back to basics: reading comprehension

This past week or so, I’ve been spending lots of quality time with reading comprehension because I think of RC as a misunderstood friend, not the evil third wheel of LR and LG (seriously, RC must feel so unloved at times). Half the battle is won when you approach the passage with confidence. I read a very interesting post from a TLSer who thought that his reading got worse while studying for the LSAT because it forces you to refer back to the passage repeatedly to answer those stupid “did you notice that the alien was wearing a polka-dotted scarf in line 13?” questions. He thought that reading is much more effective when it’s done once with intense focus.

I have to admit, that stranger has a point. I used to read passages straight through and be able to answer questions very effectively by keeping the facts and main points in my head. Now, I’m really cautious when approaching RC and I do a lot of notations. But I haven’t hit -1/-0 on a RC section on a single PT recently so…

That got me thinking…what’s my reading style? Can it be improved? Here’s my observations after trying out several different methods:

Method 1: Read it like a novel

I read the passage straight through. No boxing, circling, underlining, nada. Unless I’m familiar with the passage or extremely focused on the passage, I find that it’s hard for me to answer all of the questions. I find myself referring to the passage repeatedly and re-reading certain parts because I don’t remember where a certain word or phrase is located. Also, I’m less accurate when I use this method. My mistakes are usually mistaken assumptions about the text. Pass on this one.

Method 2: Minimalism

I make very minimal notations for important people, topics, author opinions, AND modifier words like however, but, even though, etc. Before I started experimenting with different styles, this was the method that I used most frequently because it doesn’t require too much thought.  It’s intuitive to mark important things and it’s usually effective. However, the whole reason why I started experimenting is because this minimalist approach hasn’t been cutting it for me recently– I’m missing 3 or 4 per section, whereas I need it to be missing 2 or fewer. I found this approach to be less useful when dealing with a very dense passage or a difficult subject (for me, that’s science and economics) because there would be so many circles and boxes that my eyes would have to scan the whole passage to find the one I needed.

Method 3: The Celebrity

Open any standard book on the LSAT, and they usually prescribe some form of summarizing each paragraph and having a bulky set of notations. Frankly, this seems like a waste of time. The time spent on summarizing a paragraph in a neat 5-word bite could be spent on answering questions. Sure, you can get better with practice, but I began developing a sense of resentment towards RC when I had to devote so much time on the passage. Can I have my money back, please?

Method 4: Preview the Landscape

This isn’t groundbreaking, but if you *know* what to look for in a passage, wouldn’t it be easier to answer the question at hand? In the original version, you scan the question before you even take a crack at the passage. I tried it that way but I kept forgetting the questions and felt like I was getting sidetracked– aka I couldn’t focus on the passage and kept missing subtle nuances. So, I added a little twist: I read the questions AFTER the first paragraph. And you know what? You can answer about 1 to 3 questions after reading just one paragraph. The best breakthrough this week was that I could answer those super annoying “What’s the organization of this passage?” questions very easily by eliminating any answer choices that didn’t correctly describe the first paragraph. Also, the majority of questions deal pertain to a specific sentence or detail, so it’s easier to tackle those immediately after reading about it. It’s so simple that it… actually works.

Method 5: The Crystal Ball

Predict the answer in your head and then choose the one that fits the bill. We’ve all heard this one before, right? This one is the hardest to describe because I think everyone does this unconsciously when answering questions. Think about it: what’s the mental process of eliminating four wrong answers? You usually eliminate one or two because it goes entirely against the template answer in your mind. You might need to refer to the passage to make sure that something isn’t supported, but that’s just the reality of taking a multiple choice test. Try not to think too hard about this one…you might already be doing it without realizing it!

So, what’s the verdict?

I’m currently favoring a combo of minimalism and preview the landscape. The process is simple and gives me great results. I read a paragraph and circle important names and topics. Then I scan the questions and answer the ones I can. I do this after every paragraph. At first, I just scanned the questions without notating the paragraph, but then I found that for super long first paragraphs, it was hard to keep track of different positions. For me, notations help me to quickly answer questions that pertain to that paragraph.