Hey Justin —
Happy to try and help — here are a few thoughts — forgive me for repeating whatever is often repeated in the Trainer, and feel free to utilize whatever you think applies and ignore the rest —
1) You want to make sure to riff off your natural reading habits.
That is, make sure your goal is to focus your natural habits toward maximum effectiveness for the way the LSAT is designed, instead of trying to read like someone else (or, more accurately, how you interpret someone else is telling you to read).
We all don’t respect enough how hard it is for our brains to read, and to read well — know that we can’t change our reading habits just by telling ourselves to on a conscious level, and know that trying to do so will in general take away from your ability to actually read well.
2) Per the design of the LSAT, my opinion is that, for the vast, vast majority of students, (again, unless this runs so counter to their way of normally reading that it throws them off) — it is best to use minimal to no notation.
My advice would be different if this were a different type of exam, but, in my view, a highly technical or specific notational system leads to worse performance for most test takers.
3) Again, this has to do with the design of the LSAT.
I won’t go into all of the reasons why I believe this, but one huge reason has to do with the principle challenge that LSAT passages present —
LSAT passages are designed to test your ability to recognize reasoning structure — the way that different parts of the passage relate to one another and to what the author is trying to convey —
Two facets of this that relate to notation:
A) It thus makes sense that passages are designed so that, for the most difficult ones, the reasoning structure is tough to see, or unpredictable.
Often in these cases, when you initially read a sentence, you don’t have enough information to correctly understand what role that sentence ought to play, and, very often, it’s much, much easier to make such determinations after the fact, when you are done with the paragraph or passage and have a viewpoint that allows you to see how parts relate to the whole.
B) When students notate, they are typically, on a conscious and unconscious level, forcing themselves to reach conclusions about the roles sentences play as they are reading those sentences.
Again, per the way the test is designed, any of us who force ourselves to make such decisions on the spot will perform significantly worse than we would if we allowed ourselves more time and context.
So, put those two things together, and without realizing it, students can end up making their task much harder than it could have been.
So with all that said —
4) If you are going to apply notation (and it certainly can be helpful, especially if you are used to doing it) — my suggestion is to notate after the fact — so, after you’ve read a paragraph or the entire passage — whenever you feel most comfortable with your understanding of the overall reasoning structure.
More specifically, I recommend always pausing after your read and before you go into the questions so that you can give yourself a chance to review the overall reasoning structure and finalize your thoughts about the overall flow of information / role parts play, etc. —
I think this is a great time to also notate. Again, you could notate before this, but if this makes sense to you I’d certainly recommend it.
5) In terms of what to notate — again, I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep track of “eight different structural elements that you’ll use different symbols for” etc. — this can really hurt your reading ability —
Rather, I suggest you prioritize those components that are most important to correctly understanding the reasoning structure — in order, I view those as:
A) Most importantly — the parts that give us the biggest clues as to why the author has written the passage.
For the vast majority of LSAT passages, keep in mind that the author has written the passage to, at least in part, compare two ideas/elements/opinions etc. and to say something about this juxtaposition —
So look out for the parts that indicate this and make sure to mark those.
B) After that, if one wanted to notate more, two ways I could go would be to
1) mark in small notes what role different “chunks” of the passage play relative to the author’s purpose (bg, support for one side, support for other, etc.)
2) if you prefer underlining, look out for those key clues that indicate structure (such as “because” or “and yet…” etc.) and try to mark those.
6) And again, keep in mind that the goal of your notations should be to augment your understanding of the overall reasoning structure of the passage (so that, in terms of a practical experience, if you end up skimming the entire passage while trying to evaluate a specific answer choice for a specific q, where you underlined etc. helps you see the reasoning structure better and more accurately).
7) In terms of improving annotation skills over the next ten days, I think the best thing is to try and make them as intuitive as you possibly can —
Try to decide on notations that are simple and comfortable enough so that you can get to a point where you can use them without having to think about how you are using them on test day.
Again, consciously thinking about the notational method you ought to apply and thinking about trying to notate correctly hurts your ability to read well and so you want to avoid that as much as possible.
8) And lastly, one final thing I suggest you do over the last ten days is —
In reviewing your RC work after the fact, try your best to
a) understand the reasoning structure of the passage as it was meant to be understood as accurately as you possibly can &
b) try to connect this understanding of reasoning structure to as many problems and answer choices as you possibly can.
The vast majority of decisions you have to make on the RC section involve thinking about reasoning structure in some way, and to me it is the backbone of how the LSAT RC is designed — you should, if you do this correctly, be able to see that a correct understanding of overall reasoning structure can impact how you think about and solve a significant majority of RC problems (from general to specific) —
So, studying your work in this way, as painful and as frustrating as it might be, is amazingly useful in terms of helping your brain figure out how to see reasoning structure for maximum benefit when it comes to answering q’s.
Sorry for the length — I hope at least some of that was helpful and wish you the best on test day — let me know if I wasn’t clear about anything or if you have any follow-up q’s or thoughts —