LSAT Reading Comp is many a student’s favorite section… when they start preparing. Why? It looks familiar (we’ve seen similar articles, and most of us have taken tests with reading comp), and most people can get some things right in the section without much training. LSAT Reading Comp often gets frustrating, however, because it does not respond with big points gains unless we radically change our approach. Let’s review how we should be rolling through Reading Comp in three key areas– so we can roll around in a big pile of RC points after test day, Scrooge McDuck-style.
-Big picture focus
-The author’s conclusion
-Other points of view (agree or disagree)
- Underlining/highlighting: Underlining literally gives us no value when answering the questions (so don’t do it!). Instead, circle structural keywords, especially indicating contrast (but, however, although, etc.), point of view (“some say…”, “critics argue…”, etc.), and author opinion/emphasis (“very significant”, “more trouble”, “terrible”, etc.). You will be way ahead of the pack in figuring out the passage’s organization, the author’s conclusions, and additional points of view– key items for questions!
- Too much re-reading: Minor details of the text are usually (purposefully) more confusing than the main ideas. Learn to be comfortable skimming certain parts of the passage. If the information isn’t part of the main idea of the passage, don’t worry about it. Let keywords that indicate contrast, point of view, or author opinion/emphasis (see above bullet) slow you down; that’s where you need to read more carefully. Keywords that indicate more of the same (additionally, and, moreover, furthermore) or specific examples (for example, the case of, for instance) can be skimmed quickly. Remember, if you need those details for a question, you can go back into the text. If you don’t, they aren’t germane to the big picture.
- Too much time reading: You have 3-4 minutes per passage to read, which means you have to use the strategic reading approach described above. Pause at the end of each paragraph, jot some quick margin notes (like a table of contents) indicating where the important stuff is, and continue. Use the first sentence in each paragraph, as well as the scope of the passage and keywords, to help you figure out what is truly important from each paragraph, then read for those items.
Your Main Goals:
-Grab big picture questions first.
-Predict answers whenever you can.
-Eliminate wrong answers using the big picture of the passage.
- Frequently getting the main idea/global questions wrong: Make sure you are strategically reading as outlined above, and as you go through answer choices keep an eye on two things: are the author’s main idea and purpose addressed, and does the answer stay in the scope of the passage? Frequently the toughest wrong answers will veer outside the scope.
- Answering from memory: This is a huge mistake made by even really strong test-takers. On easier questions for easier passages, you might get it right based off of what you think you know, but relying on memory as a consistent strategy may be why you haven’t gotten the hang of the section as a whole. Think of reading comp as an open book test, and use your roadmap (table of contents-style margin notes) to direct where you should be looking for answers. Predict, and you will be less likely to choose tempting wrong answers.
- Inference questions: Inference questions read tentative (“the passage suggests…:, “the author would most likely to agree…”) and that can encourage test-takers to think they are asking for an answer that is just possible based on the passage. Remember that inference questions in RC are asking what MUST BE TRUE, and we should answer them accordingly. Watch out for extreme wording (does the author say that fairy tales ALWAYS have their basis in true stories?), and keep an eye on the big picture– the right answers tend to be safely worded and refer back to the main idea or overall scope.
Your Main Goals:
-Choose passage order, easiest to hardest.
-Get to every passage.
- Making bad decisions about passage order: A lot of people don’t choose order, which is a mistake– the LSAT is also testing you on what kind of management choices you make in the sections. Of those who do it right by ordering passages for 30 seconds at the section’s start, many people feel that they don’t always pick well, which is extremely frustrating. The biggest mistake people make is choosing passage order based on subject matter; no subject (no, not even natural science!) is actually automatically harder. Choose order based on the keywords, passage structure, and authorial voice, not what the passage is about.
- Not getting to the last (or last two) passages: I have heard many students say “I can’t get a passage done in under [insert time here].” First of all, there is no can’t! Look to cut down some of that time by reading more strategically, and then eyeball how you approach the questions. Like in logic games, it is not always in our best interest to do every question. Be willing to leave some tough customers behind so you can get to the final passage– which means choosing to do the easy questions first.
- It all blurs together: Losing focus is a big consideration in RC, within passages and in the section as a whole. Remember to think critically about the text as you read. It is not enough to just read the passage. You should be actively thinking about what will show up in the questions. The subject matter shouldn’t really engage you– that’s distracting. What should is the feeling of victory that comes from figuring out exactly how an author put a passage together. Let that be what keeps you involved!
Good luck, LSAT soldiers! Reading Comp can be tough (and long), but you’re well-equipped to handle it. Sound off with questions in the comments, and good luck!