Introduction to LSAT Reading Comprehension
“The purpose of LSAT Reading Comprehension questions is to measure the ability to read, with understanding and insight, examples of lengthy and complex materials similar to those commonly encountered in law school.”
LSAT reading comprehension sections contain four separate reading comprehension questions sets. Each of these questions sets contain a passage referenced by all the questions in that respective question set. These passages tend to be drawn from a wide range of subjects, most commonly subjects related the humanities, sciences, and law. The passages are not easy reads; they typically contain a lot of information and a college-level (or higher) vocabulary.
The questions in reading comprehension passages typically require you to understand the main point of the passage, make inferences from the passage, describe the author’s attitude about the main subject matter, and explain why the author wrote the passage. The questions may also test your understanding of arguments, analogies, or important details contained in the passage.
How to Approach LSAT Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension is difficult for many students, but a good strategy makes a big difference. The key here is to focus on the passage; don’t rush to the questions. You likely remember how important the initial set-up is in logic games. A similar principle is true here. You want to spend time up front thinking about the passage before moving on to the questions. And you do that be examining the big picture, reading actively, and making useful notes.
Focus on the Big Picture
When you finish reading a passage, you need to understand the main point of the passage, the purpose of the passage, and the author’s attitude about the passage’s topic. We will get into this more in our next lesson, but for now remember this key takeaway: the big picture matters more than anything else. Do not get bogged down in details; think about the passage as a whole. If you truly understand the big picture. then you are ready to approach the questions.
Active reading requires you to interact with the passage you are reading. Don’t just read; think! Pause after each paragraph and summarize that paragraph in your own words. Make a mental note when the author gets passionate. Try to guess what the author will say next. Get really, really interested in what you are reading.
What you must never do is allow yourself to become bored, apathetic, or passive. Do not just take in information; think about that information. Consider why the author says the things she says; consider how she makes her argument. Stay engaged.
Write While You Read
“Why is marking up a book indispensable to reading? First, it keeps you awake. (And I don’t mean merely conscious; I mean awake.) In the second place; reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The marked book is usually the thought-through book. Finally, writing helps you remember the thoughts you had, or the thoughts the author expressed.”
— Mortimer J. Adler
Adler expresses the purpose of notation perfectly. It keeps you focused on the text; it helps you think about the the text; and it helps you remember the text. These are fantastic benefits, and they are exactly what you need to score well on reading comprehension.
Start by using the following notation strategy:
- In your own words, write the main point of each paragraph next to that paragraph.
- In your own words, write the main point of the passage at the bottom of the page.
- Write down the author’s purpose in writing the passage at the bottom of the page.
- Write down the author’s attitude about the subject matter at the bottom of the page.
The above strategy focuses you on what matters most in the passage; it forces you to think about the big picture. Over time, you may be able to reduce the amount you write or even eliminate some of the items on the list. But if you are just starting out, strongly consider going through each of the above steps for a little while.
You may be tempted to expand on this notation system in various ways. For example, you may decide to underline transition words or attitude indicators. If you do, make sure that every mark you make on the page is deliberate, clear, and adds to your ability to understand or recall the passage. Otherwise, you are just wasting your time with doodles when you should be reading.
Write Notes for Memory, Not Reference
A common (but ineffective) reading comprehension strategy is to make marks in passages next to specific details that the student thinks are particularly relevant. These students reason that marking the location of these details will speed up their ability to answer questions later, as their eyes will quickly zone in on the appropriate details when asked about them.
Unfortunately, this strategy rarely works. It is next to impossible to guess in advance which details the LSAT will ask you about, and often students noting the locations of useless details. To make matters worse, marking up details can draw the eye away from other, equally important portions of the passage.
A better approach is to write down notes that you never intend to look at again. The notes are meant to function as an aid to remembering the big picture, and you don’t need to be reminded of the things you already remember. Write down thoughts about the passage so that your brain is forced to comprehend it in a short span of time, not so that you have a (less than helpful) cheat sheet later.
LSAC Quotation Source: http://www.lsac.org/jd/lsat/prep/reading-comprehension
Mortimer J. Adler Quotation Source: “How to Mark a Book”