For today’s post we brought in recently licensed marriage and family therapist Megan Riley to share her thoughts on controlling test day anxiety.
When you’re anxious, your body secretes adrenaline. It’s a super basic human response that you’ve probably heard about as the fight-or-flight response. It’s only really helpful though if you are, say, getting ready to fight off a predator. The problem is, there aren’t a whole lot of pouncing mountain lions in LSAT study.
In fact, adrenaline, while wonderful for various physically demanding or life-threatening situations, isn’t so great for taking a test of standardized logic. One reason is that adrenaline tends to make people “unmindful.” If you’ve ever experienced a feeling of floating where you’re reading words on the screen or paper and not feeling like you’re processing or comprehending them at all, you know what I’m talking about. That’s adrenaline getting you ready to fight off the not-really-there predator and taking you away from the task at hand and your focus on what you are doing.
So, you don’t want to be secreting adrenaline if you are sitting down to take a practice test or, more importantly, the LSAT itself. Below are three techniques you can practice now and on test day to help defuse adrenaline rushes.
The best way to stop adrenaline rushes is to slow your breathing. Do this consciously, counting to four while you breathe in and to five while you breathe out. Do this until you notice a difference in your bodily sensations, as if you can “feel” yourself more, as if you’re more in your skin. This means you’ve slowed the secretion of adrenaline. Practice this before each LSAT-related activity you do between now and the test, and plan to do it on test day should the need arise.
Butt, Breathe, Begin
You can also employ a three-word technique charmingly entitled “Butt, Breathe, Begin” (BBB). No, it’s not the opening scene of a salacious movie. Rather, it’s a great technique to ground yourself when adrenalin-fueled “un-mindfulness” sets in.
Here’s how to do it:
Sit back in your chair with your feet on the floor. Take a moment to really feel your butt where it is touching the chair. Focus your attention on this pressure. Then take a big breath, again in to the count of four and out to the count of five. And begin…
Simple, I know, but this is an incredibly helpful way to bring you back out of your adrenaline-y brain and into what you are doing. I recommend you use BBB after your deep breaths before the exam and as much as fifteen to twenty minutes during the exam.
But won’t that take time away from taking the LSAT? you ask. Particularly on a timed test, you may think it doesn’t make sense to take time away from answering questions.
What this fails to acknowledge is that our brains get tired. And when that happens, we often don’t breathe well. Throw in some adrenaline to further muddle focus and suddenly the test isn’t going well at all. Taking a few seconds to refocus can actually result in more attention, not less.
If you’re a skeptic, do a practice exam with BBB and one without to see if it works for you.
I once attended a class on anxiety and was surrounded by people with phobias and fears of all kinds. I’ll never forget the first thing the group leader said because it was the most counter-intuitive thing to me. She actually told the group – in which fear and anxiety was overwhelmingly palpable — to worry! Huh?
What she later explained was that people get so wrapped up in avoiding their anxieties and worries that they actually cause them to grow with avoidance. It’s like when someone says to you, “Don’t think about pink polar bears,” and all of a sudden you can’t get pink polar bears out of your mind.
So, what does this mean for you in the final days before the LSAT? Set aside time to worry. It’s okay to worry! In fact, it’s much healthier to allow yourself time to worry than to try to ignore the feelings and thoughts you may be having. The key here is to allow yourself a set amount of time. Set aside two or three minutes once or twice a day to worry. Stick to the amount of time you have set aside, and don’t give it more than its allotted time. If you find yourself worrying outside of this time frame, tell yourself you have time set aside for that tomorrow, and do your worrying then.
So breathe, BBB, and worry (in appropriate increments!) and kick some ass next Saturday.