LSAT For Dummies, 2nd Edition (2014)

Part IV. Reading Comprehension: Read ’Em but Don't Weep

tip.eps Five Strategies for Skimming Reading Comprehension Questions

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 tells you to circle references to Guillain-Barré 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.

·        Try to answer the questions 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.

·        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.

webextras.eps You may not need to read an LSAT passage before you tackle the questions. Find out the details of this alternative approach online at

In this part…

·        Learn the kinds of information presented in LSAT reading comprehension passages.

·        Apply time-saving methods for reading quickly and efficiently.

·        Refrain from reading too much into a passage.

·        Narrow your answer choices to the correct response by eliminating answers that contain red flags.

·        Feel free to answer reading questions in the order that suits you best.

Chapter 11. Rites of Passage(s): Types of Reading Passages and Questions

In This Chapter

arrow Getting familiar with the different kinds of reading comprehension passages

arrow Tackling various types of reading comprehension questions

One of the four scored sections on the LSAT is reading comprehension. Like the other multiple-choice sections, it lasts 35 minutes. Expect about 27 questions distributed across four passages. One passage actually consists of two short comparative passages, each of which presents its take on a common theme. You may think this section sounds fairly straightforward — after all, you've been reading and understanding what you read for years. But LSAT reading comprehension questions aren't designed to test your ability to just pick information out of a text. They're meant to also determine whether you can figure out why the author wrote the text and what the text implies.

Reading comprehension questions are designed to test how well you understand unfamiliar reading material. But you're probably less concerned with the reason these passages are included on the LSAT than you are with getting through all that reading and question-answering within the 35-minute time limit. You certainly don't want to limit your chances of going to a great law school just because you experience brain droop while reading about the history of the Italian textile industry!

What you need is a proven strategy. This chapter introduces you to the types of passages and questions you'll encounter, and in Chapter 12, we show you the strategies for dealing with those questions.

Presenting Reading Passages

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. The LSAT wants to see how well you analyze a variety of topics, unfamiliar and familiar, so it presents you with articles about everything from the steel-making process to the quality of artifacts from the Bronze Age.

Experimenting with 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. If you do come across a reading passage on chemistry and it's been 20 years since you've studied the periodic table, relax. The answer to every question is located somewhere in the passage.

You really don't need to know a lot about a passage topic to answer the questions correctly. Although it's true that chemistry majors may read a passage about polymers more quickly than someone who never took a college chemistry course, that doesn't necessarily mean chemistry experts will answer more questions correctly. In fact, they may actually be at a disadvantage because they may try to answer questions based on outside knowledge instead of using the information stated in the passage.

warning.eps 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.

remember.eps 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:



Don't let the unfamiliar scientific concepts worry you. You're probably familiar with the term decibel, but you may have never encountered the A-weighted decibel or dBA, as it's abbreviated. Focus on the main point, which in this passage is to describe dBAs and how human ears perceive them.

Observing 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. For instance, the personality and opinion of the author of this excerpt of a sample philosophy passage are more apparent than those of the author who wrote the natural science passage in the preceding section:



This author conveys a clear opinion regarding Western interpretations of needs. The dubious tone and clear opinion of this social science passage comes through in the placement of copious quotation marks and the introduction of rhetorical questions.

Entertaining a humanities passage

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:



The excerpt reveals the author's positive view of Neruda's compilation through a relatively objective account of the work's influence. Like many humanities passages, this paragraph incorporates historical and political references in its discussion of the artist.

Laying down the law-related passages

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:



Approaching Reading Questions

The LSAT gives you 35 minutes to answer around 27 reading questions. That boils down to just a little over a minute to answer each question, including reading time! So having a system for tackling reading questions is imperative. Your approach to each question should include these steps:

1.     Recognize the type of question.

2.     Quickly eliminate incorrect answer choices.

3.     Know how to manage questions that ask for the answer that isn't supported by the passage.

Identifying the question type

The first step in answering a reading question correctly is identifying what type of question it is. We've found that most reading comprehension questions fall into one of these three categories:

·        Summarizing the passage as a whole

·        Finding directly stated information

·        Making inferences

Each of these question types requires a slightly different approach. Answering whole passage questions requires you to consider the big picture. When you know that a question is about specific details in the passage, you can focus your attention on the portion of the passage that's relevant to the information in the question. Inference questions require you to make logical deductions based on information in the passage.

Big picture questions

Main idea questions and those that ask you to identify a passage's primary purpose regard the whole passage. Almost every passage has at least one question that asks you to see the big picture, and often it's the first question you answer for a particular reading passage.

tip.eps You can identify main idea questions by the language they contain. Here are some examples of the ways main idea questions may be worded:

·        The author of the passage is primarily concerned with which one of the following?

·        The author's primary goal (or purpose) in the passage is to do which one of the following?

·        An appropriate title that best summarizes this passage is

While you read the passage, look for its main idea and primary objective because you know you'll probably be asked about them. For instance, as you read through the dBA passage presented in “Experimenting with natural science passages” earlier in this chapter, you recognize that the author is clearly concerned about hearing loss and the effects of loud noises, specifically exposure to very loud human-generated noises. You may state the passage's primary purpose like this: “The author seeks to educate people about the way noise is measured and warn them of the danger of hearing loss from exposure to loud noises.” If you're asked a question about the passage's main idea, look for an answer that conveys an idea similar to your statement of the author's purpose.

tip.eps The best answer to a main idea question is general rather than specific. If an answer choice concerns information that's discussed in only one part of the passage, it probably isn't the correct answer. Here are some other ways to eliminate answer choices for main idea questions:

·        Eliminate answer choices that contain information that comes only from the passage's middle paragraphs. These paragraphs probably deal with specific points rather than the main idea.

·        Eliminate any answer choices that contain information that you can't find in the passage. These choices are irrelevant.

·        Sometimes you can eliminate answer choices based on just the first words. For example, if you're trying to find the best answer to the author's purpose in an objectively written natural science passage, you can eliminate answers that begin with less objective terms, like to argue that, to criticize, and to refute the opposition's position that.

Just the facts: Direct information questions

Some LSAT reading questions ask you about specific statements from the passage. These questions are potentially the easiest type of reading question because the information you need to answer them is stated in the passage, and the correct answer is a paraphrase. You just need to find it. This information may be quantitative, such as years, figures, or numbers, or it may be qualitative, like ideas, emotions, or thoughts.

Spot specific information questions by noticing how they're phrased. Those that contain verbs that indicate direct statements, such as states, indicates, or claims, are likely ones whose correct answer is a paraphrase of information in the passage. Usually, questions that ask for answers that are “according to the passage” are also specific information questions. So look for a direct answer to a question that's phrased like these examples:

·        The passage states that Neruda's Communist beliefs were evident in his poetry as early as which one of the following years?

·        According to the passage, which one of the following is true about the primary intensity of sound?

·        In the passage, the author indicates that transitory actions can be filed in which one of the following?

tip.eps Because specific information questions seek an answer that derives directly from information in the passage, look for answers that come straight from the passage and eliminate answer choices that require you to make any inferences. If you have to make a logical deduction to justify an answer choice for this question type, it's probably wrong. And keep in mind that the right answer may paraphrase the passage rather than provide a word-for-word repeat.

Reading between the lines: Inference questions

Inference questions ask you about information that's implied by the passage rather than directly stated. These questions test your ability to draw conclusions using evidence that appears in the passage. For inference questions, you're normally required to do one of these four things:

·        Identify a logical consequence of a statement or of two statements taken together

·        Infer the intended meaning of a word that's used figuratively in the passage

·        Determine the author's attitude toward the passage's topic or subtopics

·        Infer from attitudes portrayed in the passage how the author or others feel about different theories or events

For instance, suppose you read a passage that compares the rapidity of wing beats between houseflies and horseflies. Information in paragraph two may state that the wings of horseflies beat at 96 bps (beats per second). Information in paragraph four may say that a Purple Winger is a type of horsefly. From this information, you can infer that the wings of the Purple Winger beat at a rate of 96 bps. This is an example of the first bullet in the preceding list: recognizing a logical consequence of the author's statements.

tip.eps The horsefly conclusion doesn't require that you make great leaps of logic. When you're answering an inference question, look for the choice that slightly extends the passage's meaning. Choices that go beyond the passage's scope are usually incorrect. Don't choose an answer that requires you to assume information that isn't somehow addressed by the passage.

As you read the passage, look for clues to the author's tone as well as his or her purpose. You're bound to see questions that ask you to gauge how the author feels about the topic. Tone and style questions commonly ask you to figure out the author's attitude or complete the logical flow of the author's ideas. The author may be neutral, negative, or positive and may have different attitudes about different types of information within the same passage. It's up to you to determine the nature and degree of the author's feeling from the language used in the passage. With practice, you'll figure out how to distinguish between an enthusiastic author and one who's faking enthusiasm to mock the passage's subject.

warning.eps When making determinations about the author's style and tone, consider the passage as a whole. You may find one or two examples of praise in an article that's otherwise overwhelmingly critical of a subject. Don't make the mistake of quickly categorizing the passage from a few words that happen to catch your attention. Instead, determine the passage's main idea and the author's purpose (you need to do this to answer other questions, anyway), and use that information to help you discern the author's style and tone. For example, if an author's purpose is to argue against a particular point of view, critical words regarding the proponents of that viewpoint reveal an overall critical attitude. However, you wouldn't say the same about an author of a passage that supports a viewpoint overall but includes one or two criticisms of some supporters of the viewpoint.

remember.eps Style and tone questions may point you to a specific portion of a passage, or they may be about the whole passage. Even if a question does reference a specific part of the text, it does so in relation to the passage as a whole. For example, you can usually answer a question that asks you why an author chose to use certain words in a particular sentence only within the context of the entire passage. So if you know the main idea, author's purpose, and tone of the entire passage, you should be able to effectively deal with questions about the use of a particular word or phrase in one part of the passage.

The LSAT primarily tests your logical reasoning ability, so expect to see a lot of inference questions in the reading comprehension section. They're easily recognizable because they usually contain infer, suggest, or imply in the question, such as these examples:

·        It can be inferred from the passage that the Western concept of “need” differs from other definitions of need in which one of the following ways?

·        Information in the passage implies that which one of the following is often the subject of Neruda's poetry?

·        The author's stance toward the Western concept of “need” can best be described as

·        The author brings up southern migration patterns most likely to suggest which one of the following?

remember.eps Sometimes knowing a great deal about a passage's topic can be a detriment because you may be tempted to answer questions based on your own knowledge rather than the passage itself. Simply answer the questions as they're asked, and make inferences that can be justified by information in the passage.

Eliminating answer choices

One of the most effective ways of moving through reading comprehension questions is to eliminate incorrect answer choices. That's because you're looking for the best answer choice, not necessarily the perfect answer choice. Sometimes you have to choose the best out of five pretty close choices, and other times you choose from five less-than-ideal options. Because the definitive answer usually doesn't pop right out at you, you have to know how to eliminate obviously wrong choices. Chapter 2 gives you general tips for eliminating answer choices. In this section, we show you how to apply those techniques specifically to reading questions.

tip.eps Much of the time you can eliminate wrong choices without referring back to the passage. As long as you carefully read the passage and have a good idea of the main idea, the author's purpose, and the author's style or tone, you should be able to recognize some wrong answers immediately.

Some common wrong answers include:

·        Choices that concern information that isn't found in the passage: Some answer choices contain information that's beyond the passage's scope. Even if you know from experience that the information in these choices is true, you can't choose them. You have to choose answers based on what's stated or implied in the passage. Eliminate these choices, no matter how tempting they may be.

·        Choices that contradict the main theme, author's tone, or specific information in the passage: After you've read through the passage, you should be able to quickly eliminate most of the choices that contradict what you know about the passage.

·        Choices that go counter to the question's wording: You can also eliminate some answer choices by paying careful attention to the question's wording. For example, a question may ask about a disadvantage of something discussed in the passage. If one of the answer choices lists an advantage instead of a disadvantage, you can eliminate that choice without thinking too much about it. Or a question may ask you to choose which answer the author is most optimistic about. If one of the things listed is something the author is negative about, you can eliminate that choice.

warning.eps The LSAT may try to entice you with answer choices that contain information directly stated in the passage but that don't relate to the actual question at hand. Don't choose an answer just because it looks familiar. Make sure it actually answers the question.

·        Choices that contain extremes: Question any answer choice that uses absolutes. Examples are all, always, complete, never, every, and none. An answer choice that contains a word that leaves no room for exception is probably wrong. Beware: Usually the rest of an answer choice that includes an extreme word sounds pretty good, so you may be tempted to choose it.

warning.eps Don't automatically eliminate an answer choice that contains an extreme. If information in the passage justifies the presence of all or none in an answer choice, it may be right. For instance, if a passage tells you that all horseflies beat their wings at a rate of 96 bps, the choice with all in it may be accurate.

Dealing with exception questions

Most questions ask you to choose the one correct answer, but some questions are cleverly disguised to ask for the one false answer. We call these gems exception questions. You'll recognize these questions by the presence of a negative word in all capital letters, usually EXCEPT or NOT. When you see these words capitalized in a question, you know you're looking for the one answer choice that doesn't satisfy the question's requirements.

You won't see many exception questions on the LSAT reading section, but when you do see that word in all caps, take a moment to make sure that you know exactly what the question is asking. Don't get confused or rush and automatically choose the first choice that looks good. Remember, the question is asking for the one answer out of five that's false or not part of the information stated or implied in the passage.

Exception questions aren't that difficult if you approach them systematically. Determining that an answer definitely isn't discussed in the passage takes time. You have to carefully look through the passage for the choice and notfind it — then check again just to be sure. But there's a better way. Instead of determining if an answer isn't discussed, eliminate the four true answers, which leaves you with the one false (and therefore correct) answer.

Identifying those choices that do appear in the passage is much easier than determining the one choice that isn't there. After you've identified the four correct answers, you can choose the one false answer as the correct one for that question.

remember.eps Exception questions can take some time, but they're among the easier reading comprehension questions because often the answers are right there in the text! So don't get in a hurry and make a mistake. Relax and use the proper approach, and you'll do exceptionally well on exception questions.