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Last-Minute Tips: Reading Comprehension

With less than three weeks until the June LSAT, it’s time to buckle down on studying. This week we’re offering one important last-minute tip for each LSAT section. Today, we talk about Reading Comprehension; stay tuned for Logic Games and Logical Reasoning!

Reading Comprehension is the most familiar section on the LSAT. Everyone taking the test already knows how to read (I assume). They answered reading questions on the SAT. They read the newspaper (kidding). So, as most people start studying for the LSAT, they feel like RC is one area they don’t have to worry too much about.

Which is good, of course. But the tradeoff is that people often feel like there are few good ways to improve. Fatalism about your RC score tends to set in, especially as your test day approaches.

Hopefully you don’t feel that way. There are plenty of ways you can hone your RC skills, from better understanding passage structure to getting to know each question type inside-out. Assuming you’ve done all that, and your test date is approaching, what else can you do to bring your RC score up?

I’d like to share a tool that has helped me immensely in the past: start an “error bank.” An error bank is a running list of all the RC questions you get wrong. You can start an error bank at any time, but two or three weeks before your test is ideal. Every time you get an RC question incorrect, you add it to the list. You include the question page and number for reference and a brief description of what went wrong. You can handwrite your list, or if you’re like me and your handwriting looks like it belongs to an emotionally disturbed 11-year-old, use spreadsheet template.

As you add to your error bank, also set aside time to review it a few times a week. Just read it over. Let the errors wash over you. Flip back to the question if you don’t really remember it. Repeat what went wrong to yourself and mumble some corrective mantra, e.g. “Don’t confuse the main point and an example illustrating that main point…” Error banks makes for great bedtime reading (though you may end up dreaming of Thurgood Marshall).

Here’s a snippet from mine back when I was studying. Hopefully it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about:




PT 62 1.15

RC – Main idea

Common / overall idea of two passages. I waffled between two choices – the right one was “archeology” which wasn’t emphasized in one of the passages. But the wrong answer I picked had a red flag word – “strictly agricultural societies” – which narrowed the scope too much.

PT 53 4.14

RC – Primary purpose

Confused “legal theories of past and present” with theories about past legal systems. You don’t study theories – you apply theories to study history. The correct answer was the broadest – “explain a paradoxical situation and discuss a new view.” Since the final paragraph introduced what a new guy has brought to the debate, this is a good answer.

PT 53 4.21

RC – Inference

Running behind on time and I hit a complicated science passage. Got to focus on these and understand on my first read. Otherwise I get muddled. I picked the more specific of two similar choices – that A should be synchronized to B, rather than A should be responsive to B. I got another answer wrong later that was consistent with this error.

PT 56 4.21

RC – Authors agree

I picked an answer choice that mentions international law, but while they both talk about law, only one talks about international law specifically. I didn’t like the correct answer because I thought passage A didn’t support it, but in retrospect it pretty clearly did. I was running low on time and probably didn’t go back to read, just brooded over it and went with my gut.

Depressing? Tedious? Yes and yes. But here’s why I think it helps:

So much of improving at RC is about gradually aligning your expectations and definitions to those of the test. It’s internalizing what “main point” and “primary purpose” mean on the LSAT as opposed to in real, subjective life. Going over your errors is a handy way of correcting for that alignment.

At this point in your study, that’s probably all you need (that, and like 10 more minutes per section, but that’s true of all of us). You just need to make micro-adjustments. Writing out – laboriously, tediously – and then reviewing your errors will help you make those adjustments, some conscious and some unconscious.

You should probably also apply this strategy broadly to your life. Every time you make a joke that doesn’t land or a decision that doesn’t quite pan out, add it to your comprehensive list of mistakes. Read it over whenever you have an idle moment and absorb the full weight of a lifetime of failures, again, and again, and again.

Okay, maybe don’t do that. Error banks might be bad for your psyche. But they’re good for your Reading Comprehension score. And that’s all that matters, right?