“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
Last Thursday, December 21, LSAC shocked the world with a dramatically early tweet indicating scores for the December LSAT would be released later that day, almost two full weeks before the official date of January 3rd. Over the next fifty minutes or so, news of the imminent score release spread like wildfire amongst December test takers. But then, just about one hour later, as hearts were stopping across the world, a correction. In fact, scores would not be released on Thursday, but rather on Friday, December 22. For many, this early release was a welcome surprise. However, the manner in which the announcement and ultimate score release played out was jolting to say the least.
So, now that we have the results for December, let’s take a closer look at the Reading Comprehension section. Overall, this section may have represented another welcome surprise for many students, as it appeared to be noticeably easier than the RC sections in June and September. Unlike both of those previous tests, there were no stand out passages in terms of difficulty. Oddly, there was another Legal – Comparative Reading passage on this test. This marks three straight LSAT’s with a Legal – Comparative Reading passage in either the third or fourth passage. This one was a bit easier than June, and a lot easier than September. However, just like in September, it was placed third and contained 8 questions. This made the passage critical for timing purposes, causing many people to run out of time (or at least be much more pressed for time) on the final passage.
The passages were loosely arranged by difficulty. From easiest to most difficult the rankings were probably Passage 1 (easiest), Passage 2/3 (there is likely to be some disagreement as to the order of these two), Passage 4 (most difficult). This kind of difficulty map is generally more favorable to test takers as they are less likely to run out of time on easier passages. However, this advantage was mitigated by the heavy weighting of questions to the later passages.
On to the passages…
Passage 1: Diversity – Language Studies (5 questions)
This passage appeared to be the easiest one on the section for most people. The topic was fairly easy to follow, the argument was easy to follow, and there were only 5 questions afterwards, none of which really stood out. All in all, this was a great start to the section for many, building confidence for the remainder of the section. The one pitfall, if there was one, was that any student hoping to finish the section in time needed to get in and out of this passage quickly. 22 out of the 27 total questions on this section were in the last three passages. Anyone who spent the average 8:45 or more on this passage was likely to encounter timing issues later on. This passage illustrated the importance of maintaining clock vigilance and flexibility, even on easy, early passages such as this.
Passage 1 gave us a discussion about Chinese dialects, especially among Chinese Americans in San Francisco’s Chinatown area. This is the second test in a row to contain a Diversity passage dealing with language (recall the Native American language passage from September), neither of which was particularly difficult. The author here utilized a “some people argue…” format beginning in Line 2, introducing a position that he/she would go on to counter. Here, some linguists argue that a new Chinese dialect has emerged in the United States, particularly in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The author points out that this argument is based on two claims and then spends the second and third paragraphs, respectively, countering each of these two claims.
What followed this passage was pretty standard fare. The questions led off with a Main Point question followed by four modest questions with no standouts. Once again, the critical concern here was not to dawdle too much with this passage.
Passage 2: Science – Physics/Cosmology (7 questions)
Another pleasant surprise with this passage. The passage began with a discussion of Hollywood movies (alright!) but then used this as an analogy to the story of our universe, the fine tuning of the laws of physics and into a discussion of multiverses (gasp!). While this sounds like the makings of a truly awful passage, Passage 2 proved to be easier than appearances indicated. Many test takers recalled this passage (and especially the questions) as relatively mild, which was very surprising given the subject matter. This was probably a good example of the test using scientific subject matter to intimidate test takers, rather than a truly difficult Science passage.
The structure of this passage and the topic were a bit difficult to follow initially. The author used the Hollywood movie analogy as a comparison to the fine tuning of the laws of physics that permit life to exist. It seems that one small change to these laws and life couldn’t exist. Some cosmologists argue that multiverses could explain how such an improbable event (all of the laws of physics coming together in such a perfect way) could occur. The author then makes the argument that the laws of physics don’t really need to be quite so finely tuned for life to exist, that many different combinations could result in life. However, even though the author believes that fine tuning isn’t necessary for life to exist, the author does not disagree with the prospect of a multiverse. This nuanced view that disagrees with the cosomologists on fine tuning but is more or less agreeable with them on the possiblity of multiverses could be tough to follow.
Passage 2 was followed initially by a tricky Main Point question. Questions 7-9 were not particularly noteworthy. Question 10 was a Purpose/Function question with a bit more difficulty, as was the Author’s Attitude question in Question 11. While the author was critical of fine tuning here, the author was more positive towards the multiverse hypothesis, albeit not too positive. Question 12 was probably the most difficult of the passage and probably one of the most difficult on the section. This was an oddly constructed Parallel Reasoning question that required you to modify the passage. The placement of this question also seemed designed to soak up a lot of critical time needed for the final two passages. Frankly, this question would have been a great candidate for skipping.
Passage 3: Legal – Comparative Reading (8 questions)
Another LSAT, another Legal – Comparative Reading passage. As mentioned previously, this marks the third straight Comparative Reading passage of 2017 that has dealt with a legal topic. All were fairly long (June – 7 questions, September/December – 8 questions) and were located in the last two passages (June – 4th passage, September/December – 3rd passage). This passage did not prove to be nearly as difficult as the third passage in September (which was arguably the most difficult passage of 2017). However, it did play a similar role in the section as a whole since many test takers spent a lot of time working through the eight questions here to find themselves short on time for the final passage, making that passage much more difficult than it would have been otherwise.
Passage A discussed the use of social norms as a substitute for copyright law as a means to protect comedians from joke stealing. The author argues that copyright law has not proven to be a cost-effective way of protecting comedians, but that the informal system of social norms in the area of comedy has been an effective substitute.
Passage B used a similar discussion, this time with respect to chefs and their recipes as opposed to comedians and their jokes. The author pointed out that chefs rarely use legal protections (trade secret laws in this case) to protect their recipes and instead rely on social norms among chefs. Passage B was more concerned with discussing how these norms operate among chefs, while Passage A went in to more detail about the legal issues that prevent copyright law from being an effective protection.
The questions here were much easier than the Comparative Reading passage in September. Many test takers found the clock starting to work against them during this passage however, and may have found their accuracy waning a bit because of it. The final question, Question 20, was a bit of a turnaround as the lone Strengthen question both in the passage and in the section overall. With time running low, this final question could easily be misread as a Must Be True style question as opposed to Strengthen.
Passage 4: Diversity – Literature (7 questions)
Passage 4 was arguably the most difficult passage in the section. But not by much. Depending on a test takers strengths and weaknesses, they may have found unique individual challenges with both Passage 2 and Passage 3. Passage 4 did have one major disadvantage over the other three, however: time. Many test takers reported being pressed for time on this passage (as is often the case for fourth passages) which made things more difficult.
This was the second Diversity passage in the section, this time with Literature as the topic. The author discussed Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a novelist and social theorist, and her role in the development of Social Darwinism. Much of this passage is descriptive of other’s arguments. The author began by outlining two versions of Social Darwinism, one of which Gilman adheres to. The author then goes on to describe Gilman’s beliefs. Gilman believed that while evolutionary theory can describe the evolution of society, humans also have the ability to actively shape that evolution and should do so. The author then describes Gilman’s specific application of these beliefs to women’s issues.
The questions lead off with three fairly difficult (and long winded) questions. The first, a Main Point question, has answer choices whose differences are subtle and difficult to discern. The second question buries the correct answer in answer choice (E). The third question, Question 23, is a lengthy Passage Organization question. These three questions combined to make many test takers’ already precious time even more precious, or perhaps nonexistent. Of the remaining questions, Questions 24 and 25 were very short, and Question 27 was not too difficult (but, being last, was probably not seen by quite a few test takers).
Ultimately, this Reading Comprehension section proved to be some welcome relief from some of the heavy Reading Comprehension sections of late. Undoubtedly, this was the easiest RC section of the released tests of 2017 (June, September, December). Timing was still a distinct factor here due to the layout of the section and the heavy weighting of questions to the later passages. But the lack of any standout passages kept the overall difficulty down compared to the earlier tests this year.
So that is it until next time. Let us know if you have any questions or comments below. Also, take a look at our breakdown of December’s Logical Reasoning section and keep an eye out for some more upcoming December LSAT blogs. Happy New Year!