Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) is one of the most difficult sections of the MCAT to prepare for. Why? Because it’s not science! You can’t just study a few terms, learn some techniques and hope to improve. You need to approach this section strategically. You have to figure out your CARS weakness and work on it to slowly raise your score.
The three most common issues my MCAT tutoring students face are:
Running Out of Time / Not Reading Fast Enough
Reading is more than just seeing words. You must understand and deduce information from the text you’ve read.
This means you must:
- Read Fast
- Read Well
- Feel Comfortable with complex reading
I recommend an approach that I call the “newspaper strategy” as the best way to improve your reading speed and comprehension.
In short, the newspaper strategy forces you to read something “boring” like a newspaper (read a section or articles that don’t interest you) or a specialty magazine (for a sport or hobby that totally disinterests you) every morning for 30-45 minutes. Since the subject matter is boring you have to train your mind to pay attention even when it isn’t interested.
Reading something like a good novel DOESN’T COUNT because your mind WANTS to continue reading. Forcing yourself to pay attention when you DON’T WANT TO will help you improve your attention span and concentration.
My students who’ve followed this strategy diligently (and read at least every other day) have seen noticeable results in about three weeks.
Trouble with the Questions
Some students feel they understand the passage but can’t answer the questions. However, when we review we discover that the student:
- Read the passage too quickly and missed the obvious answer
- Didn’t fully understand the passage
- Needs more practice working through passages
In addition to working on your reading speed and comprehension, I also recommend getting a book of CARS passages and practicing passages every few days.
I don’t like daily passages because then it becomes a “check-list” item on your MCAT to-do list instead of an opportunity to sit and learn. There are many resources for practicing passages, including CARS prep books and the AAMC CARS practice bundles.
Moving Through the Material TOO QUICKLY!
Yes, it is possible to go through this section too fast. I worked with one student who was able to narrow down her answers to two choices, but she had a knack for GUESSING WRONG! She tried to read passages twice and was afraid of running out of time. She would fly through the material and miss critical and valuable information.
Do you find yourself doing something similar? If so here’s my advice:
- Take five seconds to think: “I am about to read and pay attention to this passage so I can understand and answer questions.”
- Read a paragraph and take two seconds to think: “What was the author trying to tell me here?”
- Repeat for each paragraph.
- Take five seconds before the questions to think: “What was that all that about? Why did the author write this? What was the position, argument, and support?”
- Then move to questions.
If you read through the questions and find yourself confused or unsure refer back to the passage. The purpose of slowing down to think after each paragraph is to give you a mental picture of where to return if you need to verify information to answer the question.
By the way, are you getting ready to take your MCAT in the next few weeks? If so, click to grab a FREE copy of my ebook MCAT Exam Strategy – A 6 Week Guide To Crushing The MCAT. by visiting Leah4sci.com/Premedlife.