posted by Memm Team
For many test-takers, studying for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) can feel like a full-time job. Because studying for the test is so time-consuming, having a fine-tuned study strategy is essential. The MCAT is comprised of the following four sections:
The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT is unlike any other. Beginning to study for CARS feels daunting for many people. Many test-takers are left scratching their heads when they set out to study for this section because it’s focused solely on skills rather than knowledge and memorization. Reviewing flashcards isn’t going to get you very far when you’re studying for CARS. Rather, you need a strategy that helps you improve your reading skills and answer passage-based questions efficiently. Continue reading to learn more about what is on this section and how you can prepare to ace CARS.
Before you can do well on the CARS section of the MCAT, you need to understand how you’ll be assessed during this section. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) describes the CARS section of the MCAT as follows,
The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the MCAT exam will be similar to many of the verbal reasoning tests you have taken in your academic career. It includes passages and questions that test your ability to understand what you read. You may find this section to be unique in several ways, though, because it has been developed specifically to measure the analysis and reasoning skills you will need to be successful in medical school. The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section achieves this goal by asking you to read and think about passages from a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, followed by a series of questions that lead you through the process of comprehending, analyzing, and reasoning about the material you have read.The AAMC
The CARS section accounts for 25% of the test, and you will be given 90 minutes to complete the 53 questions in the section. Possible scores on CARS range from 118-132. It’s made up of nine passages accompanied by five to seven questions each.
This section is designed to:
The content breakdown for CARS is as follows:
Additionally, the questions in CARS are comprised of three different types of analysis and reasoning questions:
If you’re not used to this type of abstract thinking required by CARS, you may struggle to achieve your desired score on this section. Those who didn’t take many humanities and social sciences courses during their undergraduate education may find this particularly difficult. Because this section is so abstract and does not require memorization, it can be difficult to know how to study or where to start. That’s why we’ve provided tips and tricks to help you study for CARS along with valuable resources as you study for this section of the MCAT.
Virtually everyone agrees that studying for CARS is completely different than studying for the rest of the MCAT. So, where do you start? First, let’s look at the disciplines the AAMC draws from when creating CARS questions:
If you majored in the arts or humanities during your undergrad, your eyes might light up at this list. These topics may seem very familiar. If you focused most of your undergrad on science classes, however, this list might incite some panic. Either way, remember that you don’t need to have any prior knowledge to ace this section, you simply may be more familiar with the topics if you majored in the arts or humanities. So, where do you begin?
We recommend beginning to study for the MCAT as a whole three to six months before your test date. Within a couple of weeks of commencing, plan to take a practice MCAT test. This will give you a good baseline idea of where you stand. Once you know your baseline score for CARS, you can get a better idea of what you need to practice. Be sure to make note of the types of questions you got correct and incorrect. This can guide what types of practice questions you prioritize.
Speaking of practice questions, practice is the name of the game for CARS. Because there is nothing to memorize, you need to spend the majority of your time doing practice questions.
Not only do you need to practice answering questions, but you also need to practice reading in general. This means reading both for pleasure and to challenge your brain. When you read for pleasure, anything goes: magazines, books, simple articles, etc. When you read to challenge your brain, seek out publications like the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and other challenging texts.
As you read and as you complete practice questions, here are some strategies to improve your reading and question answering abilities:
Here are some reading and analysis strategies that apply specifically to reading and answering test questions, be it the real test or practice:
According to the AAMC,
Passages for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section—even those written in a conversational or opinionated style—are often multifaceted and focus on the relationships between ideas or theories. The questions associated with the passages will require you to assess the content, but you will also need to consider the authors’ intentions and tones and the words they used to express their points of view.The AAMC
When you employ the reading and test-taking strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to doing exactly that.
One of our biggest tips for preparing for CARS is to not put off studying for this section. Be it because the section seems scary or because you mistakenly believe preparation will take less time since it’s not knowledge-based, do not put off studying for this section. In reality, you need a lot of time to prepare for CARS, and the more time you spend preparing, the faster you’ll get at answering these analysis and reasoning-based questions.
Once you’ve taken your baseline practice test, we recommend taking another practice test at least every two weeks. In between tests, read, read, read, and complete practice questions. When in doubt, use AAMC practice materials because they will be the most similar to the test.
When you’re studying for CARS, you’ll make the most of your time and money if you focus on resources that help you study high-yield information. Here are some of the best resources for the CARS section of the MCAT:
Remember to use AAMC materials liberally. While CARS may seem scary, it doesn’t have to be. Proper preparation will leave you feeling confident and ready when you begin this section on test day.
The name of the game for CARS is practice. Practice reading, practice analyzing texts, and practice completing test questions. If you find that you’ve followed all of these tips and you are still struggling with CARS, an MCAT tutor may be your missing piece. He or she can look at where you might be struggling and help you master this section of the MCAT.
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