LSAT For Dummies, 2nd Edition (2014)
Part IV. Reading Comprehension: Read ’Em but Don't Weep
Chapter 12. Safe Landing: Mastering the Approach to Reading Comprehension
In This Chapter
Figuring out a successful reading comprehension strategy
Knowing what to look for while reading a passage
Practicing your approach on sample reading comprehension passages and questions
The LSAT's reading comprehension section is less about reading than picking up information on the fly. If you approach this section the way you do, say, a bestselling novel or a trade magazine article, you'll likely run out of time. If you're having difficulty answering reading comprehension questions correctly, it's probably not because you lack reading skills. It's more likely that you're not familiar with the specific way you have to read for the LSAT. The best approach to LSAT reading passages is to get in and get out quickly, focusing mostly on just what you need to answer the questions.
Reading Comprehension Strategy
You should use much more of your precious time analyzing reading comprehension questions than reading the passages. For tips on breaking down questions, see Chapter 11. The plan is to read just as much of the passage as you need to figure out its overall idea and basic structure. This section covers a couple of ways you can spend your 35 minutes of reading bliss.
Skimming 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 following the guidelines in the section “Pacing Yourself through the Passages” later in this chapter. 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-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.
· 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. Find out more about this helpful approach online at www.dummies.com/extras/lsat.
Tackling 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.
Answering 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.
Eliminating 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. For more about how to eliminate wrong answers in the reading comprehension section, see Chapter 11.
Picking an answer and moving 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 loses 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.
Pacing Yourself through the Passages
You have a little over a minute to answer each reading question, and that includes the time you spend reading the passage. Generally, you shouldn't spend more than about two minutes on a passage before you answer its questions, so you have to read as efficiently as you can. You need a plan for getting through the passage in a way that allows you to answer questions correctly and quickly.
What to read for
When you read a passage, focus on the following elements:
· The passage's general theme
· The author's tone
· The way the author organizes the passage
Unless you have a photographic memory, you won't be able to remember all of a passage's details long enough to answer the questions. Don't spend time trying to figure out the passage's minutiae while you're reading it. If you encounter a question about a little detail, you can go back and reread the relevant section. Instead of sweating the small stuff, make sure you understand the author's main point, the tone the author uses to make it, and the overall way the author presents the information.
Getting the main point
Generally, people write passages to inform or persuade. Passages on the LSAT are often argumentative; they advance a particular opinion. For those, the main purpose may be to attack, criticize, or advocate a position. But some passages present a neutral, objective tone. Their purpose may be nothing more than to explain, describe, or explore a theory, law, or phenomenon.
Because most authors present the main theme in the first paragraph or two, you'll probably figure it out in the first few seconds of your reading. If the main idea isn't clear in the first paragraphs, it probably appears in the last paragraph, when the author sums up the ideas. After you figure out the author's overall theme, quickly jot down next to the passage a word or two to help you remember it. For a passage that describes the differences between the flight patterns of houseflies and horseflies, you could write down compare flight — house/horse. Your notation gives you something to refer to when you're asked the inevitable big-picture questions (which we discuss in greater detail in Chapter 11).
Absorbing the author's tone
In addition to understanding the author's point, you need to know how the author feels about the issue to help you answer inference questions. You get clues to the author's tone or mood by noticing the words he or she uses. LSAT passages either inform the reader about something or try to persuade the reader to adopt the author's viewpoint. Informative passages are often more objective than persuasive ones, so the author's tone is usually neutral. Authors of persuasive passages may exhibit more emotion. You may sense that an author is critical, cynical, pessimistic, optimistic, or supportive. Knowing the tone of a passage helps you choose answers that exhibit the same tone or subjectivity.
Regardless of the author's mood, don't let your personal opinions about a passage's subject matter influence your answer choices. Getting emotionally involved with the passage's content can cloud your judgment and may cause you to subconsciously rely on your opinions as you answer questions. To avoid doing so, you may find it helpful to remind yourself that correct answers are true according to the passage or according to the author.
Forming the framework: The passage's outline
Knowing the passage's structure is much more important than understanding its details. You should spend no more than two minutes to absorb the passage's information, so instead of trying to comprehend everything the author says, focus on how the author lays out the information. That way, when you're asked a question about a particular topic, you'll know where to go to answer it.
Standard essay format includes an introduction with a thesis, two or three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. Many LSAT passages are excerpts from larger works, so they may not exhibit precise five-paragraph essay form, but they will contain evidence of all three elements. As you read, in addition to the passage's overall point, determine main points of each of its paragraphs.
You may find it helpful to construct a mini-outline of the passage as you read it. Beside each paragraph, jot down a word or two that describes the type of information it contains. For example, you could use hints such as diff wingspan, size diff — horse 3x bigger, and flight helps house for a passage that compares houseflies and horseflies. This outline tells you that in the first supporting paragraph, you find information about how the two flies differ in wingspan. The second supporting paragraph is where you find information that explains how the greater size of horseflies affects their flight. And from the third supporting paragraph, you find out how the housefly's flight helps it in everyday life. Although you may not understand all the fascinating details of the author's account, you know where to go in the passage if you have to answer a detail question.
Building an outline as you skim helps you know where in the passage you can find answers to questions about particular details. Doing so also helps you answer any questions that ask you how an author develops his or her point.
Reading with an active pencil
When you start reading, start marking stuff. Circle important words. Underline key statements, especially ones that look like the passage's main point. Mark any obvious statements of opinion and clear transitions. If you notice any kind of obvious structure, mark it so you can see it clearly. Doing so helps you spot key ideas when you need them. Jot little notes off to the side that identify bits of info. You want to transform this undifferentiated block of text into something with noticeable breaks and pauses.
Here are some things you're trying to find:
· The author's main idea
· The author's purpose
· The author's attitudes and opinions
· The passage's structure
· Transition words, such as for example, nevertheless, or in sum
· Pieces of evidence that the author uses
· Anything that stands out as an answer to one of the questions
Spotting transition words can really help you identify the passage's structure. These words serve as kind of a road map for the passage; if you underline them and ignore the rest of the content, you should still have a good idea of the passage's direction. Look for transitions such as moreover, for example, in contrast, however, but, furthermore, and therefore. If you spot any of these, you know where the author has been and where he or she plans to go.
Whatever you do, don't underline or circle too much! Many students highlight or underline nearly every word in their textbooks or notes, which has the virtue of canceling out anything they've underlined and making plain text stand out. If you don't know how much is too much, aim to put pencil to paper no more than 20 times, which includes circled words and phrases and underlined sentences.
Deciding whether to work in or out of order
No one says you have to work the reading comprehension section in order. If you want to spend half a minute or so at the beginning of the section flipping pages and ranking the passages from your favorite to your most detested, go right ahead. If you prefer to save that half a minute and work the section from start to finish, that's great, too.
As with analytical reasoning, if you choose to work the passages out of order, your best criterion for ranking them is the number of answers attached to them. If you anticipate running out of time, concentrate on the passages with a large number of questions first. So if one passage has eight questions and another has only six, choose the one with eight questions first.
Although hopping around within the reading comprehension section is fine, working two or more passages at once isn't a good idea. Loading a passage's information into your brain takes time, and you don't want to interfere with your concentration by hopping around. When you pick a passage, stick with it until you've answered all the questions, and then move on.
Giving Sample Passage 1 a Shot: Influenza Vaccination
In this section, you find a typical reading comprehension passage followed by questions about the passage. We use this sample passage to show you how to work through the reading passages and answer the questions.
Skimming the questions first
Skimming the questions first tells you what information you need to find as you read the passage.
You can find the questions for this first sample passage in the section “Knocking down the questions” later in this chapter. Your initial question skim reveals that in addition to attending to the main point and purpose, the tone, and author's attitude, you'll also search for the following as you read the passage:
· Discussion of current techniques of producing flu vaccine
· The author's opinion of the lawsuits brought by people claiming to have contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome from flu vaccine
· Who should make the greatest effort to receive vaccination against influenza
· The government's role in public health matters
As you skim these questions, underline keywords. (Don't underline entire questions!)
Reading and underlining
After skimming the questions, read the passage. Underline or otherwise mark anything that may help you answer a question. (Don't underline the whole passage!)
You can also make little notations in the margins, draw circles around words, draw arrows from one place to another — anything that makes finding what you need easier. Don't sweat this process too much; you don't have to mark everything, and you'll have access to the passage while you answer the questions.
Okay, here's Passage 1. For your convenience and learning pleasure, we've marked various words and phrases that may be important to answering the questions:
Thinking about the passage
Before you start on the questions, think a bit about the passage you just read. What's the main point? Well, the author obviously thinks the flu vaccine is a good thing; he includes a bit of information about influenza and its virus, a bit of history of the flu vaccine, and a lamentation about the unfortunate lawsuits surrounding the 1976 vaccination program. The piece is mostly informative but also expresses a definite opinion. All that information is relevant to the questions.
Knocking down the questions
Now tackle the questions. Try to answer them yourself first. Use a blank sheet of paper to cover the answers and explanation, and then see whether you answered each question correctly. Don't peek.
Regardless of whether you can answer the question on your own, make sure you read the explanation of how to arrive at the correct answer. You may find this information helpful later, when working on other reading comprehension passages.
1. The passage is primarily concerned with discussing which one of the following?
(A) The symptoms of the flu and the effects of the 1918 influenza pandemic
(B) The 1976 swine flu vaccination fiasco and its detrimental effects on subsequent vaccination drives
(C) The constant mutation of the flu virus in birds and pigs
(D) The efforts of the scientists who first identified the cause of influenza
(E) The effects of the flu and the history and benefits of the influenza vaccine
This is a big-picture question; all you have to do is understand what the passage — the whole passage — is about. In this case, the passage is primarily concerned with providing some information about the flu, the virus that causes it, and the history of the vaccine, arguing that the vaccine is beneficial and not at all dangerous.
Now consider the answer choices: Choice (A) is wrong because the author doesn't actually describe flu symptoms anywhere. Choice (B) is too specific. It would be correct if the question asked about just the third paragraph. The author mentions Choice (C) but as part of his discussion of the flu virus, so it's also too specific to be the answer to a big-picture question. Choice (D) isn't right; the author doesn't really say anything about the scientists’ efforts beyond describing the egg-injection process. Choice (E) looks correct; it's an overall theme, not restricted to a particular paragraph, that pretty well sums up the passage. Choice (E) is the correct answer.
2. Which one of the following best describes the author's attitude toward influenza vaccination?
(A) conviction that the vaccine is the best way to prevent a flu epidemic and that people should not fear it
(B) skepticism as to whether the vaccine's benefits outweigh its risks
(C) annoyance that the government has tried to interfere with people's lives by encouraging them to get vaccinated
(D) admiration for the heroic efforts of the scientists who developed the flu vaccine in the 1940s
(E) disgust at the attorneys who took advantage of the government's vulnerability in the Guillain-Barré lawsuits
The author quite clearly thinks the flu vaccine is a good thing. He calls it a “tremendously successful product with few detrimental side effects”; claims that “the best approach to flu is to prevent it by vaccination”; and says that “people should get their flu shots every year with confidence.”
Skim the first words of the answers and knock out anything that's obviously wrong. Choice (A) looks promising; it sums up the author's attitude toward the vaccine. Choice (B) should go because the author displays no skepticism. Choice (C) is likewise wrong because the author isn't at all annoyed at the government's efforts. Choice (D) is also probably true of the author's attitudes, but he doesn't really get into scientists’ efforts in the passage. Choice (E) describes an attitude that the author probably has, but it doesn't answer this question. Choice (A) is the correct answer.
3. The passage suggests which one of the following about current techniques of producing the flu vaccine?
(A) Scientists have taken advantage of technological developments in the second half of the 20th century to make the process more efficient and precisely tailored to specific strains of the influenza virus.
(B) Because scientists use chicken embryos in eggs to incubate the virus, they can only create vaccines that are effective against flu transmitted by chickens.
(C) Because the technique has not changed appreciably since it was developed in the 1940s, it is a fairly inefficient process with some major limitations.
(D) It is unfortunate that scientists use fertilized hens’ eggs to create the flu vaccine because this means that the developing chicken embryos will die before they hatch.
(E) There are many better ways of creating vaccines, but scientists are unable to put them into practice because of economic restrictions.
What does the author say about current techniques? “Scientists still use this technique today, which is why it takes so long for pharmaceutical manufacturers to make flu vaccines each year.” That sounds like he thinks the process is slow and possibly inefficient. Be careful about assuming that he thinks the process is outdated because he doesn't suggest that scientists should use a different, more efficient method.
Now, consider the options. Choice (A) is wrong because scientists haven't in fact updated the flu vaccine creation process. Choice (B) is wrong; the author says nothing about this. Choice (C) restates the author's words but with a little more judgment; this works as an answer because the author does note that it takes pharmaceutical companies a long time to generate vaccines, which is limiting. Choice (D) doesn't work; the author says nothing about the sad implications to the chick embryos. Choice (E) is wrong; the author doesn't mention newer and better techniques of producing vaccines. Perhaps there aren't any, and the egg method is still the best way. Choice (C) is the best answer.
4. 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?
(A) They were justified because the flu vaccine had caused people to contract Guillain-Barré syndrome.
(B) They were frivolous lawsuits that did not prove a connection between the vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome and did major damage to the public health drive to vaccinate people against influenza.
(C) They were an important cautionary lesson for the government about the dangers of getting involved in public health matters.
(D) They are an example of unscrupulous lawyers and runaway juries taking advantage of a defendant with deep pockets and a cause of action that is too complicated for a typical juror to understand.
(E) They illustrate the necessity of government indemnification of pharmaceutical companies that manufacture necessary but potentially dangerous substances such as vaccines.
A couple of things should give you a clue about the author's attitude: the use of the word “unfortunately” to describe the events following the 1976 vaccination program, and the statement that there has been no link proven between the vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome. You know that this author believes strongly in the value of the flu vaccine and thinks everyone should get it, and he thinks that the damage done by the 1976 lawsuits is unfortunate.
Look for an answer that says something like that. Choice (A) is definitely wrong because the author doesn't think the lawsuits were justified, and he notes the lack of a proven connection between vaccine and disease. Choice (B) looks very good. The author mentions the lack of a connection and goes on to describe the aftereffects, including government reluctance to try another vaccination program and unfounded public fears of the vaccine. Choice (C) may well be true, but the author doesn't seem to think the government should use the 1976 story as a cautionary tale. In fact, he says there's “no need” for the government to hesitate to vaccinate people. The author may secretly believe Choice (D), but he never mentions either unscrupulous lawyers or runaway juries in this passage, so you can't assume anything about his opinions of them. Choice (E) doesn't work because the author never mentions the fact that the government indemnified the pharmaceutical companies in these cases. Choice (B) is the correct answer.
5. Which one of the following states the primary purpose of the passage?
(A) To encourage all American citizens to receive the flu vaccine every year
(B) To criticize the government's drive to vaccinate all Americans against the 1976 swine flu, which was a premature action that led to unfortunate product liability lawsuits and large damage awards
(C) To discredit any claims of a link between the influenza vaccine and nerve diseases such as Guillain-Barré syndrome
(D) To suggest that vaccinating people against influenza is the best way to respond to the threat of a major global epidemic, several of which have already occurred with devastating consequences
(E) To argue against allowing product liability lawsuits against the manufacturers of vaccines
The author has a definite axe to grind. He wants to convince people that the flu vaccine is safe and effective, along with providing a little information about the process of creating the vaccine and the devastating consequences of the disease.
See which answer choice best fits this agenda. Choice (A) isn't exactly right; the author isn't addressing this piece specifically to the government, and he's not really suggesting that the government take this exact action, though he probably does think a yearly vaccination program would be a good idea. See whether there's a better answer. Choice (B) is totally wrong, the complete opposite of what the author thinks. Choice (C) isn't the primary purpose of the passage. The author mentions this lack of a link once, in the last paragraph, but it would have to appear more often than that to be the primary purpose. Choice (D) looks pretty good. The author does emphasize the benefits of vaccination and mentions the devastating consequences of a previous flu epidemic, the 1918 pandemic. Choice (E) is just plain wrong; the author doesn't say anything about product liability at any point in the passage. Though he certainly thinks the lawsuits were wrong, you can't assume anything he doesn't state explicitly or implicitly. Choice (D) is the best answer.
6. Which one of the following presents the primary purpose of the second paragraph?
(A) To provide some background information about influenza, such as the origin of the name and the way the virus mutates
(B) To suggest that pregnant women in particular should receive the flu vaccine
(C) To describe the method scientists use to replicate the flu virus inside fertilized hens’ eggs
(D) To speculate on possibly unverified ways in which the flu virus can jump from animals to humans
(E) To criticize the way influenza received its name because the Italian version of the name gives the mistaken impression that influenza is caused by cold temperatures
Paragraph 2 describes the origin of the name influenza, lists the people most at risk from the disease, and briefly describes the way the virus develops.
Look for an answer that hits those points. Choice (A) actually looks good; keep that in mind as a possible answer. Though the author mentions that pregnant women should get vaccinated, that isn't the only thing he says in this paragraph, so Choice (B) doesn't work. Choice (C) is simply wrong; that information is in the third paragraph. Choice (D) is wrong, too, because the author doesn't speculate about virus transfers. Likewise, Choice (E) is wrong. The author simply states that the word influenza comes from an Italian phrase, but he doesn't suggest that this is in any way misleading to English speakers. Choice (A) is by far the best answer.
7. According to the passage, who should make the greatest effort to receive vaccination against influenza?
(A) medical workers such as nurses and doctors, who are most likely to be exposed to the flu on a daily basis and then transmit the virus to their own patients
(B) young children and people who work around children, such as day-care workers and elementary school teachers
(C) people who are most vulnerable to dying from the flu, such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems, diabetes, or heart or lung disease
(D) scientists who work with flu viruses
(E) people who are planning to travel to Asia, particularly southeastern China, at the time of year when the flu virus tends to jump from birds to pigs to humans
In the first paragraph, the author mentions that vulnerable groups in particular should get vaccinated against the flu. In the second paragraph, he writes that the flu “can be extremely dangerous in vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system, diabetes, or heart or lung disease.”
Skimming the first words of the answers results in the following: Choice (C) jumps out as a near-perfect answer. Double-check the others to be sure, though. The author doesn't mention medical workers or teachers, so Choices (A) and (B) are wrong. He doesn't mention scientists or travelers, so Choices (D) and (E) are wrong. Choice (C) is the only answer that works here.
8. Which one of the following best describes the author's opinion of the role the government should take in public health matters?
(A) The government should take an active role in informing people of the dangers of diseases such as influenza and encouraging people to receive vaccines to prevent national or international epidemics.
(B) The government should avoid taking any extreme stands on public health matters because of the danger of lawsuits, frivolous or otherwise.
(C) The government should subsidize research into better vaccines for dangerous illnesses such as influenza.
(D) The government should quarantine people who contract dangerously communicable diseases such as influenza to prevent the diseases from spreading rapidly throughout the population.
(E) The government should increase the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because the CDC is the organization most capable of preventing a major outbreak of influenza.
You're pretty familiar with the author's attitudes by now; he certainly thinks the government can have a role in preventing influenza epidemics.
So which answer choice works best here? Choice (A) looks like a good answer. Choice (B) isn't right because the author actually says that there's no reason for the government to hesitate to recommend vaccination. Choice (C) is wrong because nowhere does the author address funding for research. Choice (D) is also wrong because quarantine isn't a topic in this passage. The author may agree with Choice (E), but he doesn't mention funding for any group, including the CDC, so that can't be right. Choice (A) still looks best.
Conquering Sample Passage 2: Manifest Destiny
You can tackle the following reading passage just as you did the one in the preceding section. Skim the questions, read and underline the passage, and then ponder its meaning for a moment or two before answering the questions.
Skimming the questions first
The questions for Passage 2 are in the later section “Answering the questions — full speed ahead.” Based on these questions, look out for the following in this passage:
· The main point
· The concept of manifest destiny
· Consequences of the Mexican-American War
· 19th-century American views of movement toward the Rio Grande
· The phrase “fearing to anger America's southern neighbor”
· Polk's attitude toward expansion
· The passage's organization
As you skim the questions, underline keywords.
Reading and underlining
Now you're ready to tackle this second passage. You can make notes, such as noting next to the second paragraph that it's about Texas, or circling words, or anything else that helps you keep this information in order. Here's how you could mark up this passage to help you answer the questions:
Thinking about the passage
What do you think is the passage's main point? Probably something about how the philosophy of manifest destiny led to Americans electing an expansionist president who proceeded to go to war and take half of Mexico's territory for the United States. It may help you to try to come up with a suitable title for the passage, perhaps with a subtitle that further refines the title (the subtitle would be the part that follows the colon in a two-part title). You also know you have a question about the passage's organization, so noting the topic of each paragraph probably doesn't hurt — manifest destiny, Texas, and the Mexican-American War and its payoff to the United States — or something similar. Don't make an elaborate outline, but do consider organization for a moment.
Answering the questions — full speed ahead
After you skim the questions once and read the passage, hunker down and answer the questions.
Try to answer the questions on your own first before peeking at the answer. Read the answer explanations regardless — doing so is good practice. The explanations help you think more about the passage and about the way LSAT questions are constructed, and may give you some insights when you take the test for real.
1. Which one of the following most accurately states the main point of the passage?
(A) Without the Mexican-American War as a training ground for military officers, the outcome of the American Civil War may have been quite different.
(B) A belief in manifest destiny, a desire for more land, and the election of an aggressive president led the United States into a war with Mexico and generated tremendous territorial expansion in the mid-19th century.
(C) Manifest destiny — a belief that the United States was destined to be the great nation of the future because of its superiority in individual freedom, equality, and progress — was the predominant philosophy of Americans in the 1840s.
(D) Polk was a strong president who managed to force his ideas about war through Congress despite the fact that most of America was ambivalent about the republic of Texas and aggression against Mexico.
(E) The Mexican-American War was a worthwhile investment of time, money, and lives because it added a huge chunk of territory to the United States, including land on the Pacific Coast.
You've already thought about the main point, so see whether one of the answers matches your thinking. Choice (A) doesn't look right. The passage mentions the Civil War only in the very last sentence, so the Mexican-American War's effects on the Civil War can't be the main point. Choice (B) looks pretty good; it hits all the passage's highlights. Choice (C) looks like it could be the answer, except that it stops with manifest destiny and ignores the two-thirds of the passage concerned with the Mexican-American War, so it's not right. Choice (D) also seems plausible, but Polk's aggression toward Congress really isn't the main point, only part of the passage's point. Choice (E) makes a claim about the value of the Mexican-American War that the author really doesn't make; she expresses no opinion as to whether that endeavor was worthwhile (in fact, her negative comments about manifest destiny in the first paragraph suggest that she may think the war wasn't valuable). Choice (B) is the best answer.
2. Given the information in the passage, which one of the following best summarizes the concept of manifest destiny?
(A) It was a concept created by a newspaper writer who used the phrase in an editorial supporting the United States’ claim to Texas.
(B) It was a religious belief cherished by many American Protestants, particularly those who settled in the western and southwestern territories, that God had given them the entire North American continent for their own purposes.
(C) It was the political platform on which James K. Polk based his 1844 presidential election campaign.
(D) It was a racist sentiment that American citizens used to justify their hatred of new immigrants.
(E) It was an idea born of 19th-century romanticism that claimed that the United States had a divinely ordained duty to spread its ideas about government and social equality as far as possible, even if that meant conquering other lands and people.
First, make sure you know what the question is asking; underline the word “summarize” so you remember your mission. Here's what the author says: “Many Americans justified this tremendous expansion… with the self-righteous claim that the United States was divinely ordained to spread democracy over the world. They summed up this belief in the phrase manifest destiny, a term invented in 1845 by writer John O'Sullivan… O'Sullivan argued that the United States was destined to be the great nation of the future because of its superiority in individual freedom, equality, and progress, and therefore had a divinely granted right to expand its government everywhere.”
Consider which answer choice works best. Choice (A) isn't right because it doesn't address the concept of manifest destiny, just the phrase's origin. Choice (B) isn't right; manifest destiny wasn't explicitly a religious or Protestant belief, though it did have a religious component to it. (And the author never mentions Christianity or Protestants anywhere in the passage.) Choice (C) doesn't summarize the concept, though Polk did campaign on an expansionist platform; note, too, that Polk ran for president in 1844 and O'Sullivan coined the phrase in 1845. Choice (D) isn't right; the passage doesn't say that manifest destiny was an explicitly racist philosophy. Choice (E) looks good because it focuses on the American sense of having a divinely ordained mission to spread democracy, which is exactly what the passage says. Choice (E) is correct.
3. Which one of the following is NOT identified by the author of the passage as a consequence of the United States’ war with Mexico?
(A) The U.S. Congress came to resent Polk's imperious attitude.
(B) Many soldiers died in the conflict.
(C) Officers who later became major figures in the Civil War had their first combat training.
(D) The United States added the entire southwest, from Texas to California, to its territory.
(E) Mexico lost approximately half its territory.
Skim the answers and cross off the ones that you can find in the passage; the last one standing is your answer. The only fact that the author doesn't mention is Congress's growing resentment of Polk's attitude, so Choice (A) looks right. Many soldiers died in the war with Mexico, so Choice (B) is out. The last sentence of the passage mentions Choice (C). Choice (D) is mentioned in the last paragraph, as is Choice (E). Choice (A) is indeed the correct answer.
4. Based on the passage, the American people of the early 19th century would be most likely to hold which one of the following views of America's movement toward the Rio Grande?
(A) It was a mistake because it ran the chance of alienating Mexico.
(B) It was economically sound because it would provide territory for new immigrants to settle far away from the cities of the eastern seaboard.
(C) It was an excellent means of spreading Protestant Christianity among the predominantly Catholic Mexicans.
(D) It was a dangerous maneuver likely to spark a war with Mexico.
(E) It was the right thing to do because the United States had been created by God to spread democracy and equality throughout as much of the world as possible.
You know what 19th-century Americans thought of expansion — they liked it and thought it was their country's duty; that's what the whole manifest destiny business is about. Choice (A) is wrong; the passage gives you no reason to believe that ordinary Americans worried about alienating Mexico by settling Texas. The same reasoning invalidates Choice (D). Choice (B) is wrong; the passage suggests that American citizens wanted more territory for immigrants but doesn't specifically state that they thought Texas was the place for these newcomers. This is a tricky answer, though, because it could plausibly seem right. Choice (C) is wrong; the passage doesn't suggest that Americans wanted to proselytize the Catholic Mexicans. Choice (E) sums up the prevailing philosophy nicely. Choice (E) is correct.
5. The phrase “fearing to anger America's southern neighbor” in the second paragraph (Lines 21–22) is most likely intended to
(A) justify Polk's agreeing to annex Texas as a state
(B) argue that the annexation of Texas was precipitous and done out of anger at Mexico
(C) suggest that Mexico had plans to go to war with the United States to reclaim the Texas territory
(D) describe the effect that Polk's predecessors believed annexing Texas as a state would have on Mexico's government
(E) condemn the actions of the American residents of Texas who declared the territory an independent republic without Mexico's permission
“America's southern neighbor” in this sentence is, of course, Mexico. (The LSAT assumes a bit of rudimentary geography — you do, of course, know that Mexico is south of the United States.) Presidents before Polk hadn't wanted to annex Texas as a state because they were afraid Mexico would get angry if they did.
Choice (A) doesn't work because the phrase doesn't justify Polk's actions. Choice (B) is wrong because it has nothing to do with fearing to anger Mexico but in fact suggests that the United States didn't care if it did anger Mexico. Choice (C) is the opposite of the answer. Polk's predecessors didn't want to anger Mexico, fearing that would spark a war, but didn't think Mexico would start a war unprovoked. Choice (D) is the best answer to this question. Polk's predecessors didn't take action on Texas because they were afraid Mexico would get angry and go to war. Choice (E) totally doesn't work; it's not condemning Texans, who certainly weren't concerned about angering Mexico. Choice (D) is correct.
6. The passage suggests which one of the following about Polk's attitude toward expansion?
(A) Polk believed that, as president, he was justified in bullying Congress into approving troops and funding for the Mexican-American War, even if most legislators disagreed with him.
(B) Until his envoy was turned away at Mexico City, Polk thought he would be able to purchase California from Mexico without recourse to violence.
(C) Polk was determined to expand U.S. territory and power, but he did not want to jeopardize good diplomatic relations with other countries.
(D) Polk disapproved of the residents of Texas taking matters into their own hands by declaring Texas an independent republic.
(E) Polk wanted to continue the policies of previous administrations with regard to Texas and Mexico.
According to the passage, Polk wanted to expand the United States regardless of whom he had to alienate, whether it be Congress or Mexico. Choice (A) looks like a good answer. Choice (B) doesn't look so good. If Polk used Mexico's refusal to receive his envoy as “an excuse to send American troops to the Rio Grande,” he probably didn't expect his offer to buy California to go over well in the first place. Choice (C) is obviously wrong; the passage provides no evidence that Polk cared about good diplomatic relations with other countries. Choice (D) doesn't work, either; Polk had no problem with independent Texans and was quite willing to annex them as a state, even when he knew Mexico wouldn't like it. Choice (E) is also explicitly wrong; Polk most definitely didn't continue the previous administrations’ policies. So Choice (A) is correct.
7. Which one of the following most accurately describes the organization of the passage?
(A) A description of American philosophy and prevailing opinions in the early to mid-19th century, followed by an account of the start of the Mexican-American War and its effects on the United States
(B) A description of the philosophy called manifest destiny, introduced as justification for the war against Mexico
(C) A description of a newspaper editorial that introduced a phrase that became very popular in 19th-century American literary circles, followed by a condemnation of the expansionist policies of Polk and an account of the injustices forced on Mexico
(D) A detailed account of U.S. territorial expansion in the 19th century, beginning with the war against Mexico and ending with the Civil War
(E) An analysis of the philosophy of manifest destiny, followed by a description of Congressional action to expand U.S. territory, followed by an account of the Mexican-American War, and concluding with the years preceding the Civil War
Make a quick mental outline of the passage (or look at your notes if you've jotted down main points of each paragraph). It starts with a description of manifest destiny, followed by a paragraph on Polk's expansionist tendencies and the start of the Mexican-American War, and concludes with a paragraph on the results of that war.
Look for an answer choice that echoes this organization. Choice (A) looks like a good answer. Choice (B) is wrong because the passage doesn't just address manifest destiny. Choice (C) is wrong because the passage doesn't condemn Polk or describe injustices inflicted on Mexico. Choice (D) is wrong, too, because it skips the paragraph on manifest destiny and includes material that's not in the passage; the only territorial expansion that appears is what resulted from the war with Mexico, and you can't assume that's all the expansion that occurred in the 19th century. Choice (E) starts well, with the analysis of manifest destiny, but the passage doesn't actually discuss Congressional action, nor does it address the years preceding the Civil War. Choice (A) is correct.