May 1, 2009

LSAT Reading Comprehension Passages: Easy As Harry Potter

LSAT Reading Comprehension doesn't have to put you to sleep.

"Yeah, right," you say. "I read Harry Potter on the beach a few summers ago. But LSAT Reading Comp? That's like as reading Nietzsche or Derrida - even in translation, they don't make sense!"

Actually, Reading Comp passages are more like Harry Potter or See Spot Run than like either philosopher's books.

You probably think I'm full of it. I know where you're coming from.

LSAT Reading Comp consists of 3 long passages and 2 short ones. Topics cover a broad range: humanities, science, social science, and law/politics. LSAC figures you're bound to hate one of these areas.

Even worse, you might have a tough time in the areas you do like. Why? Because your real-world (outside) knowledge of the topic can help and hurt you.

Outside knowledge helps because it gives you familiarity with the passage's subject. This can prevent you from falling asleep and can help you distinguish between the viewpoints.

Outside knowledge hurts because you can't use it to answer the questions. Don't let it distract you!

Read quickly, but don't skim.

What do I mean by this?

When most people think of skimming, they think of reading on a superficial level. They try some silly strategy like reading the first and last sentence of each paragraph. Hey, if it worked for grammar school textbooks and the SAT, it'll work here, right?


This isn't grammar school. The LSAT's not going to bake you cookies or read you a bedtime story.

LSAT Reading Comp passages are organized differently than textbooks (or SAT passages), and they have a different focus.

You want to read quickly, but you don't want to skip the middle of a paragraph just because it's the middle. The LSAT often includes important nuggets in the middle of passages because people tend to gloss over them.

Read slightly slower than a typical skim, but faster than a thorough read.

You're not reading for content or facts. Instead, you're reading for argumentative structure and for the positions and viewpoints presented.

The bottom line: don't try to absorb all the content.

If you know the structure, you'll know where to find each nugget of info in the passage when the questions ask for it.

How to Look for a Passage's Structure

As you're quickly reading each passage, look for the following (and consider marking the passage next to where each appears with my suggested notations below):

Viewpoint 1 = V1
Viewpoint 2 = V2

Evidence for V1 = E1
Evidence for V2 = E2

Advocates of V1 = A1
Advocates of V2 = A2

These are the only things worth marking on the passage.

Not every passage will contain all of these. Some passages will not describe the advocates of each viewpoint, but passages generally contain the other parts of the structure.

Note: Some passages have more than 2 viewpoints.

How to Stay Engaged as You Read

If you don't care what happens to Harry Potter at the end of each book (or where Spot ends up after we see him run), getting through each book would probably take forever.

I haven't actually read Harry Potter in years, but here's an incredibly oversimplified version of the story. I'll ignore all the details and treat it like an LSAT Reading Comprehension passage (and brace myself for the emails from rabid Harry Potter fans).

Viewpoint 1 = Forces of good should win.
Viewpoint 2 = Forces of evil should win.

Evidence for V1 = Everyone would be miserable if forces of evil won. Things are good as they are.
Evidence for V2 = Humans are soft, and wizards would be better off if used powers for evil.

Advocates of V1 = Harry Potter and his friends
Advocates of V2 = Voldemort

If you remained engaged as you read Harry Potter, it's probably because you cared about which viewpoint ultimately wins out.

Pretend the LSAT's reading comprehension passages are just as fun. Convince yourself you want to read these passages and you care about which viewpoint has more support.

Law school reading can be just as boring as Reading Comprehension passages, if not more so. It's important to start convincing yourself you like this stuff now.

Want more Reading Comp tips? Check out these posts:

10 Strategies for LSAT Reading Comprehension

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the LSAT (Part 3 of 3)


  1. The notation tips here are excellent. Bravo!

  2. the pretending youre interested part is great-- cause youre right about the law school stuff being just as/ more boring

  3. its a week before the lsat, and i was freaking out about the RC section, these tips are awesome, thats a lot!

  4. That is one of the more concise and strategically meaningful reccomendations I have seen for RC.

  5. Excellent notation tips. This is the kind of stuff I feel the test makers don't want the general public to see (especialy for free).

  6. awesome tips, love your blogs thanks a million!

  7. Appreciate it very much!

  8. what about notating examples?

  9. haha i love Nietzsche

  10. thank you thank you thank you, Steve! You've helped me so much.

  11. Very helpful! I feel like the reading part is going to be a fun game:) Thanks!

  12. Steve, could you break down how long we should typically spend reading each passage and each question? Thanks.

  13. Steve, your simple breakdowns and nonchalant approach to the LSAT is helpful beyond words. I feel I got more from just a few of your posts than all the classroom, online and other bs a $2,000 course gave me. Practical tips and no "getting lost in the forest" in the cleverly named methods and strategies of pay courses.

  14. holy shit. I've went from hating R.C. to absolutely loving it. It's almost like i'm exploiting the system haha. Wish I would have just read this article and not spent 1500+ on a class and books.

    So simple, yet, perfect.

  15. Very naive and rudimentary. I personally prefer a more intelligent and elegant model of preparation.

  16. I am definitely going to save this blog!! The RC is what I hated the most the first time I took the LSAT... Problem is, I studied for it the least. How would you recommend I study for this section? The first time, I took a prep course, but it seemed as if they focused more on the games. Should I think about hiring a private tutor? Should I use one of the test prep programs, or find one independently? Thanks for all your help!!

  17. Love this. thanks steve!

  18. Thank you for all the great info! I usually run out of time when I get to the last passage, and it is because I spend too much time answering the questions, do you have any suggestions ?

  19. thanks! this is funny and so helpful :) i do try to convince myself to like this type of reading. :)

  20. HAHAHAHA thanks. I'm going to try this.