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How to Improve Your CARS MCAT Score

Session 45

There are four sections on the MCAT. Three of them are focused on the sciences, and one is this random CARS section, which seems to demolish everybody. What used to be called “Verbal Reasoning” is now called CARS.

The CARS section of the MCAT is typically the hardest for most premed students. Today, Bryan from Next Step is dishing out some recommendations on how to best prepare so you can improve your CARS score.

Note: Since the recording of this episode, we’ve started a new podcast all about the CARS section of the MCAT! Check out the MCAT CARS Podcast here.

[01:23] Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section is not only an upgrade in terms of the name, but it’s also a longer and tougher section than the old “Verbal Reasoning” section. The name really points out critical analysis and reasoning skills.

One of the common pieces of CARS advice you read out there is to read a lot. Read The Economist magazine or The Atlantic monthly. There’s nothing wrong with that, as more reading is always good.

But in and of itself, casually reading a magazine is not enough to improve your MCAT CARS skills. It’s too passive. Sure it will bump up your reading skills, but it will not build up that critical analysis and reasoning part.

[02:15] Your Philosophical Stance Going into CARS

You have to focus very intently as you read. You can read actual MCAT practice passages from a book or online resource such as Next Step’s MCAT Verbal Practice: 108 Passages for the New CARS Section book.

However, make sure to think about the reasoning that underlies the passage—not just what you’re reading but why the author is putting together the passage that way. Don’t just read but critically analyze and reason.

Make sure to think about the reasoning that underlies the passage—not just what you're reading but why the author is putting together the passage that way.Click To Tweet

[02:47] There is No “One and Only Way” to Prep for CARS

The other big and important part of prepping for the CARS—and this is a major mistake that students make—is thinking that somehow there is one simple method that’s going to unlock everything. It’s not that simple.

Bryan thinks that this idea, that there is a “right way” to do the verbal passages, is so pervasive because it gets peddled a lot by different prep companies, tutors, or books telling you the xyz method for CARS. They  present it like, “This is the one way and only right way to do CARS.”

A major mistake that students make when prepping for CARS is thinking that somehow there is one simple method that is going to unlock everything.Click To Tweet

[Related episode: CARS Section Basics, and How to Prepare for CARS]

[03:50] Mastery of CARS

To really master the CARS section, it’s not a matter of learning the CARS method—it’s a matter of finding your CARS method.

Here are some of the various methods that might work for different students when working through CARS passages:

  • using the on-screen highlighter while reading the passage
  • stopping every paragraph to jot down notes on scratch paper
  • skimming really fast to get to the questions
  • reading quickly and then writing down the author’s main point and then going to the questions

So there are all sorts of different ways to successfully approach these passages and questions!

Therefore, the biggest takeaway is that the best way to prepare for CARS is to try different things and keep track of your progress (what methods work for you and what methods don’t).

The best way to prepare for CARS is to try different things and keep track of your progress (what methods work for you and what methods don't).Click To Tweet

And you need to start this approach to CARS prep as soon as you start your overall MCAT prep. You want to find your preferred method of working through CARS passages within the first one-third or one-half of your MCAT prep time. Then you can spend the subsequent half or two-thirds of your MCAT prep time mastering what works best for you.

[05:15] Using CARS Skills on the Rest of the MCAT

When you’re reading and working through Psychology/Sociology and the other sciences, you may be using the same skills as for CARS in those sections. In any of these sections, it is important to make connections in the passage. If it’s an argument about some form of poetry, for example, just look at the logic and think on a structural level about how the passage is structured. This helps in both the science passages and in CARS.

Just look at the logic and think on a structural level about how the passage is structured.Click To Tweet

[06:45] Strategies for Reading Articles for CARS

As you’re reading different articles in different magazines, focus on the opinion. What’s the author’s opinion? What are the opposing opinions?

Once you’ve understood the various opinions being presented, take the next step and identify the reasoning used to support those opinions. Always look for the evidence the author uses to draw conclusions.

Once you've understood the various opinions being presented, take the next step and identify the reasoning used to support those opinions.Click To Tweet

If you’re not consciously thinking about it, it’s very easy to get passive while you’re reading. Writers have a tendency to present their own beliefs as if it was the truth and present everything as if the facts were incontrovertible and absolutely correct. But there is always a structure of argument there to analyze.

If you’re reading long-form journalism, just stop at the end of every paragraph and ask yourself, whose opinion is this? How does this support someone’s opinion? How does this refute someone’s opinion?

[Related episode: How Can I Improve My CARS Section Score on the MCAT?]

[07:54] Start Your CARS Practice Early!

Start early, start early, start early. The day you start your MCAT practice should be the day you start your CARS practice.

Start early. The day you start your MCAT practice should be the day you start your CARS practice. Click To Tweet

Finally, go check out what Next Step Test Prep has to offer. They have a 10-pack of full-length practice exams and an MCAT course that includes five live office hours every week. They’re also best known for their one-on-one tutoring! Check out Next Step here.

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