As part of refining the Zen of 180 system into a full-fledged online LSAT diagnostic tool, I've been trying to apply Teach For America's philosophy of constant improvement to the Zen task standards, especially in regard to the reading comprehension and analytical reasoning sections (which I'll cover next week).
For today I'll focus on reading comprehension:
- Many LSAT test-prep companies separate passages by the four different content areas: humanities, law, science, and social science.
While science vocabulary may add a superficial level of difficulty for a French major, from working with a variety of clients and analyzing their mistakes I've determined that what often causes the mistakes is the passage's structure and purpose, not the content itself.
That is, there are several different purposes utilized in LSAT reading comprehension passages, and the structure is almost always built around that purpose.
- Expository - the author is solely trying to explain the relevant portions of a topic
- Transition - the author describes how a topic has changed
- Debate - the author outlines at least two viewpoints, oftentimes favoring one
- Opinion - the author presents a topic in order to deliver an opinion
A recent client was adamantly in the "content matters" camp, referencing her poor performance on science passages and her generally strong performance on humanities passages. When I pointed out that she not only sometimes excelled at science passages--which "happened" to have an opinion structure--and bombed on humanities passages--"surprisingly" with an expository structure--she admitted that maybe there was something to this new classification system.
Once I started exploring this new way of categorizing LSAT reading comprehension passages, I discovered another perfect use of the system: eliminating distractors for many of the task standards. That is, the test-writers formulaicly distract test-takers with the correct content but within the incorrect structure. By examining the different kinds of passage structure, my clients have a much easier time eliminating distractors in not only passage structure tasks, but also in extrapolation. This makes sense: if you can't accurately define what the starting point is, its very difficult to say what the author would or would not agree with.
If you have a strong opinion about the content versus structure debate, or would like to suggest another taxonomy, please comment on the post.