Stuck on Reading Comp? Focus on the author’s attitude

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Reading Comprehension is the bane of many an LSAT student’s existence, but contrary to what you might believe, it is possible to improve your score on that most vilified of sections. In general, in order to improve your score you should focus on tackling the passages more strategically – you’re unlikely to suddenly start reading much faster, so instead you need to be more efficient when it comes to both the passage and the questions.

Part of a strategic approach should include noticing aspects of the passage that are likely to turn up in the questions. One of the things you should be paying a lot of attention to is the author’s attitude. This doesn’t apply in all passages – there are certainly passages in which the author is more or less neutral, and simply presents a series of facts without adding any commentary – but when the author does express an attitude about a topic, it’s hugely important to be clear on what the author believes.

Why is understanding the author’s attitude in a Reading Comprehension passage so important?

There are a couple reasons why author attitude is so key in Reading Comprehension passages. Firstly, when you have a passage in which the author has expressed some ‘tude, you are certain to have some specific questions about it (such as questions asking how the author feels about certain things, or what the author would be likely to agree with). The author’s attitude will also inform the answers to many of the common questions; for example, in a question that asks about the passage’s main point, the correct answer will definitely need to incorporate the author’s attitude about the subject.

Furthermore, the LSAT can be very sneaky in some of the attitude-related questions. For instance, let’s say that throughout a certain passage, the author’s attitude is predominately that Doritos are a disgusting snack food and should not be consumed by anyone. However, halfway through the last paragraph in the passage, the author mentions briefly that she understands why one might be drawn to munching on a Dorito if there were literally no other sustenance left on earth.

If a question then asks “which one of the following would the author most likely agree with,” the correct answer could be something like “there are circumstances in which it is acceptable to consume Doritos.” Even though the author’s attitude throughout the passage was that Doritos are an abomination to mankind, because she mentioned briefly that Doritos would work as a literal last resort, that answer choice would still be supported.

OK, got it. So what should I be doing when reading a passage?

As you’re reading the passage, you should be keeping track of any and all words that might indicate the author’s attitude. You should be on high alert for those words as you read the passage; when you find ’em, underline the part of the passage that indicates the author’s attitude, and mark it with an “AA” in the margin. After you’re done reading the passage, in addition to thinking about what the passage’s main point was, you should also take a second to mentally summarize the author’s attitude. Then, and only then, should you proceed to the questions.

This approach helps because it ensures that you’re clear on the author’s attitude before you start the questions; also, if a question asks how the author feels about something, it’s easy to glance back at the passage and find the exact sentences where the author expressed her attitude.

In some passages, the author attitude is all-encompassing and appears throughout the passage. In other cases, the passage might be mostly neutral, with just a small section in which the author expresses some support or criticism. Either way, you’re certain to encounter some questions that allude to or incorporate the author attitude, and you’ll be way ahead of the game if you have a firm handle on how the author feels.

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