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—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.

"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.



roller coaster performance curve

LSAT performance curve #3: the “roller coaster”

As discussed in the first two articles of this series, LSAT performance can sometimes follow certain predictable patterns.  For instance, in the “ramp-up” performance curve, a given test-taker gets off to a slow start, which prevents that person from scoring as well as she could have. In the “dead battery” performance curve, the LSAT-taker runs out of energy before the test has ended.  Maximizing one’s LSAT score requires avoiding these and the other under-performing patterns discussed in the LEX blog.

The “roller coaster” curve

The roller coaster pattern occurs when the LSAT-taker’s energy waxes and wanes throughout the test. Here’s what the pattern looks like.

roller coaster performance curve

roller coaster performance curve

As shown, the test-taker who exhibits the “roller coaster” pattern performs well at certain times and poorly at other times. This type of “up-and-down” performance is clearly undesirable, since the points lost during the “down” times come out of that person’s final LSAT score, regardless of how well the test-taker performed during the “up” times.

Causes for the roller coaster phenomenon vary.  In some cases, this pattern results from a test-taker’s use of habit-forming substances such as caffeine and nicotine (tobacco products).  If a person is in the habit of having stimulation from such substances throughout the day, the inability to access such substances during the LSAT leaves that person in a state of confusion. The person’s habit interferes with her ability to concentrate, stay focused, stay calm, and stay on task.  In other cases, the test-taker may be too emotionally invested in the LSAT, taking every apparent success as a personal validation and every point of difficulty as a sign of personal inadequacy. Whatever the reason, steering clear of the roller coaster pattern, like all the other under-performing patterns, is essential to getting one’s best score.

Guarding against the roller coaster curve

To avoid falling into the roller coaster pattern, here are some tips. First, during the days and weeks leading up to the test, minimize your dependence on substances such as caffeine and nicotine.  You will not have access to these substances during the LSAT, and any habits you have will interfere with your concentration on test day.

Second, practice under the same conditions as those under which you’ll be taking the real thing.  Avoid the substances mentioned above, but also replicate other test-day conditions.  For instance, work at a desk rather than lounging by the pool.  Most importantly, always work at full concentration—or don’t practice LSAT at all.

Third, develop and maintain a powerful perspective on the LSAT and the LSAT prep process.  It’s an important test that can open a lot of doors for you.  But, at the same time, it’s an extremely artificial thing—like all standardized tests. Don’t regard it as being a bigger deal than it is; over-estimating the significance of this test will expose you to being overly invested in the outcome rather than the process, which, in turn, may expose you to the roller coaster pattern.

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



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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.