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Occlumency for LSAT, Law School, and the Bar Exam

Test-Taking Distractions Don’t Always Come from the Outside

In recent articles, the external distractions that can from from a testing center facility or a proctor have been discussed.  But these distractions can be relatively easy to handle compared to the distractions that come from within one’s own mind.

Clearing and Closing Your Mind:  Occlumency for LSAT, Law School, and the Bar Exam

Internal sources of distractions include several different types of worry, such as:

loose ends: the test-taker can’t concentrate during a part of the test because anxieties about not having paid the rent, not watered the plants, or not made travel or lodging arrangments
underpreparation remorse: as the test begins, the test-taker is overcome with regret about not having practiced and studied more
personal baggage:  the test-taker has under-performed on some previous test and believes that there’s something inherently “wrong” with him or her that will doom him or her to failure on the present test
habitual self-denigration: some test-takers have a more generalized form of baggage in which they have become perpetual—and vicious—critics of themselves, telling themselves they are dumb, a failure, a loser almost constantly; these antagonistic voices and messages can reach a debilitating pitch when a difficult task requiring a lot of concentration—such as the LSAT, a law school essay, or the MBE—is at hand

One part of the solution to all of the above distractions is essentially a real-world version of  “occlumency,” a form of magic resistance from the Harry Potter fantasy book and movie series.  Wizards in the Harry Potter world are taught to block others out of their minds rather than let their thoughts be meddles with.  Test-takers need to do the same, i.e., to treat all of the above distracting thoughts as though they were just little “curses” or “spells” that are being cast against you in order to take you away from your work.  Dispense with them accordingly.

Not Easy, But Worth It

Building up this mental resistance to distraction is easier said than done.  But the first step is recognizing that each of the above mental distractions is counter-productive.

Each one of these thoughts takes points out of final score by burning up your time and diluting your focus.  These thoughts are not friends, not teaching you valuable lessons, not helping you to develop a stronger character or to be responsible.  They’re just undermining your abilities and hurting your scores.  They are, in short, point stealers.

As such, they are not worth one moment of your time or one heartbeat’s worth of emotional energy on test day.

Testing Centers: Some Warnings

Things Go Wrong that Are Not within a Student’s Control

As discussed in a recent article about LSAT time warnings and bar exam time warnings, test preparation companies have a commercial incentive to ensure that things go smoothly for students.  But this admirable work by test prep companies can be misleading for LSAT students, bar exam students, and other people preparing for standardized tests. Many things can and do go wrong on test day that have nothing to do with the test-takers themselves, and shielding students from these difficulties may give students a false sense of security.

Test Centers

Just as proctors can have issues, the physical testing facilities and the providers of these facilities can also give rise to extra-test problems.  Such difficulties include:

– test center is too hot, too cold
– test center has bad desks or chairs (e.g., unstable, too small)
– test center has to change rooms and relocate students at last minute
– test center is very close to an external noise source (e.g., nearby construction, a noisy convention event)
– test center causes other ambient distractions and discomforts (e.g., mildewy)

The Answer:  Practice Being Unflappable

Taking the bar exam, LSAT, MPRE, or a law school exam is tough enough without the addition of such external obstacles.  Such obstacles are particularly disturbing when they are unique to one test-taker or a small group of test-takers rather than presented to everyone.

But getting upset doesn’t do any good.  No one gets extra credit for having had to endure unfortunate testing conditions.

Part of effective preparation is, therefore, developing an unflappable mindset.  Resolve that, no matter what surprises come your way on test day, you will waste no mental cycles on or offer any emotional resistance to these difficulties.  Treat all such distractions as part of the test itself.

 

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More about Proctors

More Dangers of Practicing with Good Proctors

Practice and diagnostic testing is an important part of preparation for the LSAT, bar exam, and other standardized tests.  Being able to perform during test-day conditions is, of course, crucial, and experiencing multiple rounds of “dress rehearsal” helps to improve such performance.

Test preparation companies, meanwhile, naturally want to impress their students by hiring proctors for practice tests who are dependably punctual, friendly, and otherwise professional.

Unfortunately, this habit may be good for a test preparation company’s image, but it’s not good for students.

Test-Day Troubles

The reality is that, on the day of the actual test, the proctor you get may not be at all like the proctor with whom you practiced.  LEX students routinely report proctor-related disruptions on the day of the actual LSAT or bar exam.  Some such problems include:

– hostile proctor who had a verbal argument during or immediately before the time the LSAT or bar exam clock was running
– late proctor who kept students waiting for the start of or return to the test
– proctor who smelled like smoke
– disorganized proctor who bumbled logistics of the test
– forgetful proctor who did not provide one (or more) of the time warnings upon which students tend to rely

At LEX, we half-jokingly tell students that test preparation companies should instruct their proctors to do everything wrong—or should simply hire people who are not able to handle the basic tasks of proctors, thereby ensuring that one or more of the above problems will arise.  Such a practicing environment would prepare students more fully than does an atmosphere in which everything runs smoothly.

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Test-Taking Mandatory “Tip”: Do Not Count on Time Warnings

The Dangers of Time Warnings

Many test preparation companies—whether for the LSAT, bar exam, or other standardized test—provide proctors who call out or write on the board how much time is left in a given section of the test.  These proctors are a pretty standard part of the landscape for diagnostic tests and timed practice exams. Unfortunately, students tend to learn to rely on these warnings, and that’s dangerous, because there might be no such warning on test day.

Thus, while professionalism may argue in favor of test prep companies providing this service, students must heed the following advice.

On the actual day of the test—LSAT, bar exam, MPRE, SAT, or whatever—, you cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot rely upon the test proctors to keep track of time for you.

If these employees of the given test-maker make a mistake and forget to warn you that there are “five minutes remaining” or “thirty seconds remaining,” you will get no sympathy from the test-makers themselves.  In other words, you will not be able to get additional points on the test for this oversight.

The Bottom Line

If you lose points that you could have gotten if you’d been apprised of the time remaining, those points are lost for good.  Don’t take that risk.  ALWAYS keep track of the time yourself, and be sure to get in the habit of doing so by practicing accordingly.