Active reading

  • New, unfamiliar, boring subject matter and vocabulary
    • Familiarity with subject matter matters
    • Be well read
  • Focus, Focus, Focus!
  • Ask questions
  • Piece information together as you read
  • Use your imagination
  • Anticipate the direction of the passage

How they lose you

  • You fall asleep
  • Referential phrasing
  • Modifiers/embedded clauses
  • Push back/connect the dots

Things they care about

  • Main point/conclusion
    • Factually accurate?
    • Correct emphasis?
  • Author’s attitude or tone
  • Facts, details
    • Can you clearly recall the facts with accuracy?
    • Can you push out inferences from these facts and details?
  • Passage structure
    • Relationship between the paragraphs
      • The flow of concepts/ideas
  • Different arguments, different view points
    • Clearly distinguish


  • So many words!
  • Humanities, Law, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences
  • Last passage packed w/questions – 7 or 8
  • Practice skipping questions for time
  • Focus spending time upfront on the passage
    • Wrong answers are time sinks
Featured image: HipsterReads-attribution-Joel bedford


Train Your Memory For LSAT Reading Comprehension

Ever read a passage, then feel like you don't remember anything? You get to the questions and realize that you've forgotten most of what you read.

It happens to almost everyone. We're not built to retain all the information presented in a reading comprehension passage. But you can get better.

The drills in this lesson build your mental muscles, and will teach you to retain what you read when you take a test.

This method will teach you to do what skilled readers do naturally: consciously think about what they're reading.

The Memory Method For Reading Comp

These are drills to be done with individual reading comp passages.

It may be tough at first, especially the "Check Your Memory" section. But if you stick with it you'll learn to retain what you read.

Phase I - Improving Retention

Memorize The Passage Structure [3.5 Minutes]

1. Take a passage. Spend 3.5 minutes reading it.

2. At the end of each paragraph, summarize that paragraph into one line. The fewer words you use, the better. You can focus on the main point of the paragraph if it has one. Or you can focus on the way in which this paragraph relates to the other paragraphs. This is called a "low resolution" summary because the point here is specifically to not retain all the details, like a low resolution picture where you can make out the shape of objects but not much more.

3. At the end of the passage, review each paragraph's low resolution summaries. Thread these summaries together to build a narrative. This is the structural outline of the passage.

4. Summarize the main point of the entire passage, again using as few words as possible.

Knowing the main point and the structure of the passage will help you gain speed when doing the questions.

Check Your Memory [1.5 Minutes]

1. Turn over the passage - don't look at it.

2. On a sheet of paper, write down the low resolution summaries of each paragraph and the main point of the passage.

RC tests whether you really retained what you read. If you don't remember anything at first, don't worry, and don't look back at the passage.

Just write down what you do remember, and resolve to do better next time.

Do The Questions - Avoid Time-Traps [3.5 Minutes]

1. Turn the passage over. You can look at it again.

2. If the question involves a line citation (e.g. lines 12-15), reread a few lines before and a few lines after the citation.

3. If there is no line citation, attempt to answer the question directly without referencing the passage. If you really cannot remember what the relevant details are, you can look back and you ought to know exactly where to look since you've already built a structural outline of the passage in your memory.

4. Pick an answer, trust your gut, and move on.

5. If you simply cannot decide between the answers, flag the question, and move on.

Waffling between answer choices is the surest indicator of a question's high difficulty. If you're often waffling between answers, then you are spending much of your time on the hardest questions.

Give each question an honest shot. But if you aren't getting it, cut your losses, avoid getting stuck in a time-trap, and move on to the other, easier questions as quickly as possible.

Eventually, you will get fast enough to come back to the flagged questions with a fresh perspective. They're often significantly easier the second time through.

If you're finding it effortless to complete "Check Your Memory," then it's time to move onto Phase II.

Phase II - Reading Comprehension Mastery

The second phase of the Memory Method is the same as the first, with one exception: you only spend 30 seconds on step two (Check Your Memory).

The first phase trains your ability to retain information. The second phase trains your ability to quickly recall and apply that information.

Conclusion - Practice, Practice, Practice

Getting good at LSAT Reading Comprehension is a habit. These drills lay the foundation for proper technique, but you'll have to revisit them from time to time to perfect your method.

If you feel your retention flagging, focus on improving it. A good command of the passage and its structure is the key to success on reading comprehension.

Comment on this

Your performance on RC will improve as your ability to retain information improves. Your ability to retain information will improve as your ability to summarize information improves. Therefore, your performance on RC will improve as your ability to summarize information improves.

But before we try to improve your ability to summarize, let’s first try to see why retaining information and summarizing information are challenging tasks.

The answer to the first question should be fairly obvious. There’s a ton of information in an RC passage. It just is hard to remember a lot of new information with a high degree of fidelity.

The solution to this challenge lies in what we call “summarizing.” To summarize just means to omit certain details while retaining other crucial details. If too much information is why we cannot remember everything, then summarizing seems the natural solution. Don’t bother remembering everything. Just remember some of the things.

The key is to summarize well. And this brings us to the second question of why it is hard to summarize well. The answer is you haven’t had much practice and perhaps have never learned how.

Here, let’s illustrate with an example. Read this paragraph. It’s excerpted from an RC section.

"Cultivation of a single crop on a given tract of land leads eventually to decreased yields. One reason for this is that harmful bacterial phytopathogens, organisms parasitic on plant hosts, increase in the soil surrounding plant roots. The problem can be cured by crop rotation, denying the pathogens a suitable host for a period of time. However, even if crops are not rotated, the severity of diseases brought on by such phytopathogens often decreases after a number of years as the microbial population of the soil changes and the soil becomes "suppressive" to those diseases. While there may be many reasons for this phenomenon, it is clear that levels of certain bacteria, such as Pseudomonas fluorescens, a bacterium antagonistic to a number of harmful phytopathogens, are greater in suppressive than in nonsuppressive soil. This suggests that the presence of such bacteria suppresses phytopathogens. There is now considerable experimental support for this view. Wheat yield increases of 27 percent have been obtained in field trials by treatment of wheat seeds with fluorescent pseudomonads. Similar treatment of sugar beets, cotton, and potatoes has had similar results."

Now, please summarize.

I’ve asked this question to hundreds of students and generally, the response is something like this.

“Well, we’re talking about cultivation of crops and there are these bacteria that harm crops and they’re called fighto-something-or-other but crop rotation can solve this problem. But even if we don’t rotate the crops sometimes this problem is mitigated anyway by disease suppressive soil and that’s because microbes in the soil make the soil more suppressive to...” and on and on and on.

Now, I object to such a summary. Not because it’s factually inaccurate, though often that is an issue. I object because that summary doesn’t accomplish the point of a summary which is to reduce the information so you have a better chance of retaining it.

Look at that summary again. It’s about as difficult to remember as the original paragraph because it hardly omited any details. It’s an incredibly high resolution summary. You can see the sharp edges, fine lines, and vibrant colors. Too bad that picture begins to fade the very moment you set your eyes on it.

That won’t do. We need something longer lasting. We need a low resolution summary. We don’t want the details, just the vague, fuzzy outlines.

Note that what I'm asking of you is highly counterintuitive. In other words, you will naturally attempt to not do this. But if you can catch yourself, if you can train yourself to try and come up with low resolution summaries first and always, you will improve your ability to summarize.

Start by arbitrarily limiting the number of words you get to use to summarize the paragraph. Initially, you might be lenient with yourself and allot a higher quota, say 15 words. Eventually, you’ll want to get more and more strict and reduce the number of words you can use.

That will force you to focus on capturing the essence while ignoring the surrounding context. Now, if this seems easy, you're not fully appreciating the situation. You will suck at this. Initially, anyway. Partially because you won’t know what you’re doing and partially because you don’t have the vocabulary to act as the low resolution information containers. But that’s okay. I promise if you keep trying, if you do the lessons here, if you do a lot of RC passages, you will, bit by bit, figure out what you’re doing and pick up the relevant vocabulary. And that’s when the magic will start to happen.

To return to that paragraph above, try to low-resolution-summarize it.

Here’s mine:
A hypothesis

That’s it. Just two words. Even my fish can remember that.

But, with that low resolution summary, you’ve contained all the information in the entire paragraph.

You’re probably thinking, “Get the fuck out of here J.Y.”

No, I'm not leaving until you understand this.

Seriously, you’ve got the seed of the whole passage right there because when you remember “first paragraph gave me a hypothesis” what do you suppose your next question will be? Naturally, you’re going to ask “well what hypothesis explaining what phenomenon?”

Right there, you’re prompting yourself to start filling in more details. In other words, to render a slightly higher resolution summary. You’re prompting your memory to get to work.

The phenomenon is that even without rotation, crops start to get healthier after a while. And the hypothesis is that a bacteria is doing this somehow.

You can stop there if you want. You’ll have retained a significant chunk of the information in the passage. But you can keep going too.

What was that bacteria called? Pseudomonas fluorescens. (Okay, no way you would have remembered that but it’s fine, the text is right there for you to check.)

Why were we talking about this? (Again, you can check back with the passage.) Because it’s a weird phenomenon. Failure to rotate crop is what causes the spread of disease. It’s odd that without rotating the crops, the damage is mitigated anyway.

And do we have evidence for our hypothesis that a bacteria mitigates the ill effects? Yes, we do. We have empirical evidence gathered from wheat, sugar beets, cotton, and potatoes.

Answering each of those questions prompted for more detail and an ever higher resolution summary of the passage. We started low, we ended up high.

Notice this would not have happened the other way around. If you tried to start high, you end up with a mess. This is because low resolution summaries naturally prompt for higher resolution but this is a one way street. Higher resolution summaries only prompt amnesia.

Take advantage of the one way street. Do your low resolution summaries first. The rest will follow naturally.



  • Phenomenon
    • In need of an explanation
    • Empirical observation (data)
    • Experimentation (data)
    • Evidence (data)
    • Facts
    • Effect (data)
    • Premise
  • Hypothesis
    • Explains the phenomenon
    • Theory
    • Narrative
    • Story
    • Cause
    • Predictions
    • Conclusion
  • Progress in science is the cycle between phenomenon and hypothesis.

Comment on this

"The imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man."
-Richard Feynman

We'll start our RC lessons with a sampling of science passages. We'll look at a few physical science (physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, etc.) passages and then turn our attention to social science (economics, political science, etc.) passages. We can't cover all these subjects in the core lessons but once you start to do the problem sets and view the supplementary explanation video lessons, you'll encounter nearly all subjects.

Of course one goal is to understand the content of each passage that we're reading. But a longer term goal is to try to see past each passage's particularities and find what they have in common. We'll pay attention to recurring themes or what I call "cookie cutters." That's primarily how we get better at RC.

For example, in science passages, you'll often encounter phenomenon being described and hypotheses being presented as explanations. Frequently, you'll be asked to sort out competing hypotheses and keep track of who's on which side of an argument.

PrepTest 3 - Section 3 - Passage 1

The passage here is about asteroids and whether they have satellites. We're only looking at the first paragraph but already cookie cutters are showing up.

For example, the passage begins with the author simply reporting to us what some other people's position is. These people are called "some astronomers". Then, the author goes on to report to us what another group of people "theoreticians" position is. It's not clear yet which side the author believes makes the better argument. It's also not clear if there are additional positions to be staked out.

Note the heavy use of referential phrasing through out the paragraph. Note also the call upon your imagination to paint a picture of what's going on. This is something that you'll often have to do when reading science passages. A good way to expand your imagination is to read more science books or articles and watch more science videos. I'll include some links in the "extra curricular" section of this class.

Low resolution summary:
some astronomers v. theoreticians

Higher resolution summary:
some astronomers believe that asteroids don't have satellites v. theoreticians believe that asteroids might have satellites

Even higher resolution summary:
some astronomers believe that asteroids don't have satellites because it's inherently an unstable system v. theoreticians believe that asteroids might have satellites because it could be a stable system

Comment on this

Before moving on to a new paragraph, always remember to do two things. First, come up with a low resolution summary of the previous paragraph. This is non-negotiable. You have to do it. Second, try to predict where the passage is going. This is more negotiable. You're not going to be good at this in the beginning. But after having had massive exposure to RC passages, you'll start to be good at it. So for now, just try. You'll be wrong a lot but that's okay. It's the habit that you're trying to cultivate that's important.

Two cookie cutter concepts show up in this paragraph: (1) empiricism and (2) imagination. Both are incredibly common for science passages. Regarding (1), the some astronomers and the theoreticians have different hypotheses about whether asteroids have satellites. How to resolve this? Look at the world. Observe and see what the facts are. Regarding (2), try to picture what they are describing.

Low resolution summary:
Observation / phenomenon

Higher resolution summary:
Observing stars, we expect a star to flicker out of view owing to an asteroid passing in front it. But something else also obscured that star and that thing might be a satellite.

Structural outline / string together the low resolution summaries:
Paragraph 1 - disagreement
Paragraph 2 - observation that might support one side

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