The Types of Reading Passages You’ll Find on the LSAT
The approximately 27 questions in the LSAT reading comprehension section break down into four sets to accompany three single passages and a pair of comparative passages. You can count on passage length to be about 450 to 500 words each. Even the set of comparative reading passages maintains overall word count; each contains roughly 225 words.
The number of questions per passage varies. Some may have as few as five and others as many as eight. Each reading comprehension section covers four general categories of information: natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and law.
Natural science passages
Physical and biological sciences play a big role in a host of legal issues. Some attorneys specialize in negotiating water and mineral rights. Patent attorneys often begin as engineers. Even product liability and personal injury cases require a general understanding of the way the physical world works.
Although you may concede the importance of the natural sciences, you may not be eager to find that 25 percent of your reading score is based on a chemistry passage. The good news is that the reading comprehension questions don’t assume that you have any previous knowledge of the subject. The answer to every question is located somewhere in the passage.
Reading comprehension questions test reading skills, not the plethora of details you keep tucked away in your long-term memory. When you come across a passage on a subject that you’re pretty familiar with, don’t rely exclusively on your outside knowledge to answer the question! Make sure the answers you choose can be justified by information contained in the passage.
Natural science passages tend to be more objective and neutral than persuasive in tone. So often, the main theme of a natural science topic is to explain, describe, or inform about a scientific event. Here’s a shortened version of a nice, neutral natural science passage that may appear on the LSAT:
Social science passages
The reading comprehension section includes a passage about a different kind of science: social science. This passage type includes topics like philosophy, history, political science, archaeology, sociology, and psychology. The good news about social science passages is that their topics tend to crop up more in the news and in daily conversation than does, for example, physics!
So you may be more comfortable with social science topics. Although passages about the social sciences are still mostly descriptive and informative, they’re more likely to be persuasive than natural science passages, so you may see more variety in the kinds of tones these passages display.
Humanities passages explore topics related to the arts and literature. So you may read about the message of a Mexican muralist, the techniques applied by a modern composer, or the themes advanced by a particular playwright. This passage excerpt interprets the impact of a popular Latin American poet:
Every reading comprehension section includes a passage that deals with an aspect of law. You may read an interpretation of a public policy, an opinion on the significance of a court decision, an explanation of the effect a new law may have on the lawyer-client relationship, and so on. Law passages may be persuasive or more descriptive, such as this sample excerpt: