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The reading comprehension portion of the LSAT consists of four passages, each about 500 words long and each with about seven questions. The subject matter of a passage can be almost anything, but the most common themes are politics, history, culture, and science.
Most people find the passages difficult because the subject matter is dry and unfamiliar. Obscure subject matter is chosen so that your reading comprehension will be tested, not your knowledge of a particular subject. Also the more esoteric the subject the more likely everyone taking the test will be on an even playing field. However, because the material must still be accessible to laymen, you won’t find any tracts on subtle issues of philosophy or abstract mathematics. In fact, if you read books on current affairs and the Op/Ed page of the newspaper, then the style of writing used in the LSAT passages will be familiar and you probably won’t find the reading comprehension section particularly difficult.

The passages use a formal, compact style. They are typically taken from articles in academic journals, but they are rarely reprinted verbatim. Usually the chosen article is heavily edited until it is honed down to the required length. The formal style of the piece is retained but much of the “fluff” is removed. The editing process condenses the article to about one-third its original length. Thus, an LSAT passage contains about three times as much information for its length as does the original article. This is why the passages are similar to the writing on the Op/Ed page of a newspaper. After all, a person writing a piece for the Op/Ed page must express all his ideas in about 500 words, and he must use a formal (grammatical) style to convince people that he is well educated.

In addition to being dry and unfamiliar, LSAT passages often start in the middle of an explanation, so there is no point of reference. Furthermore, the passages are untitled, so you have to hit the ground running.

The passages are not arranged in order of difficulty, so work on the ones that are familiar and interesting to you first.

Passages are like arguments, only longer. So most of what we discussed about arguments still holds for passages, with some minor modifications. The typical reasoning pattern for an argument is premise, premise, (counter-premise), conclusion. However, the typical reasoning pattern for a passage is more complex: premise, conclusion, premise, premise, (counter-premise), restatement of conclusion. In an argument the premises are typically one sentence long, whereas in a passage the premises are usually a paragraph long.

The same obfuscating tactics are used with passages as with arguments; namely, same language, overstatement/understatement, true but, and false claim. We will analyze the particular ways these tactics are used with the passages as we come to each situation.

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