9 Common LSAT Reading Comprehension Mistakes

The LSAT reading comprehension section often becomes a student favorite once they start their test prep. Why? It looks familiar. We’ve all read articles similar to the passages that appear in this section, most of us have taken tests with reading comp before, and many test takers perform well without much practice.

Test takers also feel frustrated, however, because the reading comp section does not respond with big points gains without implementing a more fine-tuned approach. So, let’s review how we should be strategizing for this part of the LSAT in three key areas (so that you can roll around in a big pile of reading comp points, Scrooge McDuck-style). Piece by piece, here are our expert LSAT reading comprehension tips for raising your score:

Reading Strategy

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?

Avoid these common mistakes that test takers make while reading the passages:

  • Underlining/highlighting

    Underlining provides no value when answering the questions. Instead, circle structural keywords, especially those indicating contrast (“but,” “however,” “although,” etc.), point of view (“some say…”, “critics argue…”, etc.), and author opinion/emphasis (“very significant”, “more trouble”, “terrible”, etc.). By zeroing in on these keywords, you’ll be able to efficiently grasp the passage’s organization, the author’s conclusions, and any additional points of view—all of which are key targets for questions.

  • Too much re-reading

    Minor details of the text are often (purposefully) more confusing than the main ideas. Learn to be comfortable skimming certain parts of the passages. If the information isn’t part of the main idea of the passage, don’t worry about it. Let keywords that indicate contrast, point of view, or author opinion/emphasis (see above) slow you down; that’s where you need to read more carefully. Keywords that indicate more of the same (“additionally,” “and,” “moreover,” “furthermore,” etc.) or specific examples (“for example,” “the case of,” “for instance,” etc.) can be skimmed quickly. Remember, if you need those details for a question, you can always go back into the text. If you don’t, they aren’t germane to the big picture.

  • Too much time spent reading

    You have three to four minutes per passage to read, which means you have to use the reading strategy described above. Pause at the end of each paragraph, jot down some quick margin notes indicating where the important stuff is (like a table of contents), and continue. Use the first sentence in each paragraph, as well as the scope of the passage and keywords, to help you figure out what is truly important to remember from each paragraph, then read for those items.

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.

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.