Have you ever read something, and when you get to the bottom of the page, you realize that you didn’t understand a single word in the passage? If you answered yes, you’re in good company, especially as it pertains to the LSAT. For months, I couldn’t get through an RC section without having to reread multiple paragraphs. This was frustrating on multiple levels; I was putting aside the time to study for the LSAT, but I wasn’t able to extract anything from the passages I was reading. Because I had to go back and re-read what I had already looked over, I was also hemorrhaging precious time that killed my RC accuracy.
Then I had an “ah-ha” moment (after many late nights of frustration, I’ll have you know). I realized there was a common thread among passages that I had to reread: they were passages that didn’t interest me. Though I tried to use brute force against this problem – attempting to will myself into becoming interested – I didn’t make any progress. Eventually, I had to accept that the only way to improve was to find a way to get interested in these passages as I was reading them. This is my method:
First, preview the passage
Just like a new movie, the best way to get interested in an RC passage is with a preview. It gives you a basic understanding of what to expect in the passage. Understanding -- or even partially understanding -- what an author is trying to say in a passage before a full read can make it much easier (and interesting!) to follow along. In this case, the preview is reading the first paragraph and then the last paragraph. The first paragraph provides background and the last paragraph gives a pretty good idea of what point the author is trying to make in the rest of the article. Then, armed with some knowledge of what point you are looking for the author to make, becoming interested in the passage becomes much easier.
Then, actively read and make predictions
Now that you have a general understanding of the passage, it is time to start looking for the details. You can find these by actively reading and engaging with the material. One of the best ways to actively read is to make predictions about what is coming next. When you predict what will come next, you are getting actively involved in the subject matter and you develop a stake in what comes next. Whether the prediction is right or wrong is beside the point -- what matters is that you are thinking about what has happened so far in the passage, and using that information to try and guess what will happen next. Along the way, you should be checking your predictions against the information you gathered in the preview. By getting actively involved and grappling with the passage, your interest in passages about anything from molecular biology to 16th century poetry will increase, and your understanding of the passage will increase as well.
The final step is to write a 1-2 sentence summary encapsulating the author’s points in writing the passage. It is not describing the subject of the reading; rather, it is summarizing what the author is saying about the subject. In writing down the most crucial details prior to looking at the questions, you force yourself to determine the most important aspects of the passage without being biased by confusing answer choices. This is especially helpful for “main point” questions, because often there are compelling distractor answers in main point questions. Arming yourself with this knowledge before reading the answer choices is key – if you don’t have a solid understanding of the important points the author is trying to make, the distractor answers begin to look very appealing.
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