RC: Working an example II

The previous example covers your most typical question types.  But one question per passage usually looks at the passage as a whole.  I’ll show you how I handle those kinds of questions using the same passage as in the last post.  The question is framed here as “Which one of the following most accurately states the main idea of the passage?”

For this question, I start out by reading (some of) the first sentences of each paragraph.  I don’t need to read the whole sentence, necessarily, just enough to get the structure of the passage.  There are four paragraphs:

  1. “Intellectual authority is defined as the authority of arguments….”
  2. “In contrast, some critics maintain that whatever authority judicial pronouncements have is exclusively institutional.”
  3. “But, the critics might respond, intellectual authority is only recognized as such because of institutional consensus.”
  4. “The analogous legal concept is the doctrine of precedent, i.e., a judge’s merely deciding a case a certain way becoming a basis for deciding later cases the same way — a pure example of institutional authority.”

This passage is interesting because we get a lot of what the critics say, and not so much what the main argument is (though we can infer it is a pro-intellectual authority argument).

When I go to the answer choices, I notice something interesting: they all start out one of two ways

Although some argue that the authority of the legal system is purely intellectual/institutional….

While it is clear that either one is literally true, since there is disagreement over a dichotomy, we have to consider the point of view of the author.  Which side is the “some argue” on?  Well, it is the critics, of course!  And they are big believers in institutional authority.  See that?  Once we decide that, we can eliminate A/C/E without further consideration.

Then we have to pick between the final two choices, and here, because we got so much of the critics view to begin with, it is helpful to read the very last sentence:

The conflict between intellectual and institutional authority in legal systems is thus played out in the reconsideration of decisions, leading one to draw the conclusion that legal systems contain a significant degree of intellectual authority even if the thrust of their power is predominantly institutional.

Adding that sentence to our arsenal makes the choice between the last two answers clear:

Although some argue that the authority of the legal system is purely institutional, these systems possess a degree of intellectual authority due to their ability to reconsider badly reasoned or socially inappropriate judicial decisions.

It’s all about the “reconsideration of decisions,” baby!

RC: Working an example I

To give you an example of how to work a smashed reading comprehension question, I’m going to show you how to prove your answer is correct using question 13 from section 3 of the LSAT PrepTest 38 (2002).

  1. I do not read the passage.  I do allow my eye to stray over the first few words of the passage “Intellectual authority is defined…” and am very very glad I do not have to read or comprehend the passage.
  2. I read the question stem carefully.  “The author discusses the example from musicology primarily in order to.”  Okay, it is pretty clear that I’m going to skim for the word “musicology.”
  3. A quick roll of the eyes over the passage makes it clear that the word “musicologist” shows up in the third paragraph and only once.
  4. The sentence that contains the word: “For example, if a musicologist were to claim that an alleged musical genius who, after several decades, had not gained respect and recognition for his or her compositions is probably not a genius…” Okay, running out of steam here!  I don’t want to waste a ton of time on the verbiage.  Let me focus on the question stem again: what am I being asked?  The key is “discusses the example primarily to.”  Where does the sign post in the passage to the right answer point?  “For example,…” points to the sentence before!  That sentence reads “But, the critics might respond, intellectual authority is only recognized as such because of institutional consensus.”  This is the important bit: my answer choice must match this sentence.
  5. The correct answer choice reads: “illustrate the claim that assessing intellectual authority requires an appeal to institutional authority.”
  • illustrate: well, that is what examples do.
  • the claim: “critics might respond” with a claim
  • assessing intellectual authority requires an appeal to institutional authority: intellectual authority is only recognized as such because of institutional consensus: yup, both indicate intellectual authority being fundamentally derived from institutions.
  • QED

This one wasn’t even that infelicitous.

I must confess, though, there was an answer choice that called out to me!  It was “distinguish the notion of institutional authority from that of intellectual authority.”  The reason it called to me was that, in all honesty, I read the entire sentence that contained the “musicologist.”  The end of that sentence reads “the critics might say that basing a judgment on a unit of time…is an institutional rather than an intellectual construct.”  That sounds a whole lot like the answer choice, right?  The “For example” sign post, however, says that you need to base your answer to the question “discusses…primarily to” on what the “for example” is referencing.  Also, is it really distinguishing the notion or just an instance?

So, to recap:

  1. I followed directions by answering the question asked.  This helped me zero in on the “for example” cue.
  2. I paid attention to detail by proving my answer choice word-for-word and by noticing the sketchy “the notion” in the answer choice that called to me.
  3. I organized the information given to me carefully, by focusing on only the part of the passage that could contain my answer.  I then carefully matched that information with the information in the answer choices.

Barriers to Smashing this question type:

  1. It is hard to trust not reading the passage.
  2. It is going to take a lot of practice.
  3. You might see a dip in your accuracy rate.

Methods to overcome:

  1. Trust it anyway
  2. Practice, practice, practice.  Hundreds of passages.  Until you are getting them 100% correct.
  3. You will develop a sense for the tricks and traps they place for you if you practice enough, now that your attention isn’t cluttered with passages.

Reading Comprehension

‘Nough with the throat clearing.  Let’s talk question types.

I’m going to start with Reading Comprehension.  It tends to get short shrift in people’s study time, since they think “I know how to read!” but it is the one question type that is universal to all of the major tests.  It also isn’t measuring your ability to read.  Or comprehend.  And it is completely breakable.

There are two ways the test writers like to trip you up.  First, they want you to get the wrong answer.  Second, if you are going to get the question right, they’d like it to take a long time.  Don’t feed the test writers!  Refuse to follow their lures.

The cardinal rules of Reading Comprehension:

  1. Do NOT, under any circumstance, read the fucking passage.  It is a time sink put there to bore you to death and a low score.
  2. Read the question stem carefully instead.  Figure out what words or phrases you are going to skim for.
  3. Skim for said word/phrase.
  4. Read just the section that contains the word/phrase.
  5. Now consider your answer choices: you must prove your answer choice.  Every fucking word in the answer choice MUST be in the passage.  You must point it out to yourself.
  6. The correct answer is usually infelicitous.  It will usually be phrased in a way that you would never consider phrasing the answer.  It might even be written in a way that you have a hard time understanding.  But every fucking word will match what is in the text.
  7. There will be a wrong answer, which is clearly written, that almost matches the text.  There will be some slight deviation, though.  IT IS THE WRONG ANSWER.  Do NOT choose it.  It will sing to you, call you out.  Plug your ears and pick the ugly answer.

Once you learn to do that EVERY TIME, you will have smashed RC to smithereens.  No more wrong answers.  Yay!

What do you do when it is a question along the lines of “The primary purpose of this passage is to:”?  If it is an overview question, read the first sentence of each paragraph, and, possibly, the last sentence of the entire passage.  Each paragraph must be addressed in the correct answer.  There will be a wrong answer that beautifully describes the most important/interesting paragraph in the passage.  Don’t choose it.  It is the wrong answer.

Lots of students hate not reading the passage.  It makes them really nervous.  They might miss something.  They are right: they are going to miss most of the traps the test writers have carefully placed for them!  They are going to miss the lost time that reading the passage extracts from their lives!  Do.  Not.  Read.  The.  Passage.

My recommendation will be hard at first.  I don’t care.  Get over it.  Keep following the rules, and you will smash this question type.  You may already be scoring pretty well on RC, relative to some of the other question types, so it might be tempting to just keep up with your current practice.  DON’T!  Unless you are getting them 100% correct all the time and creating time to spend on the harder question types, you need to keep practicing reading comprehension.  This is one of the easiest question types to smash, so get out your hammer and free yourself once and for all from boring passages!