How to Tackle CARS With No Outside Knowledge

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MP 255: How to Tackle CARS With No Outside Knowledge

Session 255

Hunter is back for another awesome MCAT podcast episode. Today we’re talking about strategies for handling CARS!

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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:09] It’s a Fun Game!

'The CARS section is the section on the MCAT where outside knowledge hurts you. And you need to come in, check your brain at the door, and just read and answer questions.'Click To Tweet

Hunter says there’s no content that you really have to pull from. It’s an open book test. And so, every answer is in the passage. And Hunter likes it the most because it’s zero emphasis on content and it is 100% critical thinking. And once you approach it from that angle, you will see how it’s a fun game.

Hunter emphasizes that the CARS section is critical reading, but it’s a skill. Unfortunately, it’s a skill a lot of us haven’t practiced up until our MCAT prep days. That’s why the CARS section comes through like a freight train and destroys a lot of students’ scores in that section.

It’s not about whether you have this thing memorized, but it’s whether you have the skill or not. And skills take a little bit more time to develop than just memorizing a couple formulas.

[05:16] The Highlight Strategy

Hunter encourages students to use the highlight strategy because while every sentence in CARS has the potential to be important, not all of them are important. Highlighting across the board is a recommended skill and a lot of students don’t do that.

The problem he sees a lot of students doing though is they over highlight stuff. And when everything is highlighted, nothing is highlighted. Therefore, don’t over highlight, even though it feels you should be highlighting this important information.

Be a minimalist when it comes to highlighting. In every paragraph, ask yourself after you read it, what was the main idea of that paragraph? Then find the one sentence that exemplifies that. That’s the only thing you’re allowed to highlight – just one sentence.

'A. Get highlighting skills up to par and B. don't over highlight, just look for those main ideas.'Click To Tweet

[07:29] Simplifying Sentences

Another common problem students have is they don’t know if they’re focusing on the wrong idea. What ends up tripping up a lot of students is just comprehension of opaque and obtuse sentence structure. 

Usually, four sentences that are all roundabout run-on sentences can be summed up in just a simple sentence. And so, when it comes to comprehending the words on the page, Hunter suggests rephrasing and simplifying.

'Boil a sentence down to its basic constituent parts and rephrase into simpler words.'Click To Tweet

CARS is an open book test. But if you can’t read the book, it’s problematic.

Therefore, Hunters highly recommend dissecting a CARS passage sentence by sentence, especially those really complicated ones. And just make sure that you get the number one important thing which is comprehension – your understanding of the words on the page.

[09:55] Answering Questions

Hunter explains the three things that the AAMC is testing students for: comprehension, reasoning within the text, and reasoning beyond the text.

Passages are usually obtuse and opaque and hard to read. Plus, the questions are often obtuse and opaque and difficult to read and understand. Sometimes, A and B are the exact same thing, and C and D are totally opposite. It’s confusing.

Everything is fair game to be overly complicated, and so, the same kind of strategy of rephrasing it can really help. You can highlight some stuff and break them down into simpler things.

[12:17] Answering Opinion-Based Passages

Another common thing students struggle with are the opinion-based ones. For example, what did the author feel about this thing? And you can just simplify that down to did the author think positively or negatively about this thing? Ask yourself positive or negative, and you go, Well, no, the author liked that thing. Cool.

Eliminate any answer that has any negative connotation until you get down to two choices. And once you’re down to two, and both are positive, pick the one that’s not too far off. Again, what is the question asking? What is your job? Do you just have to understand the tone that the author used throughout the whole thing for an opinion? Or is it scattered detail? And you have to go back to the passage and find the evidence for these things.

[15:17] Practice Daily CARS Passages

I see this all the time with the CARS section, especially with ESL students. The whole time they’re reading, they have this negative self-talk that they’re slow at this and they don’t understand this. Their vocabulary is terrible and they don’t understand idioms. They have this  self fulfilling prophecy that they’re going to do bad because they’re just telling themselves the whole time during the test, at least that one section, that they’re going to do bad.

Hunter encourages students to be nicer to themselves. Mental health is very important. 

'Words are important. Don't be negative to yourself because it rubs off and it can make the whole thing a negative experience.'Click To Tweet

There’s no content to memorize for CARS. You don’t have to sit and memorize equations. You don’t have to memorize formulas. And this is part of the reason why so many students beat themselves up thinking they’re going to do terrible in CARS. Because we are empirically based. We love formulas and we love data. Many students have just done four years of science and never even took an English course. And so just right off the gate, they feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

Secondly, because there is nothing to memorize, the only way to prepare is to practice. Hence, be sure to practice daily CARS passages.

'The only way to get better at it is by practicing.'Click To Tweet

[18:54] Reading Complex Literature

Hunter says that if you’re at the point where doing passages and practice isn’t even going to help you because you are missing 100% of the questions, start by just reading complex and complicated literature.

Read awful articles that are boring and dry and are about things you have no idea because the passages in CARS are going to be boring and awful, and you’re going to have no idea what it’s about. So that is another way to like practice your CARS without sitting down and doing passages.

[20:58] Honing Your Skills

'Skills take longer to develop than just memorizing a piece of content.'Click To Tweet

Every time you’re doing a passage, you’re working on these skills. Be conscious about what you’re doing too. If the last time you did a CARS passage you went over time, focus on your timing. Try to go a bit faster and see if you miss some of those reasoning beyond the test question. Figure out what’s going on with those.

As soon as the CARS section starts, your opinion does not matter at all. In CARS, your opinions don’t exist. Don’t bring any of your wonderful knowledge to it.

[22:55] Check Out Blueprint MCAT

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