"Zoned out" performance curve

LSAT performance curve #5: the “zoned out” pattern

People who take the LSAT are (like all takers of standardized tests) vulnerable to under-performing at certain times during the given test.  For instance, in the “ramp-up” performance curve, a given test-taker gets off to a slow start; she’s not really focused when the test starts.  This slow start prevents that person from scoring as well as she could have if she had started the test at full concentration. Maximizing one’s LSAT score requires avoiding patterns such as the “ramp-up” and the “dead battery” patterns.

The “zoned out” performance curve

The “zoned out” pattern occurs when the LSAT-taker loses focus without realizing she’s lost focus.  As a result, she goes along attempting to answer questions—poorly. Here’s what the pattern looks like.

"Zoned out" performance curve

“Zoned out” performance curve

As shown, the test-taker who exhibits the “zoned out” pattern performs well at the beginning of the test, but, at some point, she loses focus. The person’s performance drops significantly, but she is not self-aware enough to realize that she has lost focus.  She, therefore, continues to proceed through the test as though everything is fine, missing one question after another (or perhaps simply taking much longer on each question than she would otherwise). Finally, the test-taker “gets back in the game,” and her performance recovers.  Unfortunately, by then, a good deal of damage has been done to her score.

Causes for the “zoned out” curve are (i) fatigue and (ii) lack of effective self-monitoring.  While it can happen at any time, this temporary drop in performance appears to be particularly common about 90 minutes into the LSAT (so, the latter portion of section 3).  That’s when people start feeling some fatigue from having engaged in constant concentration for an extended period of time.  If the test-taker is sufficiently self-aware, that person will immediately recognize, “Hey, I’ve zoned out; I need to take a few seconds to regain my focus.” Unfortunately, the LSAT-taker who doesn’t have this self-monitoring ability will stay zoned out.

Guarding against the “zoned out” curve

To avoid zoning out during the LSAT, hone your self-monitoring skills.  Your brain should be like an instrument panel in a car or an airplane.  You should be constantly monitoring the “gauges” in your brain’s instrument panel, asking yourself:

  • “am I working at full concentration?”
    • “if not, why not?”
  • “I am proceeding through the questions in an efficient manner?” (a topic that will be discussed in another article)
  • “am I sticking to my game plan, or getting off track?”  (a topic that will be discussed in another article)
    • in other words: “Am I taking the test, or is the test taking me?

Self-awareness is the key to avoiding the “zoned out” pattern as well as to stay in control of your approach to the LSAT as a whole.

The next article in this series will introduce an idealized, hypothetical performance curve:  the “zen master” pattern.