Clara joins Ryan as the new MCAT expert from Next Step Test prep. We tackle the first passage of CARS. Follow along with the handout in the show notes.
[01:45] Clara’s Background
Clara is our new MCAT expert. She has been the MCAT Course Content Director for Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep) for a couple of years now (four years in total). She is now here to take Bryan’s place to provide all that great MCAT insights.
Clara used to be a premed. She took the MCAT when she was a Junior in undergrad. She was planning on applying until she got stuck into the world of tutoring. She found she really loves teaching so she never saw a need for her career path to apply to med school. After being a tutor, she went on to develop a lot of content for Next Step and still love what she does!
Clara’s describes being misguided with the idea of being a physician. She was a lifeguard in high school and always really interested in the aspect of saving lives. She had witnessed medical emergencies that made her interested in being a doctor. But she didn’t realize that some aspects of it weren’t entirely for her (being afraid of blood is one of them!). She then found that the teaching side made more sense. That said, she was always excited to interact with so many future doctors.
[05:25] Passage 1
The score of a composition is made up of musical signs that convey performance instructions. In order to be able to follow these instructions, performers have to know the conventions through which these musical signs can be translated into sound. However, sound aspects such as articulation, sound quality, and subtle differences in intensity and duration between notes are not clearly indicated by a score. These aspects are extremely important. They’re a part of the music. They confer to it a specific character. Furthermore, they’re crucial in distinguishing a great performance from a simply good one. Since these aspects are not to be found in the score, they can be realized by a performer in a multitude of different ways without contradicting the written text.
(*Clara’s notes: Highlight words like “have to” or “must” or “need to” because they suggest something imperative from the author.)
Many authors seem to suggest that some of the performance instructions not specified by the score can be inferred by an analysis of it. As Eugene Narmour suggests in his 1988 essay, the score, which can be conceived as a kind of this syntactical roadmap based on a highly efficient, but therefore, limited symbol system, can be scrutinized in detail. Relations between its elements can be pointed out and the analytical findings can be translated into performance instructions.
(*Clara’s notes: In this paragraph, you not only have the author speaking, but there’s another person speaking, Eugene Narmour. So this is something to highlight.)
This technique is an example of what John Rink calls one to one mapping. He criticizes this kind of approach as being analogous to translating a book into another language word-by-word, without regard to the second language as particular idioms, inflections, grammar, and syntax.
(*Clara’s notes: Again, another person here who has his own opinion.)
Relying on my experience as a pianist, I sympathize with Rink’s criticisms of one to one mapping and with his ideas generally. Nevertheless, I would suggest that his way of proceeding can be counterproductive when applied to piano music at the second half of the 20th century. Following Rink’s understanding, performers’ informed intuitions are based on their backgrounds, their study experiences, the examples they’ve heard, the repertoire they have learned, and so on. Whether one likes it or not, pianist training is mainly based on 18th, 19th, and early 20th-century music. They’re informed intuition is consequently molded by a language with a more or less clearly perceivable syntax and tonal harmony. It can be imagined that approach to recent composition relying on intuition and informed by contact with fundamentally different musical styles would not be dissimilar from driving a modern Formula 1 car, relying on our experience of an old roundabout. It would be possible, but the potentiality of a new object would only be partially explored.
[09:33] Question 1
Based on the passage, the author would agree that all of the following are important aspects of a performance except:
- (A) Score
- (B) Rhythm
- (C) One to one mapping
- (D) Articulation
One to one mapping is the correct answer here and it stands out right away as it’s discussed a little bit separately. Rink is criticizing one to one mapping and then the author later says he sympathizes with Rink’s criticisms. Since the question is asking about the author, you know right away that the author is critical of this concept.
[11:23] Question 2
According to the author, which of the following is least likely to be an appropriate way to discover the unwritten conventions of a piece of contemporary music?
- (A) Listening to several recordings of contemporary music before trying to play it
- (B) Recording yourself playing the piece in different ways and critiquing your performances
- (C) Inventing new notation to explore different interpretations of a piece
- (D) Studying pieces which contain clearly perceivable syntax and tonal harmony
The fourth paragraph is the place you want to go for this question as it’s asking which is least likely to be an appropriate way to discover these unwritten conventions. You’re looking for what the author would not want you to do.
If you have to go back to the passage, then do so as it’s inevitable to go back to the passage occasionally. Midway through the paragraph, you’d notice it’s exactly the same wording as choice D. This is pretty common on the MCAT.
Interestingly, you’d notice that these pianists who trained based on this older music had their intuition molded by perceivable syntax and tonal harmony. But then the author is complaining about that. So the author is saying that this is not the right approach.
Another keyword from the question is “contemporary” which means modern. While answer choice (D) comes from a part of the passage where they base their conventions on older music. So it makes sense here as to what you may not want to do.
[15:55] Smart Tip to Save Time
A natural way to do this question is to look to the passage for one answer choice to another. And this could be time-consuming. Two ways here.
First, you can go answer choice by answer choice and just not sink a lot of time into any given choice. Another way is to just go back to the most relevant part of the passage which is the fourth paragraph. And just start looking there right away without sinking a lot of time into analyzing these answer choices at all.
[17:45] Question 3
Which of the following would be most similar to Eugene Narmour’s conception of a musical score as used in the second paragraph?
- (A) A road atlas
- (B) The alphabet
- (C) A poem
- (D) A computer program
A lot of students would be picking (A) here because it does look familiar since the paragraph is talking about mapping. But a way to approach this is to first not take it too literally. Just go back directly to that paragraph and just boil down to what the character is saying.
Essentially, he’s talking about a symbol system and it can be translated into performance instructions. The alphabet might look tempting here since it’s also a symbol system. But it doesn’t have any analytical findings that can be translated into performance instructions.
And the poem is not a limited symbol system at all. It can be very complex. So then, (D) stands out here.
[21:00] Question 7
Supposed a student approached John Rink for advice on performance choices not clearly indicated by the score, what advice would Rink most likely give?
- (A) You should examine relationships between elements to understand performance instructions.
- (B) You should ignore the score and just play what sounds good to your ear.
- (C) You should base performance decisions on your intuition.
- (D) You should not play modern pieces if you do not have a background in the genre.
Nothing quite stands out as being right away since when you try to go back to the paragraph about Rink, nothing seems to fit. One strategy to use here is if you go back to the place where you think the passage is referring to and none of the answer choices fit in with that part of the passage, it’s possible that you can find the answer somewhere else in the passage. The MCAT is a pretty direct text and it’s not like you have to be digging around a ton or find hidden meanings.
An easy way to figure this out is just to look for Rink’s name, which is also in the fourth paragraph. So (C) stands out here.
[25:05] Highlighting Names
Clara recommends highlighting names in almost all cases. In this case, where there are three people mentioned here, it’s, therefore, helpful to highlight names so you can look back to it quickly.
When she doesn’t recommend you to do this is if there’s a ton of them, otherwise you’ll be highlighting all over the place.