LSAT Reading Comprehension: Embrace the Boring.
September 13, 2011
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Why is LSAT reading comprehension section so boring?This is a question I’ve been asked by dozens of students over the last few years.I tell them, just like I’m about to tell you, this is one of the things you should be thankful for.Crave the boringness.Embrace it.
Let’s first discuss where the test makers get the passages.They take the passages from scholarly writing and book reviews and adapt the passages to fit into 60 or so lines of text from which standard LSAT questions (e.g. about the author’s purpose, tone, etc.) can be asked.The test makers draw broadly from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and law.They intentionally look for dry, boring text from a variety of subject areas because this is one way to make the LSAT more difficult.The test makers figure that if someone is bored by a passage, then they will lose focus and have to re-read the passage several times, meaning they won’t do as well on it and will take too long to answer the questions.In sum, the test makers make passages boring in order to help separate the best test takers from average test takers.
You may think to yourself as you read the four passages in the section, I don’t care about how honeybees communicate or the social movement New Urbanism (subject matter for some passages on the June 2010 LSAT).This is a good thing.You don’t have time to care about or be interested in what you’re reading on Test Day.You have 35 minutes to read over 2,000 words of text and answer 27-28 questions about this text.If you did care about how honeybees communicate, you run the risk of spending too much time deep reading this text.You are not meant to learn anything from the passages.Your task as a smart and efficient test-taker is to quickly skim through the passages, focusing on structure rather than content so that you can answer questions about the main ideas in the text, how details are used in the text, and what can be inferred on the basis of what is written.Bryce offered some good recommendations last week about how to skillfully attack this portion of the LSAT by embracing ignorance, thinking like the author, and always going back to the text.This advice is especially true when the passages are boring.
In fact, besides the risk of running out time, there is a danger of being overly interested or invested in a passage’s subject matter.An LSAT instructor I know talked about how he saw a passage about a particular legal philosopher on a practice LSAT, and because he had recently read an article by that same philosopher in one of his university classes, he found himself arguing with the author of his LSAT passage, which adversely impacted his performance on the questions accompanying the passage.Again, not only do you not have time to care about the content of the passages, you shouldn’t ever bring outside knowledge or unwarranted assumptions to the text.The questions will be based on the text contained in the LSAT—not on any other information you may have on the subject matter.
Instead of being frustrated by the boring nature of LSAT reading comprehension passages, embrace the fact that you don’t care about them.If you aren’t invested in the passages beyond your desire to correctly answer all of the accompanying questions, you’ll find it easier to focus on the structure of the passages rather than the details.In turn, you won’t spend your limited time trying to learn something from the passages or carry on an internal debate with the author of the passage—two things you definitely want to avoid doing in order to get the high score you want.