Guest blogger: Jonathan Gliboff, L1 at Columbia Law School
The first time I took the LSAT in October of 2020, I received a 166. One month later, I sat for the exam and scored a 177. People are usually shocked when I tell them of my 11-point score increase. I’ve been asked many times how I crammed that much progress into just a few weeks, or if I discovered some type of LSAT secret. However, the truth might surprise you.
I was a victim of severe test day nerves and burnout. Coming up to the test the first time, I had convinced myself that I really wanted to achieve my goal score in only one take, and that I needed to work myself as hard as I could. I was taking up to two full length practice tests a day, with several timed sections as well. By the time I got to the test, I was utterly exhausted. On top of that, the pressure I put on myself was just unhealthy. The night before the test I was so nervous I couldn’t get to sleep until four in the morning, and I woke up feeling like I had not slept at all. I only became more nervous when I decided to do some warmup problems an hour before the test. I opened a practice exam I had done a couple of times before, and I did the first few problems of each section. Despite having seen these questions before, I ended up getting several of them wrong. The fact that I was missing questions on a warmup put me in full swing panic mode. When I actually got to answering the real questions, I felt like I couldn’t think straight, my timing was off, and I didn’t finish a single section on time.
When I finally got my score back, I knew I needed to take a different approach. Obviously, I was prone to test day nerves and burnout, so in the weeks I had left, I decided to dedicate my time to making sure I was both in peak mental shape and ready to handle the nerves. Even though I still practiced each day, I paced myself to allow for proper recovery time. I also realized that I wanted to be as confident on my practice tests as I was during the real test, and in order to do that, I started doing my practices in as real test day conditions as I could manage.
Two days before the test, I took this to the extreme. I went to sleep at the same time I would the night before the real exam, woke up at the same time, ate the same breakfast at the same time, drank the same coffee at the same time, and did the same warm up at the same time. As it turned out, I even scored the same way that day as I did on test day.
I am by no means recommending you replicate your test day conditions in the same way I did, nor am I telling you that your score on a practice test two days before is indicative of your ability. The big takeaway from all of this was I worked to eliminate obstacles I had outside of the questions themselves in a way that worked for me. When I sat for November, it felt like just another practice test, and I felt confident that after months of studying, there was nothing the LSAT could throw at me that I was prepared to overcome.
Dipping in performance on a first take is normal as it’s hard to not feel the nerves when the stakes are this high. However, no matter how you felt the first time taking the exam, it is important to go into the test confident that you have what it takes to do your best. If it wasn’t for that, who knows if I would have ended up with my dream result.
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