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LSAT Prep While Working and Dealing With Test Anxiety

LSAT Blog Prep Working Test AnxietyThis installment of LSAT Diaries comes from Dave, who's taking the June 2011 LSAT.

In this diary, he talks about studying for the LSAT while working full-time, and his efforts to work through his test anxiety.

If you want to be in LSAT Diaries, please email me at LSATUnplugged@gmail.com. (You can be in LSAT Diaries whether you've taken the exam already or not.)

Please leave Dave some encouragement and advice below in the comments!

Dave's LSAT Diary:

Like many of you I was still in undergrad when I decided to explore the possibility of pursuing law school. Before I had even done any research, I took one of those free practice LSATs. Like some of my fellow undergrads, I had no idea what was on the test, and I didn’t take it seriously since I was just dabbling at that point. I thought it might be all legal stuff, but I decided to do it just to see what I was getting myself into.

The first section was logic games. For me, the feeling was the same as if I would have casually breezed into an ancient languages class and sat down to take their final. After a period of blank staring, my brain kicked in and reminded me that I used to do similar types of logic puzzles in grade school. So, I started drawing crazy boxes and arrows and whatnot to try and figure it all out. The next sections didn’t fare much better but at least they were based upon English and not weird doodles or animals with their finicky rules. I somehow pulled a 150 out of it, back before I even knew the test was out of 180. I knew I probably wasn’t destined for Yale or Harvard, but with hard work I could attend my state school, which is Tier 1, and my mom works there so I get a huge discount.

Before really getting into studying, I took some time to gain experience and “maturity” since my undergrad GPA took a punch to the face early on after two years of failing incredibly hard at a mechanical engineering major, and then graduating in the completely random field of Regional Development. My poor, poor GPA, it never really recovered. It was just sort of on life support, hoping for a cure in the future. I told myself that cure would be a degree in something I actually care about.

I set about doing research and trying to decide whether to go to law school or, if all else failed, go for a master’s degree in psychology (mostly because it’s one of the only things I’m actually talented in, but I really seriously want to avoid doing it for a living). I’ve also always been somewhat of a history nerd, so upon doing some reading about the history of our legal system I got heavily into politics and law and started reading and writing about it almost religiously.

I talked to and read books by both current and former lawyers about their tireless hours spent on cases, but how that made a favorable outcome that much sweeter, and how those occasional big wins were really why they were lawyers in the first place. Just reading about this stuff got me so pumped up I actually started reading Supreme Court decisions and analyses of Constitutional interpretation. I included this here because, as they say, seriously make sure you want to go to law school before taking this test. After diving head first into the legal world and seeing it for real, I’m sure that I’m sure, and therefore why I’m studying to take the LSAT.

I was planning on going to one of those test prep companies and giving them a small fortune to turn my mind into an LSAT death laser and then everything would be easy. Instead of hard studying, it would be like an 80s montage where I look back at the end and smile, …or at least that’s what the prep companies want you to think.

In reality, it’s more like you throw money at them while they babysit you while you read their overpriced books, and they answer questions with information you can find right here on LSAT Blog. The day I found this blog, I had an epiphany, like when golden angels open up a magic door and they're singing all heavenly and show you the way and you’re like “F*** yeah! Let’s do this!”, except instead of angels and doors and curse words, it was the ability to study by yourself and save that small fortune to save for a new car. I stopped working and began studying. I was actually making progress. I mentally smashed through exo-atmospheric monkeys, crazy-colored dinosaurs, and factories to be toured in sequential weeks (that one isn’t so exciting). I was starting to see the matrix behind the test, I would conquer this after all!

Then, real life kicked back in. My car broke, I had to travel to attend a bunch of weddings, bills were piling up, our rent was upped, and well, I obviously needed a job. Luckily enough I was able to land one at my uncle’s jewelry store part time, although, through some interesting situations, I quickly became a manager working full time with a salary and all sorts of important responsibilities, but most important was my ability to actually have money for a new car.

As a result, paying the bills had become analogous to a big brother shoving its little brother named LSAT studying aside to make sure it gets the most attention. I was still studying somewhat at lunchtime and occasionally at work when I could. This took a couple of months to complete and my schedule was incredibly erratic, working ten hour days, six days a week around the Holiday (but obviously making bank). As a result of adjusting to my new schedule and all the other crazy stuff going on in my life, I was now in uncharted waters, off the study schedule and on my own to interpret what I needed to do.

I have been studying reading comp as of late and took my first practice test at 10pm one night. It was the first PrepTest in the LSAT SuperPrep. I should probably mention that I have extremely bad test anxiety (I hope no one else does, but if you do, know that I have it in spades, and so there’s at least one other person in this crapshoot with you). In fact, I get anxiety whenever any extremely time-sensitive event is occurring. My leg starts shaking and I try to do everything at an incredibly unreasonable pace. So taking this first test was also a diagnostic of myself, attempting to get rid of this rather stupid and horrendously stifling personality trait.

In fact, a lot of studying for the LSAT has consisted of ridding myself of bad habits and traits I had somehow accrued through the years and managed to somehow get by with. I call this process “becoming Super Dave” because that’s my name and, in order to succeed, I have to become a better version of myself. Any possible cybernetic implants and/or brainwashing aside, it was going to take hard work and dedication to do well.

Okay, that small digression aside, back to the practice test. I was obviously pretty tired starting it at 10pm after working all day, running errands and making dinner (crispy garlic and cracked pepper crusted white ruffy with marinated sweet onions and peppers sautéed in lemon and basil oil, oh snap!), which made the potential for anxiety worse, but created an ideal situation to force me to get it under control.

Every time I started reading too fast, I reminded myself to slow down to make sure I was reading every word. My leg began shaking crazily but stopped, took a breath and soldiered on. Another aspect of the anxiety is getting stuck on a question. I realized on a couple of questions that it had more than worn out its welcome in my mind and had to move on. I honestly think that once you have the information down, the most important thing is risk and time management. I was somehow able to drop it from my mind and move on.

Being that I just started studying reading comp, I notated well, but still was having trouble locating the evidence to answer main point and inference questions since I’ve never actually done a practice RC question. Logic games seemed to go decently well and I only had a brief problem figuring out how to set up the second game.

I thoroughly surprised myself however by finishing both logical reasoning sections with more than five minutes to spare. It was mind-blowing to me really, I kept expecting the timer to go off and scare the crap out of me. The real surprise came at the end, I only missed a few in each logical reasoning section, and although I didn’t get to the last logic game, I didn’t miss any questions from the first three. I also surprisingly didn’t completely blow the reading comp section.

I wound up with a 160, which I’m actually quite proud of considering everything I went through. At the end of logic games and reading comp, the only two I didn’t finish in time, I marked down what I would have put for the answers after the timer went off. After scoring the test I realized that I actually answered the last seven logic games questions correctly (meaning I would have aced the section), all I needed to do was work a little faster in order to get them all done in time.

Most of the questions I answered wrong were simple reading errors due to anxiety and a subsequent re-read made the correct answer obvious. If I would have gotten those questions right (LG and RC), it would have bumped my score up to a 170. Which goes to show how just simple adjustments can make such a huge impact on your score. I aim to score over 170 and looking at this has now made it apparent that it’s very possible. I think that between now and June, if I can remove most of my anxiety, work on time management and master the questions I’m still having problems with; I’ll be able to bump myself up to my target score area and show I’m a worthy candidate for law school.

Photo by bobaubuchon



5 comments:

  1. Good luck Dave, you remind me of myself a little bit. Im taking the June test as well, 170 here i come!

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  2. You are going to kill it Dave in June! Here's to you and all your hard work especially with life in the way :)

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  3. Good luck Dave! You're going to do great - so determined :) Inspiring!

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  4. The way I see it, if your capable of doing it once, then you should have no problems doing it again provided you follow the same principle you did the first time. In other words, good luck scoring a 170+.

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  5. Thank you everyone! I finally hit 170 this weekend, and I've been averaging 165 and above recently! I hope I can pump it up even more before test day!

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