LSAT Test Prep: Reading Comprehension Strategy

You should use much more of your precious time analyzing reading comprehension questions on the LSAT than reading the passages. The plan is to read just as much of the passage as you need to figure out its overall idea and basic structure.

Skim the questions

Many test-takers attack reading questions the logical way: They read the passage and then answer the questions. If this strategy works for you, there’s no reason to change it. Scan through passages. But don’t spend more than a couple of minutes on a passage.

If you get bogged down by the details, mark the frustrating portion of the passage and force yourself to move on. Your time is better spent on examining the questions than on pre-reading the passage.

To help you focus on the pertinent information as you read, you may find skimming the questions before you read the passage helpful. If you decide to try this approach, keep in mind these guidelines:

  • Focus on questions that contain keywords you can circle or highlight as you read the passage. Take this question, for example: “Which one of the following best describes the author’s opinion of the lawsuits brought by people claiming to have contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome from flu vaccine?” Skimming this question before you tackle the passage tells you to circle references to Guillain-Barre syndrome and lawsuits as you read the passage.

  • Don’t bother reading the answers at first. Concentrate only on the questions when you complete the initial skim.

  • Ignore questions that ask for the main point. You know to look for the passage’s main point, so skimming big-picture questions won’t tell you anything you don’t know already.

  • Skip questions with line or paragraph references. You can use the line references to point you to the right spot in the passage later, when you’re answering questions.

Another effective approach to LSAT reading passages saves time by eliminating reading the whole passage before you consider the questions. Applying this method allows you to spend more time analyzing the questions and answers and less time getting bogged down in the unnecessary details of the passage.

How to approach the questions

After you read the passage and underline the bits you hope will help you, start to answer the questions.

In or out of order?

You can answer the questions from first to last or you can jump around on the page. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you transfer your answers to the answer sheet correctly. If you spot a question that you like, go ahead and do it first.

Each question can stand alone, and they’re not intentionally organized by difficulty. The first question very often is a main-point question that requires you to understand why the author wrote the passage.

Answer the question yourself

After you read a question but before you read the five answer choices, try to come up with an answer in your own words. Doing so helps you spot the right answer when you see it.

Creating your own answer may help you avoid picking detractors, answers that the test-makers present to lure you away from the correct choices. Wrong answer choices are meant to be attractive and distract you. But if you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for, you may be better able to spot the right answer choice.

Don’t be discouraged, however, if you don’t see the answer you come up with exactly stated in the choices. Often, the LSAT doesn’t include the most obvious answer to increase the section’s difficulty.

Eliminate the duds

Four answer choices are wrong. It’s always that way. Knocking off wrong answers is just as valuable as spotting right answers (well, almost as valuable; you don’t get points for spotting the wrong choices). When you find an answer that’s obviously wrong, cross it out with your pencil so you aren’t tempted to consider it again.

If you can’t decide whether an answer is wrong, leave it; chances are you’ll be able to resolve that conflict by the time you’ve read all the choices or if you decide to revisit the question after tackling a few others for the same passage.

Typically, any question has at least two and usually three obviously wrong answers. Normally, you should have no more than two, or possibly three, answers that look plausible. The LSAT-makers deliberately create some answers that are very close to the correct answers, but there’s always something wrong with them that makes them less than best.

Pick an answer and move on

If you find an answer that you know is right, good for you! Mark it and move on. If, after careful scrutiny and contemplation, you’re still stuck between Choices (A) and (C), fret not; pick one of them and move on to the next question.

Spending too much time on any one question doesn’t help the answer magically materialize before your eyes, but it does use up time you could employ answering more promising questions. Mark the question on your booklet and go back to it if you have time.

If you’re one of those readers who lose concentration easily, you may want to use your pencil or finger to keep your eyes focused on the page. You may think that makes you look like a first-grader just learning to read, but it helps you keep focused.

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