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Starting your LSAT prep can be a scary experience. You pick up a book and see all the complexity of the test at once. A long list of LR question types; many variations of logic games; Reading Comprehension, chapter after chapter! It’s a lot to take in, and most places that break the test down into categories like to impress with their long and exhaustive list.
This series of three blog posts—one for each section—will break down the LSAT at a much higher level. It’s important to start with a strong scaffold for the section.
Reading Comprehension is my favorite section, for one simple reason: Most of the passages are adapted from real articles, so you’re learning something while reading. I don’t want to take an entire course on the collective bargaining rights of Canadian auto workers, but I can get myself interested in about 65 lines on it. You never know when it’s going to come up in conversation (or pub trivia) and make you seem like a genius.
As to the section itself?
There are two parts to break down: the passage and the questions. Luckily, there’s a lot of symmetry to them.
Your whole life, you’ve been taught to read for content. When reading, you’re supposed to pull out the details, facts, and specifics, and commit them to memory.
The RC section of the LSAT will test some details, but they’re not primary. Instead, the section is going to focus on your ability to understand the overall argument of the passage. In other words, stop worrying about the trees, and start looking at the forest.
Your understanding of the passage should come from a reflection of what the central debate is, and what the sides of that debate are. Normally, there will be two sides, with the author taking one, but it’s not ubiquitous. We call this “The Scale.”
So, how do you use this to approach the passage? Well, read for opinions. If you see someone state a viewpoint, focus on that instead of the details they use to back it up. And always be on the lookout for statements of the author’s opinion.
While reading each paragraph, you need to define its role in that overall argument. Small tags next to each map defining that role make up your Passage Map.
And you need to not get bogged down by the details.
If, at the end of the passage, you can tell the question the author tried to answer in writing it, what the author’s answer is, and how each paragraph contributes to that conclusion, you’re golden. Even if you know no details.
The questions are a reflection of this.
There are really three question types: Identification, Inference, and Synthesis.
Identification questions ask you to identify specific information from the passage. Remember when I told you to not focus on the details? That’s because you won’t know which details are going to show up until they do, in the questions. With a strong idea of the central argument, you should be able to eliminate facts that don’t align with any viewpoint. And with the Passage Map, you should be able to go back and find the relevant fact between the information that’s left.
Inference questions ask you to make a micro-leap from information in the passage to an answer choice. These almost always ask about a certain viewpoint from the passage—either the author’s, or the opposing point. You should, generally, have that in mind already, so most of these can be answered with just an understanding of the viewpoints of the passage. Your Scale and Passage Map should guide you here.
Synthesis questions ask you to bring together information from many places, and they generally reflect the overall point of the passage. Main Point, Primary Purpose, Organization questions—they’re not just about a section of the passage. Again, if you have the big picture down, you should be able to answer these without heading back to the passage (or, at most, just taking a look at your Scale and Passage Map).
And that wraps up our scaffolding for the LSAT! Does this mean you’re ready to tackle the exam? Definitely not. Well, you’re definitely not ready to tackle it well.
Want to learn how to piece the puzzle together? 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 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!