Kristen Tracey is a Content Developer at Knewton.
So you’re really prepared for the LSAT. You’ve taken every practice test in every book. You can identify patterns in logic games in your sleep. You should feel confident, but you’re sitting here on test day, frozen with fear. You can’t even remember what the last sentence of the reading comprehension passage was by the time you get to the first question.
Does this scenario haunt you? Being nervous on test day is normal, but being too nervous is one of the major reasons why someone who did all the right things to prepare might still fall down on test day. The LSAT is a big culprit because you’re not supposed to find it easy to finish, even if you’re a top test-taker.
In college, I was a typical stressed-out student. When you’re stressed, you sweat more, your heart palpitates, and you may breathe faster or become jittery. Plus, changes occur in your brain that make your thoughts chaotic and disorganized —not something you want during a test. But then a very wise coworker persuaded me to accompany her to a Bikram yoga class: 90 minutes of intense yoga in a steamy 105-degree room.
I spent the first few minutes trying to hide my giggles as everyone around me, their arms contorted into a “W” shape, took loud, slow, wheezing breaths together. But by the end of class, I was a (very warm) convert, already feeling calmer and even happier after all that hard work. I never managed to touch my forehead to my shins, but what I did learn from years of going to yoga classes is that physical and mental relaxation are much more connected than I’d ever thought.
Whether or not you’re interested in sweating through a whole yoga class, you can still mine this connection as you prepare for a high-pressure standardized test. Focus on these three B’s—breath, bed, and breakfast—and you’ll be on your way. (The Birkenstocks are optional.)
Bikram yoga starts out with an exercise in which you clasp your hands under your chin, breathe in slowly while lifting your elbows towards the ceiling, and then breathe out slowly while stretching your elbows forward. Sound uncomfortable? It is.
Whenever you find yourself in a panic, you can use this simple breathing technique. Psychologists swear by it, and all you need is oxygen.
Sit up with your back loose but straight, rest your hands on your knees and your feet on the ground a few inches apart, and start counting through slow, even breaths. Air should come in through your nose and out through your mouth. Once you’ve gotten to thirty breaths, the symptoms of anxiety will probably have lessened.
We’d recommend taking those thirty slow breaths whenever studying stresses you out. But if you’re in the middle of the actual test, you probably don’t have time for thirty. It’s okay — just five breaths can accomplish a similar effect.
Pro tip: Let your thoughts come and go while you count your breaths, without trying to control them. Sternly telling yourself not to think about anything usually has the opposite effect!
Make sure you don’t ignore visits from the Sandman while you’re prepping for the LSAT. Not only does sleep actually help your memory — probably more than the extra hours of cramming would — but, that’s right, it will also help you cope with stress.
Caffeine at night will mess up your sleep, there’s no question. (So will alcohol, so don’t fall prey to the temptation of drinking to “relax.”) In fact, caffeine in the morning should be kept to a minimum too. Recent studies actually suggest that caffeine might be mostly a placebo: it doesn’t improve alertness, and instead just staves off the drowsy symptoms of withdrawal.
Pro tip: You’ve heard this one before, but don’t study near your bed. You can’t forget you have the LSAT coming up when your head is resting on the same pillow that you use to prop up your study materials.
So you didn’t finish that last question before time was called? Instead of dwelling on the past, move on and concentrate on the next section. One benefit of breakfast is that it keeps your mood on an even keel throughout the day. You’ll be able to respond to setbacks better.
Nutrition experts give all kinds of conflicting advice over what kinds of food are actually better for your brain. The two clearest things are that a nutritious breakfast will help your mental performance, and that highly fatty foods will harm it. Still, enjoy whatever you decide to eat, knowing that you’re helping yourself out by eating something.
Pro tip: At Knewton, we love bagels with cream cheese in the morning. Make that a whole wheat bagel (and maybe swap the cream cheese for peanut butter or scrambled eggs), and you’ve got yourself some great brain food. Yum!