The LSAT is difficult – there’s no way around it. Your score on this admissions test is viewed by law schools across the nation and plays a significant part in subsequent offers and scholarships from schools – including prestigious universities like Harvard and Yale.
Making a study plan for each of the four LSAT sections could make the difference between a good offer and a great one!
The LSAT is divided into four sections: Analytical Reasoning (also called Logic Games), Logical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and a writing sample.
Let’s dive into the LSAT reading comprehension section below:
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What is the Purpose of the LSAT Reading Comprehension Section?
Reading comprehension is a valuable skill in law school and the practice of law. This is because lawyers have to do a lot of reading over the course of their careers. It doesn’t stop there, either.
Lawyers must read cases, codes, contracts, briefs, decisions and evidence and be able to quickly and efficiently understand the main points, infer conclusions, and build arguments.
Oftentimes, these documents are lengthy and challenging to read. Therefore, the reading comprehension portion of the LSAT tests your ability to perform complex readings under pressure as you would in law school. When we say pressure, we mean pressure; you have about three to four minutes to read per passage. Ultimately, this means familiarizing yourself with the section format; practicing reading comprehension passages and answering them in the format of the LSAT is crucial to your success.
Let’s dive into the format of the LSAT reading comprehension section below!
LSAT Reading Comprehension Categories
This section of the LSAT contains four readings divided into different topics. Three of these sections will be one main passage. Each main passage will be about 60 lines and three to four paragraphs while one section will have two shorter, contrasting passages. Each shorter passage usually has a length of 250-500 words.
This set of contrasting, shorter passages is called Comparative Reading. Comparative Reading was first introduced to the LSAT in 2007, and serves a unique purpose used to better assess the skills you’ll need in law school. Comparative reading questions focus on the relationships in two passages. These relationships take on three typical forms:
- Generalization/ Instance
- Principle/ Application
- Point/ Counterpoint
This question type was introduced to more closely mirror law school readings, where students often have to read two or more texts and discern their relationships. This continues after law school and appears frequently when attorneys must research a trial court decision and a following appellate court decision that overturns the trial decision.
The reading comprehension section is divided into four reading sections with different topics. These topics include:
- Natural Sciences
- Social Sciences
One common misconception is that you have to have prior knowledge of these topics in order to do well on the LSAT. However, this is not the case; test takers aren’t expected to have any prior knowledge of these fields. This links back to the overall purpose of the test- you should be able to read unfamiliar topics and gain understanding and insight quickly.
Here’s a closer look at the type of topics you can expect in these four sections:
What would a Law Admissions test be without a little bit of law? One of the passages you’ll encounter in the reading comprehension section will have to do with law. This could cover things like interpretation of public policies, opinions on court decisions, effects of a new law, or more.
2. Natural Sciences
The natural sciences section could cover a variety of topics having to do with physics or biological sciences. Since a surprising amount of legal issues could trace back to some form of physics, biology, or earth sciences, this probably won’t be the last time in your law career you encounter a science-related topic.
3. Social Sciences
Social sciences cover a different type of science, more related to humans. You could encounter anything from philosophy to psychology, political science, or archaeology in this section.
The humanities section of the LSAT Reading Comprehension test will deal with literature or the arts. Depending on your college major or areas of interest, you might find this section a little easier to read than the others. However, it’s important not to be fooled- apply the same reading strategy in this passage to find the underlying arguments that will help you answer the questions.
Speaking of questions, let’s take a look at the types of questions you can expect to follow each reading.
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LSAT Reading Comprehension Questions
Each reading passage will have anywhere from five to eight questions following the passage. The types of questions you’ll encounter usually fall within three main types of questions. These are:
Identification questions are more straightforward than their counterparts, aimed at assessing the readers understanding of the passages meaning. Examples include:
- What is the main idea of the text?
- Identifying information that is clearly stated
- Questions about the structure of the piece
Inference is a little more tricky, requiring you to make key deductions from parts of the text. Examples include:
- Ideas that can be inferred by the passage
- Identifying the author’s attitude or stance from tone or language
- Inferring the principles in the selection
- The purpose behind specific words and phrases
Synthesis is the most complex type of question, assessing your ability to arrive at several conclusions to show a broader understanding of the issues in the text. Examples might include:
- Identifying how new information might impact the claims in the passage
Any mix of these three types of questions can appear on the LSAT.
So now that you understand the format of the LSAT reading comprehension section, as well as the types of questions you’ll be expected to answer, let’s circle back to creating a winning study strategy to help you crush the LSAT exam!
Trade Faster Reading For Quickly Recognizing Keywords
You may be thinking to yourself, “If I only have three or four minutes to read and understand a passage, then I should become a faster reader.” This is not true! While you should be a fairly quick reader, learning how to read a passage super quickly won’t necessarily benefit you in comprehension.
Instead, train yourself to find the structural keywords within the passage. The LSAT reading comprehension section is about finding what is said, what is not said, and making several inferences from both to support an argument. When you’re reading the passage, be on the lookout to underline or circle important keywords that suggest the following:
- Author’s point-of-view
- Other points-of-view
- Contrasting language
Author’s point of view is usually indicated by emphasis put on certain points or language. These can be descriptive like, “terrible”, “great” or “horrific.” The author might also place emphasis with on words or points by suggesting their significance. The author can also represent facts in extreme ways, by saying something must “always” or “never” be true.
Many questions on the LSAT will ask you to infer the author’s stance or argument in the passage you’re reading, so be on the lookout for keywords in the text that aren’t just hard facts. If a text tells you that a point is very significant, this does not mean the fact itself is significant, it means that the author of the piece thinks it is.
You may have to identify the opinions of wider audiences than just the author, too. These are indicated by key phrases referring to other people – “some say”, audiences or keywords referring to critical reception.
Finally, contrasting terms tie back to the overall structure of the piece, and help you identify the organization of the argument within the text. Contrasting terms include “but”, “although”, “instead” and “however”.
If you’re not confident in your ability to recognize these types of key phrases, do some studying on contrasting language or point-of-view indicators. This will help boost your reading comprehension in time for the LSAT!
Identify the Main Points Quickly, and Read for Those Details
Oftentimes, the LSAT reading passages contain lots of facts and details that may seem important but actually aren’t. The key to successfully navigating these and quickly finding the information you need to answer the questions is to identify the main points in each paragraph, as well as the main argument or purpose overall. Underline or circle the keywords as mentioned above. Furthermore, use clues in the first sentence to determine what you’re reading and, most importantly, why.
In a nutshell, a great strategy is to identify the core issue of the passage, identify the details that support each side of the issue, and then decide where the author’s position is.
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If you take away anything from this article, let it be that the reading comprehension is not just a standardized reading test. In order to perform successfully on this section of the LSAT, you’ll need to train yourself to think in the way the LSAT exam is asking you to.
Even if the passage is about the life work of a poet, frame it in your mind as a case. Somewhere within the passage either expressed or simply inferred are the following:
- A main issue, argument or stance
- Facts that are undeniably true
- Facts that the author thinks are true
- The author’s stance or viewpoint
- A counterargument
Training yourself to read for the LSAT can be tough, even if you’re the world’s most avid reader! That’s why we recommend you make a plan for LSAT reading comprehension practice using practice materials, and a quality prep course.
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It’s also a great idea to collect practice LSAT reading passages and materials to train with whenever possible. Cost-effective booklets and materials can be found on Amazon to test and train for the reading comprehension section independently and alongside your chosen prep course. Using as many practice materials as possible will help you crush the LSAT exam!
Valerie Keene is an experienced lawyer and legal writer. Valerie’s litigation successes have included wins for cases involving contract disputes, real property disputes, and consumer issues. She has also assisted countless families with estate planning, guardianship issues, divorce and other family law matters. She provides clients with solid legal advice and representation.