A Look at the June 2018 LSAT: Reading Comprehension

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Throughout this week, we’ll be sharing our thoughts on the recently released June 2018 LSAT. Today, we’re covering everyone’s favorite section, Reading Comp. Tomorrow, we’ll talk Logic Games and the curve. Check out Tuesday’s discussion of the score release and Logical Reasoning here, and Monday’s discussion of the truly psychedelic statements made on this test here.

We’re continuing our journey through the June 2018 LSAT, machete-hacking our way through brush and thicket of the oft-treacherous Reading Comprehension section. Maybe you’ve been through this jungle safari before, having taken the June test. In that case, we trust that you’ll find this a more pleasant journey the second time; perhaps you’ll even experience fleeting pangs of nostalgia as you take in the vistas once again. Or, perhaps this is your native voyage, and you are along for the ride to glean insight into the what this jungle might look like in September, November, or beyond. Either way, make sure to wear breathable fabric — this world is only getting warmer — and to bring a lunch — but cooked foodstuffs only, you have neither the time nor energy reserves to masticate a maw-ful of raw foods. Let’s journey ahead to Reading Comp!

Reading Comprehension

• Let’s start by discussing each passage, before laying out some trends. The first passage, as we’re told at the beginning, came from the mid-1990s — a period from whence nothing good ever came. It’s self-evidently scientific in nature, with the first sentences bringing up the development of “accurate profiles of average annual temperatures throughout the last 1,000 years” and “samples of ice deposits, tree rings, and coral growth layers.” And it only had five questions, the absolute fewest a Reading Comp passage would ever have. This passage was a great candidate for skipping, and saving for last. For many who can only make it through three passages accurately, or who teeter between doing three and four passages, I recommend saving the passage with the fewest questions last. If you have to rush through something, it may as well be a passage that won’t yield you many points. Using this strategy here would have been prescient. Not only was the first passage the least impactful on your score, it was also probably the hardest.

This one was all about how “new” scientific evidence helps prove that greenhouse gases are causing global temperatures to rise. But the journey the passage took you on was a windy rollercoaster, and I can’t say that riding it was a (ahem) gas. Basically, a bunch of a astronomers realized the earth’s atmospheric temperatures were rising … astronomically, and scientists decided that greenhouse gases — which blanket the earth’s atmosphere, trapping heat on our planet — were to blame. Except some of these poindexters realized that, based on models that charted the effects of greenhouse gases, the earth should be even hotter than it is, throwing the whole global warming theory into peril. Which was the point at which your uncle stopped reading the passage. But if you kept reading, you’d see that scientists figured out that airborne sulfates in the atmosphere mask the effects of greenhouse gases, and taking those into account made the model’s predictions more accurate. There was also a group of scientists tracking variations solar energy — which sounds like some new age crystal wave — who realized that the sun alone cannot explain the recent dramatic increase in temperature, lending more support for the idea that greenhouse gases are to blame for the rising temperatures.

So, this passage’s discussion of greenhouses gases shouldn’t be blowing your mind — it’s more or less standard knowledge at this point, and any classroom with science textbooks that weren’t made during the first Constantine’s reign should have this in it. What was tricky was how the evidence was offered, and how the author seemingly hems and haws before finally accepting the greenhouse gas theory. To actually answer the questions though, you really just had to understand was that the author ultimately endorses the greenhouse theory (mostly because its models match the observed atmospheric temperatures) and the main two causal relationships (that greenhouse gases increase temperatures, but airborne sulfates decrease temperatures). This illustrates an important reminder for Reading Comp: the devil is in the details. And, obviously, you have no time for the devil on RC. Make sure you understand the author’s position, and the secondary structures — like cause and effect relationships — and that’ll be sufficient for the questions.

• The second passage was among the dumbest passages I’ve read from Reading Comp. It may be second only to the first passage from the June 1995, which argues that the “diapir” eruptions (gross) could have killed the dinosaurs, and can be read as an elaborate yarn on the scatology of dinosaurs’ eschatology (i.e., a poop joke about dinosaurs’ extinction).

It was about various interviewing techniques police use to improve witnesses’ recall, and it laid out three options. First, we had the cognitive interview, which was pretty successful in improving recall, was backed by science, and worked all over the world. Except training was pretty long and complicated and expecting people to learn new skills is apparently too much to ask.

Second, we had … hypnosis. Yes, taking witnesses who, I don’t know, maybe just saw or experienced some a traumatic event, and treating them like an audience member of Reno, Nevada stage show. And then using the stuff they said under hypnosis in court. Which I don’t think would stand up to cross examination. “Ladies and gentleman of the jury, after establishing that my client was at the scene of the crime, this witness said she is a chicken, and then proceeded to act like a chicken. How can you trust poultry to construct a coherent timeline of this murder? I cry fowl on this whole investigation.” Now, apparently, using hypnosis is apparently much simpler than the cognitive method, which just involved like, building rapport with the witness. But hypnosis has the drawback of the witness saying a bunch of wrong stuff very confidently, in part because the witness was under hypnosis.

Finally, we had “the ideal method”: asking witnesses to close their eyes before recalling an event. Yes, literally, that’s it. “Close your eyes.” It’s a solution so anticlimactic as to render the rest of the passage meaningless. But asking witnesses to rest their eyelids is about as effective as the cognitive method and is obviously very easy to implement. So the author concluded that the “close your eyes” method was the best.

Anyway, once you got past the shock of reading the thing, the questions were quite easy. In fact, I would classify this entire passage as an “easy” passage, which is the first time a truly easy passage has shown up in Reading Comp in years.

• The third passage was the unavoidable comparative passage which, because like the last five have been related to the law, this one would definitely be related to the law. But … sike! … it was about the classification of genre fiction. As is the case with basically every passage relating to the fine arts, this one used complex jargon to express simple ideas. So those among us who hold an inveterate fear of multisyllabic, recherché words would recoil. But those among us who know that both former-English majors and the LSAT try to flex with big words — but typically to express simple, straightforward ideas — wouldn’t have had too hard of a time, provided that we simplified concepts like “aesthetic events” and “reading protocols” with our own words.

What linked these two passages was the belief that classifying literature into genres –like detective stories — based on strict laws (I guess law did sort of show up) or shared formal elements doesn’t really work. But classifying literature into genres based on how the reader approaches the text — like how a reader of a detective story will approach the text as if she were a detective herself — works rather nicely. There was a tricky question or two along the way — like one that required you to realize that the first passage used an example at the beginning to illustrate its argument, but the second passage used examples at the end to support its argument, or another question that required you to realize that both authors allowed for the possibility that a reader could hypothetically approach a text any way she wanted — but if you got this general relationship, you could have easily gotten through the rest, leaving this passage Murdered on the Orient Express.

• The last passage threw some much-needed acid in the face of the raw food proponents, by hypothesizing that, since we started cooking so long ago and are as a consequence so used to the high-calorie diets of cooked food, we maybe can’t really survive on just raw foods in the wild. This author, in an ironic twist, roasted the hell out of these raw foodies. But then, hilariously, the author claims that we can only survive on a raw-food diet “under usual circumstances, such as a relatively sedentary lifestyle in a well supported urban environment,” which could describe at least 80% of the people taking the LSAT.

The author in this passage claims that we started cooking maybe as early as 250,000 years ago (and still ain’t none of y’all can poach an egg right), and that it eventually led to anatomic changes, like a smaller teeth, smaller guts, smaller colons, and (ironically) larger small intestines.

In all, not the hardest science passage, even though it was quite annoying for those of us who are less scientifically-inclined to get two sciences passages on the exam. The questions didn’t really into the nitty gritty details of cooked and raw foods’ impact on biological functions — rather, most related to the fact you had to notice that the author’s use of circumspect language (e.g., “new evidence suggests that,” “may prove to result from”) suggested that the author was more proposing a hypothesis than making a definitive conclusion.

• Interestingly, there was a common thread across these passages about disparate topics: all attempted to prove some cause and effect relationship. The first passage attempted to prove that an increase of greenhouse gases have caused global atmospheric temperatures to rise. The second passage argued that asking witnesses to close their eyes caused more accurate testimony and a better recall of details. The third passage claimed that a reader engaging with a novel in a certain way causes that novel to be classified a certain way. And the fourth passage posited that cooking caused us to be unable to live off of raw foods (and also caused some other changes).

And of course, when a passage attempts to prove that some general cause and effect relationship exists, the evidence the author marshals will usually be causal as well. Just noting these causal relationships would directly answered or helped to answer 13 of the 27 questions.

Interestingly, a similar thing also happened on the December 2017 Reading Comprehension section. In that one, nearly every passage attempted to answer a question. Who knows if this is happenstance or a general trend, but there are a few rhetorical devices, like causal statements and questions, that passages are frequently used to frame an argument. Perhaps the next Reading Comp section will have passages organized around examples or lists.

• In total, this was an easier Reading Comp section than what has been the norm in recent years. Since about halfway through the second Obama Administration, the LSAT started ramping up the difficulty level of Reading Comp, with the difficulty level reaching its apotheosis (or, to most, I guess, its nadir) on the June 2017 exam. Since then, things have gotten a bit easier on Reading Comp.

Of course, all these LSATs are supposed to be about the same in their level of difficulty. Parts of the exam will be difficult, inevitably. Maybe this isn’t the most elegant or inspiring analogy, but difficulty on the LSAT is like the rising waters in a sinking boat. They’re inexorable. Sure, the writers of the exam can do you a favor by patching up one hole in the hull of the ship, as they did in Reading Comp. But that just means water will rise more rapidly out of another hole, like it did Logical Reasoning on this exam or Logic Games on the December 2017 exam. Even if they plug up all the holes and the test takers can enjoy smooth sailing … well, then you’ll bound straight to an unforgiving curve, as we’ll discuss tomorrow.

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