Avoiding Panic

This is from an old message board post, but I think it's something worth repeating.  Someone asked about how to deal with test anxiety and panic.  Here is my response:

Panic comes when things are out of our control.  Panic comes from the fact that you're approaching the test from a position of fear and submission rather than from power and choice.  You're probably telling yourself things like, "I HAVE to do well on the LSAT," or, "I HAVE to get into such-and-such law school."  It's as if someone has a gun to your head making you fear for your life.

Using phrases like "I HAVE to" is very counter-productive.  "I HAVE to" implies a threat.  It's really, "I have to OR ELSE..."  When your body encounters a threat, your fight-or-flight response kicks in (racing heart beat, sweat, shallow breathing...i.e. panic).  The fight-or-flight response is great for fighting off a cougar.  It's not so good for standardized testing.

What you need to realize and remind yourself is that you don't HAVE to take this test.  And if you take it, you don't HAVE to be perfect, or even close to it.  Yes, it's an important test.  Yes, it's going to do a lot to determine the course your future takes.  Yes, it's tough.  But it's not the extent of your life.  It's says nothing about who you are.  You're not going to die from a bad LSAT score.  No matter what happens--even if you fall short of your goal, even if you fail--you're going to be okay.

With a healthier perspective, you can approach the test from a position of power.  You can choose whether to even take the test.  Now, I'm assuming you want to go to law school.  Given this desire, you are in a position to choose to go--that is to CHOOSE to do the things that will allow you to attend law school.  You don't HAVE to take the LSAT (because you don't HAVE to go to law school), but--from a position of power and control over your actions--you can CHOOSE to take it.  And to the extent that you wish to do well on the LSAT, you will choose to study or take classes or work practice tests in pursuit of that goal.

With that in mind, when you approach your practice tests, you need to constantly remind yourself that it doesn't matter.  A low score isn't going to ruin you.  You're only doing it to practice and to gain information about where you need to focus your study.  It's all just part of the learning process.

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