Hey Michelle —
You certainly aren’t the first well-read person to experience this, and, if anything, I think this just goes to show that the LSAT is really not a test of overall reading ability.
For the RC section, the test writers only have about 27 q’s to work with, and they have to keep the exam consistent administration to administration — logistically, what that means is that they can only test a very narrow bandwidth of reading skills and do so in a very specific and repetitive manner.
And so the keys to mastery involve
a) knowing better and better exactly what it is that they are testing and how &
b) working to adapt your mindset / habits to match those challenges better and better
Two big challenges in our way:
a) As I mention exhaustively in the book, reading is an almost magical human skill and 99%+ of the work takes place beyond our conscious recognition and control — and just as you can’t look at a chair and pretend to yourself that you are looking at a computer, for all of us, no matter how hard we try, it’s very, very hard to change how we read just by wanting to.
b) But one way in which we can all definitely make ourselves worse readers is by being overly self-conscious about it — that is, by thinking about how we are reading as we read. But when we study for standardized tests, and try practicing new strategies and whatnot, that’s pretty much what we have to do. And so there is an inherent catch-22 that you have to overcome in that trying to read “better,” in and of itself, will likely make you read worse (at least at first).
So with all that said, here are some tips — as I always say, you know yourself best, so please feel free to utilize whatever you think applies and to ignore whatever doesn’t —
In terms of mindset:
It really helps to be able to look at the material from a top down perspective as opposed to from a bottom up perspective —
To give an analogy of what I mean — imagine the difference between being some famous editor and being asked to evaluate material submitted to you vs being a student and being asked to evaluate work by some famous writer — I think it’s much easier to read LSAT passages well from the former rather than the latter perspective.
In real life terms, you mentioned that you read and write for a living —
So, imagine that the passages in the RC section have been written by friends of yours, who are all experts in different fields such as law or science or history etc., and they have brought these passages to you to ask for your help with their writing — with passage structure and so on.
And so, as the first part of this, you want to go through the passages with an eye toward evaluating what it is that your friends are trying to say and how they have organized their passage in order to effectively say what they are trying to say.
To me, the above is just about the perfect mindset to have for evaluating LSAT passages in a way that will benefit you when it comes time to answer questions.
1) As I alluded to before, you want to be very careful about how much you distract yourself from reading well by thinking about how you are reading — so, try to avoid thinking about too many strategies at once, try to keep things simple, and, once you settle in on some reading methods that you feel happy with, make sure you practice enough to turn them into habits — the goal is that by test day you can just naturally read passages effectively without having to think at all about how to read them.
2) Really make it a point to focus on the exact wording of the question stems — I know I mention this elsewhere, but in my experience most students severely underestimate how often they miss problems / make problems more difficult for themselves because they work with generalized or vague understandings of the tasks presented in the stem —
When a stem mentions a particular paragraph, you need to be very careful of tempting wrong answers that relate to other parts of the passage, when a stem says that a passage mentions something, you want to think of your task as being very, very different from what it is when a stem says that a passage “suggests” something, and so on.
So again, try to be as mindful as you can about reading every question stem as exactly and as carefully as you can.
Tips for review
This is actually, for me, the most important thing that came to mind when I read your post —
When you are done with a passage and questions, review very carefully and think about the “ideal” way you could have read that passage — (and to me, this means, more specifically, thinking about the ideal understanding of the author’s purpose and of the structuring of the passage relative to that purpose) —
And — here’s the painstaking but worth it part — evaluate that understanding by utilizing the given questions — the proof is in the pudding — if you see the reasoning structure of a passage correctly, it should, for every passage you try, help you solve a majority of the given questions.
So if you thought you read a passage perfectly but your understanding of the main points / structure only helped you on 2 of 6 q’s, well — either there is something wrong in how you are evaluating the questions, or in how you read the passage —
If you continue to use this as your gauge, and if you continue to force yourself to relate your read to the questions, what will happen is that your brain will just naturally figure out how to best align its inherent capacities and read the LSAT well.
Those are the thoughts that come to mind — sorry for the length and I hope at least some of that relates and is helpful —
Take care — Mike