5. Determine Purpose
Identify the conflicting perspectives within the essay, and the author’s point-of-view.

Ask yourself:

  • Why is the author telling me this?
  • Why does the author select certain facts and draw certain conclusions?
  • What is the author’s agenda?

There is always some reason that the author wrote the passage. Often essays will have a policy idea or suggestion to fix a problem described. Sometimes, the author might simply want to educate people about a subject or correct a misconception. Sometimes, there will be a more political/ideological motive for the claims made.

Writers try to sound objective, but there is always something the author wants to convince you of or, at least, get you to learn from the passage.

Be careful to distinguish fact from opinion. Though they may look like facts, some statements in the essay may be false claims or unsupported opinions loaded with bias. Pay close attention to the language in order to distinguish fact from opinion. The author’s purpose for writing the essay and his or her convictions are found in these subtle statements of opinion.

Take these excerpts from a passage on water management, for example. Some of the author’s statements are fact but many are opinion.

Fact or Opinion

“In the arid parts of the land, it has recently become clear that climate varies over time, with irregular periods of serious drought followed by wet periods marked by occasional floods.” FACT: This statement is a review of recent scientific findings about climate. No opinion here. However, the author is using data regarding drought periods to back up later claims about water being mismanaged.
“One of the most persistently troubling parts of national domestic policy is the development and use of water resources.” OPINION: “The most troubling” indicates feeling, not fact. The author’s opinion is that the development of water resources is one of the most troubling parts of national domestic policy. This is not necessarily the ultimate truth. Some people may not think that the development of water resources is problematic.
“In 1959, the Senate Select Committee on National Water Resources found that twenty different national commissions or committees charged with examining these problems and seeking solutions had emphasized with remarkable consistency the need for coordination among agencies dealing with water.” FACT: The author is citing specific research conducted by a Senate committee. He or she is using these findings to back up the claim that water is mismanaged due to administrative failure. However, this statement alone contains no opinion.

In summary, every author has a purpose for writing his or her passage. The author’s purpose can be found in subtle statements of opinion. Pay close attention to language that indicates conviction.

Now that you’ve reviewed the basics of how to tackle a reading comprehension passage, we’ll move on to the the question types and strategies.

Next LSAT: January 26

Next LSAT: January 26