The LSAT: How to Read the RC Passages (part 1)

There are several things I encourage my tutees to do when reading an RC passage (and I do recommend reading the passage first, thoroughly, and then working through the questions, rather than skimming the passage and then having to come back to it again and again for each question) (and one reason for this recommendation is that many questions require a ‘global’ understanding of the passage; they can’t be answered by just looking at one part of the passage):

1. Paraphrase as you go: put each sentence into your own words.  This will ensure that you actually understand what you read.  Keep in mind that these passages are very dense, very rich, and written at a graduate level (for contrast, the newspaper is written at a grade eight level).

2. Engage with the author as you go: have a conversation with the author—‘Oh, this is interesting!’ ‘Yeah, been there, done that’ ‘This is a pile of crap, I don’t agree with this at all!’  and so on.

There are two reasons for this.  One, by making the material personal, you’ll be putting it in your short-term memory long enough for you to answer questions about it without having to come back to the passage.  Which saves you time.

Two, you’ll be less likely to stop paying attention.  We’ve all had the experience of realizing after half an hour or so that we have no idea what we just read!  What happens is we stop paying attention—and don’t even realize we’ve stopped.  If you’re having a conversation withsomeone, you’ll be less apt to snooze off…

3.  Keep the various points of view straight.  As you’ve no doubt discovered, there are often several different points of view in a single RC passage: ‘some critics’ believe this; ‘other scholars’ believe that; then the author expresses his/her own view on the matter…  And there is almost always at least one question testing your understanding of these competing viewpoints.  So if you keep them straight as you go, you’ll be prepared for that one question (or two).


Peg Tittle used to work at LSAC writing the questions that go on the LSAT; she’s the author of a logical reasoning textbook (Critical Thinking: An Appeal to Reason, Routledge 2011); she has an M.A. in Philosophy (we’re all about argument!), a B.A. in Literature (there’s my RC!), a B.Ed. (so I know pedagogy), and ESL certification; and she has over ten years’ teaching/tutoring experience.

She has set up an FAQ page about her LSAT tutoring (which she does by phone or skype).

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