As my class for the October LSAT progresses, I am running into a common enemy: Reading Comprehension.
For some reason I will never understand, students do not always enjoy practicing their Reading Comprehension skills. Even when I explain to them that a good score in this section will inevitably lead to a deep understanding of the hidden mysteries of the universe and a better-looking spouse in the future, I just do not see the determination in their eyes.
All joking aside, acing the Reading Comp on the LSAT is very important and, with good practice, very possible. Too many students stumble along and don’t really improve because of a lack of good practice in this area.
I very often find that students are bad at diagnosing their own problems. I am a slow reader and I just don’t get it are the most common complaints that I hear. However, this would be akin to claiming that the problems in your dating life are due to the fact that you’re wearing the wrong pants. No woman cares that you have on Wrangler instead of Diesel jeans. The real problem is that you don’t have enough money.
In an effort to remediate some of these difficulties, I have developed a couple drills that you can try during your romantic evenings with your LSAT preparation books. These drills should help mix up your practice so that it becomes less boring. In addition, they will help you really diagnose your weaknesses and eventually improve your performance. (No promises on that hottie spouse, but this can’t hurt there, either.)
1. Blind Taste Test
If you get questions wrong and waste time in Reading Comp, that means that you did not read the passage correctly in the first place. But students normally have the crutch of being able to look back at the passage when answering the questions, so they never recognize these difficulties. This drill is designed to remove the crutch.
How to do it:
Read through a fascinating passage, preferably something about Native Americans being oppressed. Take your time and try to understand the passage as well as you can. When you feel like you have a good grasp on the details of the oppression, fold the passage back under the page so you can no longer see it. Then try to answer all of the questions without ever cheating and letting yourself look at the passage.
This should help you diagnose your real weaknesses. If you miss the Main Point and Primary Purpose questions, then you are focusing too much on the details and missing the big picture. If you get Author’s Attitude questions wrong, you are not tracking where the author stands. If you get the detail-oriented questions wrong, that is actually not the worst problem, but you might be able to improve the way you anticipate these questions.
2. Comprehension by Force
You know that moment when you are reading a passage and you can feel it slipping away? Normally it happens near the middle of the second paragraph. You are still reading the words, but you just know that you are not getting it. The normal student approach is to just keep charging forward and hope for easy questions. This would be like walking into a cage fight totally unprepared and hoping your opponent doesn’t really feel like fighting. Dangerous. This drill will teach you to never let this happen.
How to do it:
Read through the passage slowly. After each paragraph, actually take the time to write out a short paragraph summary of the information in the passage. This should include any presence of the author or other viewpoints and any pertinent details. Try to keep the summary to 20 words or less. Do this after each paragraph. When you have finished, go ahead and attempt the questions.
This drill is designed to force you to comprehend and summarize the information that is contained in these dense and difficult passages. Granted, you will not have time to do this on the actual test. But you should perform an analog of this procedure mentally when you approach any passage. Shockingly, you will probably find that your accuracy improves greatly when you actually force yourself to do the comprehension part of this section.
3. Wind Sprint
You never know what is going to happen on test day. You might get a real bitch about the childhood experiences that shaped the writing style of a feminist author (personal experience here), and that might eat up a lot of time, forcing you to rush through another passage. Also, students have a bad tendency to not trust themselves. Second-guessing and checking back unnecessarily burns valuable minutes. Enter the wind sprints.
How to do it:
This is Reading Comp in fast forward. Attempt to do an entire passage, but give yourself way less time than a sane person would require to complete this task. If a passage has five or six questions, try to finish it in 6 minutes. If it is a longer one with seven or eight questions, give yourself 7 minutes.
First, this will help teach you to trust yourself. Many times students will glance longingly back at the passage to verify answers that they already know are right. No bueno. This drill takes away that luxury. Also, this should be helpful in teaching you that you can rush through a passage and still get a good amount of questions right, thus avoiding an embarrassing breakdown on game day.
Also, you should sleep on a pile of Reading Comp passages every night so you can really soak up all of the knowledge that this section has to share. Feminism makes a great pillow.