Achieving the Right Mindset for Test Day Success
The following is based on my 20+ years of experience working with LSAT and GMAT students and my long interest in neuroscience. I suppose the fact that my parents are retired psychotherapists doesn’t hurt (my claim to fame: threw a temper tantrum when I was a toddler and socked Erik Erickson - cofounder of child psychoanalysis - right in the shin).
The guiding principle of this post: behavior affects mindset more than mindset affects behavior.
The most obvious example is a healthy lifestyle. Eating and sleeping right, exercising, and getting outside in greenery(!) are all essential elements of creating the best mindset. So before anything else, gotta get all four of those done.
That being said, those with a serious depressive mindset will have great difficulty in doing the above. In other words, not suggesting that mindset contributes nothing to behavior, rather that behavior is a greater influence than mindset.
The latest in neuroscience is that the brain is far more analogous to the body than previously believed. More specifically, stress can be healthy (shocker, I know) - but it has to be the right kind.
The right kind: going for a run, which raises is one’s heart rate.
The wrong kind: smoking a cigarette, which also raises one’s heart rate.
The right kind: going for 3 mile run five days a week, 52 weeks a year.
The wrong kind: going for a 15 mile run seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
The point of the above is to illustrate the weirdness of stress when it comes to the physical body. I would imagine things get even weirder when it comes to the brain.
This leads to a fascinating study actually done in my hometown, about what intensive LSAT prep does to the human brain. The key phrase here is not just “LSAT prep”, but “intensive LSAT prep”. These folks went through a lot of stress for the study.
The second link is to demonstrate how less stressful activities don’t really help with deeper structures within the brain.
The point? The old trope “it’s supposed to be difficult” takes on new meaning.
Moving forward, look at the LSAT like the gym (or track, pool, music room, or any job/project where you busted your ass to be your best self). Creating a faster and stronger body is inevitably an unpleasant experience. The same goes for creating a faster and stronger brain.
Look to embrace the chaos. Whenever you feel yourself losing focus, consciously redouble your efforts. Don’t let stupid words on the page get the better of you. Imagine punching the LSAT square in the face, aiming for the back of its head.
The pain and stress of working through LSAT material will never go away. You will become used to it though.
Of course, the problem of long-term (wrong) stress is very real. The overall specter of the LSAT and the profound effect it can have on people’s lives can be quite unhealthy. A few ways to deal with this.
(1) Make LSAT study the third unavoidable thing in your life from which there is no escape - the other two: getting out of bed in the morning and going to sleep at night.
Specifically: 7 days a week, under all circumstances, sit down at your desk, open your LSAT material, and do at least 20 minutes of work.
Quite often, you might just do 20 minutes, can’t stand it anymore, and then you’re done. More often, though, you’ll realize that whatever else you had planned is stupid and that you have real work to do.
Creating this habit will make your brain realize that it has no choice in the matter and that complaining will do no good.
(2) Review review review review. And then review more because you haven’t done enough yet. Not talking about wrong answer journals. Talking about reviewing every question.
Think about how to get the answer more quickly next time. Think about how you would teach these questions to an LSAT newbie. Some amazing patterns exist on this test, but they only reveal themselves through this type of study.
Quoting Bruce Lee: “I fear you’re not the man who has practiced 10,000 different kicks. I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”.
Methinks the second guy has the confidence to kick straight through a brick wall…
Finally, it’s time to start acting like the professional you aspire to be. Lawyers can easily have more influence over peoples lives than doctors. Most often, when someone needs a lawyer, that’s a very bad thing for them. It’s up to you to put them at ease.
Everyone has crazy things going on in their life. But being professional means putting that aside and doing what’s right because you said you would. While everyone else is freaking out, remain cool, calm and confident, regardless of how you feel inside. Because that’s what professionals do.
This also means taking personal time when it’s in fact personal time. Venting one’s anxiety and frustration can be a healthy and necessary thing. But you gotta compartmentalize that shit, otherwise it takes over your life.
In the end, remember that the LSAT is like Henry Hill from Good Fellas. And here’s how it actually feels about you:
“Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. Oh, place had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me.”
So what are you gonna do about it?