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Speeding Up on Those Pesky Reading Comp Passages


As the June LSAT approaches, you may be turning your attention to that pesky Reading Comprehension section, the bane of many students who feel that it’s just impossible to get through all four of those passages in a measly 35 minutes. If you relate to that description, you might also be wondering what in the world you can do to improve your score, because you’re already reading the passages as fast as you can.

Here’s the deal: You’ve been reading for a decade or two at this point, so you’re not going to be able to significantly increase your reading speed—a couple extra months of practice isn’t gonna do much for you. (And no, skimming or speed-reading are not generally good ways to get around this problem; you might get through the passage more quickly, but you won’t have a good understanding of it.)

So if you’re trying to get through passages more quickly, the answer does not lie in reading faster—for the most part, it ain’t gonna happen. Instead, you want to make sure you’re getting through the passages more efficiently. There are two main areas in which you could be wasting time:

1. Too much time reading or annotating the passage

You should only ever have to read each passage once, but you may need to re-read sentences from time to time to ensure that you understand everything; as long as your re-reading isn’t excessive, that’s fine.
The single biggest thing you can do to improve your Reading Comp score is to focus on the structure of the passage, rather than getting bogged down in the content. You should be looking for things like the introduction of new viewpoints, use of support, criticism of other arguments, examples, and author attitude; when you find any of those things, you should make a note of them next to the passage.

For the most part, don’t bother underlining things at random or rewriting phrases that seem important; that kind of passive note-taking doesn’t force you to think about why the passage functions in a certain way, so it doesn’t really help you.

Troubleshooting: If you find that it takes you way too long to get through the passage itself, you might be spending too much time re-reading, or you might be taking too many notes. Forcing yourself to slow down just a little can actually reduce your overall reading time, since you’ll be less likely to re-read things; you should also tinker with the amount of annotating that you’re doing to ensure that you’re taking only useful notes.

2. Too much time on the questions

Reading Comprehension questions fall into two broad categories: big-picture questions (about the structure, author attitude, main point of the passage, etc.), and specific reference questions.

If you find that you’re taking too long on the big-picture questions (or getting them wrong too often), that points to problems with how you’re reading the passage. Use the tips above to improve your understanding of the passage’s structure.

If you find that the specific questions are the ones that trip you up, you should refine your note-taking; although you aren’t ever expected to have those tiny details memorized, you should know exactly where to find them in the passage, so that you’re not wasting tons of time trying to find the one sentence where they talk about Thurgood Marshall’s legal education.

The Reading Comp section can be stubborn, but if you approach the passages as strategically as possible, you’ll find that it makes a big difference in your efficiency (and, therefore, your score!). Diagnose your weaknesses and give these tips a try, and you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.