8 Ways to Improve on LSAT Reading Comprehension
Of the LSAT's 3 kinds of multiple-choice sections, Reading Comprehension often receives the least focus.
Of the LSAT’s 3 kinds of multiple-choice sections, Reading Comprehension (RC) often receives the least focus, as it’s more familiar to people and requires the least conceptual development to master. Granted, RC tends to be the least improvable section of the test given how well engrained his/her reading ability is by the time a college student or graduate gets ready to take the LSAT, but LSAT test-takers still need to give the section its due.
Here are 8 ways to improve on LSAT Reading Comprehension:
1. Acknowledge you probably don’t want to work on it.
If you enjoy working on RC, then that’s great and bodes well for your law school future. However, if you’re like most people who have taken or plan to take the LSAT, then RC tends to be a chore. While the Logic Games section offers puzzle-solving work and is the closest to “fun” as you get on the LSAT, the Reading Comprehension section can feel like a drag. It’s important to know yourself and, with the aid of an LSAT tutor, develop passage and question strategies to succeed on RC.
2. Consider incorporating a daily passage into your LSAT prep regimen.
Let’s start by assuming you’re in line with the majority of LSAT students who don’t look forward to reading about obscure mating displays that dissipated and then suddenly proliferated in 1895 amongst a geographically isolated group of pelicans (fine - that’s not actually from a real LSAT passage). But the point stands: a lot of RC passages aren’t enjoyable reads. A great way to build up RC volume is to do just 1 additional passage every day, preferably at a set time of day, ideally 6 days a week. Doing so can offer the following benefits:
- You complete 1.5 sections of RC without feeling like you’ve done that much. This is very much like “Greasing the Groove” as a training technique to improve on a calisthenics movement like the push-up: slowly build up repetitions over time and allow yourself to acclimate.
- You get several opportunities each week to adjust and potentially readjust your strategy with every daily passage. Maybe try taking more notes than you usually do. Or try to dial up the speed. A daily passage is a low-cost opportunity to continuously use trial by error to find what works best for you.
- You can record how long you take reading the passage versus answering the questions. Since you won’t be under the same pressure to perform as you are during an LSAT practice test, you can take a closer look at how you’re spending your time, which is actually something certain online resources will do automatically. Many don’t bother to note how their time is allocated and could stand to gain from concentrating on that allocation with isolated practice. You may even notice doing RC becomes less like a chore and more like a mental exercise, as you sharpen up day after day, investing what is likely less than 10 minutes at a time.
3. Avoid working on printed passages.
The LSAT is now administered digitally, and to master the digital LSAT, it’s necessary to prioritize digital over hard-copy work. The new LSAT format has admittedly caused some angst since its debut in July 2019, but all that matters is optimizing your score, and realistic practice is the best way to do that. Some hard-copy work if fine, of course, maybe for something like a daily passage. But you should get highly accustomed to working with the digital layout you’ll be seeing on test day.
4. Mentally segment each passage.
One reason many LSAT students loathe RC is that sometimes an RC section can feel like a blur. To avoid or at least diminish the “brain drain” experienced during RC, work to differentiate your tasks, possibly into the following camps:
- Reading & note-taking
- Question type recognition
- Answer choice evaluation
To achieve a high LSAT Reading Comprehension score, it’s useful to break up what you’re doing, effectively “tricking” yourself into viewing RC as a set of isolated tasks - from finding facts to forming analogies - to be completed within a given amount of time. For those who excel on LG: do everything you can to make RC as game-like as possible.
5. Don’t expect to make up for a lack of understanding on the questions.
This is maybe the biggest and most common LSAT Reading Comprehension mistake out there. Many LSAT students wrongly assume they can go full steam ahead through a passage, failing to grasp one or more paragraphs, and then compensate while answering questions. On RC, you’re tested on how well you can retain and organize information, so the above approach will leave you wide open to mistakes. It would be like thinking you’ll be able to seat guests at a party according to their backgrounds and interests after failing to learn about some of the guests.
6. Alter your approach by question type.
A commonly used and helpful way of referencing RC questions is to identify how “global” - or contrariwise how “local” - a given question is. To go one step further, though, let’s consider how pre-phrasing (a tactic most often associated with Logical Reasoning) can help on RC:
Some questions on RC, like inference questions about the passage as a whole or about the perspective of the author(s), are highly general. But other questions are highly specific, and the more a question narrows in on a certain part of a passage, the more inclined you should be to pre-phrase. Additionally, a quoted term or line reference (only applicable to paper tests) within a question, an LR-styled appearance, or simply a long description within the question all make pre-phrasing more worthwhile. “LR-styled appearance” refers to the appearance of those RC questions, like Strengthen and Weaken, that seem to have migrated from the LSAT’s LR sections.
7. Standardize how you read.
The LSAT rewards those with various skills, but creativity isn’t among them, for better or worse. Yes, the sort of creative thinking that can help you see how a new piece of information resolves a paradox is rewarded, but across the board disciplined and methodical thinking is rewarded on the LSAT more so than open-ended thinking. (This is arguably even the case on LSAT Writing). To standardize how you read, set up a list of key elements to look to identify while reading, not all of which will be instantiated in a given passage. Here’s an example list you can use:
This will always be present, and among other things, adverbs can really help: “surprisingly” clues you into the fact that the author wasn’t anticipating some stated result, “unfortunately” clearly indicates the author isn’t on board with something, etc.
This will also always be present. Pay special attention to the end of the first paragraph and end of the last paragraph when looking to identify the passage’s purpose: those spots tend to include thesis/antithesis statements.
Things to count
Okay, fine, that’s incredibly vague. But there’s a reason for that. Throughout various RC passages, but not all, there are clear examples of “things to count” while reading: 2 examples of a phenomenon are given, 3 tenets of a philosophy are explained, etc… Being able to block out a paragraph with numbers can greatly simplify relationships within the text.
These can pay off on passages with subject matter that’s foreign or tough to make relatable for many readers - like science passages. In the same way you’re best served by slowing down and carefully observing street signs when you’re lost while driving, you’re best served by reading with care and noting terminology when you’re lost while reading.
These have less impact on your RC score than on your other section scores, but when one of them shows up, there’s generally at least one question that will test your understanding of it.
These obviously won’t make or break your RC score, but while reading, you should use transition terms as checkpoints: terms of contrast like “however” and “yet” indicate a turn while others, such as “additionally” and “also”, mean you can relax a bit and count on another point to be made that continues in the same direction.
8. Target weaknesses by using old LSAT PrepTests.
7Sage LSAT offers various free resources. One of them, LSAT Test Analytics, can reveal previously undiagnosed issues you can resolve to boost your RC score. Cut up some old LSAT PrepTests, roughly defined as PrepTests 1 - 49, whose RC sections are by many considered to be easier and less representative of modern RC. Then use those for targeted RC work.
Bonus Tip: Ask yourself if you falsely deliberate between answer choices. False deliberation: spending ANY additional time on an RC question when there is little to no chance you change your mind regarding which answer you’re going to select. This is a problem that affects many students on RC, often without their knowledge, and it takes discipline to solve. True deliberation involves some consideration of actually switching from one answer to another, but false deliberation lacks that consideration, and it eats away time because of double-checking and self-reassurance. Work to remove the error by intentionally moving on from a question once you “know” you’ve made your call.