Comprehensive Strategy for RC - response to KS in 3 parts

theformstheforms Alum Member
edited November 2013 in Reading Comprehension 45 karma
Hi KS,

Perhaps you are taking the Feb LSAT, but given that the Dec test is only 3 weeks away, let me share my RC strategy. Not sure if you have the Trainer book yet, or if it's been helpful. If so, then great! Apologies for the extreme length of the below. I hope it's helpful.

The method I use/developed relies on 1) heavy annotation of the passage structure (the form) and 2) active abbreviation of main ideas as I read to reinforce and memorize relevant info (the content).

All RC Passages have the same deep, basic structure, in that they track a linear thought progression with claims and supporting examples. Avant-garde lyric poetry this is not.

The first paragraph of each RC passage is basically the "opening statement" for the passage and helps to introduce the general idea, argument or thesis. In fact, the passage itself is basically the central idea, argument or thesis come to life in a more expansive way. Generally, the opening statement of the passage begins by providing a tiny bit of context, then either a) states an Overarching Claim or Thesis To Be Supported, or b) showcases a Unique Perspective that Needs To Be Explored or Countered, or c) names The General Problem At Hand. Sometimes it skips the context and goes straight to the general idea. As soon as you encounter these elements, in the left-hand margin scribble down CTX for context next to context, then put a CIRCLE or BOX around the claim, problem or important viewpoint, then scribble "claim" or "prob" or "view" next to that and then draw a line to the circled claim/problem/viewpoint. If you find the Main Point, write MP next to it. You should ALWAYS box ALL authorial names and the term "some x" that denotes the perspective of some scientists, some historians, etc., and then draw a hanging arrow from the box leading out to the left hand margin, because the LSAT always comes back to the viewpoint of at least one of these groups or persons in its questions. That arrow and box will help you find these viewpoints right away.

After the passage's opening statement, the passage goes to into its big PROBLEM TO BE RESOLVED schtick. It names either a Problem (P), Issue (I) or Question (Q) that will be explored, resolved, supported or countered later in the passage. Typically, 2-4 additional P's, I's or Q's will also arise throughout the passage, in a linear fashion. In the left hand margin, if you encounter a question, write out Q1 in the left hand margin, if it's an issue, use I1, if a problem, use P1, etc. These concepts are very similar but not exactly equivalent, so it's up to you if you want to distinguish between them from passage to passage or just use one abbreviation for all of RC. Typically, each passage will stick to either Q's, P's or I's throughout; so try to use the same abbreviation every time. Anyhow, pretty much immediately after (or slightly after) a Q1, I1 or P1 is raised in the passage, you will find an Answer related to that Q, that I or that P. Next to that Answer, write A1. I make gratuitous use of circling and drawing lines from the notations of Q1 or A1 in the left-hand margin to the Question or Answer they refer to in the passage itself. With a connecting line, you can refer back to it later right away. It's basically just connect the dots. After you encounter and mark A1, you may then encounter additional support, evidence or examples that back up A1. Scribble "supp," "evi", or "ex" next to it and keep reading. Continuing to read, you will likely then come across a second question, issue or problem - mark that as Q2, I2 or P2 (whatever it is). Or, you may instead come across another answer to the first question that was raised - mark that as A2. Keep reading and marking. Every time you find a Q, P or I, and their corresponding A's, mark them as Q1, Q2, Q3, or A1, A2, A3, etc. and then draw a line from that notation to the Q or A it refers to. As stated above, scribble quick abbreviations for things like meth(od), evi(dence), supp(ort), tech(nique), ex(ample), counter whenever you find them. This technique outlines the structure of the argument right there on your left hand margin, and solidifies it in your mind. You will end up with something like "Q1, A1, supp, ex, Q2, A2, counter, Q3, A3, MP" right down the left side of the passage. So, so, so helpful for me. Also important: do NOT forget to write out the word COUNTER in the left-hand margin next to any counterarguments presented that counter or object to the passage's own argument(s). Also, do not neglect to read, understand and note the Honorable Mention of Further Suggestions for Research or Theoretical Inquiry that are usually laid out at the end of the passage. If that's not there, the end of the passage is probably a re-statement of the argument's conclusion or gives a grand teleogical justification for the argument's thesis. Just remember that the left hand column is reserved for an outline of your argument's FORM, and not it's content.



  • theformstheforms Alum Member
    edited November 2013 45 karma
    The other half of this method relates to content and is a tiny bit harder. In the right-hand column, when you encounter an important relationship between ideas (which should basically be every other sentence), write the initial letter(s) of the two ideas and link the two ideas by conditional arrows, similar to in LR. (I bet a lot of people use this technique already in RC - you just have to realize what purpose it actually serves.) Basically, this system of notation primarily works for the clarification and memorization of content - to make the information really stick in your mind as you read. I'm not sure if its is as good as JY's memory method, but this is the way that I lock the content of each passage into my memory as I go. The trick is, as you write the letters and arrow, or immediately after, very briefly say back to yourself in your mind what you are writing or what you just wrote. This locks it into your your short term memory: read, write, reiterate. Read, write, reiterate. As I said, the point of this method is to lock in the information in your mind, as well as to lock in how this information is related to what comes after it (remember: the passages are linear), not necessarily to create a workable system of shorthand to refer back to. So, for example, in the in the 2nd paragraph of the Thurgood Marshall passage, as I encountered and noted A1 (A1 = Answer 1 to Problem 1, the problem of Separate but Equal) in the right-hand margin, I also wrote: /E -> L -> IO + F in the right-hand margin. This means: (/E) the facilities were not Equal -> so (L) Litigation was pursued -> in order to (IO+F) Improve Opportunities and the Facilities themselves. As I wrote it, I spoke it back to myself in my head: Not Equal - Legislate - Improve Opportunities and Facilities. Then I scribbled S1 P and said to myself "strategy one practical." Like I said, the point of this method is to lock in important ideas. And what do you know? The different strategies were heavily questioned in this passage and I remembered where they were and the gist of them immediately. This method also really helped me develop a spatial memory for where the information in the passage was located when I had to refer back.

    For the ideas that are heavily embedded in the passage: as you read, BOX the really weird and condensed ideas as well as meaningful claims (the sub-conclusions supporting the central argument) or the Very Important Points (you can mark these as "VIP" if you have time), because you KNOW the LSAT is going to ask about them. Box all the court cases mentioned in the legal passages. Box the definitions of key terms in the science passages. With the boxes, you can find all of this stuff more easily. In fact, box anything you don't really understand. If you don't understand it, the LSAT will ask about it. Circle the dates if you have time.

    Lastly, if you encounter something that seems like a key term, circle it and write KT out to the side with a line to your Key Term. One example of a KT is "disposed offal" from the industrial waste passage. Another is "lipids" from the wine and health passage. Another is "ecstasy" from the blues and spirituals passage. Circle these terms and write KT. Trust me, there will only be a few KT's and there will likely be questions on at least 1 or 2 of them.

    One more thing: if you are doing a practice test under timed conditions, AND if you are really uncertain or really confused by the question, AND if you have enough time to do so, then stop, go back and re-read the portion of the passage where your answer is located until you can figure out why one answer is right and the other four are wrong. If you need to, just skip this question, draw a big box around it and come back at the end so you do not spend too much time on it at the expense of the other questions. Sometimes I do this with MP questions because I have so much trouble with them. MP questions are like red herrings wrapped in banana peels on my kitchen floor during an electrical outage. They are the minesweeper (stupid hard 90s computer game) of the LSAT.

    So how long does this all take, you ask? Well, I do it as fast as I possibly can, and it takes me 4 to 5 minutes to read the passage themselves, with about 4 mins for very short passages and 5 mins for medium to long passages. That's not much time to answer questions, I know -- only 3-4 mins. All I can say is that I recently started using this method, am still working with it and am gradually improving my time. Perhaps you will develop a better method and share it with me. However, because of how systematic this method is, I am now better able to recognize common patterns in the way LSAT RC information is presented from passage to passage and thus know WHAT to look for as I read. Thus, I am now an active reader; I no longer finish the passage in a haze of confusion. Additionally, my overall section completion time has dropped from 10-13 mins per section with getting 1-3 wrong per passage, to 8-9 mins per section with 0-2 wrong in RC OVERALL, simply because this method allows me to go through the answer choices and eliminate them one-by-one while almost never referring back to the passage for more than a few seconds. In fact, I rarely refer back to the passages at all, and when I do, I have a much better memory of what is in the passage and where the relevant information is located. The dialogue I now hear in my head when "attacking" the RC answers (LOL high-five to Powerscore) is: no, no, no, yes, no. This is the holy grail of the LSAT.

    In short: my results improved from getting 1-3 questions wrong per passage (4-7 wrong for entire RC) to getting 0-2 wrong overall (usually 0-1) for the entire RC, all four passages. Plus, for the ones I did get wrong, I could quickly and easily uncover my mistake, which was usually attributable to rushing, laziness or guesswork when I was uncertain or running out of time.

  • theformstheforms Alum Member
    edited November 2013 45 karma
    If you're still reading, let's talk more about specifics. I want to touch on Main Point questions in particular, because they are 40% of RC. As I stated, I personally find these incredibly difficult. I was an English major with a speciality in literary theory (I know), and thus was not trained to find conclusive, well supported answers from evidence prevented in a linear fashion. I was trained to explore the hidden (or entirely non-existent) meanings of texts, and to come up with funnest, craziest theoretical interpretations I could think of. Lit theory is not clear-cut. Lit theory is like textual interpretation on acid. Needless to say, RC is honestly my favorite section. I actually cannot wait go buy Primatology on and read it on the subway - really, it's right up my alley.

    Anyway, for understanding MP questions and (all MBT questions in RC) keep this in mind:
    -These are "objective" questions. Meaning, they count on facts presented objectively in the context of the passage. Do not, do not, do not EVER try to bring in your own assumptions in order to "make it work." The LSAT is *counting on* your overly-educated, overloaded brain to wrongly try to "fill in the gaps" that will make an answer choice work. This is the LSAT nightmare. Do NOT try to fill in gaps in the passage's content. Instead, recognize links in the relationships between claims or points being made. "Connect the dots" in the passage's relationships, not in its content.
    -As you practice, pretend each MP is the "opening statement" of the passage. Put the MP right up at the top. Does it work as the OS? Are you like: boom, yes! Or is it just meh, no, it doesn't really capture the idea of the argument. Does the MP support just one paragraph, and not all of them? If not, then it's not the MP. Like someone (JY or Powerscore or both) said, make sure ALL of the paragraphs in the passage support the main point. This is so important I will say it in all caps: MAKE SURE ALL OF THE PARAGRAPHS SUPPORT TO AND RELATE TO THE MAIN POINT.
    -Think of it this way: if you had to get in front of a judge and state the main point of the passage as a one-sentence summary of your case, would this answer choice condense down what the passage is trying to say into one sentence? If you had to pitch the passage to an academic journal with the hopes it would become a published article, and you have only one sentence to say what your article is about, would the main point encapsulate what you intend to explain in greater detail?

    To answer RC questions that refer back to specific paragraphs, lines, or words:
    Remember the linear nature of the passage. Think of the passage like a legal document. Legal briefs, court pleadings and judicial opinions do not wander all over the place with their arguments. They do not try to "tie it all together at the end" with grand, universal, unsupported claims. They do not leave unstated or conceal the most important facts of their argument. They do not leave loose ends untied. If they did, they would be bad arguments. Instead, they build their arguments by listing their claims one by one and by providing supplementary evidence (facts) that are tied to and supported by legal precedent (ideas). Apply this type of conceptualization to help you trace the structure, relationship and function of the claims, theories, evidence, counterarguments, problems, and answers presented in the RC passage and the questions that refer back to them. Always think of this auxiliary info as SERVING the argument as it proceeds in some kind of linear, organized fashion. Remember: the passage itself is not trying to trick you. It's the questions that are trying to trick you. The truth is out there. Use the passage to find it.

    For the "subjective" questions, like the author's viewpoint, critic's viewpoint, author's choice of terms, author's attitude, or the statement "the author would probably agree that x":
    Think like a lawyer. A good lawyer crafts a document with extreme care, precision and purpose - with pure intentionality. Everything in that legal document is supposed to be there and everything that's there is there to support a purpose. That purpose is to provide a strong, virtually impenetrable argument supported by numerous solid claims. Facts (evidence) are used to uphold and bolster those claims. So ask yourself when you read an RC passage: why is this lawyer-like author choosing this particular term? Why is she/he choosing this fact, this evidence? Why is she/he raising this glaring objection to her/his argument, only to counter it? Why, why, why? Well, always to purposely bolster, strengthen and support the passage's central argument. Remember intentionality: A human being writes an argument. A human being has an agenda in writing that argument. That agenda is to win, to be successful. Therefore, everything that's there is there on purpose. A good argument or thesis is glued to its claims and the claims are glued to their facts/evidence. Answer choices in RC about an author's POV, word choice, attitude, likes and dislikes, etc, that do not *somehow* support the central argument cannot glue themselves to the argument - they fall off, because the relationship is not there. In short, the subjective portions of the passage can be used to contextualize the argument, or to delegitimize an opponent's claims, or just to support pieces of evidence that then support claims that then support the argument. But whatever their purpose, some kind of arrow eventually leading back the argument has to be there. Otherwise what is the point of intentionally including that element in the passage?

    My two cents that sum up the above: use a methodical, systematic approach to recording the passage as it unfolds, and use rigid, factual thinking to interpret it. Think inside - not outside - the box. If that works, then congrats -- you're already a lawyer :)

  • K SK S Free Trial Member
    86 karma
  • Janet HsuJanet Hsu Free Trial Member
    2 karma
    Thank you for this. I read through your entire post and took notes because I need all the help I can get on reading comp! Will try implementing your methods immediately.
  • The_RiseThe_Rise Alum Member
    283 karma
    how good do u do on RC
  • theformstheforms Alum Member
    45 karma
    Hi Kyuya - I generally miss 0-2 on RC. But you have to remember to work fast so you don't run out of time.
  • JosephHawkins1776JosephHawkins1776 Free Trial Member
    27 karma
    Great posts and insight. Many thanks. Brilliant.
  • theformstheforms Alum Member
    edited November 2013 45 karma
    Hi Janet - I hope it helps. I just realized I mixed up right and left in my original post. I just fixed it. But honestly, it doesn't matter which sides you chose, as long as all the structure is listed on one side, and all the content is on the other side. It's whatever makes sense to you.

    If you find that you are running out of time, try to eliminate first making the more superfluous notes (the notes that are the least necessary). I would start with cutting down on diagramming the content. If you are fully diagramming (doing read, write, reiterate) every single little thing, only diagram (write, reiterate) the things that seem really important - a sub-conclusion, a major point, an important definition, or something you don't seem to understand at first.

    Second, do not get stuck on trying to create conditionals. The conditional arrows are not supposed to represent strictly conditional relationships, as they do in LR. They are just supposed to provide basic linkage. Do not try to get a perfect conditional relationship in your mind. You can even skip the arrows - just initial the key concepts and say them to yourself.

    For example, for the 1st paragraph of the defense lawyers' passage, you can box the first sentence, because it happens to be the main question of the argument, and write in the left-hand margin "Q1". Then, where it predictably says "Some legal scholars hold" immediately after that (so linear!), you can circle that and write "A1" in the same margin. As you read A1 (the opinion of these legal scholars), in the right-hand margin write and say to yourself: "OBD" - obligation to provide best defense; "DS" - part of a democratic society; "CDG" - courts determine guilt; "LAA" - Lawyer acts as an advocate. You do not need to craft all kinds of crazy logically-perfect conditionals - that would take too long. But just from those four phrases above, don't you ALREADY have an idea of the point that "some legal scholars" are making about a lawyer's role in the justice system: that they have an obligation to do their best, that courts (not lawyers) decide guilt or innocence, so lawyers need to be client advocates. And guess what? There's a question directly about this content - specifically about a lawyer acting as an advocate in lines 15-19, which the correct answer choice rephrases as "diligent representative of the client's position."

    I would do at least 3 passages and questions untimed in order to get comfortable with this method and know if you are doing too much notation or or not enough, then move on to timed passages. Heck, go back and do passages you've already done if you need more practice.

    Good luck...
  • cameronmfraser1cameronmfraser1 Free Trial Member
    44 karma
    I am not a fan of annotating the passages in RC. I try to write as little as possible. A few words, maybe a brief sentence at the end of each paragraph. I really think the memory method is way better than annotating the passage. I took a Blueprint course, which had us learn a ton of annotations: circle abstruse words, underline conclusions, keep track of examples, etc. In my opinion, that is a massive waste of time. It takes less time to re-read an entire paragraph than it does to heavily annotate one. Read closely, but work on your ability to keep everything in your head.
  • theformstheforms Alum Member
    45 karma
    Hi cameronmfraser1,

    Yes, this method is definitely time consuming. That's its biggest drawback. But I did improve my personal RC speed and accuracy with it. Perhaps after doing it enough times, it will become second nature, and annotation will be totally unnecessary on the test itself. That would save a lot of time.

    I love JY's memory method. I think it's solid. But, I needed something more. I had to develop a better system for myself because pure memorization and re-reading the paragraphs just didn't work for me (I think I'm not alone in this). With just trying to keep everything in my head, I had to refer back to the passage too frequently. I got confused, ran out of time, had to guess and would get several wrong.

    My story is: I studied for 4 months on my own, during which I took about 30 PT's, including a total of 120 RC passages. I then signed up for JY's course b/c I had hit a wall. On my diagnostic, I missed 2 LG, 5 LR and 8 (eight!) RC. That -8, to me was unacceptable, especially compared to the other sections. Now, I'm missing 1-2 on RC for every PT.

    However, I will definitely try out your method and just read the passage without picking up my pencil to annotate. I'll then just reread whatever paragraphs I need to to answer the questions. You could be right!

    Thanks for commenting.
  • Admiral YummyAdmiral Yummy Member
    116 karma
    @theforms, thanks for posting this. I'm going to give it a shot as soon as possible!
  • dennisgerrarddennisgerrard Member
    1644 karma
    Grateful to see RC strategy.
  • tanes256tanes256 Alum Member
    2573 karma
    This is very similar to Nicole's strategy but I love this. Don't know how I missed it. I'll definitely revisit. I think this will supplement Nicole's method very well if you choose to go that route.
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