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Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension, like the games, comprises one-fourth of the test. The section consists of four passages each with six to eight questions, for a total of about twenty-six questions.
The passages are taken from academic journals. As you would expect, they are usually quite dry. Nearly any subject may appear, but the most common themes are political, historical, cultural, and scientific.

Every prep book for the LSAT takes a unique approach to the reading comprehension section, from speed reading to underlining to pre-reading the questions to . . . . Some methods, however, are at best useless gimmicks and at worst can distract and confuse you. Reading styles are very personal. What may work for one person may not work for another. The particular style that you use is not the key to perform­ing well on the passages; rather the key is to master the six types of questions. These are
  1. Main Idea Questions
  2. Description Questions (using the context to determine the meaning of a word or phrase)
  3. Writing Technique Questions
  4. Extension Questions (usually drawing an inference)
  5. Application Questions (applying what you learned in the passage to a different, often hypothetical, situation)
  6. Tone Questions (what is the author’s attitude?)
We will analyze these six types of questions thoroughly. Additionally, we will study the use of “pivotal words” in LSAT passages. Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to anticipate the places from which questions will likely be drawn. This will help reduce the amount of material you will have to scrutinize.

Following is a condensed version of an actual LSAT passage.

Example: Passage

There are two major systems of criminal procedure in the modern world—the adversarial and the inquisitorial. Both systems were historically preceded by the system of private vengeance in which the victim of a crime fashioned his own remedy and administered it privately. The modern adversarial system is only one historical step removed from the private vengeance system and still retains some of its characteristic features. Thus, for example, even though the right to initiate legal action against a criminal has now been extended to all members of society and even though the police department has taken over the pretrial investigative functions on behalf of the prosecution, the adversarial system still leaves the defendant to conduct his own pretrial investigation. The trial is still viewed as a duel between two adver­saries, refereed by a judge who, at the beginning of the trial has no knowledge of the investiga­tive background of the case. In the final analysis the adversarial system of criminal procedure symbolizes and regularizes the punitive combat.

By contrast, the inquisitorial system begins historically where the adversarial system stopped its development. It is two historical steps removed from the system of private vengeance. Therefore, from the standpoint of legal anthropology, it is historically superior to the adversarial system. Under the inquisitorial system the public investigator has the duty to investigate not just on behalf of the prosecutor but also on behalf of the defendant.

Because of the inquisitorial system’s thoroughness in conducting its pretrial investigation, it can be concluded that a defendant who is innocent would prefer to be tried under the inquisito­rial system, whereas a defendant who is guilty would prefer to be tried under the adversarial system.
The primary purpose of the passage is to
  1. explain why the inquisitorial system is the best system of criminal justice.
  2. explain how both the adversarial and the inquisitorial systems of criminal justice evolved from the system of private vengeance.
  3. show how the adversarial and inquisitorial systems of criminal justice can both complement and hinder each other’s development.
  4. show how the adversarial and inquisitorial systems of criminal justice are being combined into a new and better system.
  5. analyze two systems of criminal justice and imply that one is better.
The answer to a main idea question will summarize the passage without going beyond it.
(A) violates these criteria by overstating the scope of the passage. The author draws a comparison between two systems, not between all systems.
(A) would be a good answer if “best” were replaced with “better.” (Beware of absolute words.)
(B) violates the criteria by understating the scope of the passage. Although the evolution of both the adversarial and the inquisitorial systems is discussed in the passage, it is done to show why one is superior to the other.
(C) and (D) can be quickly dismissed as neither is mentioned in the passage.
Finally, the passage does two things: it presents two systems of criminal justice, and it implies that one is better developed than the other. (E) aptly summarizes this, so it is the best answer.

You may have noticed that the three sample problems did not ask any questions about legal issues. Ironically, the LSAT does not contain any legal questions. You may have also noticed that some questions have a rather mathematical appearance.

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