Thanks for your patience —
I can write a few hundred pages on this, and it’s a challenge for me to try and limit myself and figure out what is most useful or most helpful to discuss —
As you mentioned, there is an enormous difference between knowing how you want to read and actually reading that way — like the difference between knowing how you want to shoot a basketball and consistently being able to do so —
A few things to keep in mind —
1) Reading is something we do almost entirely on a subconscious level — what we experience consciously as “reading” could more accurately be described as our conscious experiencing of our brains having already read.
2) So, we cannot improve our reading through purely conscious plans and actions — instead, what we need to do is “train our elephant” — and we do that by improving our familiarity, our habits, and our mindset.
3) So, it’s natural to expect and plan for the fact that developing the right natural instincts (mental muscle memory) for how to read RC passages necessarily requires a lot of practice —
Here are two tips that I think can be very helpful for making sure that that practice leads you in the right direction as quickly and effectively as possible —
1) Tip for Developing Habits and Familiarity
You always want to make sure to review your work carefully (review tips in the Trainer and in this post if you need a refresher — http://www.thelsattrainer.com/lsat-reading-comprehension.html) — and central to that review, you want to
a) Study the question stems, right answers, and wrong answers carefully, with the goal of trying to mentally recreate the “ideal” way in which the test writers wanted you to read the passage.
b) Repeat passages (with breaks in between) with a goal of practicing “perfect reading” — you want to mentally walk through and model (for your brain) how you ought to read a passage.
This second step may seem silly, but again, it’s the difference between knowing how to shoot a basketball vs having the right muscle memory to do so consistently — reading a passage in an “ideal” or “right” way gives your brain great experience for developing the right habits and for developing familiarity.
2) Tips for Reading With the Right Mindset
If you don’t mind indulging me — please take a minute to think about and imagine what it feels like to listen to someone really, really carefully — to be completely absorbed in what a person is saying to you.
Reading well should feel almost exactly the same — a couple of important characteristics —
1) you go beyond just the words the person is saying, and you experience their thoughts more completely — the intentions behind what they are saying and how it’s all meant to come together.
2) this is very important — you lose sense of self — you cannot listen as carefully if you are thinking about what you want to say in response, or your own thoughts that get conjured up, or even if you are trying to achieve first-person goals related to what the person is saying — such as trying to find the noun in every phrase he or she speaks, or trying to take notes as he or she is speaking.
This is a big reason why Reading Comprehension strategies can often feel (and be) ineffective or counterproductive — if you are paying too much attention to your strategies, you can’t read as well. I think this is what you are experiencing now.
So, in terms of this conundrum, a few suggestions —
a) Keep in mind that it’s natural and understandable that you have to be a bit more conscious about your reading strategies and plans earlier on in your prep, just because being more specific and deliberate is a way to speed up the process of developing familiarity and proper habits — but, you do want to make it your goal to, by the time the test rolls around, have gained enough understanding and experience to have developed the right habits and instincts that will allow you to just “read” without having to think too much, if at all, about how you are reading.
b) You want to avoid developing or adding on “first-person” reading strategies that prevent you from fully focusing on the material. Even something like “I want to find and underline the main sentence of every paragraph,” (who is to say the author wanted to have one main sentence for every paragraph?) while well intentioned, isn’t, in my opinion, helpful, and is, in fact, an unnecessary distraction.
c) You want to work to develop goals and reading strategies that align with you being more empathetic and more absorbed in what you are reading. Notice, goals such as, “I want to correctly understand why the author chose to write this” and “I want to see how the author tried to structure the passage relative to his/her main purpose” allow you to stay focused on your reading, and absorbed in the material, but in a way that is conducive to finding out information essential for answering the questions.
Easier said than done, and certainly takes practice, but if the above makes sense, and if you can keep it in mind and utilize it, I feel it can be hugely helpful —
Sorry for the length, and hope at least some of that helped — if you have any follow-up or need anything else, just let me know! —