Seeing the Big Picture on Comparative Passages

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Comparative Reading Comprehension passages are the baby of the LSAT, having been added to the test in 2007 (practically a blink of an eye for an organization that takes a month to score a Scantron). As the name would suggest, the questions focus on comparing the two passages: Which of these is supported by one passage but not the other? Which is something that both authors have in common? And so on.

Unlike the more traditional passages, in order to be successful at comparative passages, you have to read them with an eye for similarities and differences between the two — if you notice that both passages allude to something (or disagree on a point), that topic is almost guaranteed to come up in the questions.

In addition to those more specific details, you’ll want to have a general sense of how the two passages relate to each other, and that’s what we’re here to discuss today.

Comparative Reading Comprehension passages tend to “fit together” in one of three ways:

1. The authors are mostly in agreement

Obviously, two passages will never straight-up restate the same points in different words. However, you can have two passages with quite a lot of overlap; for instance, there’s a comparative passage in which two academics argue that the writing in their respective field is overly dry and dull. The passages are different, and use slightly different support, but end up in about the same place.

2. The authors mostly disagree

On the other side of the spectrum, you might see two passages where the authors disagree overall. Perhaps they use the same (or similar) evidence to reach vastly different conclusions, or perhaps they’re each using entirely different evidence. Either way, although overall you’ll be keeping track of differences, make sure to note any things about which they agree – LSAC loooooves to throw you off guard by asking you about that type of thing, when you’re expecting questions that are mostly about points of contention.

3. The passages focus on different facets of the same topic, with very little direct agreement or disagreement

When two passages don’t have many obvious points of agreement or disagreement, they probably focus on different facets of the same issue. Often, the first passage gives a broad overview, while the second passage drills down into a particular aspect of the topic.

This category can be the hardest for students to wrap their minds around, as it’s a little less straightforward than the other two types. Keep in mind that any agreements or disagreements might be about relatively small aspects of the passage (for instance, there’s a comparative passage about drilling muds, and one of the only points of overlap between the two passages is an offhand comment about the composition of a certain type of mud).

It’s easy to get focused on the small details of comparative passages, but make sure you’re not losing sight of how the two passages fit together, which will definitely improve your overall understanding.

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