Speeding Up on Reading Comp

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It’s hard to finish LSAT sections in time, and for many people Reading Comp is the toughest section to get through. You have to read the passages, which can take a while, and then if you’re not sure what you’re doing on the questions you can easily end up reading whole chunks of the passage again and then the time just slips and before you know it it’s the five minute warning and how many questions are left? Oh crap, and you start to try to go faster but nothing makes sense anymore and then they call time.

That’s what you want to avoid, so today we’re going to talk about how to improve your reading comp speed. Here are some tips:

Get what you need out of the passage

If you go through the passage too quickly, and you don’t understand what you need to understand, you’re not helping yourself. Either you’ll get a bunch of questions wrong or you’ll have to go back to the passage extensively and use up more time than it would have taken to read the passage correctly the first time.

Here’s what you need to get out of the passage. You should be confident in the big-picture stuff, like the primary structure, main point, primary purpose and author’s attitude, without having to read the passage again. You don’t need to remember all the details, but you should mostly know where to find them if needed. If you get questions about the passage’s structure or the role of a claim, your tags should help you answer those as well.

How long does the above take? It’s somewhat personal. For example, I can read pretty quickly and still understand things, but even if I slow down I’m not that great at confidently remembering details. So for me it makes sense to move through the passage pretty quickly, focusing on the aforementioned big picture items, leaving myself enough time to reference details if needed. On the other hand, I’ve had students who were the opposite: good at remembering details, but if they tried to read quickly their comprehension suffered. If that’s you, it makes sense to spend longer on the passage and rely more on your memory.

All in all, we’re probably talking about 3-5 minutes reading the passage, if you’re shooting to do all four (more on this later). If you need to speed up your reading, first, do you really? Are you reading the passage for the right things? You might save more time by reading better and getting less hung up on the questions. But if you really do need to speed up, don’t try to speed up uniformly. Separate claims from evidence. When you get a conclusion, or a statement of author’s attitude, slow down. That’s important to your understanding of the passage. On the other hand, when you get into the evidence, such as the details of the example or the details of the experiment, it’s ok to speed up. What’s most important is that you know why those details are there (what claim are they there to support?) and tag it.

Answer questions for yourself first

Some Reading Comp questions are completely open-ended, such as “Which of the following inferences is most supported by the passage?” Others have concrete answers, such as “According to the passage, which navigation system led unsuspecting travelers to get lost in the Australian desert?” If the question has a definite answer, find that answer first, before you look at the answer choices. Even if you have to go back to the passage (though you should have an idea where to look). It’ll take you less time to find it, be confident, and match an answer to what you’ve found than it will to critically evaluate five answer choices when you’re not sure. Whenever you can anticipate an answer before you go to the answer choices, do it.

Use the primary structure and main point as a tool

Let’s go back to one of those open-ended questions, like “The passage most strongly supports which of the following inferences?” or “The author would most likely agree with which of the following?” In both cases, the answer could be lots of things. It’s easy to get lost looking through the passage to confirm or disconfirm a few answers, and that can take lots of time. Before you do that, keep in mind the scope and main point of the passage. Is that something the passage talked about? Does it fit with the author’s view? You can often eliminate a few answers just because they don’t fit with the author’s view.

Also, in these open-ended questions, read answers for why they might be wrong more than why they might be right. Look for the strongest, most precise, most definite claims in the answers. Those are the things the passage has to back up. If they’re not in the passage, the answer is wrong.

Bring up the pace slowly, and consider doing three passages

If you suddenly try to go much faster, it’s going to be a disaster. Try to go a little bit quicker bit-by-bit while making sure you don’t compromise your technique. Also, it might make sense to try doing three passages. If doing four would make you rush and lose your accuracy you might get more questions right if you try to do three passages really well, with random guesses on the remaining one. Even if you intend to get to all four by test day, doing three might be a good interim strategy for your next practice test if the timing just isn’t there yet.

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