So you're thinking about taking the LSAT, but you're scared of reading comprehension. There's been a lot of talk about RC on the LSAT:
- “I already read as well as I’m going to read so there’s nothing more I can really do.”
- “I don’t have time to actually READ all of the passages, so I just skim.”
- “I already do pretty well on this section, it’s the other sections I need to focus on.”
The list could go on. Before I get into what you should do to improve your RC, I need to emphasize: this section is JUST AS standardized as any other section on the LSAT. That means, the same way there is a pattern and a logic to way the writers create the Games and the LR, there is a pattern and a logic to how they create the RC. What you want is to get good at noticing that pattern and logic so you can predict the kinds of questions they are going to ask you as you read the passage.
So here is how to do that:
1. Spend 1-3 minutes reading the passage.
As you read, look for a few specific things & pay attention to these: author’s attitude, comparisons (between things, opinions, or arguments), and cause & effect reasoning. These are the major things the writers will ask questions on and if you haven’t understood them when you read them, you are not going to be able to answer the question.
2. Mental Map The Passage.
The most common mistake I see is students writing a bunch of notes on the passage and underlining everything. The thing is you never come back and read your notes. Instead, you come back and read the passage. Instead of trying to write everything down, make a mental note of where the important information shows up. Writing it down gives you an excuse to forget it and so when you need to find it in the passage, you don’t know where it is and end up re-reading huge portions of the text, which is time consuming. Instead, pause at the end of every paragraph and sum up the important points you want to remember before proceeding to the next paragraph. This helps you to not only remember those important points, but also to remember where they are.
3. Check Your Answers Against the Passage.
The right answer is in the passage so why are you relying on your memory? I can’t tell you how many times you will be dead certain that an answer is correct because it seems so familiar only to find out the test writers have used a familiar phrase from the passage to construct a really compelling wrong answer. Memory is tricky. Don’t rely on it. Instead check the answer to verify that it’s supported by the text. If you did your mental map, finding the answer in the passage should be easy!
Lastly I will say this, your success on RC comes before you even get to the questions. Are you properly analyzing the passage – i.e. noticing when a detail later on relates to an idea the writers introduced earlier, understanding the author’s tone, correctly highlighting specific details that are going to be a source of questions later on? These are the kinds of things that will help you succeed on RC. Don’t try to remember every detail. It’s not all going to be important. You must cultivate the ability to discern which details are important and which aren’t and this only happens with practice!
Leonarda Jonie is a master LSAT teacher; she’s spent over 10,000 hours working with students to improve their scores.
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