The LSAT Reading Comprehension section is just one of the three multiple-choice sections on the LSAT test. The other two are Analytical Reasoning (logic games) and Logical Reasoning. The Reading Comprehension section contains four 400-600 word passages, each with 5-8 questions, for a total of approximately 27 questions to complete in 35 minutes. Of the 4 passages, one is a “comparative reading” section that is made up of two related shorter passages. Skills tested include drawing inferences, finding the main idea, understanding intricate text and the ability to compare and contrast. Topics covered in the reading passages include the humanities, social sciences, biological and physical sciences, and the law. The purpose of this section is testing your ability to effectively read and analyze complex details as is often required in the practice of law.
Just like the other question types on the LSAT, the key to mastering the Reading Comprehension section is to first understand the question types and then to practice, practice, practice. Strategies that will help you effectively read each passage and answer the questions include active reading and note-taking. In order to master Reading Comprehension, you must learn to remain focused as you read 400-600 words of dense, not so interesting text. By actively involving yourself in the reading process, you will be much better equipped to answer the questions that follow. As you read, look for clues in the text that will lead you to understand key concepts from each passage including:
• Main idea
• Explicit details
• Details inferrable from the text
• Contextual clues to the meaning of complex words or phrases
• Passage structure
• Author’s viewpoint
• Contrasting viewpoints
Knowing the types of details that are likely to be needed to answer the questions will help you be a focused, active reader and avoid merely skimming the passages.
The LSAT Reading Comprehension questions test you on your understanding of explicit and implicit details. Getting in the habit of marking up the passage as you read will help you find and remember key parts of the LSAT Reading Comprehension passages. Part of your preparation process should be figuring out the best level and kind of highlighting and notating that will help you most in answering the questions. As you gain experience through practice, you will learn which details are important for answering questions. Techniques like writing notes next a paragraph can help you keep track of key ideas and structural elements.
Always practice using a timer as test takers often find it difficult to read 4 dense passages and answer 27 questions in just 35 minutes. At the end of your 8-12 week LSAT prep period, your goal should be to be able to read a passage and answer 7 questions in about 8-9 minutes.
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The other day I was working with a student on an Inference question (PrepTest 57, Section 3, Question 13) and as I was describing the strategy for this question type, she said, “Oh, so it’s like Reading Comp!”
Well, isn’t that true.
In this particular question, the LSAT tells us a few things: that still-life painting is best for artists whose goal is self-expression, that this is because the artist can “choose, modify, and arrange” the objects, and that therefore the artist has “more control over the composition” than she would in painting a landscape or portrait. From this we’re asked to infer what’s most likely to be true. In other words, we’re basically being asked what’s most reasonably inferred from the stimulus. That does sound a lot like Reading Comp.
Moving through the answer choices, I then noticed that the wrong answers were, indeed, wrong for Reading Comp-like reasons:
(A) “Most” isn’t supported = TOO EXTREME
(B) “Only” = TOO EXTREME
(C) “Nonrepresentational painting” = OUT OF SCOPE
(D) Correct Answer.
(E) “Rarely” and “background elements” = UNSUPPORTED
These are, of course, also often reasons why answer choices are incorrect to Inference questions. Certainly the comparison between Reading Comp questions and Inference questions in Logical Reasoning isn’t anything extraordinary (or even all that surprising to some of you), but it does seem worth noting for those of you for whom the Inference question strategy still hasn’t entirely clicked. Try treating them like an Identification or Inference question on Reading Comp. They’re essentially the same thing.
No, that’s not an order, but it is a great idea. Here’s the problem; there’s a limit to how many tests you can work through without completely tuning out and not getting anything out of it. The good news is you can study the LSAT everyday while minimizing your exposure to the actual test.
Quick disclaimer: this is NOT a recommendation to ditch practice tests or strategies. This is a way to supplement your test studying so you are always in LSAT mode.
That said, consider what the LSAT is actually testing. It is a test that evaluates your ability to think logically. You are presented with chances to think logically all the time (though if you’re like me, you may not always live up to the potential). If you identify and use those opportunities, they become excellent chances to study.
Start with reading comprehension. Whether you’re in school or at work, you have to read, probably pretty often. We read for content – to find out what the article is saying. Start reading for perspective as well. As you go through your books and articles, ask yourself these questions: Read more
1. Thinking that if you underline it, you’ll remember it. Annotating passages works very well for many people, and I usually encourage it, or at least that people try it. But I like to suggest alternative annotation methods to underlining for two reasons: (1) underlines (particularly in pencil) are harder than circles and squares and scribbles to spot later on, when you need to return to the passage to re-read a portion of it, and (2) underliners have the liberty of being less choosy about what they underline. If you are a circler, you have to choose which words to circle. If you are an underliner, you could–and many people do–underline a whole paragraph if you wanted. Since the purposes of annotating are (1) to help you understand the passage better as you read it, and (2) to make yourself a “map” to use later when you have to return to it, don’t fall for the trap of believing that if you underline, you’re safe. You probably aren’t optimizing your annotation practice.
2. Believing that if you don’t look at the time, it’s not passing. How many times have you thought, “If I just had thirteen minutes on this passage, I could get them all right!” Sometimes, we can become so determined to “get them all right” that we turn off our sense of time passing. It’s a form of stubbornness: I’m not moving on until I get this one, because I know I can! This attitude is an asset to a certain extent; it keeps you motivated to push forward on the hard ones, and it indicates a healthy confidence. But there’s a time to cut bait, and you won’t know it if you’re determined not to look at the clock. If it’s been two minutes and you’re not making progress (or maybe not even that long, depending on how the section is going for you), bid the doozie adieu and take a guess, wild or educated (or infuriated). There are more, faster points to be had.
3. Mistakenly focus on what you don’t know on hard passages. You’ve reached the third paragraph of “the hard” passage, and all you can think about is how little of it you’ve understood so far. You’re so focused on what you haven’t understood, you’re not at all thinking about what you have understood. In my experience, this is where many students become their own worst enemies in reading comp; they don’t realize that they actually understand more than they think, and that if they focus on what they do get, they’ll not only be more likely to answer some questions correctly, they’ll be less anxious, which will make their overall mental state stronger for the rest of the passage, the section, and the test overall. Sure, hard passages stink, and knowing all that you don’t know is terrifying. But there is some that you can get: what is the general subject matter, and what does the author think about it–is she pro, con, or neutral? Who disagrees? What are a few key terms, and are they defined? Ask yourself these questions, arm yourself with the basic answers, and move forward.
This is part 3 of Mary Adkins’ series on improving LSAT Reading Comprehension ability. You can check out part 1 here: Why (and How) LSAT Reading Comprehension Can Be Improved and part 2 here: LSAT Reading Comp Is a Bad Play: Advice for Sub-text Sleuths
Watch Out for Reading Comp Red Herrings
When you start a reading comp passage, you’re reading for the central argument, or what our curriculum/books like to call “the scale.” On easier passages, the two sides are laid out for you immediately. For example, in the Reader Response Theory passage—PrepTest 43, Passage 3—the two sides of the argument (RR Theory on one hand and Formalism on the other) are given to us in the first paragraph. As a result, few students in our courses have trouble identifying the two sides of the scale.
In more difficult passages, however, the central issue doesn’t appear until later—maybe at the end of the first paragraph, or even in the second. In PrepTest 27, Passage 1 on jury impartiality, for example, the real issue doesn’t come up until the end of the last paragraph.
How do you figure out, then, what is truly the central issue? Here are two tips—one “Don’t,” and one “Do.”
DON’T Marry the First Dichotomy That Walks in the Door
If you’re presented with two conflicting views in the first sentence, odds are that they’re the two sides of the argument, but they might not be. If they passage changes direction and starts discussing something else, you need to be able to adjust.
The key is to be flexible. Don’t assume that whatever central argument you spot in the first sentence or paragraph is absolutely what the passage is about.
DO Follow the Author
So how to be sure? Follow the author’s voice. Whatever the scale, the author is going to have an opinion about it—you will be able to place him or her on one side or the other. (One exception: passages that are just informative, but these are rare.)
In the PrepTest 27 passage I mentioned above, the one about jury impartiality, the way to identify the true scale (which again, appears at the very end of the passage) is to realize that’s where the author gives us a solid opinion. Because the opinion isn’t what we expect, we have to shift our scale.
Only when you have a full picture of how the author views what he/she is discussing can you feel confident that the central argument you’ve identified is correct.
This is part 2 in Mary Adkins’ series on improving LSAT Reading Comprehension ability. You can check out part 1 here: Why (and How) LSAT Reading Comprehension Can Be Improved
If you paid attention in literature class, happen to write plays in your spare time, or appreciate a good night of theater, you probably know what subtext is.
Subtext means exactly what it sounds like: what’s underneath the text. It is not referring to what a character says but what a character (or author) doesn’t say.
In fact, a play in which characters say exactly what they mean is generally considered a bad play, since human beings don’t work that way.
Identifying sub-text gets you ‘A’s in college lit courses and trouble in relationships (“I know what you really meant when you said the apple wasn’t very crunchy!”). It also gets you in trouble on the LSAT.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “Reading comprehension isn’t really something I can improve on much, right?” I would probably have cable.
When I start working with a new student, one of the first things I tell him or her is that the LSAT is a very learnable test. It’s not an opaque and mysterious arbiter of natural intelligence, nor is it an unpredictable obstacle course for which no one truly knows how to prepare. Sure, the LSAT isn’t easy, but it tests real skills that can be improved upon through hard work.
Usually, after our first logic games lesson, students get what I mean. They are, by learning the test, learning that the test is learnable. But when we begin to discuss reading comprehension, spirits fall. Someone who is missing 40% of the questions on reading comp thinks she’s doomed to do the same on test day.
If you’re an LSAT forum poster/reader, you know that the good majority (almost all, in fact) of content-related LSAT posts focus on Logic Games and Logical Reasoning. This makes perfect sense. It’s easy to submit a post about a setup for a tough logic game, and it’s very easy to discuss the underlying logic present in one short LR question. LG and LR questions come in nice, neat packages. They are forum-friendly. Additionally, future LSAT test-takers seem to see and appreciate the immediate impact of a well-designed setup or a clever way to think about a piece of LR logic. The payoff is quick, and often immediate.
Reading comprehension, on the other hand, is messy. In order to have a serious, in-depth discussion about an RC passage, everyone in the conversation needs to be coming directly from a focused read of the passage. It doesn’t work to try to remember back to the passage, or to read a quick summary. For this reason, not many like to talk about it or ask about it. It’s inconvenient. Furthermore, there never seems to be a quick, easy payoff when it comes to RC. There’s not one inference that can be made to change confusion to understanding, there’s no quick gimmick that can be posted concisely to help someone become a better reader. There’s simply no quick fix, no immediate gratification. So why spend time on it? Most people don’t.
These are the people you are competing against. The better you do relative to them, the higher your LSAT score. Make their RC weakness your strength and you’ll put yourself in a position to gain upwards of 4 raw points on the field. Before you decide to make RC your LSAT version of a powerful forehand, you need to be in the right mindset. Read more