The philosopher-king Rod Stewart once said, “Time is on your side.” He was not referring to the LSAT, where time is definitively not on your side. One of the most vexing problems people studying for the LSAT face is identifying as a “slow reader.” The LSAT, of course, is a timed test. Everyone gets 35 minutes to do the same number of Logical Reasoning questions and Reading Comprehension passages as everyone else. And yet, there is a huge variance in how quickly people read and absorb the information. So, if you’re a person who feels like it takes you a long time to read these questions and passages, this whole exam seems kind of unfair, right?
Well, maybe. But what are you going to do about it? Give up? No! You’re determined and tenacious. You have grit. After all, you pledged to take a long, arduous test so that you can go to three years of intensive schooling that will allow you to take another longer and more arduous test so you can ultimately have a demanding but fulfilling career as an attorney. You’re not giving up, and we can help you overcome any “slowness” in your reading process.
A couple caveats, though: First, let’s not use this term “slow reader.” It sounds so pejorative, self-defeating. Let’s call ourselves “careful readers.” Or better yet, “considerate readers.” We take our time to appreciate the written word in all of its artistry and complexity. Second, you shouldn’t be too concerned about how long certain questions or passages or games take until you’ve actually learned and practiced the concepts and strategies for that type of question, passage, or game. However, once you’ve gotten these concepts and strategies down, and you’re extremely accurate on that question type without any timing pressure, you can begin to focus on timing. And for some of us “considerate readers,” that’s when the panic sets in. So let’s go over what we can and cannot do to get through more of these questions in the 35 minutes allotted.
1. Learning How to “Speed Read” is a Dumb Waste of Time, So Don’t Bother
The culture of internet life hacks have led a lot of people to believe that there’s a quick and easy trick to solve any problem. So it’s no surprise that some people try to “hack” their way into reading faster through the various “speed reading” techniques peddled by charlatans on internets. Don’t bother with this. First, you probably can’t learn a completely new way to read in the few months you have before the exam. Second, speed reading is the exact opposite kind of reading you want to do on the LSAT. Speed reading might allow you to get the gist of an argument, but the LSAT punishes, with the wrath of the Old Testament God, people who only get the gist of argument but overlook small, key words that often make or break a question. Finally, science is mostly skeptical of the merits of speed reading. So don’t waste valuable time on speed reading, time that could be spent learning other things that can actually help you out on the exam.
2. Anticipating the Answer Is Going to Be Really, Really Important for You
If you are a considerate reader, anticipation is going to be one of the most important general skills you can acquire. If you go into the answer choices without any clue as to what the right answer might look like, you’ll spend so much time reading, and re-reading, each answer choice as you weigh and debate and consider which one might be right. Nobody got time for that. Instead, you should take a few moments after reading each LR question to think about what the right answer will probably look like. At the very least you should have a general sense of what ideas or concepts the right answer will discuss. Once you’ve gotten really good at anticipating, you may be able to pick a correct answer choice without even having to read some of the answer choices. Making a small investment in time to anticipate the right answer is going to pay off big time when it allows you to avoid taking the considerable amount of time it would take to read and debate several answer choices.
You can also do this on Reading Comp in a few ways. There are certain questions you’re almost always going to get. A main point question. Questions about the author’s opinions on the various topics in the passage. Questions about how the different viewpoints in the passage relate. Questions that ask about specific details relating to examples and cause and effect relationships from the passage. Questions that ask about the role played by certain paragraphs. You should know the answer to all of these before you get to the questions. That way, you can save time both by selecting answer choices without reading them all, and avoiding the huge amount of time it takes to re-read large parts of the passage for each question.
This means that when you’re practicing these questions and passage, you considerate literate, you should be attempting to anticipate what the right answer will look like on LR and what the answers to the common questions will be on RC. FOR [handclap emoji] EVERY [handclap emoji] QUESTION [handclap emoji] AND [handclap emoji] PASSAGE [handclap emoji].
3. Don’t Get Lost in the Weeds
One of the easiest traps to fall in on the LSAT is getting completely lost trying to understand long, complex, but ultimately meaningless, strains of thought in LR questions and RC passages. The test writers deliberately put distracting things in questions to slow you down and divert your attention from the things that actually matter in answering the question. Considerate reader, you do not have time to get distracted by those things. So you have to always know which ideas matter in a question, and which ideas are extraneous.
One of my all-time favorite questions on the LSAT (by the way, LSAT instructors are nerds of a painfully undateable stripe who have things like favorite LSAT questions, instead of treating every question with the mild disgust normal people have) is a Must Be False question about salamanders. This question starts off by stating that all higher animals “require the production of eggs” to reproduce, but not necessarily the production of sperm. Then it goes off on a lengthy tangent about a female-only species of salamander that figured out how self-fertilize their eggs and remove guy salamanders from the picture. It talks at length about how these salamanders self-fertilize and what this means for their genetic codes and adaptability. I’ve sunk a lot of time into thinking about these first-wave feminist salamynders that managed to topple the presumably oppressive salamander patriarchy. I’ve looked into the real life version of this salamander, and learned that they apparently steal genes from male salamanders. I’ve laughed thinking about how men’s rights activists probably get irrationally mad at this fact.
This story distracts a lot of test takers too. But good test takers, regardless of how fast they read, know that this story ultimately doesn’t matter. They know that, for a Must Be False question, you just have to find a strong statement—like the statement that all higher animals “require the production of eggs” to reproduce—and then find the answer choice that contradicts that strong statement. They even read that strong statement and immediately look for the answer choice that contradicts it, without even contemplating the female only salamander, saving valuable time.
So when studying for the LSAT, it’s important to identify, for each LR question and RC passage, which kinds of statements and ideas matter, and which kinds don’t. You should know which statements help you make deductions or identify common fallacies for LR and which details in RC passages you’ll actually get question on (usually those involving examples and cause and effect relationships) and which details you won’t. Doing this will save a ton of time.
4. Know When to Cut Bait on a Question
And finally, considerate reader, once you’ve learned all the concepts, practiced all the questions, and are now working on testing strategies, the last piece of the puzzle is to learn when to cut ties with a question. Every question is worth exactly one point, but each question will vary quite a bit in the amount of time it will take, and the likelihood that you’ll answer it correctly. So certain questions are not worth your time. It doesn’t make any sense to spend four minutes on one question that you may answer correctly, when you could have spent that time on a three questions you’ll almost certainly answer correctly. So when you’re doing timed exams, it’s important to practicing skipping questions when you realize that you’re truly stumped. It’s better to guess, and move on to a question you’ll actually be able to tackle with confidence.
So considerate reading isn’t a death sentence on the LSAT. You can still do well, provided you practice strategies that limit the amount of reading (and especially re-reading) on the exam.