RC is killing me... help!

Question from a student:

I'm taking the LSAT this Saturday, so I'm not sure how much I can improve by then. I've been taking a diag every day for this last week and I'm getting perfect games and missing 5-8 for both sections of LR combined.

My worst section is reading comp, and I've tried everything (focusing on 3 passages and throwing out/guessing on the last one, disregarding content and outlining structure, marking up the passage/minimal notations, reading the questions first... everything!) and I'm still missing 10-15. For half the answers that I'm missing, it's usually a 50/50 answer, where I've narrowed it down to two, and always always always pick the wrong one! Even when I understand the passage and feel confident about picking the correct answers, I end up missing a good portion of this section.

I read "Cheating the LSAT" for October 2010 and the way you approach RC questions makes it seem second nature, and that's something that I just can't seem to get down.

Do you have any tips on how I can improve on reading comp this Saturday? Any help would be much appreciated!

Wow. Thanks for the email... lots to talk about here. Let's take the issues one at a time.

First, since today is Thursday and you're taking the test on Saturday, the most important thing you can do at this point is simply relax. You've been working very hard, and your hard work is about to pay off. But you're not going to learn anything substantive in the next two days that you don't already know. My best advice at this point is to put the books down. Go outside and take a walk. The exercise and fresh air will do you good. Call your mom. Better yet, send her flowers. See a movie, get some sleep, take care of yourself. The difference between a happy, refreshed, focused you on test day and a tired, stressed, frazzled you on test day is huge.

Second, anyone who can score perfectly on games and miss 5-8 for both sections of LR combined should definitely be crushing the RC. You have strong verbal skills, or else you wouldn't do as well as you're doing on the other sections. RC should probably be your best section, not your worst. It sounds to me like you're overcomplicating it. You need to take RC back to basics. It's a two-step process:  1) Read, 2) Comprehend. At your current level of accuracy, there is no way you should be attempting all four passages. Slow down, read the passage for the main point, and answer the questions. You need to believe that you're smart enough to do this without all the stupid gimmicks of diagramming, notating, etcetera. After reading the passage, if I took the test away from you, you should be able to tell me the main point. If you can, then I'm sure you can answer most of the questions pretty easily. If you can't tell me the main point, then you're going to have an impossible time on the questions. It's really as simple as that.

Third, whoever told you that "disregarding content and outlining structure" was a good idea should be shot. Disregarding content? Are you shitting me? How can you comprehend the passage if you're not paying attention to the content of the passage? This is probably the worst advice I have ever heard, and the fact that you've got it anywhere in your head could be one of the main things that's hindering your performance.

Fourth, it is simply not possible that you narrow it down to a 50/50 and always always always pick the wrong one." This is almost certainly the result of selection bias. Half the time, you're getting these right but you don't notice you've gotten them right... you're only reviewing your mistakes, instead of reviewing your mistakes and your semi-guesses. Students like to argue with me on this point, but if I can get them to circle the questions that they're not entirely sure about before checking the answers, they almost always see that I'm right.

To sum up, you have plenty of brains to kill the RC, but you're getting in your own way. This isn't rocket science. Disregard everything you've learned about "strategies" on RC, and just focus on the main point. Go slower... guess on the last passage if you have to, and focus on accuracy. But most importantly: Take care of yourself over the next two days! At this point, you need to be sending yourself the message that you're ready to take this test. Stress maintenance should be your primary goal.