5 Tips for LSAT Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension on the LSAT is a learned skill, and better scores on this section of the LSAT are eminently achievable by anyone willing to work at it! Whereas better scores in the Analytical section sometimes feel easier to achieve by simply practicing LSAT questions repeatedly, there are no “shortcuts” for LSAT RC – it all comes down to strategy. Here are 5 quick strategic tips that will help you turn a bad LSAT score into a good LSAT score.

  • Take notes as you read

    You can’t possibly recall every tiny piece of information from the passage, so a few careful notes as you read will help you recall much more information than memory alone. Keep them short and sweet – just 3-4 words per paragraph.

  • Don’t skim

    If you only read a sentence here and there, you’ll never grasp the “big picture” of the passage. It can be tempting to rush through the passage to get to the questions more quickly, but then you’ll be going back through the passage inch-by-inch, searching for the answers to those questions! Read at a relatively efficient pace, but read thoroughly the first time.

  • Keep in mind that Details support Functions

    If a question asks you why the author includes a specific detail from the passage, consider that all the details within a paragraph are generally used to support the function of that paragraph. To answer specific LSAT detail questions, sometimes you need to take a step back and ask, what’s the function of the paragraph that the detail is found in?

  • Look for the big picture, not the details

    When you read the first time, think more about how the passage is put together, structurally. How does each paragraph fit into the author’s main idea? How does the author develop his views of the topic? You can always go back for the tiny details, and if you worry too much about them up front it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially if it is especially complex or unfamiliar.

  • Keep an eye out for concessions

    Sometimes the author will have a very strong opinion and argue it throughout the passage, and then will unexpectedly make a concession to the opposing side, seemingly weakening his own argument. Don’t worry about it. Whatever the author spends the most time focused on is his true thesis – he may just have some reservations about one or more aspects of it.

Reading Comprehension Passage Types

The LSAT Reading Comprehension section features four passages with a variety of topics and writing styles. The paired reading style and humanities passage can cause many to struggle. Here are the basics for excelling at these Reading Comprehension passage types.

Paired Passages

When you arrive at the Reading Comprehension portion of the LSAT, you’ll notice that one of the four sets of questions refers to a set of two “paired passages,” each by different authors, rather than to a single, more lengthy passage. (Note that LSAC routinely provides one set of “paired passages” per exam, but — as with a number of facts about the exam — it leaves open the possibility of more than one set appearing at some point.)
First, when encountering “paired passages,” don’t be intimidated by the potential length of the pair! Each is shorter than the other three passages in the section; in fact, the length of both passages combined typically equals the length of one of the longer sections. You may even want to approach the pair first, as they often deal with “easier” subject matter than the longer passages, which can be denser and involve more detailed or difficult information. .
The set of “paired passages” and their related questions should be attacked similarly to single Reading Comprehension passages, with one primary — and vitally important — difference: the need to compare and contrast. When reading and marking the pair, you should pay particular attention to the interaction, as well as the similarities and differences, between the passages.
If possible, it is initially helpful to address the passages — and their corresponding questions — separately. After briefly skimming and marking the questions, try to read and answer those questions solely related to the first passage — should any appear — then move on to the second passage in a similar fashion. At this point,  you should have detailed knowledge of both passages and the major issues associated with each. Though you may need to quickly re-read the pair, you are now prepared to tackle those questions relating to both passages with the knowledge and confidence necessary to succeed!

Humanities Passages

Of the four sections in the LSAT’s Reading Comprehension portion, one will focus on humanities-related themes such as authors, philosophers, art, etc. To some test-takers, these “softer”-seeming subjects may in fact appear daunting, densely packed with richer description and a more elaborate writing style than, for example, those passages dealing with the sciences.  If you are one of these test-takers (perhaps a math or science major more used to numbers than narration), remember that you do not need to know anything outside of the information provided in the passage in order to successfully answer the corresponding questions. You are fully equipped with the material required to arrive at correct answers.
Conversely, test-takers accustomed to the humanities — those who light up at the thought of a class in ancient philosophy or modern English writers — may anticipate such a passage to be a comfortable respite from a section filled with less familiar passages on the sciences or legal issues. They should, however, be sure not to answer based on outside information, and instead focus specifically on those assertions contained directly within the material provided.
Regardless of your area of expertise, remember to read humanities passages — though they may seem quite different — similarly the way in which you might read an unfamiliar science or law passage: pay close attention to the topic, main and important supporting ideas, and structure of the passage, and avoid getting bogged down in the perhaps more complex language or unfamiliar subjects examined in the passage. Instead, read confidently, at an appropriate speed, and mark important points as you would with any other type of passage.
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