Few LSAT test-takers need to be convinced that the logical reasoning and analytical reasoning sections require careful study. After all, setting up a logic game is hardly a commonplace skill.
On the other hand, many applicants have a false sense of security about the reading comprehension section of the LSAT. They believe they have little left to learn about reading. But their confidence may crumble when their work in this section fails to produce the gains they may see in other sections of the test.
The skills needed to master the reading comprehension section are neither obvious nor innate. The reading you must do to succeed in this section is not the same as the reading required to make sense of a newspaper or textbook.
To achieve a top score on this LSAT section, you must fundamentally shift your approach to reading.
Passages on the section are designed to be dry and impenetrable. While a careful reader could decipher them in time, time is in short supply. Test-takers have less than nine minutes to digest a dense passage or two totaling 450 to 500 words and then answer up to eight questions about it.
Time pressure alone makes it hard for anyone to understand a passage in full. Fortunately, the questions cover only about 25% of each passage plus the author’s overall tone and ultimate message.
To master this section, it helps to focus on several key concepts: the main point of each paragraph, the structure of the passage, the locations of important details and opinions presented by the author.
Main Point and Structure
Because it can take too much time to fully untangle each sentence, try to focus on what each paragraph is doing in the passage. What is its purpose or role within the context of the entire passage? Is it perhaps presenting a new concept, or evidence for a claim, or a counterargument to another theory?
Knowing the main point and role of each paragraph within the passage will help you understand the big picture of what the author is trying to argue or explain. It will also help you stay focused and engaged when a passage seems unapproachable.
Beware if you find yourself mentally describing the structure of a passage in generalities, like: “First the author introduces something, and then there’s some more information about it, and then there’s an extended debate about this other part of it…”
That’s a sure sign that you lost sight of the forest for the trees.
Locations of Important Details
Don’t treat the reading comprehension section like a quiz based on an article or book chapter. No points are awarded for recalling the gist of the material. Rather, many questions ask about specific details buried within the passages.
There’s no way to remember these details in full. Instead, you will have to refer back to the passage to research the answer.
To save time, it helps to use the digital tools provided to mark key details for later review. Develop a consistent approach to highlighting and underlining so that these actions become habitual rather than distracting.
Reading comprehension passages range from dispassionate explanations of scientific and technical concepts to lofty debates about law and philosophy to unconventional takes on literature and social history.
While some passages are more contentious than others, in every passage the author expresses at least one opinion. Often the author not only makes multiple claims, but also articulates other viewpoints.
Pay close attention to these claims and opinions. When an argument is made, identify its conclusions and premises.
Take care to distinguish when the author agrees with an opinion presented. Sometimes, the author may examine conflicting theories or raise doubts about an argument without taking sides.
Getting a handle on the author’s views serves two important purposes: It helps eliminate answer choices that are inconsistent with the author’s perspective and it directly answers questions about the author’s tone, opinion or attitude.
Like other LSAT sections, reading comprehension is best mastered through focused and methodical practice. Start by learning to demystify seemingly opaque passages, then practice both general and specific questions. In time, you will learn to work your way through this deceptively difficult section.
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