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Why is LSAT Reading Comprehension a Challenge?

  • by John
  • Aug 22, 2011

Students who are accustomed to getting A’s on their college courses are often surprised by how difficult Reading Comp can be on the LSAT. Part of the confusion for those just starting out studying for the exam is misunderstanding how the test-makers make the test harder. Students should be aware of 2 myths and 3 realities as they start prepping for RC.

LSAT Reading Comprehension Myths

Myth 1: The hardest sections are those that have to do with science; I majored in Canadian Studies! Science-based sections are not inherenly more challenging than law or politics-based passages. The test assumes no outside knowledge; if you need to know the definition of a technical term, it will be in the passage. In fact, science passages often tend to be structured in a more obvious way. By no means should you save science passages for last, especially if they have 7-8 questions following.

Myth 2: LSAT RC will be similar to the ACT/SAT. If you’re like most law school applicants you haven’t thought about theses tests in several years. If you looked back at the RC section of those tests now, they would seem laughably easy. On college admissions tests, questions ask you to pick out broad themes and to do a lot of searching within the passage for little details. The LSAT is much more about structure and flow of the passage, which is both a higher-level task and much more challenging.

LSAT Reading Comp Realities

Reality 1: LSAT RC passages are designed to trick you in repetitive ways. Take a look at the acknowledgement page at the back of an LSAT — material has been “adapted” from original sources, in ways that the test-makers know will make the passage harder to read. That’s right — the material isn’t just challenging, it’s specifically re-written to be less comprehensible. The most obvious way LSAC does this is by making it harder to understand who is speaking at any given time — the author, the author’s opponents, critics of those opponents, etc. That’s why it’s critical to outline passages aggressively.

Reality 2: The questions are hard because they are designed for you to get wrong. Especially since the RC section became harder a few years back, most RC questions will have at least one wrong answer that seems like a very  good option. LSAC makes questions harder primarily by making answer choices look closer together. If you need an example of this, look at any given main point question; there are generally 1-2 answer choices which certainly are correct in outlining some or even most of the main idea of a passage (but which are ultimately incorrect).

Reality 3: The particular challenge of reading a RC passage is understanding the structure and flow of the argument. At the end of the passage, you must understand how the argument fit together at a high level and what the author was ultimately getting at. A great way to do this is to predict the passage’s main point (actually write this down, but you can do it in ~10 words.

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