October 1996 Reading Comprehension Discussion

One of the initial steps taken by most students when preparing for the LSAT is to download the free practice test made available by the Law School Admission Council. This publicly accessible LSAT was administered in October of 1996, and is generally considered a fair representation of the type of test students will find themselves faced with come test-day. For our purposes here, the Reading Comprehension section from that test has been reviewed and the first passage has been analyzed in-depth.

Before we begin discussing the first passage, an overview of the rest of the section is appropriate, as all of the passages should be considered together when preparing for the Reading Comprehension section of your approaching LSAT. The first passage is one of the more straightforward passages in the section, and would fall under the classification "Humanities-Assessing the Scholars." In this discussion, the often-criticized life and legacy of Miles Davis is considered and, ultimately, praised for its diversity. The second passage from the October 1996 Reading Comprehension section can be classified as a Law-based discussion, and is generally considered to be somewhat harder than the other three. The difficulty in this passage lies less in the subject matter itself, but more in the convoluted nature in which the argument that canon lawyers spent less time enforcing ethical standards than defending their organization's members from critics' attacks is presented. The third passage is also fairly difficult, and represents the Science passage for this section. Here, the status signaling hypothesis is considered based on the results of two species-specific experiments, one of which produced seemingly valid data, while the other did not. Finally, the fourth passage is another Assessing the Scholars discussion, where an analysis of the archaeological record does not provide substantial evidence to justify John Lowe's seemingly credible theories regarding the collapse of the Mayan civilization. Like the first humanities-based passage that began this Reading Comprehension section, the final segment is slightly easier than the middle two.

The second and third passages are included by the test makers in an effort to counter-balance the relative straightforwardness of the first and last passages. Ultimately, this results in a section of moderate difficulty. Also, keep in mind that you will likely face a Reading Comprehension section composed of at least two or three of the same subject-based discussion as seen here. Expect to encounter at least one Humanities passage (often an "Assessing the Scholars" type discussion), one Law-based passage, and one Science passage come test day.

What follows is an exhaustive analysis of the first passage from the October 1996 LSAT by a PowerScore instructor. Remember, this amount of detail is not always necessary to correctly answer the questions, but a great deal can still be learned by attacking the Reading Comprehension section at such a thorough and systematic level.

October 1996 LSAT- Passage 1 Analysis

Topic: The Career of Miles Davis (Questions 1-6)

Passage Discussion: Paragraph 1: This paragraph begins with a very broad statement of the passage's main point. In fact, the first two sentences offer up the contradiction that the author returns to again and again throughout the remainder of the discussion: Miles Davis, despite his musical genius, has been critically disregarded for decades. You should always look for points of opposition as seen here, where the test makers set the tone for the remainder of the discussion by focusing on one side of two contradictory issues. These two sides are laid out rather clearly in the author's initial statements. The paragraph's final sentence then serves to quickly justify the initial claim, stating that Davis has been often overlooked because his work was literally too innovative for critics to appreciate. Main point statements often appear in the passage's opening or concluding statements; when in doubt of what the author is trying to say you should quickly check the first and last paragraphs.

Paragraph 2: The second paragraph introduces a theme that you will find repeated throughout the remainder of the passage: a chronological sequence characterized by the frequent use of dates (line 11). More specifically, the author takes a look at the rapid stylistic progression of Davis's musical genres by examining his work in, approximately, ten-year increments (although not always specific to the year, a "passage-of-time" approach is still evident). The considerable amount of time covered (21 years) should further indicate a broad viewpoint of the artist's life, rather than an opinion on a specific occurrence or event. This paragraph also illustrates the first stylistic shift in Miles Davis's career as he progressed from a bebop-influenced sound to what is later dubbed "West coast cool" jazz. Again, keep in mind that these shifts are the author's explanation for Davis's lifelong under-appreciation and will, therefore, be returned to regularly.

Paragraph 3: Line 20 shows Davis as ten years older and, again, pursuing a new musical direction. The first sentence is somewhat confusing, as it refers to the notion in the previous paragraph that, although Davis originated the more ensemble-based format, his attention shifted before it became adopted as the "West coast cool" jazz style. This basic understanding of Davis's involvement in the emerging style is fairly important as it will be questioned later (points of possible confusion such as this should be given considerable attention, as they provide the test makers with excellent question material). This is the only paragraph of the passage solely dedicated to Davis's musical technique, documenting the free-form nature of his playing and composing that would become his signature style. In this type of passage, which clearly focuses on a more general view of Miles Davis's career and influence, long detailed descriptions such as this will serve to highlight a broader concept, rather than stand alone as separate information. Here, these details are given to validate Davis's evolving musical approach, and should be viewed as supporting evidence, not independent facts. Early recognition of this principle will save you the time and effort of having to assimilate a large amount of the information the Reading Comprehension passages contain.

Paragraph 4: It should come as no surprise that the fourth paragraph picks up ten years later by introducing you to yet another shift in Miles Davis's musical approach (line 30). The author segues nicely from the final sentence of the third paragraph into a discussion of Davis's revolutionary recording techniques. Again, you should caution yourself against over-analyzing the specifics of this paragraph. The important concept to grasp is that, like his playing, Davis revolutionized his recording sessions by allowing for a much more improvisational, spontaneous atmosphere and then compiled the products of these free-flowing sessions into a refined finished product. Thus, despite a general pretext of artistic liberty, Davis maintained an underlying organization in the studio. The author's respect and advocacy of Davis's approach to both his playing and recording should also be fairly evident.

Paragraph 5: The final paragraph is simply an acknowledgement and explanation of the critics' scorn that the author claims has marred Miles Davis's legacy. While this may at first seem to be an effort to provide a more balanced perspective (with both sides of the issue represented), it is actually another method the author uses to prove his point about Davis's diversity. In fact, it is this very diversity, which the author applauds, that is the root of the critical contempt he associates with Davis. The majority of Reading Comprehension passages that deal with a singular opinion on a subject will seek to reaffirm that opinion throughout the passage, with little, if any, attempt at an objective discussion. Do not let the author's explanation of the opposing viewpoint lead you to believe that he or she somehow finds merit in that viewpoint.

Question 1: Main Point

A - This answer choice begins well (by discussing Davis's shifting career), but the author believes that this maximized his potential, rather than kept him from realizing it.

B - Answer choice B is correct. The lack of appreciation for Miles Davis is a direct result of his musical originality and his rejection of the common preconceptions.

C - Answer choice C, while true, does not accurately represent the passage as a whole. Do not confuse information given to support the main point with the main point itself.

D - This answer choice is vaguely referred to in the passage (for example, "West coast cool"), but again, the main point should clearly deal with both Miles Davis's diversity, and the critical disparagement associated with his legacy.

E - Answer choice E goes directly against the author's claim that Miles Davis is not admired by most jazz critics.

Question 2: Specific Reference

A - This is a very inviting answer if paragraphs 2 and 3 were not read closely. Though Miles Davis is credited with originating the jazz style that would later evolve into "West coast cool," he did not follow up on this innovation himself (line 19).

B - Answer choice B is possible, but never specifically mentioned in the second paragraph of the passage. In fact, the specifics of the "West coast cool" jazz style are never mentioned at all. Do not assume any thing further than what the passage tells you (in this case, the passage only deals with the origins of the new jazz style).

C - Like answer choice B, this answer is possible but not specifically mentioned. While the origins of the "West coast cool" style are mentioned, do not assume anything more than what is given in the passage. Another problem with answer choice C is the use of the word "large" to describe the ensembles. Adjectives such as this are generally ignored by test takers, although they can often be the difference between a correct answer choice and an answer choice requiring you to assume too much.

D - Answer choice D most likely stems from paragraph 3, which discussed Davis's next progression to a more free-form chord change pattern. This, however, was ten years later and entirely unrelated to the "West coast cool" jazz style (it was, in fact, entirely unrelated to even the ensemble-based origins of the emerging style as discussed in paragraph 2).

E - Answer choice E is correct. All that can be used in answering these questions is in the passage. Thus, when dealing with the "West coast cool" style of jazz, all that can be positively known is that it grew out of innovations by Davis and his musical colleagues in New York City.

Question 3: Specific Reference

A - This is the correct answer, although it is not as apparent as the prior specific reference question. 1948 characterized Davis's shift away from bebop to a slower, more ensemble-based jazz style. Since this ensemble-based form is "in direct reaction to bebop" (line 15), it can be logically inferred that the bebop-style of Davis pre-1948 was more upbeat and contained mostly solos.

B - Paragraph 2 is clear that in 1948 Davis went from an almost exclusive bebop format to an almost exclusive ensemble-based format. An ensemble-based format is never mentioned pre-1948, so answer choice B is incorrect.

C - Answer choice C is not only incorrect, but seems to be in direct opposition to the author's proposal. Clearly, before 1948, Miles Davis played in the more traditional bebop format, and it was not until his move to New York in that year that Davis began to transform his musical vision into more "innovative sounds" (line 8).

D - This answer choice is a possibility, but, again, you cannot assume information that is not specifically stated or directly implied by the author. The author never mentions purist jazz critics or what they consider authentic, only why critics in general refuse to accept Davis and his ever-changing style. Even if you agree that purist jazz critics consider bebop as an authentic jazz style, the use of "only" eliminates the possibility that there are other styles that are authentic, as well. This clearly is not addressed in the passage. Again, this is an example of the test makers' use of adjectives that ultimately make a potential valid answer choice too specific. Granted, the question asks which answer choice is "suggested" by the passage, but this is not as directly suggested as answer choice A.

E - Answer choice E is not addressed at all in the passage. This is an appeal to familiarity, as New York City is mentioned in the passage, but with respect to Miles Davis's post-1948 move there.

Question 4: Author's Perspective

A - Answer choice A is incorrect, as the author is clearly outspoken in his advocacy for recognition of Miles Davis and his music. Obviously, the correct answer choice for this question is going to reflect the author's overwhelmingly positive attitude towards Davis's legacy.

B - This answer choice is also incorrect. The author is in no way neutral in his views, as he scolds critics for their lack of appreciation for Davis's musical genius.

C - Again, the term "grudging" should be a strong clue that this answer holds negative connotations and is therefore incorrect.

D - Answer choice D is the best choice thus far, but, as it still suggests some indecision on the author's part by using "moderate," it is also incorrect.

E - This answer choice is clearly the most appropriate representation of the author's attitude. In fact, both "appreciative" and "advocacy" could stand alone as a reflection of the tone of the passage. When considered together, they accurately mirror the author's feelings on Miles Davis.

Question 5: Specific Reference

A - Because the question itself directs you to the fourth paragraph, there is no need to focus on scanning the entire passage to gather a general tone or to find a specific answer. As discussed above, the fourth paragraph contains a detailed description of Davis's recording techniques. However, the details are far less important here than the feelings of spontaneity and improvisation that Davis manipulated into his final product. Answer choice A is incorrect because it does not completely represent this organized compilation of individual, raw pieces.

B - Answer choice B parallels the first aspect of Davis's recording methods, but lacks the final organizing phase. B is therefore incorrect.

C - This answer choice is also close to being correct, with individual musical parts being assembled into one. However, the term "rehearsed" here shows that not only did an element of control dominate the entire process, but the final product was merely an extension of the individual pieces. In other words, individual rehearsals simply led to a mass rehearsal, rather than individual spontaneity leading to a finished product. Also worth noting here is that the test makers' will often use same-subject answers to throw you off. That is, they put an answer in a reading comprehension question simply because it deals with the same subject as the passage. These answers, like answer choice C, are almost always incorrect.

D - Answer choice D is correct. Here, multiple photographers perform similar yet isolated tasks that are ultimately compiled to form a finished product representative of their individual efforts. This closely mirrors the recording approach of Miles Davis.

E - This answer choice is incorrect because, again, it reflects only the spontaneous nature of Davis's studio sessions, and not the structured compilation of all aspects into a finished product. Answer choice E depicts a teacher selecting only a few of the individual essays with no guarantee of an ultimate assemblage (submission to a journal by no means guarantees publication). In this case, the final decision would be made by the journal's editors and is based only on a small sample of the original submissions.

Question 6: Weaken (Causal)

This question provides an excellent opportunity for pre-phrasing. Clearly, the correct answer is going to include musicians of Miles Davis's nature that are accepted by jazz critics. This weakens the causal argument made by the author: if a jazz musician possesses great diversity and innovation, then jazz critics will not fully appreciate that musician.

A - This answer is a possibility, however, Miles Davis was not necessarily a jazz musician who specialized in improvisational playing. His legacy is better understood as a jazz musician of great diversity in style. Thus, answer choice A is incorrect.

B - Answer choice B is correct. As pre-phrasing should have led you to infer, this answer weakens the authors point by showing that it is possible for a jazz critic to appreciate a musician whose career is characterized by an ever-evolving style. Miles Davis must have therefore been under appreciated for a reason not considered by the author.

C - Like answer choice A, this answer weakens to a small extent. Miles Davis probably played electrical instruments at some point in his musical career, however, this can hardly be said to be the best generalization of his legacy. Again, the question asks for the answer choice that would "most undermine" the author's proposal. Answer choice C is incorrect.

D - Answer choice D is the most inappropriate of all of the choices present here. In fact, Miles Davis had a fairly long and productive career (as mentioned in lines 54-55), so to say that jazz critics show greater appreciation for musicians with brief careers would actually strengthen the author's viewpoint. Clearly answer choice D is incorrect.

E - This answer choice is also incorrect. The author never argues for Miles Davis's "musicality," nor does he or she argue against his "technical virtuosity." Neither phrase is even discussed in the passage. So, while this could weaken the author's proposal if Davis was more musically gifted than technically, this point is not addressed in the passage and should not be considered as a possibility.