In my last blog post I discussed the value of recognizing the main point of any Reading Comprehension passage; this is a crucial part of fully understanding a passage and ensures a ready prediction when a Main Point question is encountered. In this post I continue and broaden the discussion, with a focus on the value of considering a prephrase at every opportunity in the Reading Comprehension section.
If you have taken one of our courses, read one of our books, or visited our forum, you are probably already familiar with the concept of prephrasing. As explained in the PowerScore Logical Reasoning Bible, the process can be relatively straightforward: "Prephrasing an answer involves quickly speculating on what you think the correct answer will be based on the information in the stimulus." Of course, this is often easier said than done; for most students there is a strong natural inclination to move directly from each question to the answer choices. If you develop the habit of prephrasing, though, the discussion continues, in many cases you will be able to find the answer almost immediately. And even when that doesn't happen, you will often find that you are able to more readily narrow down the answer choices.
The precision with which a prephrase can be formed varies significantly from question to question, dependent in part on question type. Prephrasing in response to a Parallel Reasoning question, for example, can often be difficult; precisely prephrasing the answer to a Defender Assumption question might be impossible. Thankfully, however, in the Reading Comprehension section such question types are relatively rare. Most of the questions that appear in that section fall under the category of Must Be True. Any question in this category must pass the Fact Test, which means that the correct answer must either come directly from the passage or be confirmed by the information presented by the author, often making such questions particularly conducive to effective prephrasing.
As discussed in the PowerScore Reading Comprehension Bible, every question stem in the Reading Comprehension section can be assigned one of three location designations. Specific Reference questions refer to a particular location (usually a specific line or paragraph) in the passage, which should usually allow you to predict at least some elements of the correct answer choice. The same goes for Concept Reference questions, which refer to specific concepts discussed within the passage. As long as you have noted the basic passage structure, you should usually be able to quickly find the location of the relevant information in the passage. Again, this should allow you to prephrase to some extent.
Global Reference questions are those that provide no reference to any particular location or concept. Some questions with this designation, such as "The passage says all of the following EXCEPT," don't provide much opportunity for prephrasing (rather difficult to predict what the passage did NOT say! Other Global Reference questions, though, might seem similarly broad, but provide prephrasing opportunities nonetheless. A great example is the question, "The author would be most likely to agree with which one of the following statements?" At first, this Author's Perspective question seems completely open-ended, as if there would be no telling what the answer might be. But when you encounter such a question, ask yourself, is that really the case? Don't you know a little something about the author? Maybe the author is a staunch critic of gray marketing, or an adoring fan of Miles Davis. Many such questions focus on the author’s central perspective, or viewpoint, which you should already know. Such insights can often provide the basis for a reasonable prephrase!
The quick takeaway is this: prephrase whenever you can! This is a crucial step if you are seeking to optimize your LSAT score. You should be making an attempt to prephrase at every opportunity throughout the Logical Reasoning sections of the test, and it's at least as valuable and crucial (perhaps more so!) in the Reading Comprehension section of the test.
Image: High PowerGreen Laser, courtesy of Andrew "FastLizard4" Adams