Test day advice from a 99th percentile scorer

Here are some pointers for the test day, and what you can expect when you get to the test center:

1)     Don’t expect to get started right away. Orchestrating such a large scale test involves a lot of logistics, sign-ins, seat assigning, and distribution of paper-work. While it varies between test centers, you can expect to bubble your first answer no sooner than an hour after arriving, often closer to two. If you’re prone to anxiety, plan accordingly, no need to panic in the parking lot.

2)     Don’t talk to people at the test center. The check-in line is a social experience for some. You’ll be standing with your comrades waiting to sign in for a considerable amount of time. People will want to exchange tips, or talk about “how important this test is”. You’re not obligated to participate in this conversation. You’ll often hear erroneous information and bad advice, at best you’ll just get stressed out. Stay in your zone, avoid the chatter.

3)     Have the right attitude: This is just another practice test (you have been taking those right?). This mentality is key! The reality is that adrenaline is a wonderful thing for many situations, fleeing a bear perhaps, but its not your friend on a test. Panic is bad, it clouds your judgment, and this is a test of reasoning. Realize that you’ve done this before, now you’re doing it in a different room, that is all that is happening. Bring on the next practice test.

4)     DON’T CHANGE YOUR STRATEGY. This was capitalized for a reason, it’s very important. A great many students react to their panic by reverting to bad test taking habits. When under the pressure of the real test, remember you studied for a reason, to get better. Trust your strategy. This isn’t the time to try something new, to innovate a new game-plan, or to go back to what you did on your first practice test.

5)     Don’t rush. One of the main reasons you took practice tests was to refine your timing, but of all the aspects of a real LSAT administration, timing is among those that most feel blurry. Often students fear running out of time and rush early in the section. This results in occasionally missing some of the easiest questions on the test. The best way to prevent this is to think of some benchmarks you’ve been using. If you find yourself beating your typical speed, slow down a little. Speed is important, but accuracy is everything.

6)     Each question is its own battle. Odds are you’ll get something wrong, nearly all do. That’s perfectly acceptable. What’s not acceptable is letting it carry over to the next question. You can lose some battles and still win the war. Don’t have any idea what this question is about, so be it! Bring on the next one. Remember, you can usually get two questions wrong and still get a 180, cut yourself a break if you get blanked and be mentally ready to crush the next question.

7)     Trust the curve, trust the experimental. Almost every test has a “curve-setter” section. That one section that is harder than the rest, occasionally its an impossible logic game, sometimes its an incomprehensible passage in Reading Comp. If you find yourself battered by an impossible game four, fear not, you will be compensated extra points for that odd-ball. If you’ve self-graded your prep-tests, you will have discovered generous curves and easier-than-usual other sections on tests with a particularly hard logic game. The test is designed to give you a comparable score across tests. You won’t do worse because you perceive the test as harder than usual, trust that the forces behind the test will reward you in that scenario.

8)     Don’t chat on the break. Much like the line before the test, people will use to the break to attempt to deduce the experimental section, to chat to calm themselves down, or occasionally to shed tears while stuffing granola bars in their face. You’re not obligated to participate in this awkward exchange. You’re in the zone, so stay there! Friendly banter is fine, but when someone starts talking about how hard section two was, walk away. You have two more sections to take, this should be a time for reassurance and confidence, not reflection and worrying.

You may have noticed all of these pointers are about keeping your cool. The prep-work tends to build up pressure. That pressure is a great motivator to study, but often causes huge anxiety problems on actual administrations of the test. You would be amazed how many people say “I plan on scoring ‘x’” on test day and then say “I didn’t come close to ‘x’ because I panicked.” Stay calm and you won’t be one of those people!