Reading Comprehension Basics

The Reading Comprehension section of the LSAT is, for many people, the most difficult section to improve. Most people who apply to law school enjoy reading and consider themselves good readers. (If you don’t like reading, trust me, do not go to law school). Furthermore, most people who take the LSAT have the reading comprehension skills necessary to achieve a perfect score. So why do so many intelligent, well-read students to struggle on the LSAT reading comprehension section? Answer: they’re probably trying too hard. The single most important key to achieving a perfect score may seem counterintuitive but it is crucial: read less.

LSAT reading passages are dense and cover a variety of material, much of which is dull, complex, and incomplete. Don’t treat passages as if they are portions of textbooks. You are not trying to come to a full understanding of the concepts laid out before you. In fact, doing so would be impossible: You don’t have enough time and most passages don’t include full information about the topic at hand.

Your goal on the reading comprehension section should be to know the key elements and structure of the author’s argument, what the purpose of the passage and its rhetorical content is, and what you can infer from the author’s statements, nothing more. The questions will not cover the entirety of the passage and most of the answers can be found in the first or last sentence of each paragraph or by scanning for keywords. So, instead of spending your time trying to thoroughly comprehend everything about the passage you are given, use the following strategies to work quickly and efficiently and achieve your best score.

Key strategies for reading comprehension:

  • Read for structure. Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph plus any additional information necessary for context.
  • Don’t rely on previous knowledge, especially of scientific or policy concepts. What is stated in the passage may be very different from what you know about the topic.
  • Scan the answers and eliminate.
  • Answer “according to the passage” questions first, then purpose questions, then inference questions.
  • Watch out for common wrong answers (applies to the Logical Reasoning section as well):
    • Answers that use exclusionary or exaggerated language like “only” and “any,” as well as direct comparisons
    • Answer choices that bring in outside information (“Out of scope”)
    • Direct comparisons not raised in the passage
    • Answers that state the opposite of what’s mentioned in the passage
    • For purpose questions: answers that state the main idea (the “what”) rather than the purpose (the “why”)

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