AAMC MCAT Passage and Questions Review Breakdown

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Session 12

Today, we are diving into the AAMC MCAT Mini-Test e-Book CARS passage and questions. We’re using our MCAT CARS techniques to crush the passage!

Once again, we’re joined by Jack Westin from JackWestin.com, the leading MCAT CARS section prep company. Today is basically the first day delving into an actual MCAT passage. AAMC has provided this within the exam for the past 10 years. It’s been provided for free on their website, which is under their eBook.

Link to eBook: http://offers.aamc.org/mcat2015-mini-test

Jack emphasizes this very important point that AAMC material is #1. You want to make sure that you look over all of their materials well before you take your exam. Jack Westin tries to mimic their style as much as possible but nothing comes as close as the AAMC. This the golden material that everyone should be using!

[04:24] Passage 4 (Page 17) Paragraph 1, Sentence 1

The Wealth of Nations (1776), popularized “the individual hand,” the idea that an individual who intends only personal gain is, as it were, led by an invisible hand to promote the public interest.

Jack says:

This is probably a book since The Wealth of Nations is italicized. It’s some publication talking about the invisible hand to promote the public interest. The first sentence sets up a lot. So you really need to understand what’s going on here. Otherwise, the rest is going to be hard to understand.

“The invisible hand, is the idea that an individual who intends who intends only personal gain” — this sounds selfish. So someone selfish to promote the public? That is so weird, right? But that’s what this book is stressing.

[06:16] Paragraph 1, Sentence 2

Adam Smith did not assert that this principle was invariably true but it contributed to a tendency of thoughts that has since remained dominant, preventing action based on rational analysis, the assumption that decisions reached individually will collectively be the best decisions for society as a whole.

Jack says:

This is the same thing as the first sentence. If you intend personal gain, you promote the public. This is just another way of saying it, that if you reach your own decision individually for your own benefit, then it’s the best decision for society.

This can be hard to understand for most students because this is absurd! How could an individual for yourself help society? It doesn’t make any sense. And it’s so hard because we’re not used to read to understand things this way. It goes against our own perceptions and opinions or the way we were brought up. So there’s a bias that may prevent you from actually understanding this.

[09:24] Paragraph 1, Sentence 3

If this assumption is correct, it justifies the continuance of the U.S. of laissez-faire, in many issues affecting business, the environment, and the family.

Jack says:

Maybe if it’s correct, this can be important for U.S. policy. It’s speculating but we don’t know if it’s a good assumption to make. It still hasn’t stated it. We don’t know if this is a good idea or not yet as it’s just stating “what if.” But if it is a good idea, it’s going to affect the U.S.

[10:24] Paragraph 1, Sentence 4

If it’s not correct, U.S. citizens need to reexamine their individual freedoms to see which are defensible.

Jack says:

The author here is questioning whether we should do it or not, whether we should abandon parts of it or not. All we got to know is what the idea is. The idea of this paragraph is personal gain for public benefit or community benefit, which is a very hard idea to understand. It’s abstract in so many ways.

This is one of the hardest passages on the MCAT which Jack has ever seen. For most students, this would be 9 or 10 out of 10 in difficulty. If this is hard, this tells you what you need to work on. So be prepared for denser passages which may or not appear on your exam.

[12:10] Paragraph 2, Sentence 1:

The rebuttal to the invisible hand theory could be called “the tragedy of the commons.”

Jack says:

The rebuttal means people who go against this idea. These are the people who challenge this idea and they call the invisible hand the “tragedy of the commons” because it’s a tragedy to the community. Instead of calling it the tragedy of the invisible hand, they’re calling it something new—the commons. So this is their clue that the commons is another way of calling the invisible hand. They think it’s a tragedy which is a bad thing. The problem is that most students are not aware that “commons” is associated with the community and that’s where reading a lot helps.

[14:14] Paragraph 2, Sentence 2:

Picture a pasture open to all, it can be expected that each herder will try to keep as many cattle as possible on this commons.

Jack says:

It’s suggesting the personal gain stuff to talk about it and maybe explain why it might actually be a tragedy or why it might not be good.

[15:06] Paragraph 2, Sentence 3:

Such an arrangement may work reasonably well for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both human and beast far below the carrying capacity of the land.

Jack says:

The author is saying this setup may work out for a while potentially.

[15:30] Paragraph 2, Sentences 4-5:

Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is the day on which the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

Jack says:

At some point, something happens and the social stability goes away. They’re not saying why or what happened or why it’s bad but they’re saying that it leads to some kind of strategy.

If you’re taking care of yourself or as many cattle as you want, somehow, you’re going to be hurting society. It generates some kind of strategy.

Keep in mind that what we’re reading today is a glimpse of what you should be doing on a test, but not exactly the way you should be reading on the exam because you won’t have the time to sit there and think about every single sentence and how to break it down. Hence, keeping track of that bigger idea is so important.

So the bigger picture in this paragraph is talking about the tragedy and that it’s explaining a scenario that leads to a tragedy.

[17:38] Paragraph 3, Sentences 1-2:

As a rational being, each herder seeks to maximize personal gain. More or less consciously, the individual asks “what is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?”

Jack says:

We’re still talking about the same example here. The author at the end of the last paragraph interjected that it was bad. And maybe, now. we’re going to talk about why it’s bad.

[19:14] Paragraph 3, Sentences 3-4:

Since the herder would receive all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive component of this utility is nearly plus one. The negative component is the function of the overgrazing caused by an additional animal.

Jack says:

Here it just points out that one extra animal is plus one for the herder. And they’re grazing too much because of the additional animal.

[19:55] Paragraph 3, Sentence 5:

Since the effects of overgrazing are shared by all of the herders, the negative utility for any particular decision maker is some fraction of negative one.

Jack says:

The fraction of negative one here is less than negative one since it’s shared by everybody, not just one. So we got a plus one but everybody else has to get a little bit of that negative one, to balance everything out. So even though we’re getting some kind of positive, that negative is still around and that it’s shared by everyone else.

Understanding the mechanism here of how it’s working. It’s some kind of utility going on here.

[21:06] Paragraph 3, Sentence 6:

Adding the component utilities, the rational herder concludes that the only sensible course is to add another animal to his or her herd, and another, and another—this conclusion is reached by every rational herder who shares the commons.

Jack says:

It says here that if you can get plus one for every extra animal and you only have to share part of the negative then why wouldn’t you keep on adding more pluses?

[21:42] Paragraph 3, Sentence 7:

All are locked into a system that compels each to increase his or her gain without limit in a world that is limited.

Jack says:

Here, the author is setting up where the tragedy may come since the herder is thinking of adding more and more cattle but we’re in a limited world of resources. So there’s going to be a problem at some point.

[22:11] Paragraph 3, Sentences 8-9:

Ruin is the destination toward which all rush, each pursuing the right to use a public resource. The problem is that a commons, if justifiable at all, is justifiable only under conditions of low population density.

Jack says:

Looks like the author is saying that the tragedy here is the ruin we’re rushing towards. The author says low population seems to be the only time you can actually use the commons or this invisible hand idea.

[23:18] Paragraph 3, Sentence 10:

As the human population has increased, the commons concept has had to be abandoned in one aspect after another.

Jack says:

Now we’re talking about our world, in general, saying our human population has increased and this commons concept has had to be abandoned.

The author here doesn’t like the commons concept.

[24:36] Paragraph 4, Sentences 1-2:

The social arrangements that would produce responsibility in this scenario create coercion. The only kind of coercion I recommend is mutual coercion agreed to by a majority of those affected.

Jack says:

Maybe the author is saying in a world that is overpopulated. And something leads to coercion here. We may not know what it means. The second sentence suggests there’s an agreement that we all have to be forced to do something.

[25:53] Paragraph 4, Sentence 3:

Compulsory taxes are acceptable because a system of voluntary contributions would favor the consciousless.

Jack says:

Taxes are a form of coercion and they’re acceptable because they’re forced. And if we had voluntary contributions, it would favor the consciousless since they wouldn’t care and wouldn’t contribute.

The author here relates coercion to taxing. It’s something everyone needs to do. So maybe the author here is for taxes.

[26:55] Paragraph 4, Sentence 4:

A society institutes and grumblingly supports taxes and other coercive devices to escape the horror of the commons.

Jack says:

This is what they’re doing to escape the tragedy that the author is saying could happen. It seems the author is creating a distinction between taxes and the commons. The commons is this idea of the invisible hand theory, which seems to be negative and it seems to lead to tragedy. And the solution or the way we prevent this tragedy seems to be from taxes or other coercive devices.

[27:50] Paragraph 5, Sentence 1:

Every enclosure of the commons involves the infringement of somebody’s personal freedom.

Jack says:

It’s saying the commons is infringing on your freedom, which sounds like a negative. “Enclosure of the commons” means if you submit yourself to actually executing the commons. It means you’re focused on doing the commons. And if you’re going to do this, you’re going to be limiting someone’s freedom.

[28:51] Paragraph 5, Sentences 2-3:

But what does “freedom” mean? Those subject to the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin.

Jack says:

The author goes into a sarcastic remark. It doesn’t really explain freedom here. But he said it in a way to present the idea that the commons is a bad idea. The author isn’t really trying to emphasize how we lose freedom. It’s just saying that the commons is bad.

[29:57] Paragraph 5, Sentences 4:

Once they acknowledge the logic of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals.

Jack says:

You see here the difference between coercion and the commons. The commons seems to be bad while coercion seems to be good.

It’s nice to see things in terms of good or bad since all these passages are very arguable. It’s all about the author’s opinion. So if you know the author is going for something or against, it helps you simplify what you’re reading and understand the bigger picture.

[31:01] Paragraph 5, Sentence 5:

We must now recognize the necessity of abandoning the commons’ assumption in our reproduction.

Jack says:

The author makes a bold claim to stop thinking about this invisible hand theory. We don’t know what reproduction means here.

[31:40] Paragraph 5, Sentences 6:

Failure to do so will bring ruin on us all.

Jack says:

The author is clearly stating that commons is bad. This sentence sums up the passage pretty well.

The reason many students are not going to probably do well on the questions is that they’re so intimidated by what they just read. It’s not normal English we talk on a daily basis. So you have to challenge yourself to be uncomfortable. It’s okay and it’s not your fault if you don’t understand this. Everyone is feeling the same pressure and the same way. So don’t give up! Stick to what you know.

It’s just like being a physician, you’re not going to be able to know every problem the patient will have. But if you can pick up on the things you know are wrong with them then you can start figuring out what the underlying issue may actually be.

So try to figure out clues from this passage. Figure out what you know. Here, we know that commons is bad. The hard part is connecting commons to the invisible hand. It’s a technique you can learn.

The other part of this passage which is important to note is that coercion is good. It’s a solution. Those are things that you could have picked up without knowing all these little random sentences they presented.

You could pick up on the big ideas pretty easily, without worrying too much about every single detail. Knowing what’s important and what’s not is the key.

[33:40] How to Approach the Questions

Questions are challenging and you have to be consistent in the way you look at them. One big thing to do here is to summarize the question because if you can’t, you don’t really know what it’s asking.

Again, when looking at the passage, there are certain points you need to figure out — the structure, how the essay evolved from the beginning to end, and the main point.

Keep it simple. Focus on the things you know.

[35:29] Passage 4, Question 1:

According to the passage, the decisive factor in determining whether someone’s actions should be subject to coercion is whether the actions:

Jack says:

Summarize the question first before reading the answer choices. The question is when should you actually do coercion. When should we do coercion? The only thing we talked about coercion in the passage would be taxes.

A lot of students read the question and question why they need to summarize it. This is a technique and skill you need to learn. You may not be great at it in the beginning but once you start getting the hang of it, you’re going to be at a different level because you can put these things in simple terms. And if you’re able to do that, everything becomes simpler.

Whereas if you were just to read the question, you’re going to be probably lost when you get to the answer choices because you’re not going to know what to look for. But if you summarize the question, you would know what you’re looking for. So what factor do you need to look at in order to implement coercion?

Again, this is something you need to practice. It’s like muscle memory, which is something you build you gain over time and practice.

[38:43] Answer Choices

  • (A) Are determined solely by self-interest.
  • (B) Affect collectively held resources.
  • (C) Degrade the natural environment.
  • (D) Are commonly considered immoral.

I’m crashing out C here and Jack says they’re using elements of the passage to distort the actual idea to potentially pick C since the passage talked about the herders and overgrazing. So it must be the natural environment. But don’t forget, your goal is to answer the question. Again, when should we do coercion? When should things be subject to coercion? Overgrazing doesn’t even mean degrading the natural environment, which seems like you’re ruining the earth. So C would be wrong.

Looking at D, “immoral” means it’s not good. Consciousless means you’re not thinking about it. So you can’t connect both words. Immoral was simply not discussed in the passage. It’s beyond the scope of the passage. But a lot of students like to connect things to the details, which you shouldn’t. Those details are there to distract you. Focus on the bigger picture, which is to answer the question. When should we do coercion? When things are immoral? It doesn’t even make sense. It doesn’t answer the question. So D would be wrong.

B is the best answer here. Digging into answer choice A first, it sounds extreme. Every action that is determined solely by self-interest needs coercion? This is not the point the author is making. But if you’re going to share a resource (which is B is saying), then you should be taxed. There should be coercion because we share that resources.

And the herd is a resource we all used so we should use coercion when there is some kind of commonality, not when you’re focused on yourself. A lot of students may look at it thinking the whole reason why we’re doing coercion is that we’re so self-centered. But A is not saying that. It’s not saying we’re self-centered towards the society. But it’s saying that we’re just self-centered which is too extreme. And typically, when you see an answer choice that sounds so extreme, it’s usually wrong. “Solely” is extreme. However, in some cases, extreme answers can be correct. But most of the time, they’re wrong. So A is wrong since it’s something extreme that doesn’t necessarily cater to the passage, making it out of scope.

[45:35] Question 2

*Note: This is actually a Roman Numeral question and while a lot of students can get thrown off at this, Jack says this type is actually easier. In the last question, we had four answer choices. Here, there are three Roman Numerals.

Question 2: The passage argument suggests that national parks might benefit from:

Jack says:

It’s asking what national parka are going to benefit from based on the argument of the passage. But remember, that the only thing mentioned in the passage related to benefits is coercion is good.

  1. The restriction of recreational use by means of fees.
  2. The selling of facilities to private investors.

III. The opening of additional facilities to the public.

[48:51] Answer Choices

  • (A) I only.
  • (B) III only.
  • (C) I and II only.
  • (D) II and III only.

Jack says:

The passage mentioned taxes and I reminds us of taxes. When you use a public resource and you have fees, that’s taxing. II is kind of weird since you’re having some kind of benefit through self-interest when you sell stuff. But this is beyond the passage. It was never discussed. III is interesting as when you open more facilities, that actually hurts the problem. And this goes against the coercion idea. It’s contradicting the coercion idea and suggesting that opening up facilities is a good thing but we don’t want that. We want to restrict things with fees which is what I. is saying. Hence, A is the best answer.

[50:56] Passage 4, Question 3:

Some communities with expanding populations have, for centuries, successfully managed commonly held land. An appropriate clarification of the passage would be the stipulation that the author’s argument applies only to:

Jack says:

A hard question to break down, but the first half is suggesting that expanding populations have been successful in managing commonly held land. So they’ve been good at using the invisible hand theory, of using the commons, which is kind of contradicting what the author said. The author said that as the population grows, they have to abandon the commons. So this is suggesting that it’s actually a positive which is weird. Now, the second half of the question is saying how can the author clarify their point of view in order for this to be true. What does the author’s argument apply to only so that this could also work? So we’re focused on what is the author’s argument applying to. Focusing on what the author said can probably get to the right answer.

[53:20] Answer Choices

  • (A) The future
  • (B) Unregulated resources
  • (C) Conditions of social instability
  • (D) Resources that are not managed locally

The best answer here is B. The future was never brought up in the passage so A is wrong. Future here is not relevant to the passage nor is instability or locally. So A, C, and D are not relevant to the passage while B is. The whole passage is about using some kind of resource that necessarily isn’t regulated. So it clarifies the author’s point of view and solves the issue.

[57:37] Every Student’s Goal

Students may think we just broke things down here and it’s true. The goal is for you to be able to do this in no time. For you to be able to do it with time. The goal of every student should be to do this with no timer. Is it possible to understand what you’re doing without a timer? For many students, this is hard to do it even with no timer.

Then you work on pacing. Your ability to think through the passage allowed you to answer the questions more effectively. So it’s a skill that you have to acquire over a lot of practice and effort. But it can be done!

Students suggest they have a reading problem or they’re not good at reading but that’s the feeding attitude that you have to get over. Realize that you can be good at anything! And CARS becomes achievable. Doing well in CARS can be achieved within a matter of months.

Prepare. Prepare well. And you should be good to go!

Once you start doing these things over and over again, you begin to see it’s achievable and you can easily see what the right answer is. And part of that is reading and summarizing the question.

Ultimately, a challenging passage but everyone can look at this the right way if they put their mind to it.

[01:01:45] Check Out Jack Westin

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