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LSAT Reading Comprehension is the worst, right?
First off, wrong! I love Reading Comp. While I love all the sections of the LSAT, and I find LG to be the most fun (hey, I’m weird), Reading Comp has a special place in my heart.
Why? The main reason is that the passages are adapted from actual articles. This means that we learn a little bit with each passage on the exam. I don’t want to take an entire course on the Late Heavy Bombardment, but I’m happy to have a few paragraphs of knowledge on it in my head. Eventually, it’ll come up in Jeopardy! or pub trivia, and I’ll be a hero.
But I don’t just love the LSAT Reading Comprehension section; I also love teaching it. There are a lot of particulars to the section, and, despite what many say, you can see a huge improvement by focusing on the right strategies.
However. (There’s always a but.)
Strategies are great at improving your Reading Comp score, and you should practice and hone them. I teach them, and I’m proud to. But studies show that subject-matter familiarity is at least as important to your performance on the exam as your Reading Comp skills themselves.
Are you a baseball fan? If so, reading a sentence where I explain how a double play in the bottom of the ninth led to extra innings would make sense without needing to reread it. And studies show that people with baseball knowledge will outperform “stronger” readers when comprehending passages including such sentences.
Alternatively, if you skipped all your science classes to go to ball games, you might break out into a cold sweat when I start describing how gene targeting has been used to study the effects of point mutations in mammals.
Don’t cry! Don’t get terrified! What’s going on here?
Prior knowledge allows us to create schemas. Schemas are general frameworks through which we understand other material. It’s why Americans view cricket through the lens of baseball, and rugby through the lens of football. And it’s why we put all of those under the schema of “sport”—that allows us to carry certain assumptions into our comprehension when reading about a new concept.
Having prior knowledge on a subject allows us to relate the new material to these schemas, and it drastically increases comprehension.
Still want to cry? Don’t yet!
These schemas don’t have to be all that sophisticated to help you get through a passage, especially since LSAT Reading Comprehension passages aren’t designed to test any subject-area knowledge. Instead, you’ll be helped with a generic knowledge of some aspect of the passage. Don’t know anything about Philip Emeagwali or his parallel-computing methods? Some knowledge of how networked computers work is enough to let you relate it to prior knowledge. No idea what Noguchi’s sculpture of Fuller looks like? As long as you’ve seen some sculpture in your life (even if it’s just a picture of Michelangelo’s David online that one time), you have a schema through which you can view it.
In order to help you build up these schemas, we’re going to start an LSAT Reading Comprehension Article Club! Each week, we’ll be posting a few articles across subject areas (at the very least, one each from law, social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences). Read them, think about the main point, and, if you’re feeling ambitious, notate them as if they’re on the LSAT. Post a 10-15 word summary of one (or all) of the articles in the comments section!
And, if you’re lucky, win a free round of brews when you whip out that obscure piece of knowledge about amylase’s role in digestion. 📝
Don’t forget that you can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person LSAT courses absolutely free. We’re not kidding! Check out our upcoming courses here.
Matt Shinners is a Manhattan Prep instructor and jdMission Senior Consultant based in New York City. After receiving a degree in Biochemistry from Boston College, Matt scored a 180 on his LSAT and enrolled in Harvard Law School. There’s nothing that makes him happier than seeing his students receive the scores they want to get into the schools of their choice. Check out Matt’s upcoming LSAT courses here!