to a slow start; she’s not really focused when the test starts.  This slow start prevents that person from scoring as well as she could have if she had started the test at full concentration. Maximizing one’s LSAT score requires avoiding patterns such as the “ramp-up” and the “dead battery” patterns.

The “zoned out” performance curve

The “zoned out” pattern occurs when the LSAT-taker loses focus without realizing she’s lost focus.  As a result, she goes along attempting to answer questions—poorly. Here’s what the pattern looks like.

"Zoned out" performance curve

“Zoned out” performance curve

As shown, the test-taker who exhibits the “zoned out” pattern performs well at the beginning of the test, but, at some point, she loses focus. The person’s performance drops significantly, but she is not self-aware enough to realize that she has lost focus.  She, therefore, continues to proceed through the test as though everything is fine, missing one question after another (or perhaps simply taking much longer on each question than she would otherwise). Finally, the test-taker “gets back in the game,” and her performance recovers.  Unfortunately, by then, a good deal of damage has been done to her score.

Causes for the “zoned out” curve are (i) fatigue and (ii) lack of effective self-monitoring.  While it can happen at any time, this temporary drop in performance appears to be particularly common about 90 minutes into the LSAT (so, the latter portion of section 3).  That’s when people start feeling some fatigue from having engaged in constant concentration for an extended period of time.  If the test-taker is sufficiently self-aware, that person will immediately recognize, “Hey, I’ve zoned out; I need to take a few seconds to regain my focus.” Unfortunately, the LSAT-taker who doesn’t have this self-monitoring ability will stay zoned out.

Guarding against the “zoned out” curve

To avoid zoning out during the LSAT, hone your self-monitoring skills.  Your brain should be like an instrument panel in a car or an airplane.  You should be constantly monitoring the “gauges” in your brain’s instrument panel, asking yourself:

  • “am I working at full concentration?”
    • “if not, why not?”
  • “I am proceeding through the questions in an efficient manner?” (a topic that will be discussed in another article)
  • “am I sticking to my game plan, or getting off track?”  (a topic that will be discussed in another article)
    • in other words: “Am I taking the test, or is the test taking me?

Self-awareness is the key to avoiding the “zoned out” pattern as well as to stay in control of your approach to the LSAT as a whole.

The next article in this series will introduce an idealized, hypothetical performance curve:  the “zen master” pattern.

 

 

psyched out performance curve

LSAT performance curve #4: the “psyched out” pattern

As discussed in earlier articles of this series, LSAT performance can fall into predictable patterns.  For instance, in the “ramp-up” performance curve, a given test-taker gets off to a slow start; she’s not really focused when the test starts.  This slow start prevents that person from scoring as well as she could have if she had started the test at full concentration. Maximizing one’s LSAT score requires avoiding patterns such as the “ramp-up” and the “dead battery” patterns.

The “psyched out” curve

The “psyched out” pattern occurs when the LSAT-taker hits a difficult question, passage, or game and gets completed rattled. Here’s what the pattern looks like.

psyched out performance curve

“Psyched out” performance curve

As shown, the test-taker who exhibits the “psyched out” pattern performs well at the beginning of the test, but, after the moment of getting “psyched out,” the test-taker’s performance falls—and never recovers. This type of pattern is particularly undesirable, since the test-taker suffers from under-performance for the entire remainder of the test.  Sometimes, in extreme cases, the test-taker will walk out of the LSAT and not even finish.  Even those who don’t literally walk out have still, in a sense, “walked out” mentally.

Causes for getting discouraged to this extreme degree pertain to a person’s view of the LSAT—and view of himself or herself.  If one is in the habit of beating oneself over every mistake one makes in life—perhaps being too much of a “perfectionist”—then one mistake can destroy a person’s confidence and willingness to continue.

Guarding against the “psyched out” curve

To avoid falling prey to getting psyched out, develop and maintain a powerful perspective on the nature of performance.  Even the greatest performers in history—great musicians, great athletes, great speakers, great actors—make mistakes. Think of the most successful soccer or basketball player:  that person has missed plenty of shots—and at crucial times.  Think of the most successful football quarterback:  that person has thrown plenty of interceptions—and even in big games.  Expecting that you are not going to make mistakes on the LSAT is unrealistic.  Accepting that will shield you against getting psyched out—and, by helping you remain calm and focus, help you avoid making mistakes in the first place.

The next article in this series will address the “zoned out” pattern.