Standardized tests are really, really tough to focus on and the LSAT is certainly no exception. Reading comprehension especially tends to set even the most diligent mind wandering. While the LSAT may not even be the worst offender around when it comes to boring tests, it certainly doles out some harsh punishment to day-dreamers trying to climb its scaly heights.
The LSAT, remember, is difficult in large part because of significant time pressure. The questions are designed so that the average untrained person would take considerably longer than the allotted time to complete them. Losing too many seconds to mind-wandering or unfocused thinking is going to hurt you. So how do we keep day-dreaming from interfering with your real life LSAT goals? Here are some tips to keep up your critical stores of focus so that you can give your best performance on test day.
LSAT FOCUS TIP #1- Don’t Skimp on Full, Simulated LSAT Preptest Practice
When you hear people talk about endurance on the LSAT, what they are talking about is how long you can do it while staying completely focused. Simply doing simulated tests often in your prep can considerably build your endurance skills. However, if it’s going to be effective you have to do it right.
Even we were guilty of doing this a little too often: when taking full timed tests later in your LSAT prep schedule, it’s easy to be lazy about recreating conditions exactly. Frankly, I was a little shocked on test day that they really give you absolutely no time in between sections (with the exception of the break). You literally had time to turn the page to the new section and that was it. There is no pause.
When you are simulating tests, don’t give yourself a break either (at least most of the times you take simulated tests). Think of yourself as a long distance runner in training. You aren’t going to win if you take lots of little breaks every time you practice.
At least 20 or so times, do a full practice test exactly like it is going to be on test day. This means three sections in a row without a break, a small break, then 2 more sections without a break. I even recommend a few times doing four sections straight in a row, or seven sections with a break between sections four and five. Test taking endurance is a skill you can build. Don’t be running your first full race on test day.
LSAT FOCUS TIP #2- Build Reading Comprehension Endurance Especially
Let’s face it, reading comprehension is the most boring and miserable section on the LSAT. Really, if you take it away the LSAT could border on being enjoyable even. Yet the reading comprehension section remains, a pit of despair you must crawl through on each test. What can happen if you avoid it a little too much in your practice?
Coincidentally, we both took the same LSAT (June 2008) and both had an experimental RC section, meaning there were two RC sections on our tests. Both of us would have been a lot happier without this, because by the time we got to the second RC section (the non-experimental) we both remember being simply exhausted. Josh only got problems wrong on the RC section and would have had a 180 without it (rather than his 177). If Evan got only one wrong on RC like he got on everything else, he would have had a 177 rather than a 173. Both of us think we made a mistake not training enough for having two RC sections on our test.
Don’t let this happen to you. We were young and didn’t have lawschooli.com to tell us to train for the possibility that you will have two RC sections. It’s among the more unpleasant things that can happen to you on test day, but you can be ready for it. Simulate this possibility frequently during your simulated practice tests by adding a 5th section to your preptest that is an RC section (borrow it from a very early preptest that you haven’t used). This will help with overall endurance as well.
Moreover, do not yield to the temptation to short change RC in your prep, even if it a good section for you. Don’t skip RC on practice tests.
LSAT FOCUS TIP #3- Take a Tiny Breather Between Each Question
This may be one of the most useful tips you will hear for your LSAT prep: in between each question, take a little teeny tiny break before going on to the next question. For just one moment, about the time it takes to take a breath, look up from the test and clear your head. We recommend closing your eyes so that you don’t see anything distracting, such as other LSAT test takers that you may find attractive.
Try doing this in you practice and I am sure you will notice it helps a lot. It seems a little counter-intuitive when every second on the LSAT is so precious, but it seems to improve focus and helps you get the garble of the previous question out of your head.
The LSAT is a bit of a marathon. Mach speed may be great if you were just tested on one section, but remember you have to do five section without getting overheated. These tiny breaks help you maintain a high speed pace throughout the entirety of the exam.
LSAT FOCUS TIP #4- Consider Learning ‘Mindfulness’ Techniques.
Neither of us tried this in our own prep, but there are some studies out there to suggest that mediation can give a surprising boost to your LSAT performance. Here for example is a NY Times piece covering one such study. In this study, a group who hadn’t used meditation practiced it intensely for 2 weeks and saw a large boost in average scores on the reading comprehension section of the GRE, whereas the non-meditating control group (who were instead on a program of healthy eating) saw no boost.
The theory appears to be that ‘working memory,’ the ability to retain little bits of information and use them, is significantly improved by mindfulness training.
As to what exactly you have to do to get these benefits, you may need to do some research, but appears that most of it was sitting with your legs crossed, doing some breathing exercises, and trying not to think about the past or the future much. Hardly the worst thing you could be doing with your time, right?
I think that retakers especially might want to consider giving this a go if they are out of other ideas. I would really like to hear back from our readers if they see good results from adding meditation to their prep regimen, so please let us know in the comments or on twitter @onlawschool.
Good luck and stay focused!