Reading ability for top score

    • April 9, 2017 at 6:58 pm #3042

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks so much for writing the LSAT Trainer. I’ve read it twice now, and I am starting out my PT phase.

      I’ve averaged 172 on the past three tests, and my review scores (blind review as it’s sometimes called) are between 177-180. All that is to say, I feel that I have a very good, but not perfect, grasp on the material.

      To the point: in several posts on top scoring, you mentioned that reading ability is what really separates the best from the good, rather than reasoning ability.

      Could you elaborate more on this? Or point me to previous elaborations?

      I think I know what you mean in some ways. Often I see that for 3-4 questions, I read something wrong or fell for a trap answer.

      What are some strategies for really practicing and solidifying an exceptional reading ability? What are the skills and habits?

      Thank you so much!

    • April 11, 2017 at 10:35 am #3050
      Mike Kim

      Hi Riley,

      Thanks so much for trusting in the Trainer and putting so much work into it. It’s awesome to hear that you are scoring so well, and I expect that your score will continue to get higher and higher as you continue your studies —

      Check out the faq page of the forum if you haven’t already for some additional tips for top scorers —

      In terms of reading ability, obviously there are many different ways to think about and study and teach it, but here are some of my thoughts, and I hope you find them helpful —

      Some general background to begin —

      1) It is universally true that we retain very little of anything that we read, and that we typically retain it in a very inaccurate way. This is true even for the best readers.

      2) Almost all of the work involved in reading happens on a subconscious level — so, by time we happen to consciously notice and think about a word — by the time we do what we typically think of as reading — it’s arguably more accurate to say that we are actually experiencing the consequences of having read.

      With those factors in mind, we can think about reading ability on three levels —

      1) our understanding of what we are reading —

      And understanding isn’t something that is binary — it’s not just that you know the meaning of a word or you don’t — it’s something that’s on a range — you can understand more clearly or more vaguely, more directly or with more abstraction, etc.

      At your score level I imagine that your understanding of key terms is already very strong — what I would encourage you to do is just to always seek to understand more and more clearly, and to not handicap yourself with strategies that negatively impact understanding —

      The challenge with LSAT terminology is not that it is difficult — rather, it’s that there are a lot of words that are used that are very closely related to one another, and you need to be able to discern the similarities and differences between them —

      A simple example would be something like seeing the difference between,

      “Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the argument?”
      “Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the author’s conclusion?”

      To dismiss these as being the same hampers or fuzzies up your chances of proper and exact understanding —

      Words like “argument” and “conclusion” are incredibly important to the test writers, and they won’t use one when they mean the other —

      And so when I read the first of those phrases, I know that my specific job is to think about the relationship between support and conclusion (and, by the way, the most common mistake students will make here is to focus on the conclusion in isolation) —

      And if I get the latter of those q stems, I know my job is going to be different for that q — likely, the stimulus won’t have an argument, and will just have background and an opinion, etc.

      Two common strategies that can hamper clear and correct understanding:

      1) Translating one phrase for another / lumping phrases together —

      We saw that with the argument/conclusion example above —

      Another example, and I don’t know exactly where they get this, but students often ask me about changing the phrase “unless” into “if not” — you really don’t want anything like this in your strategies if you want to be able to read well.

      2) Unnecessary abstraction — this commonly comes in the form of notations — for example, translating an entire LR argument into symbols or treating Reading Comp like Logic Games — once in a while you will need to use notation to understand certain relationships, but when you do so, you have to be aware of the fact that the notations don’t tell you everything that the words themselves originally told you (for example, conditional notation will often miss subtle differences or relationships in subject-matter, etc.).

      Finally, one way to strengthen understanding is by forcing yourself, either out loud or in writing, to define things in a variety of ways, using your own words. And if you can’t, for example, explain the difference between, say, argument and conclusion simply, then you know that your understanding of those phrases isn’t as strong as it can be.

      (For more on this check out the Feynman technique)

      2) our capacity to focus on what we are supposed to focus on —

      Though all of these issues are related, for most students, and especially for higher scoring students, I think this is a much more important consideration than understanding is.

      Three factors to consider–

      1) You need to give your brain clear instructions for what it ought to focus on —

      A simple example is that for an argument-based LR q, our job is to focus in on the author’s conclusion and the support for that conclusion. So the first step is providing clear direction.

      2) You want to utilize strategies that aid in focus —

      That’s why, for example, I suggest you read Q stem first on LR q’s — the stem will tell you exactly what you job is for that problem — and this ought to serve as a beacon for your thoughts.

      3) You want to be able to evaluate and improve focus —

      Every LSAT problem is designed with clues everywhere for what you ought to think about and why (for an aside on this check out “Mike tries to read your mind” from the FAQ page) —

      When you review your work, you want to be hyper-critical of how good a job you did of seeing those signals and following them correctly.

      Two ways we hamper focus are by

      a) not prioritizing it — going into passages, etc. with no goals will put you in a vulnerable position relative to the challenges a q presents.

      b) having wrong goals — often we have no idea that these goals are wrong —

      For example, a lot of students read RC passages with the assumption that each paragraph will have one specific main point and that their job is to find one main point per paragraph —

      Paragraphs don’t work that way, and thinking about that distracts and prevents one from seeing the passage as it truly ought to be seen.

      This last point is my weirdest, but to me, it’s the most important thing I can say about reading the LSAT —

      3) our capacity to habitually read with empathy

      The word empathy has a lot of connotations, so, just to be clear — I am not talking about reading with sympathy, or reading as a nice person or anything like that —

      What I am specifically talking about is doing your best to focus on trying to understand what the author is trying is say, and how the author is trying to say it.

      This is very, very different from 99.9% of the reading we do in life, it’s also very different from how we are taught to read in high school English classes etc. (at least the ones I took), and it’s not something that can just be turned on and off — it is skill and habit earned through practice.

      The importance of empathetic reading is abundantly clear if you take a look at any set of questions that make up any Reading Comp section — the vast majority of them will ask you in one way or another —

      1) what is the author trying to say?
      2) how is he/she trying to say it?

      And the more you can read everything on the LSAT, whether it be in LR or RC, (less so in LG, obviously), with an empathetic mindset, the easier everything else becomes — this mindset naturally puts you in a position to focus in on what you ought to focus in on and to understand it in the correct way. Top, top scorers, whether they realize it or not, are commonly ones who are better able to correctly put themselves in the author’s shoes.

      Sorry the length got away from me there — I can write 100 pages on this — if I had more time I would edit more, but I hope that isn’t too rambling, and I hope you found at least some of it helpful —

      Wish you the best moving forward and if you have any follow-up or need anything else please don’t hesitate to get in touch —


    • April 11, 2017 at 2:46 pm #3051

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I will be considering everything you’ve said and will come back to it throughout my prep.

      I think the idea of reading with empathy is very insightful and important.

      I also very much like the idea of articulating my understanding in simple terms, I am really starting to realize how important that is. I think that getting to a truly high score will require something akin to “looking under the hood.” Breaking down a question to see why the test writer chose each particular word and why they presented the information in the order that they did.

      Thanks again. Your deep level of thinking and commitment to helping your students is truly appreciated and certainly a cause of your success.

    • April 12, 2017 at 4:56 pm #3053
      Mike Kim

      Hi Riley — sure thing — that’s so wonderful for you to say, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you opening yourself up to my suggestions and giving them such careful consideration — so, thank you back — excited to see how everything works out for you —


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