Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reading Comp and Confidence

The following post is part of a series from one of our LSAT tutoring clients. You can read about their experiences by clicking on the "Zen Journal" label above.
In my last post, I detailed my approach to the logical reasoning section, and listed some key AR strategies I had learned from Zen of 180. These strategies helped me overcome the intimidation inherent to LSAT logic games, and my logical reasoning scores improved greatly. Over the course of that post, I tried to show how Zen of 180 provides both a mental framework and a concrete method for attacking the LSAT, especially where it is most frustrating.

It is now reading comprehension week--a week of study dedicated to what is and always has been my strongest section. Therefore, I cannot give you a truthful narrative of struggling-refocusing with Zen-and-improving. But I can still be of use, I think, in two distinct ways:

1) I will investigate why RC comes to me naturally.
And 2) I will discuss a Zen of 180 mindset for a section of the LSAT in which one is confident.

The overriding reason for my confidence in RC is my experience with (about) 500-word texts.
In nearly all of my undergraduate political science courses, I had to "critically summarize" daily readings for each class. Critical summaries called on students to write 500-word accounts of summary, analysis, and opinion. These could not appear as bullet points, however, but needed to be laid out in a purposeful structure. It was hard work preparing 500 words for every class period, but I'm thankful for how it has taught me to think.

Having made arguments over the course of 500 words, I have a good feel for how evidence, structure, and reasoning work together in that space. I also read a lot of my fellow students critical summaries, essentially building a working memory capacity, without knowing it, that matched the RC section of the LSAT.

I have spent so much time stringing together an argument in 500 words that I feel like I can nearly read the author's mind in RC passages. I find myself thinking,
this paragraph is totally a set up to knock down the pre-Raphaelites... there is a "However" in the near future. I also take keen notice of the structure of the passage. This helps you not only understand its rhetorical properties, but it can be used as a point of reference. For instance, if a question asks about the use of evidence, I know that I'm going to look first of all in the evidence-replete 2nd paragraph right after the author stated opposing viewpoints.

Should you write critical summaries for everything you read? I think it's a good practice in general, but if your sole aim is to study for the LSAT, it will be too time consuming to cultivate this skill jointly. This blog fosters a metacognitive reading strategy that, I believe, is similar to the one I described above without having you write 500 word passages as a prerequisite.

Moving on to my second purpose, I'd like to discuss how I let my strong section buoy my mindset throughout an LSAT test.

For all the cruelty of the LSAT, it at least makes good on it's promise to test you in three different areas. If you happen to excel at even one of these areas, then you can expect to do very well on roughly 1/4 to 1/2 of the test. With reading comprehension as my area, I can go into a LSAT with positive thoughts. Even if I feel a little shaky about a logic game, I can forge on with the knowledge of the upcoming or recently-dominated RC section.

I've spoken of how the LSAT will tyrannize your mind. Along with concrete strategies, the other good defense against this tyranny is faith in your strong section. In emails with
Zen of 180, it's been referred to as the "safe zone." My safe zone--reading comprehension--has shown up on each and every LSAT practice I've ever taken. Having such a safe zone, gives me peace of mind not just during reading comprehension but before and after as well.

If you have a safe zone, a) congratulations and b) use it for all the confidence it's worth.