At some point while studying for the LSAT, you will have the delightful experience of doing a reading comp passage that’s right in your wheelhouse. You are a Russian Literature major and the passage is on Doestoevsky or you’re a math major and the passage is an explanation of fractal geometry.
Familiarity with the topic allows you to read faster and to feel comfortable and confident, a huge part of performing well on test day (though you’ll still need strong reading comp fundamentals to handle the questions).
Listening to podcasts can give you a broad knowledge of topics that appear on the LSAT so that you can have that experience of familiarity with more passages. Plus, even if they’re on different topics, podcasts are like reading comp passages in that they usually present an argument, and they might evaluate or reconcile competing viewpoints.
Should this replace doing practice passages? Definitely not. But what’s great about podcasts is that you can listen during times when you couldn’t study anyway, like when you’re driving, on public transit, washing the dishes, or folding your laundry.
It’s no mistake that my recommendations are some of the best and most popular podcasts out there: I bet the nerds at LSAC listen to these. If you’re already a listener, pat yourself on the back and listen more.
Before we go further, however, a caveat: Central to the LSAT is the notion that you need not have prior knowledge of the subject matter of passages. A corollary to this idea is that it’s possible, if unlikely, that the makers of the LSAT could decide to alter the facts in a way that’s inconsistent with your prior knowledge of a subject. If that’s the case, their statement of facts is the right one, regardless of how wrong those facts might be as you know them.
And now, without further ado, my recommendations, in order of priority, with examples of episodes that match past reading comp passage topics:
1. Radiolab—The test-writers definitely listen to this podcast to get ideas for science passages
The science passages you see on the LSAT often have to do with evolution, psychology, and interaction between humans and nature. Coincidentally, these are the topics that Radiolab also loves.
PrepTest 64, Passage 3 (Comparative): Evolutionary Psychology
Radiolab: The Good Show
Both of these tackle the perennial question of how humans are altruistic given a theory of evolution as competition and natural selection. (Passage B the test also happens to be one of LSAT’s most delightfully snarky reading comp bits).
PrepTest 67, Passage 3(Comparative): Indigenous vs. Native Species
1. Radiolab: Galapagos
The passage discusses the problem of invasive species, and whether our ideas of natural preservation are just another way of serving our own ends. The episode does the same with the spectacular example of the Galapagos, in which one of the things they did to “preserve” the tortoises is to kill goats with a machine gun from a helicopter.
2. This American Life—for topical stuff
TAL is best prep for the “current events”-ish passages. The episodes that are about quirky people and heartstring-pulling hardships are less relevant. I’d suggest listening to the list of “topical” podcasts, which include this one:
PrepTest 69, Passage 3 (Comparative): Software Patents
This American Life: When Patents Attack
TAL devoted a whole two-parter to the topic of this passage. This somewhat tricky comparative passage is easy if you listened to that episode, which lays out the exact positions taken by both authors of the comparative.
3. Planet Money—did you take micro and macro econ classes?
Economics passages occur with some frequency. Plus, you’ll be able to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of arguments based on studies, surveys, and experiments in the Logical Reasoning section if you have a basic idea of econometric practice.
PrepTest 55, Passage 4: Speculative Bubbles
Planet Money: What’s a Bubble?
Both of these tackle the question of whether bubbles are a genuine economic phenomenon: anyone who listened to this episode would have already had a working understanding of the two sides of the question in the passage.
There’s plenty more examples of episode-passage match for all of these and others: feel free to leave a comment if you’ve spotted a good one!
Go forth, listen widely, rock the LSAT.