Tackling Comparative Reading Passages on the LSAT

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Reading Comprehension is probably the most ignored section of the LSAT. People tend to think something like, “I’ve been reading since I was five. If I can’t get it by now, I’m just gonna have to live with it.” But, Reading Comp isn’t reading as usual, so putting in the practice does pay off. Reading Comp’s peculiarities are most evident from the Comparative Reading passages. You get two passages and a single set of questions related to one or both passages. When’s the last time you had to go through something like that reading, say, the Huffington Post?

In case you’ve been struggling with Comparative Reading passages, we’ve got your back. Here are some of the strategies our students find helpful.

Step 1: Tag the crap out of the first passage

Reading Comp authors are notoriously bad about using paragraph breaks. Paragraphs are rare, and they show up without much reason at all. Instead of relying on an author’s paragraph breaks to give you the structure of a Reading Comp passage, you need to tag each complete thought in the margins yourself.

Ideally, you want to tag role elements: support/evidence, studies, hypotheses, experiments, examples, causal claims, questions, answers, problems, solutions, criticisms, and so on. If you can’t spot a structural element, then your second best option is to us a subject tag. Role tags answer, well, Role questions, that’s why they’re awesome. Subject tags will at least help you navigate the passage and remember what the author said.

Tagging the first passage really well is absolutely the key to doing well on Comparative Reading passages. This is because Comparative Reading questions will often as you to compare the two passages. But you can spot Comparative Reading questions the moment you flip the page and see two passages. So don’t wait until you get to the questions to start thinking about how the two passages are related to each other. Start right away by getting to know the first passage. You do this by tagging the crap out of it.

This way, when something new, same, or antithetical comes up in the second passage, you’ll be a lot more likely to notice it.

Step 2: Reading for agreements and disagreements from the second passage

Before I move on to the second passage, I like to quickly review my tags for the first passage. I tend to have a lot more tags per line than I would in a normal Reading Comp passage. This way, when I start reading the second passage, all the ways in which the two passage relate jump out. Here, during your second passage, your tagging strategy changes a bit.

Every time you find an agreement in the second passage, write a little (+) in the margin. If you find more than one, then start numbering your plusses: (1+). And, every time you find a disagreement, tag it with a (–). Feel free to write a word or phrase next to each (+) or (–) to help you remember what the agreement or disagreement is.

Step 3: Don’t forget your other strategies!

Often people get so overwhelmed with tracking agreements and disagreements that they forget to use their other Reading Comp strategies.

Remember, each passage will have a primary structure (Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis), secondary structures (examples, questions/answers, causal claims, classifications) and a number of other elements we usually keep an eye out for (experiments, named advocates, studies, and so on).

Also, you should be using your Logical Reasoning question type strategies during Reading Comp. Each Reading Comp question has a corresponding Logical Reasoning question type. The work of typing Reading Comp questions is a bit harder, but it’s definitely doable. At the very least, try to figure out which question family you’re in (Implication? Operation? Characterization?).

Hopefully that helps. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment.

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