I’ve written in recent weeks about how to handle a Reading Comprehension passage when time is running out, and in thinking about that idea–Reading Comp pacing–I feel it’s important to briefly address one of the most common elements that students find slows them down: diagramming.
Here’s the thing. Any time you find yourself stopping to make notations, be it for a passage, game, or LR stimulus, you’re using valuable time that could theoretically be spent doing something else: maybe continuing to read the passage or stimulus, maybe analyzing answer choices and considering which is correct, maybe just getting to those final few questions you would have otherwise had to guess on. What that means then is that the time spent writing needs to be an investment, where it either gains you more time than it took as you continue on (like a prephrase, where you can more aggressively/efficiently sort through the answers), or it translates into an improved understanding of what you’re facing such that you’ve increased the likelihood of getting the question correct. Failing both of those, your diagramming was probably a poor investment and you would have been better off without it.
Consider an all-too-common scenario: Student X begins working through a Reading Comprehension section, diagramming fairly heavily as she goes–writing brief paragraph summaries in the margins, bracketing, numbering, underlining, and all the rest–so that on average it takes her 4.5 minutes from beginning a passage until the end of it. Another 5 minutes for the questions, and she’s right at the 30 minute mark as she moves to the fourth passage. That leaves 5 minutes for an entire passage and its questions, which is a tall order for even the best test takers (again, I wrote about what to do in this situation in a previous post).
Now consider that she could have been just as successful, or at least very nearly as successful, without the vast majority of those notations. Imagine that instead of writing out paragraph summaries, she simply paused very briefly and considered the main ideas of each paragraph in her mind, writing nothing. Perhaps instead of furiously underlining she just made mental notes of key information or critical points, recognizing where they appear and their significance, but not annotating it in the text. How much time might that save? 60 seconds per passage? 90? Even saving just a minute per passage means that she’d have over 8 minutes to finish passage 4, instead of the mere 5 minutes remaining after heavy notating. And if you’ve ever spent any time with Reading Comp on the LSAT you know what a difference those extra 3-4 minutes can make!
I’m NOT encouraging you to never diagram! In fact, it’s a necessity in Games, and probably critical for certain passage elements and LR questions, as well. Rather, I’m encouraging you to consider how much time you’ve spent making notations, and whether that time was well spent, or could have been better spent elsewhere. My experience tells me that if you’re like the vast majority of test takers the amount of time you spend making notes is, in actuality, a pretty poor investment and costing you way more than you gain.
If you have any questions or want some further clarification of how I recommend you notate as you move through the LSAT, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to clarify further!