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A Timing Strategy for Faster Reading Comprehension Performance


Although people don't think that Reading Comprehension and Logic Games have much to do with each other, the truth is that they have something very important in common. The most obvious thing that the sections have in common is their structure.

Both the sections have four main units. The Game section has four games and the Reading Comprehension section has four passages. And the number of questions associated with each game or passage is similar too. That similar structure creates another similarity - timing.

Nearly everyone spends a great deal of time studying for the Games and thinking about timing in that section. Trying to stretch the per game average of 8 minutes and 45 seconds as far as it can go. If they have trouble getting to the fourth game, they work to get faster and most improve. But a lot of times people have the same timing difficulty in Reading Comp (they can't finish the section), yet act as if there's nothing they can do. Or they're unwilling to spend the time to fix their Reading Comp timing issues. However, learning to approach timing on Reading Comp more like you approach timing for Games can help you move faster through the passages and answer the questions with more confidence, too. 

A Reading Comp passage presents you with a set of information. Your job is to identify what's there, connect the dots, and make inferences. That's no different than what you do in the Games section, it just looks a little -- well, a lot! -- different. In the Games section, unless it's a Limited Solution Set game, you'd never write out all of the possible templates for the game. That would take way too long and is inefficient. You'd be writing out templates for scenarios they'll never test, though you'd never make it to the questions to find that out for yourself. 

Well, scouring over the Reading Comp passage, underling, circling, boxing every other word, taking copious notes in the margins, and trying to really learn what the passage is saying is just like writing out all the templates for every game you come across. It makes no sense. By trying to learn everything about the passage, you're essentially prephrasing for questions they'll never ask. Not only is it inefficient, it's impossible! You can't do all of that work fast enough, and you can't remember all of what you're trying to learn. So...stop it!

Instead, pace your progress through a passage like you do through a game. In a game, your objective is to accurately document the scenario and rules in a way that is helpful and easy to understand, get the gimme Not Laws, and then hopefully make some inferences. You don't even have to get all of the inferences up front to do well!  If you can get that done within 2 to 3 minutes and get to the questions, then you've left yourself a good bit of time to work the questions and learn more about the game as you go, saving the hardest questions for last and attacking them with confidence.

In Reading Comp, this translates into reading every word in the passage at your normal rate of speed, recognizing the main items of interest in each paragraph, taking note of the passage's structure, and then getting to the questions. If you can accomplish those tasks and get to the questions in about 3 minutes, then you've put yourself in a great position to finish the passage within 8 minutes and 45 seconds. Think of the big picture, Global Reference questions (e.g., Main Point, Author's Perspective, Author's Purpose, Passage Organization) like you think of Global questions in the games section -- you should be prepared to answer those from having noticed the main items of interest in each paragraph.  For the Concept Reference, Local Reference, and other detail-oriented questions, treat them like Local Questions in the Games section. In Games, you would jot down the local rule, check for the implications of that rule, come up with a prephrase, and attack. In Reading Comp, use your understanding of the passage structure to go back to the passage, find what the question references, quickly review that information, develop a prephrase, and attack the answer choices.

I know that some of you feel like that approach won't work. You've got to really dig into the passage, you think, plumbing it's mysteries, or you won't be able to answer the questions. But think about it, how deep can LSAC expect you to go in just a couple of minutes? These passages are designed to see if you can quickly recognize the relevant issues, make connections, and answer questions with complicated wording. It's the same thing you'll do in law school (though typically not in multiple choice form) and on the bar exam as well. Check out these free, sample MBE questions. Same basic concept, though the question stimuli are of varying lengths (i.e., most are the length of Logical Reasoning stimuli while some are closer to the length of Reading Comp passages). 

If you're having trouble with your timing on Reading Comp, do yourself a favor and give this timing strategy a shot. Determine your normal reading speed by timing yourself to see how long it takes you to read the passage, word-for-word, without rushing but without diagram either. Take the average to get your reading pace. Add 30 seconds to permit for some diagramming if you choose to do so, and that's your time. That's how long you should read a passage, on average, before you get to the questions. Obviously, some passages are longer than others, but that will be your average speed. Give it a shot. It might just get you those few extra points you're looking for.