Even for law school applicants untroubled by test anxiety, test day is never going to go as smoothly as a practice test.
Test-takers must prepare for test-day challenges, whether they choose to take the LSAT from the comfort of home or at a dedicated testing facility with staff available if something goes awry.
Mental preparation starts in the week before the LSAT, when your body chemistry starts to shift in anticipation of the stress ahead. But on test day itself, nervous energy may send your brain into overdrive. Stay on track by following this advice:
- Start right.
- Follow instructions carefully.
- Anticipate problems.
- Quiet your doubts.
It can be difficult to sleep the night before the test, so budget plenty of time for morning routines to feel ready, centered and attentive. Eat a healthy, protein-packed breakfast and hydrate a couple of hours before the test starts.
If you’re taking the test at home, check that your computer and internet connection are working properly and disable any notifications or alarms. Ensure your space is clean, uncluttered and fully equipped. Adjust the temperature and lighting.
Outside of the test room, lay out the snacks and drinks you might want during the break. The LSAT is exhausting, and it is important to refuel and rehydrate during the 10-minute break.
If you’re taking the test in person, pack according to the guidelines provided and leave yourself plenty of time to get to your test center.
Follow Instructions Carefully
Whether you take the test at home or at a testing center, there are strict regulations about what you can have with you. You’re allowed five blank sheets of scratch paper, your identification, standard writing utensils, tissues, soft earplugs, a small beverage and a few other things. More specific information is available on the website of the Law School Admission Council, or LSAC, which governs the test.
Make sure your web camera has a full view of your face and the room as you take the test. The proctor may interrupt the test if you move your head out of frame, so ensure everything you need is within reach and in view of the webcam.
Note that anti-cheating measures prohibit several things that may not have crossed your mind, such as wearing a smartwatch or fitness tracker, talking to yourself or keeping any scratch paper from the test.
So, read all instructions carefully, because accidentally violating a rule would be a frustrating reason to delay your test result or even have your test cancelled.
In early fall 2023, LSAT test-takers were bedeviled by a host of testing issues: missing proctors, overtaxed technical support help lines and testing facilities in poor condition. Complaints embarrassed the LSAC at a time of rising demand for LSAT alternatives, beyond the GRE.
While LSAC works to iron out these issues, test-takers should practice self-reliance and be ready for bumps in the road.
Think ahead about how you will react if something goes wrong. What if you have a technical issue? What if your proctor acts inconsistently or distractingly? What if you have to restart your test?
In the case of serious issues, the LSAC will allow you to cancel the test and retake it free of charge, but this is hardly an ideal solution. Rather than panic and give up, be proactive and resilient.
Losing a few minutes on the test or being interrupted by a proctor will not ruin your test, unless you let it ruin your test.
Likewise, be ready for distractions outside of your control, like passing traffic, nearby conversations, or landscaping or construction noises. Acclimate yourself to using earplugs as necessary, and do your best to block out noise.
Quiet Your Doubts
Perhaps the noisiest distraction during the test is the chatter in your brain. Under pressure, your mind may generate all kinds of impulsive thoughts, as your fight-or-flight instincts kick in.
Often, test-takers experience three kinds of doubts.
First, no matter how confident you feel, you are likely to get hung up on difficult problems. For example, you may feel decision paralysis choosing between similar answer choices.
Stay alert for these times. Either slow down and find a new way forward or flag the question and move on. It’s important to stay on pace, and you can always return to flagged questions once you reach the end of the section.
Second, you may have broader doubts about your preparedness or performance on the test. Rather than suppress such thoughts, stop them from spiraling out of control. Trust your preparation. Remind yourself of evidence for your success, like your performance on past practice tests that felt uncertain at the time.
Third, you may have moments of panic or dread, when the test feels hopeless. Stop yourself, take a deep breath and think of one step that you can take in the next moment to improve your score.
Can you diagram the reasoning? Can you knock out an answer choice? Like a marathon runner eyeing the next hill without thinking of the miles left to go, try to stay focused on the task ahead, not the whole test.
Remember that the LSAT is designed to be high-pressure, just like the practice of law. There is no way to avoid stress altogether, but successful test-takers manage their minds instead of getting derailed.
Keep your focus, energy level and spirits high. Whatever happens, you can always retake the test.