Should You Underline LSAT Reading Comprehension Passages?

Update: Reviewing RC passages in depth can help you get a sense of their structure and reduce the need to underline. You can find explanations for RC passages to help you review here at my new site: http://lsathacks.com

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LSAT reading comprehension passages can be tough to understand. They also present a lot of facts, and it’s hard to remember everything. So many students make notes and underline their passages.

If you like making notes, and you find it helps you do better, than makes notes. But not everyone is a notetaker.

My students often ask me how they should make notes for reading comprehension passages. Many of these students did not underline their college textbooks, and didn’t take many notes in school. They’re not note-takers. But LSAT prep books have given them the impression that they must use a complex system of notes to succeed on the LSAT reading comprehension section.

Nope. Notes aren’t even necessary, though they can be a useful tool for some people.

What My Reading Comprehension Notes Look Like

My students are surprised when I show them my reading comprehension passages. They’re blank – I don’t make any notes!

That’s right, none. I find personally notes distracting. It takes time to write them, it makes the passage harder to read, and they take my focus away from actually understanding what the passage says.

But, I was never a notetaker in school. Some people are different. If you highlighted your textbooks, you should probably take notes on the LSAT.

But if you didn’t take notes in your school textbooks…why would you start just for the LSAT?

How To Tell If Your Reading Comprehension Notes Are Useful

When you review passages, you should review your strategy, as well as the questions. How did you read the passage.

Some people are like sieves. They read a passage, then don’t seem to remember anything about what they read. If this ever happens to you, you need to change how you read. Consider re-reading, to retain facts for more time.

When you’re doing a strategic review, consider your notes.

Signs Your Notes Are Useful

  • You used your notes when answering questions.
  • Your notes helped you understand difficult concepts.
  • The information you underlined turned out to be important.
  • You were more likely to remember things you underlined.

Signs Your Notes Are Hurting You

  • You underlined useless facts.
  • Your notes made the passage hard to read.
  • You made so many notes that you couldn’t use them all.
  • You forgot most of the things you underlined.
  • You missed important structural elements.
Ideally, your notes will help you understand the passage and retain information, without getting in the way. If this isn’t true, then re-evaluate how you make notes. Try doing a few passages without notes, and see which parts you actually miss. Then try only making those  kinds of notes.

Most People Make Bad Notes, and Even the Best Notes May Not Help

Don’t think you’re missing out on some master method for underlining passages. The highest scoring students are the least likely to underline anything. And when I look at the notes most students do take – they suck. They underline things that don’t matter, and they miss some of the most important elements of the passage.

I did have one student who made really great passage notes. He hit all of the key logical elements of the passage. He underlined key facts and concepts. He said she got his techniques from the Powerscore Reading Comprehension Bible.

I was duly impressed with his notes – but there was a problem. Reading Comprehension was his worst section. He was very smart, did practically perfect on logic games, but he struggled to get half the questions right on RC sections. His passage notes didn’t help at all – he got the same score when he tried going without the notes!

The real key to doing well on reading comprehension is understanding what the passage says, and retaining as much information as you can for eight minutes and forty-five seconds. If underlining helps you do that, great. If it doesn’t, then don’t worry that you’re missing out on some elusive technique – there isn’t one.

Update: If you liked this article, I now have a free five part email course with more info about getting a good LSAT score: http://lsathacks.com/email-course/

The course includes info about reading comprehension.

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