LSAT Kung Fu Blog / Read Like a Meat-Crazed Raccoon
Read Like a Meat-Crazed Raccoon
A quick introduction: every LSAT includes exactly one scored Reading Comprehension section. This section always comprises 3 long passages (each 55-60 lines) plus one set of two short passages (each 25-30 lines long). Youʼll be asked 5-8 questions for each of the long passages, and another 5-8 questions about the two short passages in conjunction with each other (e.g., “How would the author of Passage A likely respond to the argument put forth in the third paragraph of Passage B?”) All in, youʼll be asked 27-28 questions in the Reading Comprehension section.
For today, let’s hammer out some basic advice for dealing with your reading, per se (we’ll get to the art of answering questions in a future episode).
First, the only reading that matters is active reading. If youʼre not engaged with the passage, you might as well go home. You just can’t hope to really succeed unless you’re all the way there. So, how does a person engage with a passage?
Like this: Pretend that the text that youʼre reading is the argument that opposing counsel has advanced. Your job depends on understanding this proposal, on analyzing its structure, and on knowing well enough how it fits together to attack it. As you read, begin an internal dialogue with the author. Continuously ask yourself:
- What the author says;
- Why she thinks itʼs true, and;
- Where sheʼs going with it.
Letʼs formalize this approach a bit:
The key to success in the Reading Comprehension Section of the test is not very different from that weʼd use in the two Logical Reasoning Sections; namely, to approach the passages systematically, and fiercely, with a view toward answering these five questions for each passage we read:
1. WHERE is the thesis?
Somewhere along the way, in every passage ever written, there is a sentence or two in which the author indicates his intentions. One of the best ways for you to interact with any text is to engage in a literal, geographic hunt for this section of the document. Think about it this way: If you had to strip this entire passage down to its naked ambition, getting rid of every piece of evidence and every example and every explanation offered in its support, what twelve words would you have left? In other words, at the end of the day, what does this author want me to
know? Mark the thesis using brackets. Use its geographical position to color your thinking about the rest of the passage.
If the thesis is at the top, youʼd expect everything that follows to be support. If itʼs at the bottom, then ask yourself what the purpose is of all those words that came before it. Where is the thesis? Your answer to that question will light up your understanding, and will dramatically increase your efficiency in answering the questions that follow the passage.
2. HOW does the author make her point?
Does she provide examples? Does she offer a detailed analysis? A generalized analysis? A description of a process or function? A list of questions relevant to the topic? An enumeration of the problems to be overcome?
Obviously, there are many ways in which an author might make her case. Part of your job is to articulate the system by which this author did it. If you donʼt do this before you begin reading questions, you will often find it very difficult to choose among the several intentionally attractive, misleading answer choices youʼll be offered. You must internalize the structural scheme of the passage as you read, by asking yourself what the authorʼs saying, why she says it, and where she might be going with it.
3. WHY did the author even bother?
And one thing we can guarantee you; he didnʼt do it so he could gain fame and fortune by having his work immortalized in the pages of your LSAT. So why did this clown write this piece? Did he want you to know that a problem exists? Is he selling you on something? Is he arbitrating between two conflicting ideals? No matter what it is, if itʼs on paper, it got there for some reason. Most passages on the LSAT were written either to:
- Illuminate – to tell you that a thing is going down;
- Evaluate – to analyze the thing thatʼs going down, or to compare or contrast things, or;
- Advocate – to convince you that one thing is better/more complete/faster/stronger/ better-looking than another.
Not every single passage will conform neatly to only one of these three categories; there is overlap between them and there are purposes beyond them. But these main three give you a rough construction on which you can frame your answer to the question of why.
4. HOW does the author feel about the subject?
Is she strident in her opposition to the critics mentioned in line 31? Is she attempting an objective investigation into the properties of the particles discussed in line 7? Authorsʼ tones are inflected by their purposes. Authors indicate their tones to readers by word choice.
Whatʼs the tone of the podcast youʼre listening to right now? Weʼd call it informally instructive. Instructive because the purpose of this material is didactic, informal because of the use of the personal pronouns and the general disregard for the formalities of sentence structure. Hereʼs how you can focus your practice at identifying tone:
- Start with your gut; how do you think the author feels about the subject matter?
- Prove your instincts. That gut feeling you had? It was based on something real from the passage. Remember; the authors of the questions and answer choices must be able to prove their designated answers by recourse to the same passage that you have sitting in front of you. Thus, if the LSAT asks you how an author feels, there must be firm evidence in the passage of the authorʼs feelings.
Roughly, we can say that Tone = Purpose + Diction. By this we mean that your answer to number 3 above – why the author wrote – will color and extend your answer to number 4 – how the author feels.
5. WHAT does the author have to say?
Last and most. This cannot be overlooked; your primary responsibility in reading any passage is to articulate the authorʼs point. If you cannot state in a single sentence what the author intends you to know, then you have not read the passage with the proper focus.
Practice this skill by thinking about the way in which youʼd describe a movie youʼve just seen to a friend – your articulation should be an encapsulation, not a global rewrite. Ask yourself this question: Whatʼs the big picture? The sentence or two youʼve identified as the thesis in Question 1 should provide your major point of embarkation, but your answers to each of the above questions should bleed very naturally into your response here.
And this is our job, then, in a nutshell.
To read actively, we are answering those 5 questions by appeal to these four big-picture ideas:
- System - the organizational system used by the author to convey her point and deliver her thesis.
- Purpose - the reason the author wrote. To Illuminate, to Evaluate, or to Advocate.
- Attitude - the author’s Tone, and;
- Main Point - the author’s Thesis. What she wanted us to know.
In other words, every passage, every time, we should be thinking about SPAM - System, Purpose, Attitude, Main Point.
See? SPAM’s not just good for cleaning the grout in your camper’s tiny shower, or for luring meat-crazed raccoons out of your grandmother’s attic.
And speaking of meat-lusting raccoons, please check us out online or drop us a line at Info@VelocityLSAT.com, and visit The Forum (http://www.VelocityLSAT.com/Forum) to join the conversation, to share your thoughts on a better cleaning solution for your camper’s bathing quarters, or to suggest topics for future conversations.
Until next week, read fiercely, and think like a Kung Fu logician.
Photo by: Seth Olenick