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Whether To Assess Reading Comprehension Passage Difficulty

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Manananggal plays himself.

Manananggal plays himself.

When you’re starting to get serious about your LSAT prep, you start to get granular. Like, you find yourself beginning to think about things like the number of Point of Disagreement questions you might expect to see in each Logical Reasoning section (two), whether the Games section is getting easier or more difficult over time (a little of both. More on that some other time), and the  relative difficulty of LSAT Reading Comp passages (more on that in just, like, a sec). I mean, there’s just a whole big world of wonder out there, right? Well, yeah. There is (a whole big world of wonder).

So let’s talk about that Reading Comp. When test day comes, it probably will be useful to you to think about arranging your attack on RC passages based on difficulty, and not just the order in which they’ve been presented to you. This is for a reason! 

Imagine it like this: Say you’ve got two different LSAT test-takers. One is called Manananggal the Destroyer, Death of Worlds, and the other is called Meredith. 

Now, Manananggal, being unaccustomed to following instructions from test prep people (even really, really cool ones, like me. Right? Right?), just plows through the RC section in order. But it’s hard. It’s a difficult section, and it takes him 30 minutes to work the first three passages, so that he’s turning the page to the fourth passage just as the proctor calls the 5-minute warning (gasp! The humanity!).

And the last passage is short (just 6 questions) and also easy! Manananggal sees that he would totally pwn the everliving heck out of this passage, if he only had seven minutes to do it. But he doesn’t. He has five.

Now, if he were a robot, this wouldn’t pose any special problem; he’d get through 5/7 of the last passage, and that would be that. He would have spent 35 minutes on a section he needed 37 minutes to complete properly, which isn’t by itself a big deal.

But Manananggal is not a robot. He’s a living entity, with feelings and hopes and goals and fears, very much like you and me. And when the proctor calls the 5-minute warning, Manananggal freaks. I mean, you can understand that, right?

FIVE MINUTES AND A WHOLE PASSAGE LEFT TO DO OH GOD WTF THIS IS HORRIBLE.

And we’ll just leave him there for a moment.

Let’s turn our attention now to Meredith, who for the purposes of this story has exactly and all the same powers as Manananggal, plus she is smart enough to know good advice when she hears it. And she heard me saying that she should order passages by relative difficulty (like I’m doing right this minute). 

So, on that same section, in the same room, Meredith saw that the second passage was a reeeal sumbitch. Plus, it had 8 questions, and she knows from experience that such a passage will take her 13 minutes to do well (incidentally, this is the exact same amount of time it took Manananggal to finish this same passage). 

So Meredith skips the second passage, does the third (it’s fine) then the fourth (hey! this one’s pretty easy!), then comes back to work on the evil second passage.

Working at her correct pace, she plows through it, and is about halfway through finishing it when the proctor calls the  5-minute warning. Being halfway through, Meredith does not freak out at this time. She knew going in that it was a hard passage, she knew she might not have quite enough time to finish it, and she knows that she can guess on three questions and with any luck at all still get a 180 on the test (without any luck at all she’ll get a 178 if she gets everything else right). 

See, the question of timing just isn’t of any concern to her. The question that matters is whether she plays, or whether she plays herself. And Meredith does not play herself.

But Manananggal does. Because he didn’t order the passages, he got spooked and did not do as well on the easy fourth passage as he could have. He missed an easy question and had to guess on two others. He also did not complete that hard second passage perfectly correctly; it was hard, and he missed two questions there. Manananggal missed 3 and guessed on 2.

Meredith, however, with only the added benefit of this one piece of advice, did finish the fourth passage perfectly (it was pretty easy!), and although she did not finish the second passage, she ended up guessing on three hard questions (and since she’s exactly as skillful as Manananggal, she would have missed two of those questions if she’d had time to work them). So Meredith finished the section missing 0 and guessing on 3.

So, who would you rather be?

And remember, the performance doesn’t stop with that section; Meredith goes into the next test section feeling plucky, like she’s played her game. Meredith is a winner.

Manananggal, on the other hand, goes into the next section feeling defeated and sick. And mad, because he could tell that last passage wasn’t that hard, and he wishes he had a do-over. Manananggal played himself, yo.

Don’t be like Manananggal. Be like Meredith.

Rank the relative difficulty of passage in the Reading Comp section of the LSAT.

Be fierce and be faithful,

d

P.S. Next week! How to rank the passages within a Reading Comp section. So, come back, y’hear?

P.P.S. Can’t wait till next week? Ready to start your prep? Just wishing you had a Velocity LSAT coupon code? Well, let me make your dreams come true, pal o’ mine: enter code Manananggal at checkout to save 10% off any Velocity course!