Managing Test Anxiety on the LSAT and Beyond

Managing Test Anxiety on the LSAT and BeyondJulia Gourary, incoming 1L, discusses some ideas for managing test anxiety on any exam.

For me, tests have always been accompanied by anxiety: sweaty palms, racing heart, shallow breathing, stomachaches, you name it. It was a rare occurrence if I didn’t feel slightly ill before a big test. Over the years, from high school AP exams to the SAT to college midterms and finals, I’ve learned, if not to eliminate test anxiety, to better manage it.

When it came to the LSAT, which would have a big impact on my law school admissions chances, I knew I had to put all the strategies in my arsenal to work and maybe even develop some new ones. During my first attempt at the test, though, things went sideways in a way I never would have predicted (I was affected by the Great October 2021 Outage). Paradoxically, that experience helped my test anxiety: the worst had already happened, and I had come out the other side.

Managing test anxiety is all about focusing on controlling what you can so that you can be ready to tackle what you can’t control, from left-field questions to the test site crashing. Although I’ve conquered the LSAT, I know that I’ll have many important, anxiety-inducing exams in my future, from law school finals to the bar. If you’re like me and struggle with pre-test nerves, keep reading for strategies I’ve used to manage test anxiety on the LSAT and hope to continue to apply in law school.

Think of test-taking as a sport

An athlete works hard to train for a big game so that once they get out there, muscle memory takes over, and they can perform effortlessly. Similarly, when you prep for a test, you practice the skills you’ll need over and over so that when “game time” comes, you can click into the zone and simply execute what you’ve been rehearsing. That way, if something unexpected comes up, more of your brain space is freed up to tackle it. If you’ve done your job right, when you actually sit down to take the test, most of the hard work is already behind you.

Thinking of test-taking as a sport also helps you re-frame the test from a scary threat to a game to be won. If you’re going to law school, you probably have at least somewhat of a competitive streak, so think of a big exam as a challenge to be beat. Especially on the LSAT, which is designed to trip up test-takers, framing test-taking as a battle between me and the exam helped me feel less daunted and more energized. Like a competitor in a game, the test might try to trick you or make you second-guess yourself, but you can outsmart it.

Bring everything you need to be comfortable

When I took the SAT, I brought about ten number two pencils with me. Did I end up using all ten of those pencils? Definitely not. But I was nervous about my pencils getting dull or breaking, so having so many meant I had one less thing to worry about. Stress and anxiety take up space in your working memory, leaving you less mental space to work through problems on the test. So, if you can free up some of that mental space by bringing ten pencils, or whatever it is that will ease your mind that extra bit, why not do it?

When I took the LSAT, I brought several pencils, water, a charger, earplugs, tissues, and two different snack options. Having all those items with me, even though I did not use all of them, meant that I could let go of worries about my computer running out of power or the test room being noisy or having a sudden sneeze attack (hey, it could happen!) and focus on doing my best.

Make time for a burst of exercise before the test

In those final moments before a test, cramming probably won’t help you, so the best thing you can do is find ways to reduce your anxiety. There are lots of studies and articles out there touting the benefits of exercise for lowering anxiety and boosting performance (see our article on exercise as an exam stress-buster). I’ve personally found, that in moments of high anxiety, physical repetitive movement, like walking, helps calm my mind and give it something to focus on besides the upcoming stressful event.

With that in mind, before my LSAT, I took a short walk around campus. Seeing how much it helped channel my nervous energy into something besides stressing, I will definitely continue to make time for a quick, brisk walk before tests.

Make a plan to reward yourself!

Planning a post-test reward not only gives you something to look forward to for when the test is over, but it also reminds you that your current state is temporary and short-lived in the grand scheme of things. For my post-LSAT reward, I planned to get lunch with a friend at one of my favorite campus cafés. Knowing that very soon I would be finished with the test and eating delicious food helped me get through the tough moments of pre-test anticipation.

While I know I probably won’t ever be completely calm before a test, with these strategies I feel confident that I’ll be able to manage my test anxiety during those infamous law school exams.

Want more tips on test-taking under pressure? Check these out:


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About Julia Gourary

Julia is a 2L at NYU School of Law. She received her B.A. in Art History from Yale University, where she graduated magna cum laude in December 2021. In addition to writing for Law School Toolbox, she currently works as an LSAT tutor. In her spare time, she enjoys reading novels, doing yoga, and binge-watching reality TV.

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