Top Tips for LSAT Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension on the LSAT is a learned skill, and better scores on this section of the LSAT are eminently achievable by anyone willing to work at it. Whereas better scores in the Analytical section sometimes feel easier to achieve by simply practicing LSAT questions repeatedly, there are no “shortcuts” for LSAT RC – it all comes down to strategy.

Here are 6 strategic tips that will help you turn a bad LSAT score into a good LSAT score.

  • Always Be Triaging

    Just like in the Logic Games section, clicking the first question for each passage will allow you to give them a quick once-over. Use your personal preference for the subject matter along with a more objective evaluation of the ease and clarity of the language to determine the order in which you want to tackle the passages. If you know that you get bogged down in science passages, leave those for last and spend more time on the passages you can get through easily.

  • Setup your Scratch Paper

    You’ll almost certainly want to jot down some notes as you read each passage. While your scratchwork won’t be anywhere near as complex as it will in the Logic Games section, it’s a good idea to have your pages labeled with something like “P1,” “P2,” and so on to keep each passage separate. This is especially true if you want to work out of order.

    Learn to zero in exclusively on the keywords that help you read more efficiently and effectively to target LSAT points. Practice effective paraphrasing so that you can capture the author’s purpose and point of view accurately in just a few words. More than that, practice taking notes and how you’ll set up your desk so you can refer to your notes and tablet efficiently.

    ALSO READ: Top 4 Tips and Strategies for the Digital LSAT ]

    No two test takers will take identical notes, so don’t strive to replicate any method word-for-word. Evaluate your notes by how much they helped you anticipate the questions associated with the passage and how quickly and accurately you were able to research the passage to find any and all correct answers.

  • Figure Out the Question Type

    For each question, try highlighting the question type in the question stem. With practice and experience, LSAT experts learn that different types of Reading Comprehension questions reward different research and evaluation skills.

    You can use the digital highlighting tool to tag words in the question stems that indicate different question types. For example, “states that” indicates a “Detail” question type, while “most likely to agree” signals an “Inference” question type.

  • See Scrolls

    Use the scroll bar to help you research. In LSAT Reading Comprehension, most of the questions will reference (either explicitly or implicitly) a specific paragraph or piece of text. Expert test takers research the text before evaluating the answer choices.

    Any question that has cited line numbers will have the referenced text in the passage highlighted in a unique color. The color of the highlight is different from any of the highlighter colors available so you don’t have to worry about conflicting markings, or searching for where the text begins.

  • View the Whole Passage at Once

    On the LSAT digital, the default view in Reading Comprehension is to see the passage on the left and a question on the right. But you can also click on the “passage only” view to see only the passage. In the “passage only” view, instead of scrolling, you’ll touch the “next page” button to advance your screen.

    To see the whole passage at once, you can decrease your font size from default to small. For all but the longest passages, this should get you down to a single screen in the “passage only” view. If you try this, you may notice a line of text, only half visible at the bottom of page 1. Don’t worry—you’ll see that line repeated and fully visible at the top of page 2.

    If you decide for any reason that you want to switch views midstream, that’s not a problem. All your annotations will be preserved, no matter how many times you switch.

  • Use Annotations Strategically

    Annotation in Reading Comprehension is both a blessing and a curse and learning how to annotate effectively can take some trial and error. Over-reliance on underlining or highlighting in Reading Comprehension is something that our instructors see a lot. And we get it—you had to read a lot of information in college, and when you went to study for exams, you had to be able to relocate the important stuff.

    The not-so-great side effect of this habit is that highlighting can become a way of saying to yourself, “This is important, so I’m gonna come back and think about it later.”

    But this process isn’t rewarded on the LSAT, because on the LSAT, there is no later—the exam is today! If you want to remember something, you need to do it now. So instead of highlighting or underlining big chunks of text, pause to process important information on the spot.

    In our experience, when students underline or highlight lots of text, more often than not, it’s serving as a substitute for actual thought. But pausing to process information, putting it into your own words, and thinking about why the author shared it—that’s active reading, and that’s the type of reading that the LSAT rewards.

Kaplan Instructor Tip

Align the paragraph with the question you’re tackling when doing your question research.

Reading Comprehension Passage Types

Within each passage, focus on answering the following questions:

  • What’s the big picture focus?
  • What is/are the author’s conclusion(s)?
  • Are there other points of view that agree or disagree with the author’s conclusion(s)?
  • How is the passage organized?

The LSAT Reading Comprehension section features four passages with a variety of topics and writing styles. The paired reading style and humanities passage can cause many to struggle. Here are the basics for excelling at these Reading Comprehension passage types.

Paired Passages

When you arrive at the Reading Comprehension portion of the LSAT, you’ll notice that one of the four sets of questions refers to a set of two “paired passages,” each by different authors, rather than to a single, more lengthy passage. (Note that LSAC routinely provides one set of “paired passages” per exam, but — as with a number of facts about the exam — it leaves open the possibility of more than one set appearing at some point.)

First, when encountering “paired passages,” don’t be intimidated by the potential length of the pair! Each is shorter than the other three passages in the section; in fact, the length of both passages combined typically equals the length of one of the longer sections. You may even want to approach the pair first, as they often deal with “easier” subject matter than the longer passages, which can be denser and involve more detailed or difficult information.

The set of “paired passages” and their related questions should be attacked similarly to single Reading Comprehension passages, with one primary — and vitally important — difference: the need to compare and contrast. When reading and marking the pair, you should pay particular attention to the interaction, as well as the similarities and differences, between the passages.

If possible, it is initially helpful to address the passages — and their corresponding questions — separately. After briefly skimming and marking the questions, try to read and answer those questions solely related to the first passage — should any appear — then move on to the second passage in a similar fashion. At this point,  you should have detailed knowledge of both passages and the major issues associated with each. Though you may need to quickly re-read the pair, you are now prepared to tackle those questions relating to both passages with the knowledge and confidence necessary to succeed.

Humanities Passages

Of the four sections in the LSAT’s Reading Comprehension portion, one will focus on humanities-related themes such as authors, philosophers, art, etc. To some test-takers, these “softer”-seeming subjects may in fact appear daunting, densely packed with richer description and a more elaborate writing style than, for example, those passages dealing with the sciences.  If you are one of these test-takers (perhaps a math or science major more used to numbers than narration), remember that you do not need to know anything outside of the information provided in the passage in order to successfully answer the corresponding questions. You are fully equipped with the material required to arrive at correct answers.

Conversely, test-takers accustomed to the humanities — those who light up at the thought of a class in ancient philosophy or modern English writers — may anticipate such a passage to be a comfortable respite from a section filled with less familiar passages on the sciences or legal issues. They should, however, be sure not to answer based on outside information, and instead focus specifically on those assertions contained directly within the material provided.

Regardless of your area of expertise, remember to read humanities passages — though they may seem quite different — similarly the way in which you might read an unfamiliar science or law passage: pay close attention to the topic, main and important supporting ideas, and structure of the passage, and avoid getting bogged down in the perhaps more complex language or unfamiliar subjects examined in the passage. Instead, read confidently, at an appropriate speed, and mark important points as you would with any other type of passage.

Wrong Answer Types for Reading Comprehension

As you practice for the LSAT, you’ll notice that wrong answer choices on the LSAT Reading Comprehension follows predictable patterns. For example, we know correct choices on the LSAT will be within the scope of the passage, fit the tone of the passage, and accurately reflect the information found in the passage. Incorrect choices, therefore, can usually be categorized as either (1) out of scope, (2) extreme, or (3) a distortion. Learning how to recognize and eliminate distortions will save you valuable time on your LSAT Test Day and will lead you to better scores.

Distortions on the LSAT are typically obviously a “twist” of the information presented in the passage, or they are “half-right,” meaning they contain one clause or phrase that is accurate, but also include a phrase or clause that is false.

How To Spot Distortions

  1. Put the answer choices in your own words. Simplify each choice by “dumbing it down” into your own words.
  2. Consider the differences in scope. What does Choice A offer that Choice B doesn’t? What do they each FOCUS on?
  3. Look at the diction. What words are used to construct each answer choice – any “keywords” that stand out to you? Look at qualifiers like “could,” “would,” “may be,” etc. They can often give you valuable clues!
  4. Consider the specificity of the question. It could be possible that you have it down to two answer choices, and it just so happens that neither is a distortion! How can this be true? If they are BOTH accurate statements regarding the passage, but only one choice answers the specific question at hand. In this instance, the wrong choice will be the “right choice/wrong question.”

With time and practice, reading comprehension doesn’t have to be a drag on your score; start early, work diligently on your note-taking and review, and reap the benefits of your efforts on test day.

LSAT Reading Comprehension Questions Strategy

Your main goals when encountering the reading comprehension questions should be the following:

  • First, get the gist of the question—zero in on the main idea of what’s being asked.
  • Anticipate answers wherever you can.
  • Finally, eliminate obvious wrong answers that don’t fit the larger picture of what the passage is about.

Avoid these common mistakes that test takers make while answering the questions:

  • Frequently getting the main idea or global questions wrong

    Make sure you stick to the reading strategy outlined above. As you go through answer choices, keep an eye on two things: Are the author’s main idea and purpose addressed, and does the answer stay in the scope of the passage? Wrong answers will frequently veer outside the scope of the passage.

  • Answering from memory

    This is a huge mistake made by even really strong test-takers. On easier questions for easier passages, you might get to the correct answer based on what you think you know, but relying on memory as a consistent strategy prevents you from getting the hang of the section as a whole. Instead, think of LSAT reading comprehension as an open book test. Use your roadmap (table of contents-style margin notes) to direct where you should be looking for answers. Anticipate which information in the reading will be relevant when you get to the questions, and you will be less likely to choose those tempting wrong answers.

  • Inference questions

    The tentative language of inference questions (“the passage suggests…,” “the author would be most likely to agree with…,” etc.) can encourage test takers to mistakenly look for answers that could be possible given the information presented in the passage. Remember, inference questions in the LSAT reading comprehension are asking what MUST BE TRUE, and we should answer them accordingly. Watch out for extreme wording (does the author say that fairy tales ALWAYS have their basis in true stories?), and keep an eye on the big picture—the right answers tend to be safely worded and refer back to the main idea or overall scope.

LSAT Reading Comprehension Section Strategy

Your main goals in approaching the LSAT reading comprehension section as a whole should consist of the following:

  • Order the passages from easiest to most difficult.
  • Be sure to get through every one of the passages.
  • Stay focused.

Avoid these common mistakes made by test takers in approaching this section of the LSAT overall:

  • Making bad decisions about passage order

    A lot of people don’t order the passages, which is a mistake. Remember, the LSAT is also testing you on what kind of management choices you make in each of the sections. Even among those who take the time to order the passages at the start of the section, many feel that they don’t always choose well, which is extremely frustrating. The biggest mistake people make is to order the passages based on subject matter. No subject (not even natural science) is inherently more difficult than any other. Instead, order the passages from easiest to most difficult based on keywords, structure, and authorial voice—not what the passage is about.

  • Not getting to the last (or last two) passages

    I have heard many students say “I can’t get a passage done in under [insert time here].” First of all, nothing on the LSAT is impossible. Look to cut down some of that time by following a reading strategy, then eyeball how you approach the questions. As with logic games, it’s not always in our best interest to complete every question. Be willing to leave some tough customers behind so you can get to the final passage—which means choosing to do the easy questions first.

  • It all blurs together

    Losing focus is a big consideration in LSAT reading comprehension both within individual passages and in the section as a whole. Remember to think critically about the text as you read. It’s not enough to just read the passage. You should be actively thinking about what will show up in the questions. The subject matter shouldn’t really engage you, however—that will distract you from your reading strategy. Focus instead on figuring out exactly how an author put the passage together—that’s what should engage you.

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