Getting started with Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension overview

On Test Day, you will see one scored section of Reading Comprehension, which means that Reading Comprehension makes up roughly one quarter of your total points.
  • Duration: 35 minutes
  • Length: 26-28 passage-based questions (divided into four reading passages).
  • Subject matter: Four passages are drawn from four areas: Law, Social Science, Science, and Humanities. Three of the passages will ask you questions about a single text. One of the passages, known sometimes as the “Comparative Reading set", will feature two texts, and the questions will focus on how they relate to each other.

The basics

A Reading Comprehension task is made up of these parts:
  • 1-2 passages: Total length of the text will be about 50-60 lines. The topics are diverse, and many may be unfamiliar to you.
  • Questions: You’ll be asked several questions about the text. Some of the questions can be answered with information explicitly stated in the passage, but many questions ask about what can be inferred.
  • Choices: You’ll be presented with five choices. Only one of them is correct. You’ll see us refer to the correct choice as the “answer” throughout your practice sessions.

What can I do to tackle the Reading Comprehension section most effectively?

✓ The first read—focus more on the main claims than the details: The overall point of a passage is much more important than the details the author uses to support that point. High scorers read critically, identifying the purpose of each paragraph as they go along. In fact, it’s often the case that the longer someone spends reading and re-reading for details, the worse they perform on Test Day.
✓ Pay attention to structure: Instead of focusing too much on what is being said (“What is it about?”), focus on why it’s being said (“What is the point?”). Ask yourself questions as you go along:
  • Why did the passage’s author include this quote? Was it supporting a claim?
  • Why did the author include this example?
  • What role does each claim, each paragraph play in the text’s overall argument?
Strong critical readers ask themselves how—and why—the argument is being built. What is the author doing?
✓ Pay attention to opinions: As a law student and as a lawyer, you’ll need to be able to keep track of assenting and dissenting voices. Where do they overlap? Where do they diverge? If you see an author’s (or critics’ or anyone’s) point of view expressed in the passage, take note! You will almost certainly see questions about the different perspectives.
✓ Understand the task: Different questions require different kinds of work. For example, recognition questions that ask you to recognize details from the passage call for a close re-reading of the relevant part of the passage. In contrast, main point questions are best answered without close re-reading. We recommend different approaches for different question types—find out more in the practice area of our system.
✓ Take time to think: For some question types, it helps to try to predict what the answer is likely to be before looking at the choices—this can help you locate the answer quickly. For other question types, it’s not as easy to make a prediction, but you should still stop to think about the task. If you don’t take the time to think and prepare, it’s all too easy to get lost in the choices. Students who find themselves reading and re-reading without a clear purpose are more easily distracted by wrong choices.
✓ Evaluate the choices: Once you set yourself up for success, either by making a prediction or by gaining control of your task by clarifying it in your own words, it’s time to evaluate the choices. Ask, for example, “Does this choice match my prediction?” or, “Does this choice accurately restate a detail I just located?”

All Reading Comprehension questions are not created equal!

You are likely to find some passages more challenging than others, due to the density of the text, your familiarity or comfort level with the topic, or the complexity of the questions. Be prepared for a diverse array of challenges, and remember that it’s completely acceptable to skip a few questions in order to make sure you have the time to consider all four passages.

Dos and Don’ts

Here are some ideas to keep in mind as you begin to develop an approach that works best for you on the Reading Comprehension section:
  • Don’t try to read faster: LSAT Reading Comprehension isn’t about speed and memorization. Students who consider themselves slower readers can be very successful on the test, by learning active reading strategies to identify the most important information. Some parts are okay to read less carefully, for example, because they contain details supporting a larger claim or point.
  • Don’t add your own soundtrack: The LSAT doesn’t require any outside expertise in the many topics it presents to you. All of the information that you need will be presented in the passage. When you bring your own experience, knowledge and opinions about a topic into the mix, you may add your own unwarranted assumptions which will lead you to wrong choices. Strong critical readers avoid this common LSAT pitfall!
  • Don’t time yourself too early on: Accuracy, then speed! When learning a new skill, it’s better to leave timing considerations to the side until you’ve increased your skill level enough to warrant timing. If you were learning piano, you wouldn’t play a piece at full-speed before you’d practiced the passages very slowly, and then less slowly, and then less slowly still.
  • Do read with your pencil: Reading actively is helpful to understanding reading comprehension passages and not “zoning out” while you read. Many students like to underline or circle keywords, such as “however”, “therefore”, “argues that”, “first/second”, and many others that you’ll learn throughout your studies with us. If you’re reading with your pencil, you’re much less likely to wonder what you just read in the last minute, and you can focus on the structure and shifts in the action.
  • Do be nimble: You don’t have to do the passages and questions in order, or even to do a given question at all. Many students find success maximizing their score by skipping a select handful of questions entirely, either because they know a question will take too long to solve, or because they just don’t know how to solve it.
  • Do learn about all of the question types: An effective approach to a main point question is very different than an effective approach to an inference question, even though the passage is the same.
  • Do spend time on the fundamentals: Effective reading strategies take time to learn and implement consistently. For example, understand how to identify important keywords (and why they’re important) before practicing many passages in a row. The hints and explanations in the system will help with this—a lot! Other key skills include characterizing the relationships between various points of view and identifying the purpose of a paragraph. Be patient with yourself!
  • Do honor the precision of language: If the author writes, “This explanation isn’t well-supported, however”, an inference question might ask you what the author’s attitude towards the explanation is. A wrong choice would be something like, “vehement skepticism”, whereas the answer might be, “cautious doubt.” Many students are too approximate in their reading and it hurts their score on the LSAT; in other words, they see some degree of disagreement and they believe that any choice that expresses disagreement will be correct. They may see the word “most” in the passage and equate it to “all” by mistake.
Good luck, and refer back to this article if you ever feel “stuck” down the road!
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