June 2018 is here, and a bit early this year. Hopefully this year's test went well for everyone. Whether you are taking one of the upcoming tests or are just looking to see how things played out in June, we have some initial thoughts about this most recent installment. So, without further ado, let's get right to the breakdown of each of the passages and then a few thoughts.
Science – Climate Science (5 questions)
Overall, June’s Reading Comprehension section was less challenging than many of RC sections of the last few years. But, this was still the most difficult section of this test for many. The first passage was the first of two Science passages (Passages 1 and 4). Passage 1 dealt with climate change and global warming, a topic that has long been an LSAT favorite, both on Logical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension. The passage was sourced from a mid-1990’s article, and that old age was reflected in the arguments put forward. While they sound relatively familiar, they are somewhat less confident and a bit more defensive than many of today’s climate change arguments. For example, the passage claims that evidence of global warming has “become quite compelling” even though the link between this warming and the greenhouse effect is “controversial.”
Following this first paragraph, the passage goes on to address two challenges to Global Warming. The first addresses the inflated predictions scientists have made compared to actual observed temperatures. The author deals with this challenge by noting that after taking into account sulfates in the atmosphere (another kind of air pollution) the models’ predictions fall more in line with actual observations. In the final paragraph, the author addresses the second major challenge, the claim that global warming can be explained by natural variations in solar cycles. The author shows then shows that even the most extreme solar cycles to not explain the temperature rises that have been observed in recent years. In light of these challenges, the author stands by the claim that greenhouse gases are the cause of global warming.
The tempered tone on such a familiar topic could be easy to miss here, and there were moments the questions attempted to exploit this. Question #3, a very abstract Passage Organization question, was probably the hardest question (the first of three difficult Passage Organization questions on the section). Overall, this passage was probably one of the two easier passages (along with Passage 2). But it was a bit more challenging than is often the case with Passage 1. Plus, with only five questions, it likely cost many takers a good deal of time for a fairly small payoff. The remaining passages (7, 7, and 8 questions respectively) were much longer and many folks complained of timing issues on this section. Passage 1 probably had a lot to do with setting up these difficulties.
Legal – Police Interview Techniques (7 questions)
Passage 2 addressed various witness interview techniques used by police. After a recent run of nasty Legal/Comparative passages, it was nice to see a Legal passage here that wasn’t too difficult and wasn’t a Comparative Reading passage (I’m looking at you Judicial Candor). Honestly, this really was a Legal passage that wasn’t really too legal either.
In fact, this was probably the easiest passage on this section. The passage itself had an easy structure to follow. First, we are introduced to the cognitive interview technique, which is great, but has some drawbacks. Then we see hypnosis, which appears to be a rather problematic interview technique (shocker!). Finally, there is “instructed eye closure” which appears to meet the standards for an ideal interviewing technique. There are comparisons and contrasts between the methods throughout, but no major challenges to understanding here. Meanwhile, the questions that follow also represented probably the easiest questions on the section. Even though this passage had seven questions versus only five in Passage One, it easily could have been the faster of the two passages (and probably should have been).
Humanities – Literature; Comparative Reading (7 questions)
That being said, many people found Passage Three to be a struggle. This was certainly the most abstract passage on the test. Yet, even in light of this abstraction, this passage did not seem as difficult to follow as some of the other abstract passages from recent tests, such as the Thinking about Thoughts passage from June 2017 or Judicial Candor from September 2017. In other words, as "the most difficult passage" on this test, Passage 3 could have been worse.
Passage A begins with quotes from Jorge Luis Borges, who observes that, among other things, the readers of literature are an integral part of a literary text. The author finds agreement with Borges and goes on to conclude that what truly makes a literary genre is not the formal elements of the works, but the way readers read those works.
Passage B takes a very similar position to Passage A by claiming it is more "fruitful" to distinguish genres by the way they are read ("reading protocols") than by their themes. Once again, the reader plays the prominent role in the categorization. This theme of rethinking the way that art or literature is categorized is a long standing tradition in Humanities passages. Often the author (or authors) are critical of old fashioned, formal boundaries for art and will advocate a new way to think about genres or categories. Both Author A and Author B adhere to this tradition.
The questions overall were not terribly difficult here, if one understood the general idea that both authors adhere to, that the reader, not the formal characteristics of a work, characterize the genre it fits into. Of note was Question #16, another tricky Passage Organization question and Question #19 which requires an identification of a Principle underlying Passage B to be applied to the Borges' view in Passage A (yikes!).
Science – Cooking/Human Evolution (8 questions)
Finally, we have the fourth passage, which is the second of the two Science passages presented on this test. This was probably the harder of the two Science passages, and vied with Passage 3 as the hardest on the test. Yet the topic here, the effect of cooking food on human evolution, was relatively manageable and easy to relate to. Also, the level of technical detail in this passage was fairly low. It was important to note that, although the author firmly believes in their hypothesis (that humans have evolved to eat cooked food), that the evidence to support this hypothesis is not definitive. But, as is often the case, this passage came at a time when most test takers were under serious time constraints, and so probably felt like one of the more difficult passages on the test. With a fair amount of time here, say 10 minutes or so, this passage is fairly reasonable. Unfortunately, 10 minutes was not a luxury that many had.
Most of the questions that follow were of moderate difficulty. The questions often came back to recognizing that the author strongly believes that humans have evolved to adapt to cooked food even though the evidence that supports it is a bit ambiguous. The most difficult question was once again the Passage Organization question in #24. This is not attributable to any inherent difficulty in Passage Organization questions. However, the instances in Passage 1, 3, & 4 of this test all contained some rather challenging, very abstract answer choices.
Finally, some big picture observations:
- Section Layout - This is the second test in a row that had 15/27 questions in the last two passages and only 12/27 questions in the first two. It’s also the second test in a row to lead off with only 5 questions in the first passage (December 2017 went 5-7-8-7 while June 2018 went 5-7-7-8). Such a back-end loaded section can cause serious timing issues if one is not disciplined at the start of the section. The one solid skipping opportunity came with the first passage, a passage that most test takers are reluctant to skip, as it is usually one of the easiest passages. While I did not get the kind of negative feedback overall that I have received on many of the RC sections of the last couple years, I did hear a number of people complain about pacing. The layout probably had a lot to do with those pacing issues, and those issues could have had a serious impact on Passages 3 and 4.
- Diversity Passages? - There was not even a hint of a Diversity Passage on this test. The consistency of this long entrenched pattern continues to break down in recent years.
- Two Science Passages - While this might have been a recipe for disaster for the less scientifically inclined test taker, neither passage was too nasty. Certainly the topics of the two passages were approachable to most people. It has been a few years since we have seen a section with multiple Science passages.
- No Clear Winner for "Most Difficult" - While Passage 3 was probably the most challenging for the most people, Passage 4, with its timing difficulties, could have easily taken that mantle. But still, neither passage stands out across past tests, especially some of the recent tests (I’m looking at you once again Judicial Candor). It is also worth noting that, once again, the Comparative Reading passage was one of the most difficult. This is something we have seen a lot of lately.
Overall, the Reading Comprehension section of June 2018 does not stand out as too memorable, either for its ease or its difficulty. This was not hands down the hardest section of this test, as Reading Comprehension has been a number of times over the past few years. Many test takers would, however, characterize this as their hardest section, while many others could probably point to Logical Reasoning as more difficult this time around (feedback on Logic Games has been a bit more positive). Either way, the most difficult section of June 2018 is not as clear-cut as it has been in the past.