Step into the test makers’ shoes for a moment. The LSAT contains a section called “Reading Comprehension.” What, as the test maker, do you intend to test here?
Are you looking to examine an applicant’s command of logic and argumentation? No, you do that on Logical Reasoning.
Are you looking to examine an applicant’s ability to solve complex systems of variables and rules? Do you want to see whether they’re willing to practice arcane puzzles for weeks, months, or years until they achieve mastery? No, you’ve got Logic Games for that.
Reading Comprehension tests an applicant’s ability to understand what they’ve read. Stop looking for gimmicks and shortcuts, and start focusing on genuinely understanding the passage. Here’s what you need to know about going deeper on Reading Comprehension.
Passages generally are either persuasive or informative. The author’s overarching purpose, that is, will be either to persuade you of their argument or to provide you with information on a certain topic.
When you reach the end of the passage, figure out whether the passage is primarily persuasive or informative, then restate its main point in your own words, in plain English. This is your main point prediction. Do this before jumping into the answer choices.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to glean the passage’s main point: Why is the author wasting your time with this passage? What is the author trying to sell you? What’s the key takeaway that the author would like you to walk away with?
You want a one-sentence summary that captures the gist of what the author is trying to convey. Students often go wrong on Main Point predictions in one of two ways: Either their prediction is too detailed, or it’s too broad. To illustrate how to strike a correct balance, consider the following examples:
Bad: This passage is about chipmunks. (Too broad.)
Bad: In this passage, the author starts by giving background information on how chipmunks breed, then explains two famous scientists are wrong about chipmunk mating theory because one of them ignores chipmunks’ familial relationships and the other doesn’t realize that chipmunks don’t all follow the same breeding patterns. The author uses this refutation of these two scientists’ work to argue in favor of the author’s theory of chipmunk mating behavior, which is actually much simpler than those two scientists thought. Finally, the author responds to some objections. (Too detailed.)
Better: The author argues that chipmunks’ mating behavior is much simpler than two famous scientists previously thought.
You never have to “read between the lines” on Reading Comprehension. The correct answers always have direct support from the passage. In other words, the correct answers must be true given what was stated in the passage.
Test writers get bored asking, “Which one of these five does the passage say?” So instead, they write questions like these:
Are all of these questions Must Be Trues? Well, consider them one at a time:
Yes, the test makers do throw in an explicit Strengthen or Weaken question from time to time. But when they’re asking for the main point, primary purpose, author’s attitude, or any of the various quirky questions posed above, they’re really just testing whether you understand the passage on the page in front of you.
When in doubt: Must Be True.
The correct answer is correct because it’s what it says in the damn passage. The correct answer is predictable half the time (if not more) if you stop and think about each question before blundering ahead into the answer choices.
If you narrow it down to two answer choices—which shouldn’t be happening very often, because the right answers are very right and each wrong answer is very wrong, often for multiple reasons—lean toward answers that are boring, obvious, vague, and/or conservatively stated. Those answers are easier to prove and, therefore, more likely to be correct. Be extra suspicious of answers that are too specific or strongly worded or that add anything new, different, or extra. Those answers are harder to prove and thus almost always wrong.