LSAT performance curve #3: the “roller coaster”

As discussed in the first two articles of this series, LSAT performance can sometimes follow certain predictable patterns.  For instance, in the “ramp-up” performance curve, a given test-taker gets off to a slow start, which prevents that person from scoring as well as she could have. In the “dead battery” performance curve, the LSAT-taker runs out of energy before the test has ended.  Maximizing one’s LSAT score requires avoiding these and the other under-performing patterns discussed in the LEX blog.

The “roller coaster” curve

The roller coaster pattern occurs when the LSAT-taker’s energy waxes and wanes throughout the test. Here’s what the pattern looks like.

roller coaster performance curve

roller coaster performance curve

As shown, the test-taker who exhibits the “roller coaster” pattern performs well at certain times and poorly at other times. This type of “up-and-down” performance is clearly undesirable, since the points lost during the “down” times come out of that person’s final LSAT score, regardless of how well the test-taker performed during the “up” times.

Causes for the roller coaster phenomenon vary.  In some cases, this pattern results from a test-taker’s use of habit-forming substances such as caffeine and nicotine (tobacco products).  If a person is in the habit of having stimulation from such substances throughout the day, the inability to access such substances during the LSAT leaves that person in a state of confusion. The person’s habit interferes with her ability to concentrate, stay focused, stay calm, and stay on task.  In other cases, the test-taker may be too emotionally invested in the LSAT, taking every apparent success as a personal validation and every point of difficulty as a sign of personal inadequacy. Whatever the reason, steering clear of the roller coaster pattern, like all the other under-performing patterns, is essential to getting one’s best score.

Guarding against the roller coaster curve

To avoid falling into the roller coaster pattern, here are some tips. First, during the days and weeks leading up to the test, minimize your dependence on substances such as caffeine and nicotine.  You will not have access to these substances during the LSAT, and any habits you have will interfere with your concentration on test day.

Second, practice under the same conditions as those under which you’ll be taking the real thing.  Avoid the substances mentioned above, but also replicate other test-day conditions.  For instance, work at a desk rather than lounging by the pool.  Most importantly, always work at full concentration—or don’t practice LSAT at all.

Third, develop and maintain a powerful perspective on the LSAT and the LSAT prep process.  It’s an important test that can open a lot of doors for you.  But, at the same time, it’s an extremely artificial thing—like all standardized tests. Don’t regard it as being a bigger deal than it is; over-estimating the significance of this test will expose you to being overly invested in the outcome rather than the process, which, in turn, may expose you to the roller coaster pattern.

The next article in this series will address the “psyched out” pattern.