How to identify ‘Main Idea’ questions: Some typical phrasings for Main Idea questions are:

  • What is the main point of the passage?
  • What argument is the author making?
  • The author is primarily concerned with advancing which of the following points?
  • What is the main idea?
  • Which of the following best summarizes the author’s argument?

Keep an eye out for words like main, general, summarize, and argument.

How to tackle them: If you follow the Five Steps strategy, you should be able to easily locate the main idea. Next, translate your conception of the main idea into something that matches one of the answer choices.

Passages on the LSAT are relatively short. Therefore, the answer to a main idea question cannot be too general or too specific. Main ideas tend toward medium focus. If stuck, eliminate the options that are at the extremes of specificity: either very general or very detailed. This may leave you with one – probably, the right – answer; even if it leaves you with more than one, you have still improved your chances of guessing correctly.

Guessing Drill: What is the main idea of the passage?
(Note: you are answering this question without seeing the question and are just evaluating answer choices to make a best guess).

A) The Native Americans of Wichita have a long and rich cultural history.
B) Native Americans have traditions.
C) Chief Running Horse of the Wichita Native Americans enjoys the traditional New Year’s dance because he likes to watch his neighbor, Lone Tree, dance.
D) People have traditions.
E) The Native Americans of Wichita use dance in many of their traditions.

Now analyze the answer choices, looking for super-specific or super-general wording. Which choice is the most general? Which is the most specific?

Best Cold Read Guess?

 

(D) People have traditions is extremely general. A book might be able to cover such a broad topic, but a short passage can’t address a wide enough variety of topics for this answer to make sense.

(B) Native Americans have traditions is still too broad. Native Americans have traditions, but what traditions? If the answer choice says something so general and so obvious that there’s no need to write an essay about it, it’s probably wrong.

(C) Chief Running Horse of the Wichita Native Americans enjoys the traditional New Year’s dance because he likes to watch his neighbor, Lone Tree, dance is far too specific. The inclusion of this much detail and the lack of any generalized wording are strong indicators. This idea can probably be found somewhere within the passage, but it’s almost comically specific; it’s an idea, but not the MAIN idea.

This leaves us with two answer choices. Having eliminated the answer choices with overly specific and overly general wording, we can assume that the answer is probably (A) or (E). Let’s take a closer look at them both:

(A) The Native Americans of Wichita have a long and rich cultural history.
(E) The Native Americans of Wichita use dance in many of their traditions.

Choice (A) sounds very main idea-ish: note the balance of detailed (Native Americans of Wichita) and general (rich cultural history) description. Choice (E) is a bit less general, but could very well be the main idea of a different sort of passage. They are both of adequate focus for a LSAT essay, but by this process of elimination you have improved your chances of choosing the correct answer from 1 in 5 to 50/50.

Look at the Questions for the Big Idea
If, as we have said, many Macro questions revolve around the Big Idea, then isn’t it possible to get clues about the main idea from the questions from the essay? If all fails, look at the first question and maybe it will give you a clue about what the LSAT considers important about the essay. In addition, as you get to the second and third question on the essay, this will help tighten your understanding of the essay.

Next LSAT: January 26

Next LSAT: January 26