When potential future lawyers are starting to think about the LSAT, but not yet ready to start studying for the test in earnest, we often recommend that they brush up on their reading skills by perusing denser publications like The Economist.
Taking that recommendation one step further, we have previously broken down an Economist article the way we’d look at it on the LSAT. The basic strategy is to summarize the purpose of each paragraph (in as few words as possible), and then to anticipate the main point, primary purpose, and author attitude in the passage, as well as any other key elements (such as examples) that often crop up in the questions.
We’re back at it in the white vans today (shut up, we’re cool and hip) with some international intrigue. Smoking! It’s largely discouraged here in the States (side note: Who else is old enough to remember when you went to a restaurant and they’d ask whether you wanted to be in the smoking section or the non-smoking section), but those silly Europeans love their cigarettes, at least as far as I can tell from my several days in Paris.
Normally, as I mentioned above, I am a strong advocate for pausing after each paragraph to identify the purpose of that paragraph — I’ve found that it makes a huge difference in preventing yourself from getting so bogged down in the details that you lose sight of the overall passage structure. However, since the paragraphs in this article are so short, we’ll take a more laissez-faire approach.
Here’s how to play along at home: read the article, identifying any key structural elements like background information, details, and opposing viewpoints. After you’re done, write down the main point (1-ish sentence), the primary purpose (a few words), and the author’s attitude (a few words). Here’s the article again — readysetgo!
Back already? Cool. Let’s compare notes. Here’s what I’ve got:
The passage starts by providing the context, which is that a proposed ban was scrapped. We already have an idea that this will be what we at Blueprint call an antithesis passage, meaning that there will be two opposing viewpoints. We’ll say that Viewpoint #1 are the people who wanted the ban (the previous government), and Viewpoint #2 is overturning the ban.
The passage goes on to describe some concessions Viewpoint #2 made to #1. You’ll often find something similar in LSAT passages — even if someone falls mostly on one side of a debate, they’ll usually admit at least some merit to the other side.
Then we get the reasoning behind Viewpoint #2 from our friend Heinz-Christian Strache (has a more Austrian name ever existed?), who makes the argument for overturning the ban.
The following paragraph gives some reasoning in favor of Viewpoint #1 – primarily that the existence of smoking sections fails to contain the smoke, when the rules are even enforced. It also includes a sick burn, which is that Austria is apparently the “ashtray of Europe.” Plus, you know, people die and stuff.
After citing that cheery statistic, the passage hints at some implied criticism of Viewpoint #2, suggesting that overturning a ban that was developed via referendum may somewhat contradict a campaign promise to have more referendums. The passage explains a bit of the party’s reasoning, and then ends on a strong note for Viewpoint #1, with a representative of that viewpoint saying that the party is “making a deliberate decision today in favour of death” (!!).
So, now that we’ve analyzed the structure of the passage, let’s talk about those three key elements. Your summaries of the main point, primary purpose, and author attitude …
Main point: A political party overturned a proposed smoking ban, angering the ban’s proponents.
Primary purpose: To explain a recent development and give context for why it happened
Author attitude: Neutral — the author doesn’t pick a side, although each viewpoint gives plenty of ‘tude, which you’d need to be clear on for the questions: Viewpoint #2 was concerned about restricting freedom of choice, and Viewpoint #1 had health concerns.
Since the viewpoints were pretty strong, you’d expect plenty of questions along the lines of “Which one of the following would proponents of the ban be most likely to agree with?” There’s also plenty of facts in the article, so you’d be likely to see some questions along the lines of “Which one of the following was stated as a reason for the ban?” (or its even more devious counterpart, “Which one of the following was NOT given as a reason for the ban?”).
Reading Comprehension on the LSAT is difficult primarily because you have to train your brain to read in a different way than you’ve done in the past, so the more you can start thinking along these lines, the better off you’ll be for the actual test. So what are you waiting for? Grab your favorite dry, fact-based publication and dig in to some articles!