Reading Comprehension Questions | Inference and Main Point

LSAT Blog Reading Comprehension QuestionsYou've probably noticed much of the LSAT is about presenting simple things in a confusing way. The LSAT is all about hiding what's staring you right in the face. Reading Comp is no different.

If you've done more than a few Reading Comp passages, you've probably noticed by this point that RC passages tend to have a few of the following:

-main point/main idea questions
-primary purpose/function questions
-inference questions

This blog post will give a few quick tips on main point and primary purpose/function questions. I'll then go into detail with some tips for the more difficult types of RC inference questions.


Main Point Questions
Most of the time, these questions ask about the author's viewpoint or whichever viewpoint is given more attention and space in the passage.

In other words, this is often the aspect of the topic covered in the majority of the passage, not only in one paragraph. LSAT-takers often fall for choices that describe specific parts of the passage, rather than the majority of the passage.


Primary Purpose/Function Questions
These questions are very similar to main point questions. The difference? The answer choices are worded a bit more generally. In other words, they use more abstract language. Pay very close attention to the verbs used in each answer choice.


Inference
Inference questions don't actually ask for new information. They'll often require you to take the contrapositive of something in the stimulus or passage or to simply connect different parts of what's already there. This means you simply have to read a little deeper into relevant lines of the passage. Reading "between the lines" can obviously be difficult to do, but there's a common "trick" LSAC often uses in more difficult RC inference questions.

For these questions, the passage gives you the information you need (as it does for all inference questions). However, the passage simply presents this info in a way that makes it difficult to see and extract this info. This information is presented indirectly. The passage tells you something the author (or a person within the passage) doesn't believe. As a result, if you read carefully, you'll indirectly learn about what the author (or person within the passage) does believe.


Example #1:
PrepTest 37, Section 1, Question 19 (page 292 in "Next 10").

The passage describes Ellison's views on the audience's relationship to works of art by describing his criticism of an opposing viewpoint.

What do I mean by this? I mean that it describes Ellison's interpretation of the criticisms, and then it says Ellison doesn't like these things.

In lines 20-28 of the passage, Ellison says the critics' view makes "the narrow assumption that audiences are capable of viewing the world only from their own perspectives."

If Ellison considers their opinion to make a narrow assumption, then Ellison must disagree with this narrow assumption and whatever directly follows from it.

If the critics think audiences can't view the world from other perspectives, Ellison must think audiences are capable of viewing the world from other perspectives. In other words, as we see in choice C, "audiences have the capacity" to view the world from another perspective (or "appreciate" different art).


Example #2:
PrepTest 36, Section 2, Question 11 (page 265 in "Next 10").

"Would be most likely to agree" means they're asking another Inference question. The passage in full of info about Binns' opinions, so there's no need to guess at what Binns "might" think.

In lines 33-37 of the passage, Binns says the scholars treat the writings as "an autonomous and coherent whole, underestimating the influence on English writers..."

Binns believes these scholars underestimate the influence on English writers, so we can conclude Binns does not actually believe these writings are an autonomous and coherent whole. If Binns thinks they're not as simple and clear as the scholars have implied, Binns must think they're actually more complicated.

In other words, as choice C suggests, Binns thinks these scholars have done a "superficially coherent reading."


Example #3:
PrepTest 35, Section 2, Question 26 (page 235 in "Next 10")

This example isn't quite the same as the other 5, but I included it simply because it's a good opportunity to demonstrate another way LSAC masks content. In this passage, LSAC tells us about legal positivism in the middle of presenting Dworkin's opinion.

The legal positivists believe laws' meanings are all about judges' interpretations of the law. Paragraph 2 talks a lot about legal positivists' belief in "underlying convention," so you could potentially answer the question o n the basis of that paragraph. However, LSAC's trick is to tell what legal positivists most clearly believe in lines 45-49 through Dworkin's eyes.

In order to learn what the legal positivists themselves believe, we need to put aside Dworkin's opinions and focus on the views of the legal positivists themselves. If we ignore Dworkin for a moment and focus on legal positivism itself, we'll learn they're focused on meaning as convention, rather than innate (core) meaning, so choice D fits.


Example #4:
PrepTest 29, Section 2, Question 10 (page 26 in "Next 10")

The people with the view in lines 51-54 believe "the attempt to write down traditional languages is misguided and unnecessary." To phrase this in a positive form, we can describe their viewpoint by saying they believe traditional languages will be okay even if we don't write them down.

As choice A suggests, they believe the languages will survive without being written down.


Example #5:
PrepTest 22, Section 1, Question 15 (page 121 in "10 More")

In lines 49-52, we learn the "anti-objectivist" personal narrative can bridge the gap between those who are "legal insiders" and people excluded from legal discourse and the accompanying power.

In these lines, we're indirectly learning legal insiders have the power, so choice B fits.


Example #6:
PrepTest 19, Section 3, Question 6 (page 29 in "10 More")

Lines 45-50 describe P.D. James' "determination to leave areas of ambiguity...and to distribute guilt..." as a "conscious rebellion against the traditional neatness of detective fiction."

By describing P.D. James' crime novels in contrast to the norm, the author of the passage tells us traditional detective fiction doesn't leave areas of ambiguity or distribute guilt. Thus, choice D fits because it describes the neatness of detective fiction with a synonymous statement: "straightforward assignment of culpability for the crime."

Photo by maynard / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



7 comments:

  1. why is it important to "Pay very close attention to the verbs used in each answer choice." do they provide some sort of tipoff?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Steve,
    I often have trouble locating the passage that the inference question refers to. Once found, it's usually not to tricky from there.Despite my best attempts at analyzing while reading the passage, I find my focus on structure and major points rarely coincides with the key words from the inference question. Can you offer any tips on using the question to help locate the passage?

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Or, I find it more confusing when the question stem simply says "It can be inferred from the passage that the author believes that..." What is the best way to attack these unprephraseable questions?

    ReplyDelete
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