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How To Approach Reading Comp on the LSAT

  • by Ashton Murphy
  • Mar 18, 2024
  • Advice on Reading Comprehension, LSAT, Reading Comprehension Advice
  • Reviewed by: Matt Riley


After the LSAT changed from a paper-and-pencil test to a digital interface, it was pretty safe to assume you could transfer most of the same strategies. The one section that might require you to craft a strategy that’s different from the other standardized tests you’ve likely taken before now is Reading Comprehension. In this article, we’re going to walk through an LSAT Reading Comprehension example and some tips on how to best approach the section.

Table of Contents

What’s Tested on the LSAT Reading Comprehension Section?

First, what’s even on the LSAT Reading Comprehension Section? Why do students have so much trouble with it?

The purpose of the LSAT Reading Comprehension Section is to measure the ability to read and understand dense materials similar to what you will likely encounter in law school.  It tests skills that are essential for success in law school and in your career as a lawyer, such as critical reading and critical thinking.

The LSAT Reading Comp Section consists of four sets of questions, each based on a different passage. These passages can cover a wide range of topics, including social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, and law. The passages are typically around 500-700 words long and followed by five to eight questions each. Sets with two passages are called Comparative Reading and their questions focus on the relationships between the two passages.

Further Reading

🎨 Getting Through Brutally Difficult Reading Comp Passages About the Arts

⚖️ Getting Through Brutally Difficult Reading Comp Passages About the Law

🧬 Getting Through Brutally Difficult Reading Comp Passages About Science

 What Are LSAT Reading Comprehension Questions About?

The LSAT Reading Comprehension questions might pertain to the characteristics of the passages, including:

  • Main idea or primary purpose
  • Information that is explicitly stated
  • Information or ideas that can be inferred
  • The meaning or purpose of words or phrases as used in the passage context
  • Organization or structure
  • The application of information in the selection to a new context
  • Principles that function in the selection
  • Analogies to claims or arguments in the selection
  • An author’s attitude
  • The impact of new information on claims or arguments in the selection

Do I Need To Prepare for the Reading Comprehension Section?

Yes! It is important to prepare for the LSAT Reading Comprehension section as it makes up a significant portion of your LSAT score. While fundamentally it’s similar to reading comp sections you encountered on the SAT, ACT, or other standardized tests you’ve likely taken, the LSAT Reading Comprehension Section requires just as much strategy as the Logical Reasoning Section.

How to Approach the LSAT Reading Comprehension Section

Now that you have an understanding of what’s tested in the LSAT Reading Comp Section, let’s discuss how to approach it. The key to success in this section is not just being able to read quickly

The Old Reading Comprehension Strategy

Most test prep methodologies encourage their students to be active readers. They tell you to engage with the text. And not just by underlining or highlighting “the important parts.”

[Definitely not just underlining or highlighting “the important parts.” You give an aspiring attorney a highlighter and passage and you’ll invariably get a very colorful passage back.]

We’re pretty bad at processing information and determining whether it’s “important” or “unimportant,” especially on a difficult, timed test like the LSAT. So, most people default to assuming that basically everything is important and end up underlining or highlighting nearly the entire passage. Understandably, this makes it pretty hard to find the actually important details when it comes time to answer the questions.

So rather than highlighting or underlining exclusively, we encouraged our students to annotate the passage as they read it. Basically, we told them to write short descriptions of the functions each paragraph plays, right next to that paragraph. We called these short descriptions “tags.”

These tags helped locate the important details and answered questions relating to the passage’s organizarion or the role played by certain paragraphs. Tags kept test takers from doing totally unhelpful things, such as underlining the entire passage. For many students, increasing their accuracy, speed, and confidence on Reading Comprehension was just a matter of getting better at making tags.

But with the digital LSAT interface, a test taker can’t make these tags next to the paragraphs of the passage. Admittedly, there are some helpful features to the digital Reading Comp interface. For one, the platform automatically highlights the relevant part of the passage when a question makes a direct reference to a quotation.

The New LSAT Reading Comprehension Strategy

While you can’t tag, you can underline or highlight the passage. So let’s talk about how you can get all the benefits of tagging without being able to, you know, actually tag the passage. More importantly, we’ll discuss how to limit the amount of underlining and highlighting you do as you read the passage.

Then, we’ll get into how to complete an LSAT Reading Comprehension example question.

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1. Read the Passage in “Passage Only” View

For each Reading Comprehension passage, you have two reading options. “Passage Only” mode will remove the questions from your view and allow you to view the entire passage at once. “Passage with Question” mode displays one question next to the passage and forces you to scroll through the passage as you read.

When reading the passage, we recommend doing so in “Passage Only” mode. You’ve spent enough of your life scrolling through Instagram and TikTok to know how time-consuming scrolling can be. It’ll be easier to cross-reference certain parts of a passage if the entire passage is displayed at once, saving you valuable time.

2. Write a Short Description of Each Paragraph on Your Scratch Paper

Among the items you can bring to the LSAT, scratch paper is one of them! If you’re testing in-person at a test center, you’ll receive three scratch paper booklets. If you’re testing remotely at home, you’re allowed to have six blank sheets of scratch paper on your desk.

Here’s the fun part. You can write your tags on the scratch paper. Number each paragraph, and write a brief description of what that paragraph is all about. This description should be no longer than a sentence. Think of it as making a title, or a header, for each paragraph. You definitely don’t need a lengthy description of each and every detail.

Here’s how I would write the tags for the first passage from the December 2014 exam (or Prep Test 74) about why perfumes are not considered art.

LSAT Reading Comprehension example tagging

We definitely want to make sure that we’re tagging whenever new viewpoints are introduced. In that perfume passage, the author poses a question in the first paragraph, asking why perfume isn’t considered an art form.

LSAT Reading Comprehension example tagging (2)

These notes (which I have taken to calling “Bliffnotes” — a portmanteau of Blueprint and Cliffnotes that literally everyone else refuses to use) will help you in a few different ways.

If you need to answer a question about a specific detail from the passage, these notes can serve as a table of contents that can help you identify where that detail is likely located. If I got a question about “painting” for the above passage, I’d look to these notes, infer that the support for that question is likely in the second paragraph, and check there for something I highlighted (see Step 4).

Further, many questions will ask you about the organization of the passage. You can look for an answer that resembles each point in your notes. Something like, “The first paragraph poses a question. The middle paragraphs present a case that helps to justify the posing of that question. The final paragraph presents a possible answer to the question.”

And if a question ever asks about a role played by a given paragraph, you have that answer in the notes. Done and done!

3. Limit Your Underlining to the Words and Phrases That Express the Author’s Attitude

Do you have tagging down? Great! Let’s move our attention to marking up the passage. Remember, you only want to underline the important stuff. Still, as you read a passage, a lot of it will seem important. So what should you underline?

In Reading Comprehension, the author’s perspective is significant. Sure, every passage was written by a nameless author, so technically the author thought about everything in the passage.

However, some passages have authors that take an active role in the passage. They advance one of the arguments and express many thoughts and opinions. Other passages have authors that take a passive role in the passage. They neutrally describe other peoples’ arguments and don’t express many, if any, thoughts or opinions.

When you have a very active author, you want to know what that author thinks.

The most important words in those passages are words and phrases that express the author’s attitude.  So, if the author uses strong adjectives or adverbs, underline those words. Some examples include saying something:

  • Is interesting
  • Is compelling beyond doubt
  • Is notable
  • Is a masterpiece
  • Seems odd

LSAT Reading Comprehension example highlighting and underlining

We should also underline the author’s conclusions. Since the author’s conclusion in the passage and the main point of the passage are essentially the same thing. So look out for common conclusion indicator words:

  • Thus
  • Clearly
  • So
  • But
  • However
  • Nevertheless
  • Although

4. Highlight the Secondary Structures and Definitions

Secondary structures are common rhetorical devices authors use to make their point. Things like cause and effect relationships, examples, lists, and questions and answers. When you see any of these things in a passage, go ahead and highlight them too. Those are the important details. They’ll almost certainly be the ones that help you answer the questions.

If you get a detail-based question, use your scratch paper notes to help determine which paragraph that detail is probably located. Then quickly scan the stuff you highlighted in that passage.

You can also highlight definitions in the passage. Definitions will rarely directly answer questions, but they can help you understand the passage.

A passage may define a concept early on and then not refer to that concept again until the end of the passage. If you highlighted the definition, you’d be able to quickly reference that, remind yourself what that concept was, and then better understand the end of the passage.

By the way, the digital LSAT will allow you to highlight in three different colors. If you want to highlight the different secondary structures in different colors, knock yourself out. Or if you want to highlight your secondary structures in one color and your definitions in another color, have a ball. And if you just want to highlight everything the same color, that’s cool too.

The important thing is that you are highlighting the significant details in the passage. We’ll leave choosing the color up to you.

LSAT Reading Comprehension Example Question

Now let’s consider a real LSAT Reading Comprehension example question from a past exam. Here’s the question:

2. In which one of the following circumstances would the author of the passage be most likely to believe that a perfume manufacturer is justified in altering the formula of a classic perfume?

Given the subject matter, you may have correctly guessed it’s from the same passage on perfume, art, and big perfume we talked about earlier.

I’m not going to make you read the entire passage (although it’s an entertaining one). What we want to do here is show how our tags, highlights, and careful attention to the author’s attitude can help us answer questions without having to give in to our urge to panic-reread the passage.

LSAT Reading Comprehension example tagging

As we can see from our tags, this passage is set up in a question-and-answer structure. The author starts by posing a question: Why is perfume not considered art?

In addition to our tag, I would also highlight an example (a secondary structure) the author gives of a masterpiece perfume that isn’t taken seriously enough: Joy Parfum by Henri Almeras.

Then they give us two paragraphs explaining why we might consider such an odd question in the first place: Talented perfume makers layer complex ingredients to create a perfume that evokes powerful memories, much like painters and other artists layer paints to create masterpieces with similar emotional impact.

Notice we didn’t tag all that. Tags can be longer or shorter depending on what you find useful, but the sentence I wrote above is kind of complex for a tag. But, once we’ve read our paragraph, short tags like “How it’s like painting” and “How perfume evokes memories, like art” both help you cement what you just read into your head AND give you a roadmap to find details you may have forgotten.

While reading these paragraphs, I would also want to highlight two sentences where the author really makes a strong claim underlining their point: “The parallels between what ought to be regarded as sister arts are undeniable” and “Perfumers are in the same business as the artist who creates the illusion of life on canvas.”

Lastly, the author finishes the question-and-answer structure with the answer: Big Perfume ruined the art of perfume with their money-grubbing ways, replacing expensive ingredients with cheap substitutes. The highlight here would be “The cynical bean counters in Paris and Zurich [(what a burn)] do not hesitate to tamper with old formulas, insisting on the substitution of cheap chemical compounds that approximately resemble rarer, better ingredients in an effort to increase profits.”

So let’s read our LSAT Reading Comprehension example question again:

2. In which one of the following circumstances would the author of the passage be most likely to believe that a perfume manufacturer is justified in altering the formula of a classic perfume?

This is an author attitude question. It’s asking us what the author thinks would be a good reason to change a perfume formula. Given that, we need to foreground what the author thinks to accurately anticipate what they might say about this new situation before we go to our answer choices.

Based on our tags and highlights the author clearly believes two big things:

  1. Perfume is art and deserves respect as such.
  2. Big perfume is ruining the artistry with its focus on the almighty dollar. And as we recall, the author HATES how big perfume is changing formulas to make them cheaper.

Now to put that all together. The author hates change just for the sake of profits or saving money, so we need to avoid that in any answer choices.

Additionally, the author loves perfume’s artistry, so presumably, they would be okay with a change for art’s sake, or if it gets a perfume closer to its original artistic roots.

Now we’re ready to look at the answer choices:

(A) The alteration makes the perfume more closely resemble Joy Parfum.
(B) The alteration is done to replace an ingredient that is currently very costly.
(C) The alteration replaces a synthetic chemical compound with a natural chemical compound.
(D) The alteration is done to make the perfume popular with a wider variety of customers.
(E) The alteration takes a previously altered perfume closer to its creator’s original formula.

B is the opposite of what the author wants. It’s what the cynical bean counters would do! Cross that out immediately.

Similarly, C and D aren’t on the author’s hot-button issues. What does something being synthetic or popular with customers have to do with art or cost? I would have to start guessing about the implications of these new facts. Are synthetic ingredients cheaper or worse? Does being popular with a wide variety of people mean more profits?

Maybe, but I don’t know. Those answers are causing me to make too many guesses and do too much work to be viable. So, they’re out.

Now we’re between A and E. We know the author does like Joy Parfum—it’s a “masterpiece”—but does he think that every perfume should be like it? That doesn’t seem supported, so I’m suspicious of A.

Let’s move on to E. The change returns a perfume the evil bean counters got to back to its original formula. This doesn’t use the exact terms we were looking for (art or artistry), but it gets to both parts of our anticipation. It reverses the alteration the author doesn’t like and it brings it closer to the perfumer’s original artistic vision for the scent.

And wouldn’t you know it, E is our right answer!

You can see how we used our tags, highlighting, and careful reading for author attitude all together to answer this LSAT Reading Comprehension example question without having to reread the passage!

Final Thoughts

I was initially a little bit upset that the digital LSAT wouldn’t allow test takers to tag the passage. However, I’ve found that scratch paper often helps people make better tags.

When tagging the passage on the paper LSAT, many would get into the unfortunate habit of tagging the passage as they read. That would not only break up the flow of reading the passage, which makes processing the information more difficult, but it would also result in over-tagging the passage. By forcing people to write their tags on separate pieces of paper, it seems like the digital LSAT is leading people to make more minimal and structural notes. Ultimately, this is a lot more helpful than a ton of sloppy notes in the margins of a passage.

Ready to practice your new Reading Comprehension tagging skills? Create a free Blueprint LSAT account to get access to a free practice LSAT exam with explanations and in-depth performance analytics!

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