It’s not uncommon for students to focus their LSAT studies mostly on Logic Games and Logical Reasoning, simply because they just don’t know how to improve LSAT Reading Comprehension.
And it makes sense why students would feel that way. After all, in Logic Games, you have concrete things to study, like diagramming and conditional logic. Logical Reasoning has question types, argument structures, and step-by-step processes that vary by question type.
But Reading Comp can sometimes seem like an amorphous section. You have to get better at reading. And it can be hard to know how exactly to go about that.
The good news is that there are definite things you can do to improve your LSAT Reading Comprehension. Some of them are techniques you can apply in your practice, while some are mindset shifts that you may need to make.
Read on, and choose a couple of suggestions to implement this week.
Aim for accuracy before speed
One of the biggest struggles students face with Reading Comp on the LSAT is timing. In fact, in my free consultations, students nearly always mention timing when I ask how Reading Comp is going for them. However, that’s rarely the place we actually need to start.
When you’re trying to improve your LSAT Reading Comprehension score, what you don’t want to do is just get faster at doing the wrong things. So before you worry about getting to all four passages within 35 minutes, make sure you have a decent accuracy untimed.
Once you have that accuracy, you can start to work on speeding things up gradually.
And whatever you do, don’t fall for gimmicks like learning to speed read. That’s not what this test is about. The LSAT is all about attention to detail, and speed reading just doesn’t get you there.
In fact, one of the key ways to improve your accuracy and your general reading comprehension skills is to slow down while reading.
But it’s not just about having a slower pace. You need to be using that slower pace in order to pay more attention to what you are reading rather than just letting the words wash over you.
Of course it’s also important to know where you should direct this attention. It’s not necessary to understand every single thing in a passage. You won’t be tested on most of it.
Instead, focus that active attention on structure and opinions.
Reading for structure
Our natural instinct is to read for content rather than structure. After all, in college, we were tested on the content of the textbook chapter on mitochondria – not on the author’s structure when writing the chapter.
But on the LSAT, structure is more important than content. You can see this in questions that explicitly ask about the purpose of paragraph 2 or the progression of ideas in the passage. But it’s also helpful to know the structure of the passage when you’re trying to determine where to go back and research your answer, since you definitely don’t have time to reread everything.
To read for structure, think about WHY the author says what they do. Mentally think through a brief summary of each paragraph. And by brief, I mean brief. Shoot for 7 words or so. Your “summary” should not be a sentence-by-sentence replay of the entire paragraph.
You should also think about the structure of the whole passage. For this, it may be helpful to think in terms of some of the more general frameworks that passages fit into, such as “problem/solution,” “traditional view versus new view,” “old theory plus new evidence that supports another theory,” “influential figure and their development.”
Read for viewpoints
Along with structure, make sure that you are paying attention to viewpoints while you are reading. Not just the author’s viewpoint, but also the viewpoint of the “critics” that the author may be arguing against. Or the traditional viewpoint whose shortcomings some new viewpoint is designed to address. If you have multiple cited researchers or camps within a field, keep their viewpoints straight as well.
You’ll often be asked explicitly about these viewpoints in the questions. Tempting wrong answers may sound familiar because they are in the passage, but they are just from the wrong person’s viewpoint.
Find your support in the passage
This is a Reading Comprehension test, not a memory test or a test of your outside knowledge. So make sure you are finding definitive support for your answer within the passage. Ideally, it should have the feeling of “clicking into place” when you find the exact part of the passage that the LSAT test writers had in mind when writing the question.
The corollary of this is that if you can’t find support for your answer, you shouldn’t choose it.
In this sense, you can essentially think of most RC questions like Must Be True or Most Strongly Supported questions from the LR section.
Don’t be lazy about looking for that support. When the alternative is getting stuck trying to decide between three potentially viable answers, it’s better to just spend the 30 seconds looking for the exact part of the passage that will completely unlock the question.
Be nitpicky and ruthless
This is one of the key mindset shifts I see that students need to make to improve their LSAT Reading Comprehension score, especially if they are already doing a decent job of understanding the passages.
It’s tempting to think of Reading Comp questions as being somewhat a gray area. Not as black-and-white as Logic Games, for example.
But the quicker you can shift that thinking, the better.
Get on board with the idea of each question having one definitively right answer and four definitively wrong answers.
And set a high threshold for what it takes to be definitively right. I frequently tell my LSAT students that “95% right is 100% wrong.”
It’s not enough for an answer to be close to the right answer, to be almost a match for what is in the passage, or to get off to a good start. Be suspicious of the answers, and be nitpicky about everything in the answer. All it takes is one thing to be off in order for the answer to be completely wrong.
Future-focused blind review
One of the best tools you can use to improve your LSAT Reading Comprehension is a solid routine for your review.
After you go through a section or a reading passage, whether timed or untimed, take the time to review it thoroughly.
- Reread the passage.
- Take the time to make sure you really understand what it means. Can you summarize each paragraph correctly?
- Review your answer choice and the other answer choices. Take the time to see if you can find definitive support for the correct answer.
The point here isn’t to learn the passage or to memorize it. The point is to develop your actual reading skills by taking the time to struggle through parsing out the dense language and the complicated sentence structures. As you practice, you’ll get better at reading similarly tough material in the future.
Improving on LSAT Reading Comprehension is tough, but not impossible. But resist the temptation to just rely on repetition to get you there. It’s not about just taking test after test.
Albert Einstein is credited with saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
So make sure you’re applying these techniques and mindset shifts to actually change the way you are approaching the section. It’ll make a difference. I promise.
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