Continuing from my previous entry, here we talk about the skills you need to master Reading Comprehension and Logical Reasoning. Ready to get at it?
Reading Comprehension: A Cautionary Tale
In Reading Comp, LSAT makers reward you for having short term memory. That may seem obvious and you may think it’s a skill that you cannot strengthen. But hear me out. You can. Before I break it down, I want to state that Reading Comprehension is by far my worst section. Really quickly, let me explain one of the biggest mistakes I made.
When the Reading Comp lesson of PowerScore’s curriculum came up, it was amazing. I was doing so well on them. I understood how to keep up with viewpoints and tone and structure, and all the great things PowerScore showed us. My notations were consistent (so friggin’ important) and doing so well! Endlessly, I practiced, doing 8-10 passages a day for about 2 weeks straight. The beauty of doing that many passages is that you start to anticipate questions they’re going to ask. If you see a paragraph that is convoluted and shifts viewpoints or really details and confusing, they’re probably going to ask about it. You learn these things and go from getting half wrong to 2-3 wrong in a whole section. It’s beautiful.
So, being the cocky jerk I am, I decided, “I’m good on Reading Comp. I’m struggling with LG and LR, so I’ll only focus on those.” With this mindset, I literally went 2-3 weeks without so much as sniffing a passage. Then, when I finally took another PT, I got a reality check. My reading flow of the passages was off, my speed was off, my ability to focus… off. I couldn’t anticipate any questions and I forgot half my notations. I was searching for answers and struggling to find them. It was like I was reading hieroglyphics, I had no clue what was going on. I did terribly and went back to missing half the questions again. Yikes.
Just because you get good at a section does not mean your improvement is permanent. That’s my mistake. Don’t be me. Keep at it, even if it’s just regular touch-ups. It’s like working out. If you stop lifting, you’ll lose that muscle. Don’t stop lifting. Stay swole.
Short Term Memory
Back to my main point of increasing your short term memory skill and why it’s key. Let’s compare two students. They both have the exact same reading speed, ability to keep up with structure, viewpoints, tone, etc. If their viewstamp skills are the same, the student with better short term memory is better suited for success. Imagine a question forces you to refer back to the passage. Student A needs 5 seconds to find the source, but student B needs 30 seconds to find the source. Both get the question right, but student A left student B in the dust. After running into 2 or more questions like this per passage, student A has an extra minute or more to spend elsewhere. They don’t feel the pressure of time that student B feels. Student A gets to spend more time on really hard questions. See where I’m going with this?
Now, here’s how to practice increasing your short term memory skills. A portion of this comes from Dave in his videos you have access to in the PowerScore course. Other parts I got from tinkering with my approach. Regardless, this is a practice technique.
- Every time you read a paragraph, pause for 5-10 seconds and come up with the main point of the paragraph. Is it a hypothesis? Phenomenon? Outdated viewpoint? Contextual facts? Is it anticipatory of the following paragraph? Do this for every paragraph and notate as necessary. There will be times where you have to re-read a passage multiple times to understand it. If you have to read it multiple times, guess what! You’re gonna have to read it multiple times. You’re always better off investing time upfront versus having to go back over and over.
- Finish the passage then scan it, glossing it over. Take about 30 seconds. Then, come up with a narrative or overall main point. Someone wrote this for a reason, so what was it? Are you teaching me something? Challenging a universal view? Are you comparing methods of uncovering artifacts?
- Answer all the questions without referring back to the passage. Only quickly refer back to it when there’s a question that asks about a specific line in the passage.
How It Helps
Why don’t you refer back to the passage? How does this help? It allows you to trust your gut, make a decision, and move on. Each question on the LSAT is a battle. You can lose a battle even while getting answers correct. How? By wasting time. The test makers win when you spend too much time and miss out on chances to get easy questions right.
I’m not the type of person to stick around when I know the block is too hot. So, answering and moving on is always easy for me. Cutting losses is a part of life. I notice a lot of students have trouble taking a loss on questions, though. Some people have a problem just choosing and moving on when they’re not sure. Wasting your time on hard questions that you’re probably going to get wrong anyway is what I like to call hustlin’ backward. Doing this helps your brain practice holding a lot of information. It’ll surprise you how many questions you get right.
Clearly, don’t do this during a real LSAT. Hopefully with enough practice, your ability to find what you’re looking for will become much faster. Ideally, you won’t need to refer to the passage on an actual LSAT. Trust me on this. In the beginning, you may spend 5-6 minutes on reading the passage. That’s okay! Over time you will need less time to read it. If you do the math, you have 4 minutes to read and 30 seconds to scan. This gives you another 4+ minutes to answer questions. This is more than enough time when using your short term memory. The goal is to get down to about 3-5 minutes on a passage.
One last quick tip. Before doing the questions, re-read the first and last sentences. I feel like a good 25% of passages ask about one of those two parts specifically. Test makers count on you forgetting the first sentence after reading a 500-word passage. They also count on you rushing through the last sentence to hurry onto the questions. So, be as annoying as they are and re-read them. Make it a habit.
The Two Parts to Logical Reasoning
Last, but certainly not least, good old Logical Reasoning. Half the darn tests, so pay attention. Every LR question. Every single one. Is one of two things. It’s either a set of facts or an argument.
If it’s a set of facts, write out the logical chain if there is one, identify the question stem, and answer the question. Set of facts type stimuli have easy questions. These are things that must be, cannot be, could be true. To simplify, we know that 1+1=2. If you have A—–>B, it must be if not B then not A. Set of facts is straight forward
With arguments, on the other hand, test-makers reward certain skills. Which ones? Of course, we’re still talking about the skills that separate the average from the great. This goes beyond understanding a stem, knowing how to point out a conclusion, being able to diagram a logical chain. These are the skills the LSAT values and rewards you for.
- Knowing that all LR questions are related
- Thinking hyper-critically with the arguments
- Excelling at grammar
The grammar part was an eye-opener for me. So much of the stimuli is there for distraction. Fight through the clutter! It’s probably the hardest part because these questions are full of embedded clauses, modifiers, referential phrasing, and comparative statements. Keeping all of that in line is hard. Getting through all the smoke is huge.
How to Drill LR
So, the big question is how do you improve this skill?
- Approach each and every stimulus the same way. Be a robot. Find the main point and the premises. Notate both once you identify them and be consistent with how you do so. Every single time do the same thing. Highlight, underline, etc. Become a well-oiled machine.
- See if the premises support the conclusion. A lot of the time, they don’t. LSAT arguments are so trash sometimes, it’s funny.
- After identifying the question stem, pause and anticipate the answer choices. On some stems, this has less value than others because there are so many ways to strengthen or weaken an argument. There are many possible underlying necessary assumptions. But for questions like method of reasoning, sufficient assumption, and flaw questions, elite test-takers fly through the answer choices because they know what to look for. There is an answer that falls either exactly or very close to what they prephrased. The more questions you do, the easier this will become.
Practice as often as you can to answer questions without diagramming the conditional logic chain. Top-tier test-takers rarely write down the chain and can hold it in their head. If it gets too difficult or you’re jumbling up the sufficient and necessary conditions, write them down. But, try to keep them in your head. Once you can master memorizing them, you will get much faster.
If you cannot pick the right answer confidently, diagram out the conditional logic. Wrong answer choices can say whatever the hell they want because they’re wrong. They don’t have to make sense. Wasting time trying to parse out what a wrong answer is saying is feeding the LSAT troll. Remember, each question is a battle. Not just a battle of right and wrong, but a battle of time. Wasting time on a hard question is hustling backward.
Practicing Your Drills
Now that you know how to drill LR, here’s what to do. Start out by printing out ten of these, specifically the LR Tracker. You should already have the excel spreadsheet for LG. Every question you get wrong or have trouble on, log it. Even if you get the question right but feel like it was a little due to luck, log it. Don’t put the answer, though. That way, when you refer back to it, it’s essentially a blind review. This process is tedious. Who saw that word coming? You should refer back to your questions regularly.
I’m not getting into specific question stems because I know that all LR questions essentially test the same skills. But, I want to harp on my approach for method of reasoning, flaw method of reasoning, and parallel flaw. Those question types are important because what they ask students to do requires the highest level of understanding of arguments and logic. On these questions, the wrong answers can be right on other questions and vice versa. PowerScore does a great job of explaining the most common Flawed method of reasoning situations and method of reasoning possibilities. If you take one of their courses, memorize all the method of reasoning and flawed method of reasoning tactics they give you. Memorize it like it’s a history test or a speech. That resource is huge and you need to be able to recite it like the pledge of allegiance.
Why? Because you will come across Flaws in arguments that are brand new. You may see the flaw and the method that’s there, but won’t know how to abstract it. The same goes for method of reasoning. You may not know how to abstract it, but with your knowledge of the most common methods and flaws, you can confidently eliminate the wrong answer choices. How? Because you know what a sufficient and necessity confusion is and you know that’s not the mistake the stimulis made. You know what appealing to authority is and recognize the stimulus didn’t do that. You’re familiar with composition and division error is and the argument doesn’t do that. Being able to eliminate is massive. You can only confidently do that when you commit PowerScore’s breakdown to memory and do more questions.
- The LSAT is a test of patterns. Maximize your ability to pick them up with more tests and diligent practice
- Rewarded LG skills. Can you make deep inferences? Do you know where there are NOT deep inferences?
- Rewarded RC skills. Short term memory.
- Rewarded LR skills. – Critically understand and evaluate arguments, plus great grammar skills.
- Don’t just practice to get questions right, practice so you cannot get them wrong ever again.
So, there you have the skills that I truly believe are what the LSAT makers reward you for having and how to improve them. Those are the things that all high-scoring test takers have. In my next post, I give a thorough breakdown of what I do on a day to day basis for prep. I also include random tips and do’s and don’ts.
Sorry for making these blogs so long, I’m trying to be thorough and add context to my reasoning.
P.S. I just want to thank everyone for the kind words I’ve been getting and positive reception from my blogs. From the emails, to the tweets, to the comments on the blog, I really appreciate it. Please don’t hesitate to message me on any platform about anything. I’m more than willing to help. The fact that I’m motivating you motivates me.