Over the last decade, I have seen far too many students perform exceptionally well on practice law school admissions tests, only to get extraordinarily nervous on test day and score below their demonstrated potential – especially the first time they take the LSAT. This can be understandably frustrating for students who clearly have the knowledge and skills to excel.
Whether you are retaking the exam after not performing to the best of your abilities or taking it for the first time, here are five ways to manage stress, anxiety and test day jitters.
[Check out more tips in the LSAT Test Prep center.]
1. Set a sleep schedule: When studying for the LSAT (or any other standardized test, for that matter), reinstate a bed time like the one your parents probably forced on you as a child.
Get at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, especially in the weeks leading up to test day. It may be tempting to stay up late studying, but if you are overly tired you will absorb less material. Sleep deprivation can cause you to lose focus and make careless errors.
2. Exercise regularly: Getting your body moving will keep your mind energized, and endorphins released in the brain by exercise can elevate your mood and reduce stress. Whether you walk, run, bike or take up a new sport, such as yoga or kick-boxing, you will probably see improvement in your mood, focus and quality of life, which will, in turn, release some of the tension that has been building over the LSAT.
As an added bonus, if you're taking the June LSAT, you'll likely also find yourself in great shape for the summer! I once had a Stratus Prep student who took this advice "unintentionally" lose 20 pounds in the two months before her test.
3. Take up a hobby: It may sound cheesy, but hobbies keep us grounded and provide a vital reward during our greatest periods of stress. Doing something you enjoy will help you relax and thereby enhance the time you do spend studying.
I have had successful students take up arts and crafts, collect a variety of things such as stamps, coins, baseball cards or action figures, play sports or music and volunteer while studying for the exam. Just be sure to choose an activity that gives you pure joy and does not, in any way, represent an added source of stress.
[Learn effective ways to study for the LSAT.]
4. Get up early on test day: Benjamin Franklin probably would have been a great LSAT taker. Heed his advice to be early to bed and early to rise, and go to bed early the night before test day.
Get up early the next morning – still making sure to get your eight hours of sleep – and read. It can be a book, the newspaper, a magazine or the owner's manual to your TV; it doesn't really matter.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that a few minutes of reading before a test jump starts your brain activity, as reading serves as a kind of warm up. Go a step further and make yourself a cup of green tea to sip while reading – a comforting, yet energizing and healthy way to start the day.
[Set a schedule for LSAT test week.]
5. Don't dwell on the exam: Dedicate a certain portion of your time to LSAT study, which will vary by the day: One day you may have your LSAT class or a tutoring sessions; the next, a practice test and the third, some self-study. Outside of that time, try not to let your thoughts wander back to the impending exam.
When your friends and family ask you how you've been, try not to mention your studies, but instead use this opportunity to take your mind of the LSAT. Tell them about something you are excited about or looking forward to (like your new hobby, for instance) and find out what they have been up to.
When chatting with friends who are also taking the exam, do not compare practice test scores, as it can cause even more unnecessary pressure to build. While it is a critically important exam, taking your mind off the LSAT at appropriate times can make it less overwhelming. For example, I had a client who had coffee with friends at least three times a week throughout her LSAT prep and she swore it "kept her sane." She got a 176.
You may have noticed that many of these tips are not quick fixes; they are routines and lifestyle choices that will benefit you for the LSAT and beyond. It may take some time to adjust to these new habits, but if you practice these tips in the weeks and months leading up to your LSAT, you will likely reduce your stress and anxiety and hopefully fulfill your potential on test day.
While I'm not a doctor, the suggestions above are based on those practices that have worked best for my thousands of former and current students. They should not be taken as medical advice. Some students have a much more severe, biologically based form of test anxiety and should seek a medical diagnosis and treatment.