Reading Comprehension

With logical reasoning and logic games, there are different strategies to pursue depending on the type of question.  It pays off to study each question type in turn.

This is not the case with Reading Comprehension.  There are different question types (Main point, attitude, passage detail, would the author agree, etc.), but they don’t really matter.  The only thing which really matters is understanding the passage.  If you understand the passage, you’ll get all or almost all of the questions right.  If you don’t understand it, you won’t.

The main thing to know is that all LSAT reading comprehension passages are written in a particular way.  There are 3-4 paragraphs, and each one can usually be summarized in a sentence or two.  When you read a passage, you should get used to figuring out the structure of the passage in that sense.   Don’t focus on remembering every little detail.  Rather, focus on knowing where to look if you have to check back and verify a detail (usually you don’t).


This is all easier to explain with an example.  I’m going to summarize the fourth passage from the June 2007 LSAT, and then show how I went about answering the questions.  Pay attention to the points where I refer back to the passage.

The LSAC has made the test available for free here.  If you haven’t done this prep test yet but planned to do it all at once for practice, you might want to come back here after you try it.

If you’re going to look at this now, read the passage first, and try to sum up each paragraph into a sentence.  Also take note of the main point of the passage, and how you would describe the presentation (a debate, new information, a review of current knowledge, etc.).  Don’t worry about all of the details, but know which paragraph to look in if you need to find them.  Then look at the questions and see how many you can answer.


1st paragraph: Documentary evidence is far from perfect as a record of what Ireland’s landscape used to look like.

2nd paragraph: Fossilized pollen can tell us what plants were in an area, and when.

3rd: paragraph: This has let us realise that cereal were cultivated in the tough soils of County Down centuries earlier than we thought.

4th paragraph: Conversely, flax was cultivated in county down much later than was thought.

5th paragraph: Pollen evidence is not perfect either.  We can only identify the genus, not the species.

The main point of the article is to describe a technique (pollen analysis) which can confirm or correct the documentary record and help us figure out what Ireland’s landscape used to look like.  It is scholarly.

Even Shorter Summary

Irish Landscape History: Documentary evidence insufficient, pollen analysis shows promise, example #1 cereal, example #2 flax, limits of pollen analysis.

I remember a lot more details than that, but you should have that bare bones structure in mind when answering questions.  Let’s take a look at them.

Questions 23-27

23. Main point.  Look for an answer which looks like the main point you already identified.  “A” sounds very much like what I wrote (n.b. I wrote that without having looked at the questions).  I scan the rest, and none are quite right.

24. This question is asking us a detail about the passage.  For these, you always want to be able to point to something in the passage which will let you be sure of your answer.  I look at the answer choices first, to narrow it down to 1-2 I think are likely the right one.  I also keep in mind what the right answer will be; the passage is providing evidence against one of the view.

So, they all involve plowing, or cereal grains.  This is the 3rd paragraph.  That told us that grains were cultivated in tough soils earlier than we thought.  Which looks like B.  I scan the third paragraph again to be sure, and see right at the start that Long Lough (part of county down) had grain cultivation 300 years before 700 AD.

25. This cites specific lines of the passage.  I always read any lines specifically cited, plus the lines around them.  Before looking at the answer choices, I form an idea of what the right answer might be (stuff written in books/letters/documents about the landscape).  Looking at the answer choices A and B talk about pollen, C and E talk about modern documents.  Only D refers to the historical documents that those parts of the passage talk about.

26. This question asks about historians specific beliefs.  Those are found in paragraphs 3-4, where examples which prove pollen’s analysis’ usefulness are given.  Cereal and flax.  B and E.  I picked E, and I scanned the third and fourth paragraphs to be sure.   You can confirm the answer in lines 42-45.

27. 2nd paragraph’s relationship to final paragraph.  Look at my bare bones summary.  Promising new technique (2nd) –> Limitations of that technique (5th).  I check to see if any answers match that.  This question is a little tricky.  The correct answer is  C.  The claim in the second paragraph is that pollen analysis can give us accurate knowledge of the past, the final paragraph “qualifies” this claim by noting that in some circumstances it can be misleading/will not provide useful info.

Before eliminating or choosing an answer choice that uses abstract terms (like C does), be sure you understand what those terms refer to.


I looked back to the passage three times total while doing this passage.  The less times you need to look back, the faster you will go through them.  And every time I looked back was only to confirm an answer.  There were a lot of details in that passage, but almost none of them were crucial.  And every time I looked back, I knew which paragraph to check.  It was an understanding of the passage as a whole which let me do that.  Try to identify this structure when you do a passage.  You don’t need to write it down (I don’t).  Just make a mental note of what role each paragraph plays, and what the overall structure is.


Some people rush through the passage to get to the questions.  You shouldn’t do that.  Read slowly, and understand the passage and its structure.  Then going through the questions will be a breeze.  If you don’t understand a passage before you hit the questions, you’ll find yourself wasting time by looking back quite a bit, and for longer than I do.

If you understand and apply the principles I told you above, you should notice a big increase in your effectiveness on the LSAT reading comp sections.  There’s more I could teach you, but this is actually 80% of it.  The rest is practice.

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