Zen and Human Testicles and the Art of Why You Underperform

-1 last night on 19.2 (LR). Missed a fairly routine parallel reasoning question (#20). I’m not too worried about it.

It is interesting to note, though, that at this point I’m not missing one particular question type in LR. Sometimes it’s a most strongly supported, sometimes a strengthen, sometimes a weakening. Yesterday a parallel reasoning. Still missing on average 2 questions per LR section.

This weekend I drilled RC and LG exclusively, working out of the yellow 19-28 book. Did 6 sections on Saturday and 2 on Sunday. I was focusing on consciously maintaining confidence during RC, that is, trusting my intuition on questions I’m not 100% about so that I can move on without wasting time, and it seemed to help–or at least not hurt. I was averaging between -3 and -4.

Kurt says the old RC sections are easier than the more recent ones, and while it’s true that they lack comparative reading passages, I’m not sure that the questions are simpler or that the passages themselves are any less arcane. I’m even less sure that thinking about things this way–like ‘oh I shouldn’t feel good about my performance on these sections because they’re not like what I’ll be up against on the real test’–is fruitful. Mike Kim (author of the LSAT Trainer) says that confidence is key to scoring in the high170s, and I think he’s right. I’m confident I can do well in RC if I approach RC with confidence; this belief is reinforced by data: my personal experiments.

Re: the whole confidence thing though. This is a mental test. Like, it’s fucking mental. I mean that in every sense of the word. It’s insane and out of its mind, yes. And obviously it tests your mental (cognitive) abilities–see: logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, reading comprehension. But it’s also a test of different type of mental ability–something I’ll label mental coolness. This is where confidence comes in.

Mental coolness is your ability to be present when shit gets real. It’s your ability to will yourself into a state of flow. It’s your ability to breathe when your body is telling you breathing is just a waste of time. It’s your ability to trust yourself qua a self. It’s your ability to recognize your limitations and suspend disbelief–to not only push your self-doubt off to the side and say ‘stay,’ but to actively transcend that doubt by absolving yourself of it.

A lack of mental coolness is the reason why so many kids significantly underperform come test day. This lack begets unregulated anxiety which begets poor performance; someone can have the cognitive ability to answer every question on the test, but if they spend the first 10 minutes of each section frozen in fear or doubting their performance on the last section, they won’t score well.

This is also why so many kids who take unprescribed amphetamines for the test shit the bed, too. In theory, the study drugs will up your performance because you’ll be some kind of LSAT demigod breezing through questions, thinking faster, reasoning better. In reality, though, this is rarely the case.

The adderall makes you sweat, it makes your heart beat faster, it makes you think about your sweat and your heart beating faster and about oh my god i need to stop thinking about my sweat and am i spending too much time on this reading comp passage i think i’m spending too much time on this reading comp passage and what did the last sentence say and why can’t i stop thinking about my heart beating faster? Taking performance-enhancing drugs precludes mental coolness by making you think too much–by forfeiting your autonomy and letting your thoughts control you.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. Some people probably take adderall and score higher than they would’ve otherwise. But I’d wager my life that for people trying to score 170+, scoring higher w/ (unprescribed) drugs isn’t the norm. The ideal testtaker, far from being some automaton of impeccable reasoning, is someone who, while extremely well-versed in the language of the test, is nevertheless creative, flexible, and cool. It’s someone who, when thrown a curveball, can recognize the pitch and manage to get their bat on the ball. It’s someone who accepts their humanity–that they’re not a machine designed solely to reason but rather a real live human being with a heart pumping blood and a good imperfect brain whose intuition is usually correct and who will probably experience some pre-test nerves and jitters but has the mental coolness and the big human testicles required to dive into the test with the lightness and ease of a zen master sweeping his monastery.

The reality is you will miss a number of questions come test day. The question is: can you get out of your head and into the test such that you give yourself over to the test–you lose your self and become the test–and thus minimize the number of times you start to freak out about oh my god how much time do i have left what if i got those last three questions on reading comp wrong i’ve never seen this type game before how the fuck do they expect me to be able to do this game what the fuck, and thus minimize the number of questions you get wrong? In other words, can you be cool?


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