7 LSAT Reading Comprehension Tips [ plus our favorite study aid ]
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Because reading comprehension is one of the most important sections on the LSAT, you should study with LSAT Reading Comprehension tips in mind. You’ll have to read a lot of material in a short amount of time, and you’ll be expected to know how to analyze that material. This might seem overwhelming, especially since “comprehension” is an aspect of education that’s difficult to study. To effectively ace the reading comprehension section, you’ll need to go beyond memorization of facts and statistics: You’ll need to apply critical thinking skills and analytics to your studies.
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What Is the LSAT Reading Comprehension Section?
The LSAT Reading Comprehension section is the part of the LSAT during which you’re expected to apply your critical thinking and analytics skills. Because this is a test of your ability to analyze rather than memorize, there aren’t helpful fact sheets that you can simply cram before you take the test. You’ll be given a variety of passages to read. These passages will cover a range of topics. They may include difficult language and other writing conventions that are hard to parse. After you read the section, you’ll be asked questions about what you’ve read. These questions will have analytical answers, and you must draw your conclusions based on the text. Continue reading our LSAT Reading Comprehension tips to understand how!
Reading Comprehension Passage Types
When you take the LSAT, you can expect the Reading Comprehension section to have three individual passages along with one pair of passages. The pair of passages must be read and analyzed together. The follow-up questions might focus on one or both of the passages. You’ll be expected to draw conclusions about the passages, as well as compare and contrast the messages given by the passages.
A question on the Reading Comprehension section has three overall components: the relevant piece of the passage, the question itself, and the choices for your answer. The question will require you to analyze the passage in some way. Analysis questions might cover a wide range of topics including the purpose of the passage, the passage’s structure, the main ideas conveyed, or the rhetorical strategy.
The questions on your paired passages will ask you to apply your critical thinking skills to both passages. You’ll be asked to analyze the differences and similarities between the passages. This might mean comparing the intentions of the authors, comparing the style of writing, or comparing the overall themes. Sometimes the relevant part of the passage or passages will be just one line or one paragraph. At other times, you might need to analyze the entire passage. Five answer choices will always be available.
Humanities passages are passages exploring topics about literature and art. You might find yourself reading about the messages of different artists, the impact of classic literature on popular culture, or an author’s overall intent. The humanities passages exist to examine the way that art and literature intersect with the real world.
You’ll be expected to understand the overall intention of the authors and artists in the passages. But you’ll also be expected to go one step further: You’ll need to examine the impact that these authors and artists had through their art. You’ll also need to draw personal conclusions about what the text is trying to say. Did these people accomplish what they intended? How do the circumstances of historical artists compare to today’s circumstances? How are people still being affected?
You need to approach the passage with the intention of understanding the subtext. You need to draw your own conclusions. Because of the analysis required for these questions, the Reading Comprehension section is the most difficult section to study for. There aren’t cheat sheets or “hacks” that you can memorize. Your reading comprehension skills won’t be helped by study tools like flash cards or memory games. The best way to study for the reading comprehension section is to practice analyzing the content you interact with in day-to-day life.
New to the LSAT? Start with this introduction to Reading Comprehension by the LSAT Trainer’s Mike Kim:
7 LSAT Reading Comprehension Tips
When you prepare for the Reading Comprehension section of the LSAT, it can feel a bit more intimidating than the other sections. Here are 7 LSAT Reading Comprehension tips that will hopefully help guide you on the right path:
Tip 1. Do the easiest passages first
One mistake people make is attempting to do the passages in chronological order. Conversely, sometimes students will start with the hardest passages, believing that the easier passages will seem far more doable in comparison. But this isn’t an effective test-taking strategy. It’s easy to lose time analyzing complex passages. If you do the hardest parts of the test first, you might not have time to answer the easy passages at all.
Making it among the top of our LSAT Reading Comprehension tips, instead of tackling the tough parts of the test, you should start your Reading Comprehension section by skimming all of the passages. Decide which of the passages will be the easiest for you to answer. “Easy” passages will vary widely from person to person. Many pre-law students have a hard time with scientific analysis, so they choose to answer the scientific passage last. That said, if your mind is geared toward scientific analysis, you might have a harder time with the humanities passages than the science ones.
Tip 2. Take notes as you read
It’s impossible to remember every minuscule detail discussed in the passages. You should use a piece of scrap paper to jot down notes as you read. An important note, however: You shouldn’t take such detailed notes that you find yourself running out of time. Experts recommend jotting down three or four words for each paragraph in a passage.
Even though the questions will direct you to the relevant part of the passage, it’s still helpful to take notes. Writing down notes in your own words is a way of cementing details into your head. Students who take notes while reading will later recall far more of a passage than students who read without pausing. (A side note: This is a good tip for studying in general, too!)
Tip 3. Read the passage thoroughly (No skimming!)
It’s tempting to skim the section. While it is true that you should skim the passages to decide on the order in which you’ll answer the questions, this shouldn’t be the end of your reading. You should read each passage thoroughly. This ties into note-taking to retain details. When you skim, you don’t take in as much information as you do when you digest each paragraph. It’s important to absorb as much information as you can before you apply your critical thinking skills to the passage.
Even if the questions only pertain to a few sentences in the passage, you should still read the whole passage. Some students will skim the passages and only read the question-relevant portions in an attempt to save time. But this can cause you to draw inaccurate conclusions. It also makes it more difficult to narrow down your answer options.
Tip 4. Identify the premise and conclusion
A lot of your analysis can be done by scrutinizing the introductory and concluding paragraphs of a passage. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read the entire passage thoroughly — it just means you should pay special attention to the introduction and conclusion. The introductory paragraph will introduce you to the premise of the passage. The conclusion will tell you about the author’s final opinion on the premise.
You should analyze the introductory paragraph to understand what the overall passage is about. You should analyze the conclusion paragraph to understand the author’s intention and message. Regardless of the question, both the premise and the conclusion of the passage are essential to your analysis. Some reading passages will have clearly defined thesis statements and an entire concluding sentence dedicated to the author’s opinion. Others will require you to analyze the premise and conclusion based on subtext: the tone of the writing, the language used, the supporting and detracting facts offered, and any cultural subtext that might influence the text. Check out the 3 steps to identifying premise and conclusion here.
Tip 5. Determine the author’s opinion
As previously mentioned, the conclusion is the best place to find the author’s final opinion. In persuasive passages, the conclusion will be used for authors to reinforce their messages. In factual passages, the conclusion will reiterate the facts and explain the author’s thoughts. It’s easiest to determine the author’s opinion when the author states it outright: the thesis statement of the introduction, or a strong concluding sentence. It’s harder to determine author opinion when you need to use subtext.
Authors don’t usually write, “This is my opinion on my article.” If finding the opinion was that easy, the Reading Comprehension section would be a breeze. Instead, you’ll need to analyze the way the author uses language. What is the overall tone of the piece? How does the author present their facts? Do they take a neutral stance, or do they lean heavily to one side or another? How does the language that the author uses influence the conclusions you draw about the text?
Tip 6. Eliminate answers with strong claims
The passages in the Reading Comprehension section tend to make strong claims and contain strong opinions. Even when the opinion isn’t outright stated, the tone of the piece will lead you to conclusions about the author’s intention. Ambiguous passages aren’t ideal for the LSAT because they can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. For this reason, you can eliminate most answer choices that seem to draw ambiguous conclusions. Any answer that asserts that an author doesn’t have a strong opinion, or that the passage doesn’t have a strong theme, is probably wrong. You should only pay attention to the answers that assert strong claims.
Once you’ve eliminated the ambiguous answers, it’s much easier to choose the correct answer by analyzing the tone of the piece. The overall approach you should take to question answering is this:
- Decide which passages to answer first.
- Read the passage thoroughly, taking quick notes on a piece of scrap paper.
- Read the question.
- Reread the portion of the passage that the question indicates.
- Consult your notes if necessary.
- Eliminate ambiguous or obviously incorrect answers.
- If you still aren’t sure, reread the indicated portion again, this time with the non-eliminated answers in mind. Which seems more accurate? This is the one you should choose.
Tip 7. Know when to guess
The LSAT doesn’t have any penalty for guessing on answers. Some standardized tests will detract points for wrong answers while staying neutral when you skip a question. But when you take the LSAT, all that matters is the number of questions you get right. At this point, taking the test becomes a matter of strategy.
The Reading Comprehension section lasts for thirty-five minutes. This means that you’ll have only thirty-five minutes to read and answer questions about five different passages. Time management is essential. If you’ve crossed off all the incorrect answers, but you’re still torn between two potential answers, it’s better to guess than to skip the question.
You shouldn’t spend more than ninety seconds on any one question. If you find that you’re spending an extended period of time trying to decide on an answer, guess and move on. If you finish all of your questions, you can come back to this question for further analysis. If you don’t have time to come back to the question, you can be sure that it was better to guess than to risk not finishing the test. This is last among our 7 LSAT Reading Comprehension tips but learning when to guess is a skill that should be practiced.
Not all answer choices are the same – have a look at this LSAT Guessing Strategy Guide from PowerScore.
Did you find these 7 LSAT Reading Comprehension tips helpful? Anything else to add? Let us know by commenting below: