This is a guest post from Janet U.
Preparing for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the MCAT was tricky for me because there really isn’t a specific set strategy on how to answer the MCAT CARS questions. Either you understand the passage or you don’t. I’m a pretty good reader so answering questions for the easy passages was not a problem. But, when I got to the harder passages that dealt with philosophy or politics, I found myself struggling. I especially had difficulty dealing with the inference questions. I tried different strategies during the three months I was preparing for the test. By the time it was Test Day, I felt confident that I would do well, and I ended up scoring in the 93rd percentile. Here is what I did to score well on the MCAT CARS section.
Read for 15 Minutes Every Day
Read SOMETHING for 15 minutes every day to help boost your reading comprehension for the MCAT. It could be an ordinary novel, or it could be an article from an anthropology journal. Just get in the habit of reading regularly so that you will be able to tackle the ten passages in the CARS section. I liked reading the articles from the New York Times Business section because the articles usually contained topics I was unfamiliar with and they were fairly complex so I was forced to pay extra attention.
Do Three CARS Passages Every Day
Because the CARS section does not require learning about specific formulas or facts, it is easy to push this section to the side when you are studying. This is a mistake because all sections of the MCAT count for the same amount of points. To prevent slacking off, the first thing I did each morning was to do three CARS passages. In a three-month span, that is a lot of reading and answering questions, and this method really helped me feel more confident come Test Day.
Practice Difficult MCAT-Style Passages
I was enrolled in the Kaplan MCAT preparation course, so I mostly did CARS passages created by Kaplan. When I began doing the CARS passages provided by Khan Academy and the AAMC, I noticed that these passages were significantly easier than the Kaplan CARS passages. This turned out to be a great thing because I was well-prepared to handle the official CARS section on Test Day. If you are in a Kaplan program or you are using other materials such as ExamCrackers, don’t be discouraged by the low practice scores. The extra difficulty will serve you well on the MCAT.
Outline the Passages Before Doing the Questions
This is a strategy I learned from Kaplan. While reading the passage, write a short, one-sentence summary of each paragraph to help understand the passage. Then, write one sentence about the main idea of the passage. This is especially useful when you come across a “main idea” question. Incorporate this strategy in your practice sessions so that you’ll be able to outline quickly when taking the MCAT.
Practice Time Management
Reading a passage and doing the 5 to 7 questions afterward should take at most 8 minutes. Some passages might take less time, in that case, you’ll have more time to deal with the hard passages and questions. Keep track of the time as you practice so that you will be able to manage your time during the real test.
Identify the Types of Questions You’re Getting Wrong
After you finish taking a CARS practice exam, you might notice that you’re getting the same types of questions wrong. For a while, I was missing the inference and the main idea questions, so I started tailoring my practice to do more of those types of questions to get better. The online Kaplan program allows you to make custom quizzes so that you can focus on whatever questions you need help in.
Save Difficult Passages for the End
This is a major time-saving technique that I learned from Kaplan. Before you read any passage, spend one minute looking through the entire CARS section and rank the passages from easiest to hardest. Then, do the easy passages first. This will give you extra time to handle the difficult passages at the end.