CARS Section Basics and How to Prepare for CARS

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Session 108

This week, we jump into a CARS 101 before we tackle the CARS section starting next week. We’ll talk about everything you need to know for the CARS section. Once again, we’re joined by Bryan Schnedeker from Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep).

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CARS is going to be hard to cover on the podcast. So for this episode, we’re going to do a little primer and dive into some CARS stuff in the next couple of episodes. Meanwhile, check out MedEd Media Network for all our other episodes as you’re move along this journey to medical school and beyond!

[02:40] How Should You Attack Passages on the CARS Section?

CARS is one of the things that students have the most trouble with, especially those who are retaking. They’re trying to prep again and just didn’t come together for them, for whatever reason. And they don’t know what to do.

Bryan explains that at their fundamental core, they’re a tutoring company. They recognize that every student is unique. Everybody’s brain works a little bit different. So what they usually advise students is there is not one right way to do CARS. There is only your right way to do CARS.

[Tweet “”There is not one right way to do CARS. There is only your right way to do CARS.””]

The number one mistake Bryan sees students are making when it comes to tackling the section is trying to jump the gun. They expect that you just give them what needs to be done and they’ll do it. But you have to find your best method. That’s hard, boring work. You have to be willing to fail a whole bunch in order to find your success.

So you have to find your own way. All this being said, there are a few techniques on CARS and you have to try these to see what works.

The Four Types of Studying Approaches

[04:34] CARS Strategy #1: Note Taking

You are given a laminated note board and a wet erase marker so it’s possible to take notes. 80%-90% of students hate taking notes while they read. But for about 15%-20% of students, learning how to effectively use the marker and take notes while reading is game-changing for them.

So learn how to take notes at the end of each paragraph and every passage. Jot down main ideas, jot down cause and effect relationships. Give it time to practice jotting notes and see if this can help you.

[06:20] CARS Strategy #2: On-Screen Highlighter

Most students end up doing highlighting a section of the test. You hit Ctrl+H and that puts a yellow highlight. Students like this because they don’t have to stop and write anything down separately.

The key thing is that the highlighter is like a scalpel, not a paint roller. Don’t be slathering yellow all over the screen.

Pick up individual phrases and keywords. Practice and see how you can maximize it. Try to see if you’re overlighting or underlighting or is your highlighting pointless.

[07:27] CARS Strategy #3: The Main Idea Approach

Some prep companies say this is the only way to do it. You don’t highlight or write anything down. Just stop at the end of the passage and write down the overall main idea of the passage.

This is good if you’re a very strong reader and you’re able to naturally read quickly. You have a very good short-term memory and working memory where you can keep a lot of key ideas in your head at once so you don’t get lost in the passage. Then you’d just have to contextualize it for yourself with the main idea. You can either write it down or say it in your head.

[08:05] CARS Strategy #4: Skimming

Bryan thinks skimming is a terrible idea but Bryan has had students who’ve had enormous success with skimming. They generally get a quick, loose idea of the passage and then get right to the questions and go back and do a lot of looking up. Most students don’t like it, but you can try it still. See if this helps.

[08:36] Try Different Techniques

Now, you may not see yourself in any of these categories, so you have to try all these different things to see what amalgam of strategies is going to work best for you. This can take a lot of time and a lot of practice. It takes the willingness to try out a technique that doesn’t seem to work very well for you but just give it an honest go. Do dozens of passages with that technique to see if you can make it work for you. If you can’t, then move onto the next technique.

Bryan adds that as we go on with the passages, he will be giving you suggestions as to how to approach these. But then again, there is not one way to only approach a paragraph with that concept, but depending on which approach works for you. They would just serve as the general guidelines for the key underlined concepts that you should take note of in some format or another.

[10:15] Switching Between Approaches

Most students have a core default style in dealing with passages. If it’s a dry, philosophical, boring passage, some students highlight a lot more and then the highlighting becomes less about what they’re highlighting.

But it’s more about giving them something kinesthetic to do to keep themselves engaged. So even if they’re not the highlighter type of student, they find themselves highlighting more when they get bored.

Similarly, some highlighters would turn into notetaking when it starts getting more technical and philosophical. So they tend to slow down and start jotting some notes down. Or if it gets into politics or an opinion-heavy passage where there are lots of people contradicting and disagreeing with each other, they suddenly become note takers.

[11:30] The Biggest Mistakes

Notetakers will have the tendency to be a little too rigid. They’ll feel like every paragraph they read, they’d have to stop and jot something down. But MCAT passages can have entire paragraphs that are “throat-clearing.” In this case, don’t write anything down because you’re only writing pointless notes.

Highlighters may then to have this paint roller syndrome where they have the tendency to highlight everything.

While people who either take the skimming or main idea approach can tend to get a little arrogant. As mentioned, they tend to work well for very strong readers. So they may take for granted that level of skill without recognizing that the MCAT requires more care and more subtlety of thought. So Bryan ends up reminding them to slow down and make sure they’re getting it.

[13:23] How to Calm Your Inner Doubt

Bryan constantly tells students to just focus on the words in front of you. One exercise is to read out a sentence out loud. Put the emphasis on one specific word. Then read again and put the emphasis on another word, and so on.

This is a way for you to see what your inner voice should be hearing when you read these sentences. Then you’re able to bypass the issue of other elements of what your brain might be thinking. So you’re constantly directing that inner voice to analyze what the sentence says. Then you know what has to be in your brain.

[Tweet “”It’s like a meditation centering exercise but instead of focusing on the breath, let’s focus on the passage. Just read those words.””]

Lastly, practice, practice, practice. And this is what we’re going to be doing in the next few week as well tackle CARS.


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Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep) (Use the promo code MCATPOD and save 10% off their full-length exams.)