The October 2015 LSAT Reading Comprehension Section Reviewed

    LSAT Reading Comprehension

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    The October 2015 LSAT has just been released, and the Reading Comprehension section provides an interesting mix of passage topics and types. Presented first in the section is a Humanities passage that explores the music of Arnold Shoenberg, an early 19th Century composer who pushed the bounds of music so drastically that listeners of the time commonly considered his work “incoherent, shrill, chaotic, and ear-splitting.” The author is clearly an adoring fan of Shoenberg, though, and compares the composer to Beethoven, another controversial figure who extended music’s “expressive range.” Additionally, both composers had an evolving musical style that recognized tradition while breaking new ground (a common LSAT theme). The author of this passage does reference some potentially foreign musical concepts, such as pushing “unstable harmonies until they no longer had a tonal basis,” or “bringing a new system of order to nontonal music and stabilizing it,” but if you can avoid getting bogged down with these unfamiliar specifics, the rest of the passage, and the questions that follow, are not particularly difficult. 

    Next is a Law passage that deals with the issue of intellectual property protection in the field of biotechnology, and the extent to which allowing for such protection could potentially hinder research. Biotech patent holders might be restrict access to research materials by enforcing a patent or a contract and could potentially charge exorbitant fees for such access. The author says that such fears are misguided; a patent holder cannot automatically cut off access to particular materials. Rather, protecting a patent in court can be quite costly, and an action against a noncommercial researcher would have questionable prospects: An implicit exception to patent infringement exists for noncommercial research.  Tracking various viewpoints is always important in Reading Comprehension, and this passage is no exception—among the questions that follow the passage are two Author’s Perspective questions and two Subject Perspective questions.

    The third passage of the section discusses the Iroquois (also known as the Haudenosaune), and their use of wampum, a bead that is carved from a shell, both before and after their contact with the Europeans. While most believe wampum to have been exclusively used as money for trade, this is actually a misconception based on the fact that the Europeans used the wampum exclusively to purchase goods. In reality, even in the form of loose beads, wampum could relay basic ideas, and when strung together could be used to send simple messages such as truce requests. When the Haudenosaune Confederacy was formed by the Iroquois, its constitution's provisions were encoded in wampum belts, and various messages could be understood by those who were able decipher the code. Although somewhat limited, the wampum system of symbols was sufficient to declare and enforce the laws of the confederacy for centuries. If you can understand how the use of wampum evolved after the Iroquois’ contact with the Europeans, the questions that follow this Diversity passage are not overly challenging.

    Presented last are the Comparative Reading passages, both of which deal with the value and power of negative evidence. The author of Passage A discusses Karl Popper, who made an interesting point about positive and negative evidence: No number of white swans could prove the claim that all swans are white, yet a single black swan could disprove that assertion. Popper thus claimed that positive evidence has no value, while negative evidence amounts to disproof. The author refutes Poppers argument by pointing out that when a scientific prediction fails, that means an underlying premise is false, though it is not always clear which premise that is. The author’s point: neither positive nor negative evidence is conclusive in every case.

    Passage B deals with the related issue of scientific progress based on negative evidence. When Uranus was discovered, astronomers attempted to predict the planet’s orbit but found their predictions to be inaccurate. This might have meant that Newton’s laws were incorrect, or that there were problems with other underlying assumptions made by the astronomers. It was the latter, as they had assumed that no other planets existed in close proximity but eventually discovered Neptune. Later, when astronomers attempted to predict Mercury’s orbit, they again found their predictions inaccurate. This time, however, the inaccuracy was attributable not to a nearby planet, but to the fact that Newton’s laws were in error. Although the two passages are about very different topics, both deal with the value of negative evidence in advancing scientific research. Given the somewhat complex subject matter, and the presence of some scientific terminology, many students found these passages among the most difficult in the section.

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