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LSAT Reading Comp Book Club I: The Introduction

Dan McCarthy is a veteran Blueprint LSAT Prep instructor who scored a 180 on his LSAT. This is the first installment of his multi-week guest series on the reading comprehension section of the LSAT.

One of the myths about the LSAT is that it’s impossible to improve your score on reading comprehension. That’s just not true. I’ve seen many students dramatically improve their reading comp performance, just as with every other section of the test. You just need some hard work and the right techniques.

That said, every myth is based on some form of truth. A significant part of what the LSAT tests in reading comp is your ability to, you know, read. And that’s something that’s built up over the long term. When you’re in the middle of an intense LSAT prep class, it’s hard to find time to read on the side.

So if you want to improve your reading skills, now is the time. If you’re thinking about taking the June LSAT, your prep class doesn’t start for another month or so. If you’re waiting until the October LSAT, you have almost four months before things get started. What if you took half the time you spend posting on message boards and looking at TMZ, and started reading instead? You’d be amazed at how much you could improve.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to give you a little push in the right direction. Each week, I’ll choose a book that I think is especially well suited for developing your LSAT reading skills. Partly, I’ll be choosing on the basis of subject matter. The test writers love to go back to the same subjects again and again. It can’t hurt to be at least a little more familiar with some of their favorites. I’m also choosing books about subjects that I think are intrinsically interesting and worth knowing about even if you never take the LSAT at all. But more importantly, I’ll be choosing on the basis of how the works are structured.

Here’s a little secret about LSAT reading comp that’s also true of just about every part of the LSAT: the topic matters a lot less than the structure. Reading comp passages may look bewilderingly diverse on the surface, but they use the same structures over and over again. The books I write about in the next few weeks will not be exactly the same as LSAT passages (I’m not so cruel as to subject you to a 500-page equivalent to an LSAT passage), but they will be written with some of the same structures.

But even with books especially selected to help you with your LSAT skills, you won’t improve if you don’t approach them the right way. The LSAT doesn’t reward you for skimming passages and getting the gist of what you read. It’s not enough to know that two zoologists mentioned in an LSAT reading comp passage have surprisingly strong feelings about fruit bats, and that they seem to dislike one another. You need to track exactly where and how they disagree. How does the second scientist counter the first, and what are the weaknesses in each position? The authors of the books I’ll be talking about aren’t kind enough (and perhaps “kind” isn’t the right word here) to write a series of tricky multiple-choice questions at the end of every chapter. You have to make sure you’re reading carefully and fully understanding what the author is talking about.

If you’re someone who’s never been interested in reading unless the book includes at least one vampire or crazy conspiracy (or possibly both! Note to self: develop idea for vampire spy thriller, working title: The Nesferatu Ultimatum), now is the time to put in the work that will pay off when your LSAT class begins. Even if you think of yourself as a strong reader, bear in mind that the LSAT will test you in ways you’re not used to dealing with in other standardized tests and college classes. You may be able to gain something from this series, too.

See you next week.