LSAT Reading Comprehension: It Ain’t What You Think

It’s just words, right? WRONG.

If you’re planning to take the LSAT, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve taken other standardized tests before — the SAT or ACT, perhaps even the GRE or GMAT. These tests all have one thing in common: reading comprehension.

On the surface, all reading comp looks pretty similar. There’s a passage followed by a bunch of questions about it. Compared to logic games or even to logical reasoning, the reading comp section of the LSAT may seem reassuringly familiar.

Don’t be fooled. LSAT reading comp is its own special beast, and it’s a tough one to conquer. LSAT reading comp distinguishes itself from most other reading comp in its focus on arguments and argument structure. Most reading comp asks about the information in the passage. The LSAT asks about that, too, but also asks loads and loads of questions about the argument in the passage: the passage’s primary purpose, the role of a claim in the passage, the passage’s structure, what would address someone’s objection to an idea, and so on.

Therefore, LSAT reading comp requires its own special methods. You need to read the passage not as much for the information presented as for the arguments. Someone’s making an argument. Quite often, there are opposing arguments. What are the points of view? Who’s behind those points of view? Where does the author stand?

If you’re a Blueprint student, that last bit probably sounds pretty familiar. It’s the information that should go in each passage’s primary structure diagram. Draw that diagram. Seriously, do it. The mental process you need to go through to isolate the points of view and put them in the diagram will help you understand the passage better. And even just a glance at the diagram will help you answer a number of questions.

You may find reading comprehension passages boring. Banish that thought. They’re fascinating. The best. Believe me. But seriously, one way to stay engaged is to keep your task in mind. You’re not reading the passage. You’re finding points of view and breaking down arguments. Don’t think of what you’re doing as reading. Think of it as chasing the author down a dark alley, throwing the author against a door and asking, “where do you stand?”

And when you get to the confusing nitty-gritty details, don’t let them suck you in. The most important thing to know about those details is: why are they there? What claim do they support? If you know that, you understand the passage. And if you have to go back to the passage when the questions ask about those confusing details, that’s fine as long as you know where to find them.

Above all, practice your reading comp. You can improve your score, but it takes time. There’s almost no chance of cramming it in at the last minute. You have to start now if you want results.

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