Quick tips for Reading Comprehension sections in LSATs?
November 26, 2006 11:54 AM   Subscribe

LSAT Filter: I'm taking the test next Sat and I could use any pointers or tips about reading comprehension...

So I've been prepping for this Dec. 2nd LSAT and I'm quite pleased with how I am doing on the Logic games and Logical reasoning parts (3/4ths of the test). I average out around the same percentage right on both of these sections (so I'm doing consistently where I want to) and it projects out to the score that I would be elated to have.

However, I have been struggling with the reading comprehension section. Going through the 4 passages (26-8 questions) in the time allowed has been tricky for me. I feel especially rushed in the last reading if I take my time and analyze more prudently in the earlier passages.

On the average I take 3.5-4 minutes to read the passage out of the average 8.5 minutes per split (not just speed reading, but trying to absorb the content so I don't have to rehash so much as I am going through the passage) and thus I feel rushed going through the 5-7 questions involved.

I am trying to reduce my mistakes on the whole section by 3-4 problems (I have been struggling on it). Any tips for the RC? Any suggestions for absorbing/tackling the section?

I know its short notice (taking the test in 6 days) but anything small that might be able to help me shave off a mistake or two would do wonders for me

Many thanks
posted by stratastar to Education (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's my experience for what it's worth. I took the LSAT twice. The first time I listened to the folks at the review course. They told me to skim the reading sections (rather than to read them) in order to save time. It was a disaster. I tried skimming and when I got to the end I hadn't "retained" anything. This made me panic. I then tried to read the whole thing from start to finish and ran out of time. The results were disapointing, as you might imagine.

The second time I took it, I relaxed and read everything from start to finish. And I ended up scoring in the 90th percentile.

So here's my advice: You've presumably made it through college by this point, and you're someone who thinks they might have an aptitude for the law. If you're anything like the lawyers I know, you majored in some sort of liberal art. You can read and you can comprehend. What will kill you is stressing out about it. I think 90% of doing well for these types of tests involves being calm and not freaking out. I've even heard people recommend having one beer before the test.

So relax . . . the absolute worst thing that happens is that you don't become a lawyer. And really, the world doesn't need more lawyers.

Good luck.
posted by bananafish at 12:08 PM on November 26, 2006

Don't try to skim the passages, but do read the questions before you read the text. That way you'll have a heads up on what details will important.
posted by subtle-t at 12:13 PM on November 26, 2006

bananafish has good points about relaxing and that your mindset going into the test is hugely important.

Even more important is stamina. Make sure that in this final week you are taking practice exams with 5, not 4 sections, under reasonable testing conditions. Too often, students only practice on four sections at a time and then find themselves mentally fatigued by the time they hit the end. RC more than the other sections, requires you to focus and you'll find that your score drops even more if you feel rushed and tired. Best of luck.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:13 PM on November 26, 2006

I second subtle-t's advice: I read all the questions (but not the possible answers) before reading the passage. Since I would know what they were looking for, my brain would go "ding" when I hit the right part of the passage. If it asked "what does the author compare the environment to", when I hit the part comparing the environment to the central nervous system, I would remember it, while I might not had I not known they would ask about it.

Having said that, this approach is a little slower, so you'll definitely want to practice it and see if it works for you.
posted by raf at 12:28 PM on November 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've never taken the LSATs, but on every sort of 'reading comprehension' type test, I've always done the skim, then refer back method. I skim the whole passage, reading quickly. I don't necessarily read for content, but more position. Then when the questions ask me something, I have a decent idea of where in the text the answer is, and I go back and get the answer.
posted by cschneid at 12:33 PM on November 26, 2006

I'll join the recommendation that you read the questions first. I took the test a few years ago and did well using that method. Make sure you practice, though, so you know how much time that takes you. I found it actually took me less time to read the questions first, because I was better able to filter out extraneous details in the passage when I read it.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:42 PM on November 26, 2006

Definitely read the questions first. Another possibility is to underline the topic sentences of each paragraph as you read and/or write one or two words about what the paragraph was about next to each. It didn't help me so I didn't do it, but I know it helped some people in the class, so you could give it a try.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 12:46 PM on November 26, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, I've never tried reading the question first in the RC (do it sometimes in LR). I'll definitely give it a try when I do jam sessions throughout the week.

Thanks for the advice. I should be able to do well in RC, I am an English major... :)
posted by stratastar at 1:10 PM on November 26, 2006

Read the story fairly slowly, from beginning to end, circling the important words with a pencil. Important words include names, time words (before, after, then, next), superlatives (all, none) and relations (because). The physical act of circling gets the facts, their relationship and the time line in your head.

Next, read all the answer choices. You'll be able to eliminate at least two of them immediately, because they have something that contradicts the story. Choose between the other two based on what matches the important words.

If you can't decide between two answers, choose the one that has no superlatives. If it's not all right, it's all wrong. If you still can't decide, make a random guess, curcle the question number and go on. Come back at then end if you have time.
posted by KRS at 2:12 PM on November 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Everyone's different. I took it in September and I'm taking it on Sat. as well (damn logic games) and I do the skimming thing. It works great for me, but that's the way my head works. How'd you do on the SAT (if you took it, you probably did) reading comprehension? Stick with the strategy that worked for you there, it's not all that different, just bigger words.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 4:32 PM on November 26, 2006

I took the LSAT in September and in about a week and a half, my score increased by 8 points from my early practice average to the actual test. So you can still improve! I had a general score increase in all of the sections, but I remember stressing out after a particularly disastrous RC on a practice test. I finally made myself sit down and take a bunch of RC sections, and gave myself less time than the real thing. And then during the actual test, I pretended that the readings were fun. That I wanted to be reading these articles and that they were fascinating. It helped me pay attention.

I second KRS's advice, too. What killed me on the one practice test was reading too quickly and missing important signifiers like "however" and "critics pointed out." I'd circle/underline/whatever those phrases. Phrases like, "some scientists say ____" are important too, because it's so important to understand what side the passage takes.

So yeah, I'd suggest doing something in-between a skim and a thorough read - just remember to notice the phrases that change the slant of the passage. Good luck!
posted by loulou718 at 5:19 PM on November 26, 2006

Read The Economist and random academic journals.

For the science passages, dont get caught up in the vocab. If the article talks about "apotosis of cardiovascular cells in elephas maximus" -just think "dead elephant cells" or something easy to remember every time they repeat that phrase.

Agree with reading the questions first. You can easily eliminate extraneous information.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:51 PM on November 26, 2006

Gah, no real advice, just sympathy. The LSAT has nothing to do with law school and less than nothing to do with being a lawyer. Do the best you can and then forget it ever existed.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:20 PM on November 26, 2006

Response by poster: I just did a practice RC section by reading the questions first and I was able to finish the section BELOW time for the first time perhaps ever. Furthermore, I scored the best I ever have on a RC section! I'm elated and truly thankful for the advice.

MF ruuules
posted by stratastar at 7:15 PM on November 26, 2006

Not to derail, but LSAT scores are well correlated both with law school grades and Bar passage.
posted by MattD at 7:24 PM on November 26, 2006

What you meant to say is: LSAT scores are well correlated with what school you get into, which in turn is well correlated with the percentage of low-performing students the school kicks out after their 1L year in an effort to artificially inflate the school's bar passage rates, which in turn is well correlated with bar passage.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:15 AM on November 27, 2006

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