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LSAT Anxiety: tips and tricks to immediately boost your score.

Taking the LSAT (or GRE or any standardized test) can be a very stressful and anxiety-inducing event. It is the moment of performance where you finally confront the exam on the exam’s terms. 

No longer are you in your most comfortable surroundings, in your pajamas, with a nice cup of coffee next to you. Instead, you had to clear your room, record it to be inspected (creepy!) and are now having your every move watched by a stranger (re: the proctor). To make matters worse, application outcomes often depend greatly on your LSAT performance, only adding to the pressure to perform. 

It is the anxiety of the performance itself, not necessarily the test, that often is what keeps test takers from reaching their full potential. So how do you overcome LSAT anxiety?

This article aims to identify a few of the most common sources of stress and proven steps on how to overcome that LSAT anxiety.

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What Produces LSAT Anxiety? 

The most common sources of LSAT testing anxiety are (1) outcome-based thinking, (2) imposter syndrome—feeling unprepared regardless of actual preparation, and (3) the physical environment one takes the LSAT in. Let’s talk about each. 

1. Outcome-based thinking 

Outcome-based thinking can be defined in several ways, but this article will focus on the definition where a person is hyper focused on all the possible outcomes of an event, which then hinders their actual performance on the event. In LSAT terms, outcome-based thinking might look like being overly focused on what score you’re going to get, or what your performance will mean for your admissions outcome. 

Outcome-based thinking is a common phenomenon not only in test-taking, but in anything that requires some level of performance—such as sporting events, public speaking, or even traveling (like waiting in a security line wondering if you will make your flight). To use a sports example, think about a tennis player who is about to play in an important match against a higher-ranked opponent. Winning that match will have a real, meaningful impact on the tennis player’s career. 

Now, let’s imagine two different versions of that tennis player during the match. In one version, the tennis player is thinking about winning the match and how important it is to win in order to move up ranking and improve her professional career, likely causing her to be distracted and have high levels of stress or anxiety. In another version, the tennis player is thinking only about the keys to performance in the match as they are happening—serving well, hitting good return shots, etc.—instead of focusing on the outcome of the match.

Which of the two versions of our tennis player do you think will likely perform worse once the match starts? 

In my experience, it is the tennis player focused on outcomes, rather than the individual performance actions, that will perform worse. I know this phenomenon too well. When I was an active college and professional athlete, the moments in games where I was more worried about the outcome of either the game or my own performance, I would inevitably tighten up, react slower, and perform worse. But not only did this happen on the playing field, it happened to me when I took the LSAT.

I took the LSAT three times. The first two times, I worried that I would not score high-enough to get into my top choice law schools. I was a ball of anxiety.

What if I don’t get a 165?

What if I only get a 162 instead?

What schools will I be able to get into with X or Y score?

Is my score going to be too low to get into my dream law school? 

All I could focus on was the outcome—here, the score—as well as the implications for that outcome—the school. This type of thinking led to me feel more physically stressed, have higher levels of anxiety, not concentrate as well, become more physically uncomfortable, and produce lower scores on the test than I had been practicing.

It was not until I was able to let go of the outcome-based thinking and just purely focus on the moment at hand did I finally score above 170.

And it is not just my personal experiences on a playing field or in the testing room that supports this. There is a wealth of literature confirming that higher levels of stress or anxiety during a performance event will lead to slower reaction times, more tension in muscles, and worse performance outcomes. And a Harvard research team confirmed that stress does indeed affect students’ test scores.

So many students I have worked with all have experienced similar situations  as I did when taking the LSAT. The good news is that the stress and anxiety one feels because of outcome-based thinking on the LSAT can be improved, leading to a higher official LSAT score! Below, I’ll share my favorite strategies to overcome outcome base thinking and overcome LSAT anxiety once and for all.

2. Imposter syndrome: feeling unprepared 

Another common issue many LSAT-test takers face is feeling unprepared on test-day.

I remember when I walked into the testing room for my first LSAT, I felt completely unprepared for the test even though I had spent several months practicing and preparing for the LSAT, and had felt fairly confident up until that moment. It was like a wave of stress and anxiety that hit me the moment I walked into the testing room to check in. While I felt this sort of imposter syndrome most strongly on test-day, many feel this in the days before the test, often while trying to fall asleep the night before the test.

Now, this feeling is an emotional response to the stress of test-day and almost every test-taker faces it. When confronted with having to perform an inherently stressful task, such as by taking the LSAT, test-takers often start questioning their preparation.

Did I do enough?

What if I get a hard logic games section?

The downside to these thoughts and this emotional reaction is that it can directly harm performance—you will be more distracted, nervous, and your levels of stress and anxiety increase. The good news is that just as these thoughts and emotions can flood in, you can choose to not give them credence. Below I’ll talk about the best way to do this.

3. The testing environment 

Finally, the testing environment is a huge source of stress and anxiety for LSAT takers. 

I often hear from test-takers that they scored five or more points lower on the LSAT during the “real” test then their practice tests. I know my own performance was like that. The most common reason for such a drop? The difference in environment. 

Whether it is taking the LSAT or a sporting event, any performance requires the test-taker to encounter a specific environment that is usually different than their practice, and often is also physically uncomfortable. Even if you’re taking the LSAT-flex, you are still in a new environment: like having a proctor watching you closely the entire test time, being restricted in how you can move, etc. This is just like a basketball player playing in different stadiums or a singer performing on different stages rather than in the practice gym or home studio.

Even with these circumstances, there are two categorically proven tips to help increase LSAT performance while reducing stress and anxiety we experience when faced with test-day: (1) practicing in situations as similar as possible to the real event, and (2) visualizing that event.

One great place to start if you are interested in more research is to check out Mind Gym: an Athlete’s Guide to Inner ExcellenceThis book is an invaluable tool to start understanding the relationship between practice, performance, and visualization. It has personally served me extremely well both in my athletic and academic endeavors.

Now let’s dive into these proven tips to overcome LSAT anxiety and increase your LSAT performance.

Tips & Tricks to Boost Your LSAT Score: Without extra studying 

1. Focus on the task immediately in front of you

There are two effective ways to help reduce the stress and anxiety of outcome-based thinking on the LSAT that can directly improve your score. First, by understanding the differences between setting goals and hyper-focusing on outcomes. Second, by focusing on the preparation itself, rather than any future performance. 

Understanding the differences between setting goals and unnecessary outcome-based thinking as I have described is critically important in helping prevent unnecessary testing-related stress and anxiety. In preparing for the LSAT, it is only natural to set a goal score or score-range. Maybe you really want to go to a specific school and know their median LSAT score is a 160, or your goal is to get a perfect 180.

Whatever your goal, it is important to put proper space between the goal and the added stress or anxiety on focusing on the implications of whether you achieve that goal.

A goal is a useful measuring stick for practicing, studying, and motivation, but when your thinking creeps into the realm of what will happen if I get X or Y, you are adding unnecessary stress and anxiety—stress and anxiety that will actually impede your goals. By not focusing on the possible outcomes, you are likely to reduce your stress and anxiety both while preparing for the LSAT, and also during test day.

Second, before test-day rolls around, it is important to focus on your LSAT preparation, rather than your performance on test-day. To use another sports reference, you may hear some athletes that just “truly love the process” of practice, rather than on whether they will be the next MVP of their sport. This is a useful analogy for LSAT preparation: focusing on your practice by improving those applicable skills—such as getting better at logic games or working on your speed of answering questions—is way more important than any energy spent focused on outcomes.

Now, it is unrealistic, if not impossible, to completely avoid considering outcomes and what the LSAT means for your future admissions chances. But by understanding when you might be starting to have outcome-based thoughts that are adding stress and anxiety to your preparation or test-day performance, you can remind yourself to focus on your preparation and you will perform better with less stress, anxiety, and more mental focus than before!

 2. Be your own cheerleader: constantly remind yourself of your efforts

Overcoming your own imposter syndrome requires a lot of awareness and self-cheerleading. 

The simple answer to not giving your thoughts of being unprepared credence is: to be confident in your preparation.

That is all well and good, but how do you just magically make yourself confident?

The simple trick is to constantly remind yourself, when you are feeling stressed and anxious, about all the work and time you put in. Think about those moments where you were focused on studying and the accumulation of that time and effort.

It’s a similar practice to meditation where every time your mind wanders, you just bring it back to your breath. Similarly, here every time you notice yourself thinking you are not prepared or you could do more to prepare, bring yourself back to the task at hand and remind yourself of all you have done. 

Don’t let yourself be thrown off by temporary stress, panic, or anxiety, but rather refocus mentally on what you did to get there, rather than throwing that out the window. By focusing specifically on those moments in your mind, you can remind yourself of your preparation and the confidence that comes with that preparation. 

Take a moment, breathe, and just think. You’ve done the work. Trust yourself. 

3. Practice under “real” testing conditions 

As you have been preparing to take the LSAT, you have probably heard tips about practicing under “real testing conditions”. This might mean practicing in a noisy section of the library or listening to a sound mix that is full of distracting sounds, like a proctor walking around (here is one excellent version I have used myself, which is a fully customizable and worth checking out). 

Another good practice option is to only use an analog watch, and not use your phone, digital watch, or computer to time sections. These are examples of trying to bring your practice experiences closer to the actual circumstances of test day, and should be done as much as possible in your practice.

The closer you can get to being able to practice and study while facing either similar circumstances to test-day, or at least circumstances that make you more uncomfortable than a comfortable location for you already, the better chances you have of increasing your performance and score on test-day. 

At a minimum, you will have increased confidence in your ability to adapt and perform when you practice and study for the LSAT in different environments. The more you make yourself uncomfortable in different environments, the more you will get comfortable in the uncomfortable, and the more comfortable you will be during the actual LSAT.

4. Use visualization for success

In addition, visualization is a great tool, especially if you might not have many options to practice in different environments (whether due to COVID, work or school schedule, or any other reason). For purposes here, visualization is when you imagine a specific event and time while away from that event. Gary Mack does a much more excellent job in setting out what visualization means in his book Mind Gym, another reason to check it out! 

For this tip, that means imagining taking the LSAT and imagining the surrounding environment in as much detail as possible from the comfort of your chair, couch, bed, etc. The goal is to close your eyes, feel relaxed, and then actively start imagining the testing room, the feeling of the mouse or pencil in your hand, the clock on the wall, the proctor, and everything else you can imagine.

The more you can mentally picture in your mind (whether it is the actual room you will take the test in or not), the more your body and mind become comfortable with that scenario and the related stress and anxiety. The key to making this practice effective is two-fold: (1) to be as visually specific as possible in your mind, and (2) to feel the emotions you might feel during the event. 

First, try to specifically picture a testing room in your mind. The computers, the proctor, the clock on the wall. Basically, set the stage! Then try to think about the stress and excitement you might feel (or already have before) while you walk into the testing room. The adrenaline spiking, your heart rate increasing, your mind racing. Try to really embody those feelings and visuals in your mind. The more you practice this, the more comfortable you will be on test-day. You can practice whenever you have a few quiet moments to yourself, or even better, right before you test a practice exam! 

Second, if you can replicate as close as possible both the physical (like clicking on the correct answer) as well as the mental and emotional responses you will face come test day, the better your performance likely will be. I personally have used this approach with several test-takers, including myself, and I would report this is by and far the best approach in increasing practice, and test-day, performance and scores!

Ultimately, taking the LSAT is a stressful event for everyone. Yet, performance on the LSAT can swing widely based not on someone’s intelligence or preparation, but by controlling for stress and anxiety in as many ways as possible. The test-taker who is more relaxed and confident will perform better than that same person who is more anxious and stressed.

And if you ever want more personalized advice on how to reduce your anxiety, I offer one-on-one LSAT Accelerator trainings. My clients have boosted their official LSAT scores up to ten points by simply implementing anxiety-reducing tactics. It really is that powerful. 

Best of luck on your next test. I know you are going to do great!


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Hope you enjoy this blog post! Want to know how to use the power of your personal statement to get into your dream law school, even if you aren’t the “perfect” applicant?

Mara has helped countless law school applicants get into their dream law schools, even without a perfect GPA, the highest LSAT score, or most unique story. Mara used to be a litigator at one of the top law firms in the world and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School as a prestigious Toll Public Interest Scholar.

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