Conventional wisdom says LSAT reading comprehension is impossible to learn. Fortunately, conventional wisdom is wrong.
These tips will show you how to increase your performance on the Reading Comp section. But first, congratulations to everyone who took the December 2008 LSAT exam! From what I've heard, it was easier than usual, and the logic games were similar to those in the most recent practice exams. Please let me know when you get your scores!
For the rest of you, here are ten ways you can improve your LSAT reading comprehension score, including tips for the new Comparative Reading section and how to complete the passages more quickly.
1. Understand the key difference between the passages and their questions.
While the questions are written by the LSAC tricksters, the passages are written by people who are actually trying to communicate information. While not every piece of info in the passages is important, everything in the questions is. Look for the tiny details in the questions and the answers. An extra "s" here or there and words like always, never, most, all, and some can make all the difference.
2. Read with the goal of understanding the passage's main point
*Underline or bracket each time someone's opinion is given. Ex. "While some scientists believe..."
*What pieces of evidence are given for each perspective?
*Does the author agree or disagree with these opinions?
3. Treat each paragraph as if it were a Logical Reasoning stimulus
Analyze it for its stated evidence / premises as well as its conclusion.
What is the paragraph's conclusion?
What evidence is stated to support this?
Does the paragraph advocate any principles?
Are there any sub-conclusions? If so, do they agree/disagree with the paragraph's main point?
Are there any counter-arguments? What kind of evidence supports or dismisses them?
Does the passage's author agree/disagree with the counter-argument?
What kinds of words does the author use to express this?
Look at any examples closely, and note their purpose in the passage.
Connect the paragraphs and consider:
What is the passage's argument / goal?
Look for changes in tone and argument between the paragraphs.
Write down a few words summarizing each paragraph's main idea next to it.
4. Reading Comprehension Question Types
In increasing order of difficulty:
*Main idea/main point
Save these for last, even though at least one of them tends to come at the beginning. After doing the other questions, this one will be easy because you'll already have covered the main idea.
*Specific / "according to"
The most straightforward question-type you'll see. These tend to follow the passage's structure and ask about part of the author's argument.
Require you to infer or predict something based on the argument. Ex. "The author of the passage would agree with which one of the following..."
Look at the passage's structure and remember the different opinions described within it. Return to places where you noted argument and tone.
Alternatively, if the question specifies a particular piece of evidence or references a specific line, think about the role it played in the argument. Read a few lines above and below.
These are the only question-types you'll come across on the three traditional Reading Comp passages. Take out a RC section, and look at it. RC is just as predictable as Logical Reasoning and Logic Games.
5. How to Approach Comparative Reading
LSAC added Comparative Reading to the Reading Comprehension section in June 2007. This means one of the four traditional longer passages is now replaced by two short ones on a related topic.
If you prepare with this change in mind, you'll have an advantage over all the people studying old exams who aren't aware of Comparative Reading.
A few of questions will be similar to those in #4 (above), but most will compare the two passages. The passages do not directly refer to each other, even though they cover similar ideas. They will likely agree on some points and disagree on others, and it's possible for one passage to discuss the specifics of a topic while the other describes or argues about it in a more general sense.
*Tackle any questions that only ask about one passage or the other - they're easier and can be solved more quickly.
*As you're answering the questions are specific to the second passage, try to get a sense of how this passage differs from the first one. Read for differences in the passages' topics, think about where the authors agree and disagree, and compare their argumentative styles.
6. Comparative Reading Question Types:
In increasing order of difficulty:
*Common issue / central idea (similar to main idea/main point in long passages). Ex. "Which one of the following issues is central to both passages?"
*Agree / disagree (similar to "specific" / "according to" in long passages). Ex. "It can be inferred from the passage that both authors agree / disagree on which one of the following ideas?"
*Method of reasoning / style (similar to inference in long passages). Ex. "Which one of the following best describes the relationship / style of the passages?"
*Analogy (similar to Parallel Reasoning in the Logical Reasoning section). Ex. "The relationship between the passages is most similar to that of which one of the following?"
7. How to Spot Wrong Answers on Reading Comprehension
Remember that, like Logical Reasoning, wrong answer choices are generally wrong for the same few reasons. They may contain:
*absolute statements unsupported by the evidence, rather than using more moderate and reasonable language
*irrelevant information not discussed in the passage
*exactly the opposite of what the passage says
*small distortions of information contained in the passage
*random and illogical combinations of statements made in the passage
*incorrect attributions of opinions or facts to the wrong person, place, or thing
8. Should You Take Notes as You Read?
Note-taking can keep you active and engaged, preventing your mind from wandering. However, the fewer notes you take, the better.
Just as too much writing / diagramming on Logic Games costs time, the same is true here. You might pause as you read to make a short 3-4 word summary here or there, but you're better off with writing a symbol in the margin where appropriate. For example, you might write "!" where the author expresses an opinion.
Rather than focusing on content, read to understand the structure / flow of the passage and the intent of the author. The details are not as important as the overall argument. Knowing the details and unfamiliar terms is not as important as knowing where to find them if a question asks you about them.
Underlining and circling too many specific words may interrupt the flow of reading and slow you down. However, it may help to underline key individuals mentioned or referenced in the passage because there are almost always questions about them.
Refine your approach to underlining and note-taking over time. As you practice, you will be able to decrease your dependence upon this method as you learn which pieces of information are actually necessary to note.
Here's another way to make the passages easier to read:
In passages with fewer, but longer, paragraphs, break them apart. How? Use brackets. When there are only 2 or 3 paragraphs, the longest paragraph generally contains multiple subtopics or ideas. This technique will allow you to identify the point at which the topic changes. This is likely to be the source of at least one question.
9. Some Words to Watch for
The following is a partial list of words you might consider boxing or underlining:
proponents, supporters, advocates, critics, opponents, others
scholars, scientists, engineers, artists, writers, politicians
some, all, most, never, always, every
first, second, third
on the other hand, however, despite, on the contrary, nevertheless, furthermore, for example, namely, in addition, for this reason, but, according to, in contrast
claim, argue, support, oppose, criticize, reject
10. If you feel, no matter what, you won't be able to read every passage...
Start with the passage followed by the greatest number of questions and end with the passage followed by the fewest. Each passage requires about the same amount of time to read it. If you'll have to guess, why not guess on the passage with the fewest questions?