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Author Topic: Months of studying w/ absolutely no improvement! :( Freaking out! Any advice?  (Read 6466 times)

Coffeebean12

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Hi I'm new, but I've been reading some of the topics on here for a while now. This is really long and I apologize for that. But I'm really freaking out!  :'( So to whoever is willing to read this, I would really, really appreciate some advice.

I'm taking my LSAT in February, in two weeks. I've been studying for the last 6 months or so, but the first few months I was more relaxed and wasn't studying every single day. For the last two months I've been studying every day, for at least 3-4 hours (and WAY more than that often). I've been taking a prep course, taking lots of practice tests, spending lots of time in review, and studying a lot on my own as well as focusing on my problem areas and working on pacing. I understand everything; I have no major issues with any type of question. From the very beginning, timing was my biggest problem. However, I have worked on my timing and pacing and when I'm practicing, even timed, I've been improving. The problem is my practice tests.

I feel as though my body goes into shock mode or something whenever I'm taking a practice test. Everything I know is gone, my mind is blank. My head is spinning, I'm shaking, and I have to read every sentence 5 times to understand anything. I feel as though my mind is frozen and I can't think. My first cold diagnostic practice test was a 149 and my goal has been a 160 (though I'd even be happy with a score in the higher 150s). But after so much studying, I have not improved at all. EVERY SINGLE practice test I take ends with the same score: 149. It has been extremely frustrating to put in so much effort and see ABSOLUTELY NO RESULTS. I'm officially depressed and hopeless about this. I'm freaking out and I don't know what to do anymore. :'(  :'(  :'(

After my most recent practice test was yet another 149, it occurred to me that my practice tests are not going to suddenly jump up several points within the next couple weeks before February 12. (Especially since I have been performing so consistently on my practice tests!  :'() Although it would have been at the last moment, I was planning on at least applying for the Fall 2011 admissions cycle and seeing what that would lead to. (I graduated university this past December and was hoping to try applying for this admissions cycle and then, if I were to get into a decent law school, start this fall. I don't like the idea of waiting a year and a half doing nothing.) But obviously now I need to seriously reconsider my plans and options.

This is where I would really like some advice. Given my present situation, should I...

--Skip the February test altogether, since there's no way I'll be able to do well enough on it by now? (It's too late to the change my test date.)
--Take the February LSAT (since I paid for it), get the experience of it, and then probably cancel my score?
--Give up even attempting to apply for this admissions cycle, keep studying, take the June test, apply really early for the Fall 2012 cycle, and wait another whole year?
--Give up on the LSAT and law school altogether? (Since I clearly cannot even improve my practice test scores.)

Any other options, along with LSAT studying tips for someone like myself, would also be greatly appreciated!  :'(  :'(  :'(

bigs5068

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With a 149 you may get into some schools. I have said it before, but I don't if everyone is capable of getting a 160. I myself don't think I could have I had diagnosis of 143 and got it to 155. I may have improved it to a 160 that is a huge MAYBE, but if you have been studying for months and you know you have done everything you can then try applying with your score. You have nothing to lose by taking the February test since I believe schools only take the highest score now. I might be wrong on that, but if I am right you have nothing to lose.

Realize 80% of the testtakers did not score a 160 and many people would love to have that score, but only 20% received it. If I was you and I really wanted to go to law school I would send out some apps with your current score and retake the February LSAT and see how it goes. If it improves you can add the new score to your app and hopefully you will nail it. If it stays the same or drops then they will still take the highest score and hopefully you can get into a few schools. If you are accepted anywhere you can do some reseach and see if they are worth the time and money. Tier 4's can work out for a lot of people including myself. You may have a shot at a few of them with a 149. Particularly if you are a URM.

Check out lawschoolnumbers.com to see where you current LSAT & GPA would work. Well good luck to you.

EarlCat

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First, IMHO, February is too late to be taking the test if you want to apply this cycle.  Most of the seats are filled, and you've really hurt yourself in schools where your admissions chances are marginal (i.e. the best schools you have a chance getting into).  So regardless whether you take Feb or June, I think you should wait a cycle to apply anyway, which, of course makes June a much more attractive test.  (Cue Julie Fern).  And if you do, don't spend that year doing nothing.  Do something really cool and adventurous and exciting that you can write about on next year's applications.

As for your scores, I'll accept that you have "no major issues" with question types, that you "understand everything," and that your pacing is improving.  If that is all true, then your plateau is due to test anxiety.  Test anxiety comes from two places.  First, from an irrational fear of failure.  This happens when we, in our minds, exaggerate the importance of the test and the negative effects of not doing we well as we would like. 

What you should remind yourself is that nobody has ever died of a low LSAT score.  You don't HAVE to take the test, and if you take it, you don't HAVE to get a good score.  Yeah, failing sucks.  It's disappointing.  It means you may not get into a school you like or land a job you want.  But it's not the end of your world.  It's not a commentary on your intelligence or your worth as a person.  It's frankly not that important in the grand scheme of things.  Worst case scenario is that you won't be a lawyer, which isn't even true--there are plenty of lawyers with 149s.  But even if it were true, so what?  You're not a lawyer now, and you're just fine.  If you're not a lawyer in 3 or 4 years, you'll still be just fine.

The second source of test anxiety is your comfort and familiarity with the subject matter.  While you may understand the material, and not have any mental blocks regarding question types or game types or whatever, you're not so intimately familiar with the test that you can be comfortable working with it under pressure.  Surely if these were 2nd grade math questions instead of logic games, you wouldn't clam up.  But why not?  Because you know 2nd grade math like the back of your hand.  You practiced it ad nauseum.  You understand the mechanics behind the questions.  That is where you need to get with the LSAT.  Don't be satisfied merely knowing how to answer the questions.  Work the same questions over and over and over again.  Find the patterns.  Internalize the test so that the answers become second nature--like 2nd grade math became however many years ago.

bigs5068

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As for your scores, I'll accept that you have "no major issues" with question types, that you "understand everything," and that your pacing is improving.  If that is all true, then your plateau is due to test anxiety.  Test anxiety comes from two places.  First, from an irrational fear of failure.  This happens when we, in our minds, exaggerate the importance of the test and the negative effects of not doing we well as we would like. 

I am sorry to have to disagree with this one aspect. Everything else is right on point, but there are more issues than just text anxiety that result in people not achieving 160's. It is certainly an important factor, but again the vast majority of test takers do not get a 160 or above. Most people don't get straight A's in every subject they have strengths, weaknesses, andlimits. To imply the only reason for a lower score is text anxiety is a bit conclusory. I may have it mistaken, but I thought I read somewhere you had a 170+ LSAT, which is f*ng amazing! However, the vast majority of people no matter how much studying they do  are unlikely to achieve that or even if they have no anxiety whatsoever.

The OP can probably bring their score up. They can probably even get it to the mid-high 150's they want. Hopefully that happens, but IMHO if you get your diagnostic score the odds are you will improve somewhere between 10 points on the very low end and 20 at the very high end. Whatever, the OP's diagnostic score was, improving it by 15 maybe 20 points is probably the most they can hope for. Of course there are exceptions, but that seems to be the general rule.

Coffeebean12

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Bigs and EarlCat, thanks so much for spending the time to read my novel and respond! I really appreciate it!

First though, let me be frank and stubborn in saying this: I am not willing to accept that a 149 is the best that I can do on the LSAT.

Perhaps I was a little unclear on a few details of my dire situation, so I'll clarify:
--This February, if I choose to go ahead and sit for the exam, will be the first time I take the LSAT for real. I don't have a current official score to report or send in to any school. So retaking the exam is not my issue because I haven't taken it a first time yet.
--My most recent practice test was a 149, as I emphasized above. The reason I am so frustrated is because my diagnostic was the very same score: a 149.

So, you see, this is why I'm so frustrated, hopeless, and upset. Every practice test I have ever taken has been a 149. On my most recent practice test (and on every practice test prior), after so much studying and prep, I got the exact same score I received on my very first diagnostic, which I took "cold" without ever seeing an LSAT question previously in my life. I was okay with it as my diagnostic, because everyone improves at least a little from their diagnostic if they study at least a little bit. But apparently I am the exception. So to accept that a 149 is the very best that I can do is to throw away all of the time, money, and energy I have put into studying for the LSAT. If a 149 is the best I can do, then I'm wasting my time right now in continuing to prepare for the LSAT. If I can get the same score I'm getting now without ever even looking at an LSAT question, then it's a waste of my time to study, right?

@Earl, first....LOLOL at the "cue Julie Fern" comment!!!  ;D
Thanks for your ideas! Perhaps some of it may be anxiety. Perhaps I am exaggerating the importance of my score and all the negative effects of a bad score. Your point about comfort and familiarity really made me think, though. LSAT questions are definitely not as comfortable as simply math problems under a time constraint. But how long does it take one to get that comfortable with LSAT questions? It seems like most LSAT takers only need a couple months of prep to improve their score. But my score has never improved, not even one point, since I started studying months ago.  :'( Will it take 2 years of studying for me to get comfortable enough with LSAT questions in the time constraints? Does it take some people a much longer time to start to see improvements? Or is it possible that I will never, ever be able to do any better than my diagnostic of 149?  :'(

I'm so hopeless right now that I think I'd even be happy with a practice test just one or two points higher than my 149 diagnostic/best/current score. But right now, even that seems unlikely.  :'( Is there anything I can do? Or is my case hopeless?

EarlCat

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I am sorry to have to disagree with this one aspect. Everything else is right on point, but there are more issues than just text anxiety that result in people not achieving 160's. It is certainly an important factor, but again the vast majority of test takers do not get a 160 or above. Most people don't get straight A's in every subject they have strengths, weaknesses, andlimits. To imply the only reason for a lower score is text anxiety is a bit conclusory. I may have it mistaken, but I thought I read somewhere you had a 170+ LSAT, which is f*ng amazing! However, the vast majority of people no matter how much studying they do  are unlikely to achieve that or even if they have no anxiety whatsoever.

I was discounting other explanations for the score based on OP's word that she understood everything on the test.  Granted, that may not be true but I was taking it at face value for the purpose of discussion.  The rest of the description of what happens on practice tests (mind spinning, shaking, re-reading sentences 5 times, etc.) SCREAMS test anxiety.

I also did not opine that merely overcoming test anxiety would yield a 170+.  At the very least it will get OP over 149.

EarlCat

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@Earl, first....LOLOL at the "cue Julie Fern" comment!!!  ;D
Thanks for your ideas! Perhaps some of it may be anxiety. Perhaps I am exaggerating the importance of my score and all the negative effects of a bad score. Your point about comfort and familiarity really made me think, though. LSAT questions are definitely not as comfortable as simply math problems under a time constraint. But how long does it take one to get that comfortable with LSAT questions? It seems like most LSAT takers only need a couple months of prep to improve their score. But my score has never improved, not even one point, since I started studying months ago.  :'( Will it take 2 years of studying for me to get comfortable enough with LSAT questions in the time constraints? Does it take some people a much longer time to start to see improvements? Or is it possible that I will never, ever be able to do any better than my diagnostic of 149?  :'(

I'm so hopeless right now that I think I'd even be happy with a practice test just one or two points higher than my 149 diagnostic/best/current score. But right now, even that seems unlikely.  :'( Is there anything I can do? Or is my case hopeless?

Obviously it's not hopeless or I would be in the wrong business.  You should check out an audiobook by Neil Fiore.  It's (mis)titled "Conquering Procrastination."  It's really less about procrastination and more about peak performance.  I found it incredibly helpful when working with students to overcome test anxiety.

Of course, test anxiety may not be the only problem.  You should post some questions and explain your thinking on answers.  Let some of the "experts" comment on your analysis.

As to how much time it will take you to get comfortable with the material, nobody knows.  Everyone is different.  We understand things differently and we learn at different paces.  Maybe it will take you longer than some other people to get that momentum you want.  There's nothing wrong with that.  It does, however, present you with the decision of balancing your desire for a high score (i.e. to get into a specific law school) against your desire to go to law school sooner rather than later.  There are pros and cons to both, but I don't think there's a wrong choice.  It's just a matter of deciding how long you want to work on the LSAT before taking the plunge and starting school.

MEMEMEME

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Are most of the seats really filled in schools? I had a family crisis this summer and could not get my apps out until January 20th. I took the December LSAT and I am retaking in February to see if I can improve a bit (I am basically satisfied with my score). Anyway, I was just wondering if my late-in-the-cycle applications will really significantly reduce my chances. My GPA is ok and my LSAT score is above the 75th percentile for two of the schools I applied to and the median of the other. So, what do you guys think? Did I really lower my chances quite a bit?

BikePilot

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meme..
You did lower your chances a bit I think, but I think you'll still get in (though probably off WL) at least where you are above medians.  I applied a little later and immediately got WL'd everywhere (even places where I was above 75% on GPA and LSAT).  The AdCom's all indicated something along the lines that they were full but liked me a lot and would put me in as soon as seats opened up.  Sure enough, seats opened up pretty quickly and I was in at my top choice (where I was above 75% for gpa and only a bit above median for lsat IIRC).  The bigger schools tend to have more WL activity than the smaller schools as you'd expect. 

To the OP, it does sound like an anxiety issue more than a knowledge issue - big might be right that some folks aren't capable of 160s no matter what, but everyone should score much higher after a bunch of study than they did when cold.  I taught LSAT courses for a bit and all of my students showed marked improvement and most were scoring 10+ pts higher by the end of my class than they did at the start of the class.

I think you should start with some honest self reflection.  Do you generally have great difficulty performing under high-stress situations? If so, a legal career may not be a good fit for you.  If not, and this is just a test-specific anxiety, there must be a way of overcoming it.  Doing a bunch of simulated, protectored "realistic" practice tests followed by review and study of the tests later really seemed to help my students. Sounds like you've already been doing that though.

If you complete one section alone under timed conditions how is your performance?  You might try a self-administered practice test, but do only a section at a time, then take a good break and relax for a bit.  Then do another, then relax etc.  If this gives much better results then it may be an issue of concentration and endurance.  Build up by then doing two sections, then three etc. 

I don't think there's any point in taking the real lsat until your practice scores are at least in the range of what you want - especially if you tend to do worse as stress increases (I'm the opposite - I am mediocre in everything until really stressed, then I rock - just a weird quirk).  Also, a feb LSAT is really late in the cycle and as a general rule you'd have to be way above medians at your schools to get a spot by that point. This late in the game your best bet is targeting the june lsat.

Make sure you are still eating in a healthy manner, not consuming a ton of caffeine, getting some exercise and all that stuff - it really does make a difference.

Good luck!
HLS 2010

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Over the years I have served in the role of trainer for many different task and test. In my experience most students start showing testable improvement fairly quickly in most areas. Some do not, of this set it seems that most common issues are motivational issues (which I am suspecting is not the case here) or a form of self destruction.

I have no idea what score you are capable of on a reasonable time frame of studying, but I am fairly sure that score is not a 149. Your description of re-reading the same question several times without taking action surly sounds like you are shooting yourself in the foot. You need to get to a place mentally where your nervousness does not get in the way, and hopefully you can eventually reach a level of confidence that you have a set of skills to tackle problems (such as these test questions) that will allow you to feel (relatively) at ease.

Some methods that I would employ in the Corps, were likely more extreme then you would want to endure for the purpose of LSAT prep, but the basic purpose of these methods were not meant as punishment, instead they served to help change the mindset, to help get past roadblocks. Frequently I have seem that once a specific roadblock has been removed, further extreme measures are no longer required, as the person knows has seen for themselves that they can do the task at hand, and there are few confidence building tools that are as powerful as success.