How Can I Improve My CARS Section Score on the MCAT?

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How Can I Improve My CARS Section Score on the MCAT?

Session 259

CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning) on the MCAT seems to give students so much trouble. Today, Jack from is here to help you crush your CARS and score higher on the MCAT!

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

[03:20] Crush Your CARS Section on the MCAT

Jack Westin is helping students of all shapes and sizes, as well as all skill levels, to improve their CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning) Section on the MCAT. CARS used to be called “Verbal Reasoning,” and it killed people. And CARS still kills people on the MCAT, especially if you are an ESL student.

CARS used to be called 'Verbal Reasoning,' and it killed people with that name, too.Click To Tweet

Today, Jack’s going to share with us his thoughts on ESL students and the CARS section. He shares with us how to best prepare for CARS, the biggest mistake students make with CARS, and so much more!

Stay up to date with any future deals or specials for his CARS training on

[05:16] Who Is Jack Westin?

Jack describes himself as someone who seeks to help students get to the next level and get into their dream medical school. He helps you get there, whether it’s through CARS, the MCAT overall, or just advice in general. He wants to be looked upon as the older brother or the mentor that you may not have had.

CARS Is Not About Memorization

Jack says he has never liked memorizing, even as a premed. And CARS doesn’t require you to memorize a thing. You don’t have a know a thing from the outside, other than common sense. It’s all based on critical thinking. It’s very intellectually stimulating. Jack admits the reason he has done this for so long is that it challenges him to explain very difficult concepts to very smart students. And he finds a lot of joy from that.

CARS doesn't require you to memorize a thing. You don't have a know a thing from the outside, other than common sense.Click To Tweet

[08:08] What Is CARS?

CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills) is basically another way of saying, read the passage and answer questions based on the passage. It’s one of the four sections on the current MCAT. You have 90 minutes to complete a total of nine passages with about 53 questions.

Why the MCAT Matters

The MCAT is a test to see how committed you are to medicine. If you’re simply interested, this entire test will eat you alive. You’re not going to want to study for it. You’re going to stress out and give up eventually. So they’re putting this test out there to test if you can really study for four months and endure struggling through the exam.

Studying for the MCAT can be a very difficult time in your life. But this can result in a lot of good. You’re going to become stronger, wiser, and smarter. It’s a good way to test whether or not you really want this.

The MCAT is a test to see how committed you are to medicine. If you're just interested but not committed, the entire test will eat you alive.Click To Tweet

Why CARS Matters

CARS is important is because it’s about thinking on your feet. Physicians must be able to think on their feet. You’re given new information you’ve never seen before, and you’re supposed to use that information to help your patient or solve the problem.

CARS is important is because it's about thinking on your feet. Physicians must be able to think on their feet.Click To Tweet

[10:40] How Soon Do You Need to Study for CARS?

You can start studying for CARS immediately, primarily because it doesn’t require any science knowledge at all. As long as you can pass 12th grade English, you can start studying for CARS.

Start Reading Every Day

Jack recommends students to look into this sooner rather than later, as it doesn’t hurt to start reading every day. It doesn’t hurt to start getting accustomed to reading text. Just reading every day can drastically improve your score two years down the road.

This being said, Jack explains you don’t have to read three hours a day for two years. But it means picking up, say The Economist or The Atlantic or any of those journals. Even simply reading about boring things you’re not interested in can help you.

Just reading every day can drastically improve your CARS MCAT score two years down the road.Click To Tweet

[11:56] Can You Understand What the Author is Arguing?

Reading critically is an innate thing that you build through practice. You may not know what is going on as you start reading those journals, but over time, you’re going to get a sense of the author.

When you want to actually start practicing, there a few things to look for. First, what is the author trying to tell you? Every single passage or article you’ve read in your life has a message. And you need to find that message. Understand why the author wrote it: What are they trying to convince you of?

What is the author trying to tell you? What are they trying to convince you of?Click To Tweet

The CARS section tests whether you understand the arguments of the author. As a physician, your job is to understand your patients. You may not understand them all the time. But it’s your duty as a physician to understand your patient. And that’s what they’re trying to test with this section. Can you understand the author?

[13:34] Prepping for CARS = Prepping for the Whole MCAT

If you’re worried that English is your second or third language, you don’t read a lot, your parents didn’t force you to read, or you don’t like reading, that’s okay. You CARS performance is about how sharp you are. If you are sharp, then you’re going to do well. You’re going to understand the pattern of the test.

If you're sharp then you're going to do well on the CARS section. You're going to pick up things.Click To Tweet

Even though CARS is all reading, the other sections of the MCAT involve reading too. You’re going to be reading passages for the other sections, too. And that’s the name of the game. Can you read and understand things on the spot?

[15:00] How Can an ESL Student Prepare for CARS?

Historically, the MCAT destroys ESL students. As an ESL student, you may struggle with this section the most. But Jack says it’s not because of the reason most people think, which is because of their reading ability. Rather, it’s more about their confidence.

Historically, the MCAT destroys ESL students.Click To Tweet

You don’t need to know all the words. You don’t need to know everything about what the sentence means. If you can understand the gist or the tone, then you can answer all the questions.

If you’re an ESL student and don’t like the CARS section, that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do well. Jack has had students who barely speak English who ended up doing very well. They got 127 or higher with consistent effort and practice. They may need a bit more time to get used to things, like an extra month of study time.

CARS Is About Confidence More Than Reading Ability

You don’t need to have perfect English to do well on CARS or the MCAT overall. If you can read a Facebook newsfeed or just basic English, you won’t have an issue with the reading. It’s more of a confidence issue.

Your reading ability is not going to be what stops you from doing well on the MCAT.Click To Tweet

To start building your confidence, you need to practice daily. When you’re doing this every day, you won’t be thinking that you wished you practiced more. It’s like taking an exam that you studied hard for. You’re not going to sit there during the exam and ask yourself why you didn’t try harder. So try every day. Work on reading and understanding what the articles are saying.

[17:44] What to Read to Prepare for the CARS Section of the MCAT

Your textbooks don’t count. You have to read argumentative articles and dense, boring things. Read about things you may not be interested in because those are the kinds of things they’ll put on the test. You need to be accustomed to reading boring stuff. Also, pick up things you may not necessarily read often and try to understand it.

The best things to read to prepare for CARS are things you find boring and don't normally want to read about.Click To Tweet

What you see on the CARS section are boring passages. The reason students blank out halfway through the passage or at the end of passage is because they don’t like what they’re reading. Second, they’re uncomfortable reading it since they’re being timed. So there’s too much pressure on you.

But if you prep yourself with what you’re going to see on test day, then you’re ahead of the game because you know what to expect. And if you know what to expect, you’ll probably do well.

[20:00] Being a Slow Reader: Is it Good or Bad?

Way back in the days when the MCAT was still on paper, I got a lower score in my “verbal reasoning” section compared to the sciences. My excuse to myself was that I’m a slow reader.

Interestingly, Jack says being a slow reader is actually a good thing. You want to be a slow reader because half the battle is understanding what the author is saying.

Being a slow reader is actually a good thing for the MCAT. You need to slow down and actually understand the author.Click To Tweet

If you’re reading too fast because you’re worried about time, you’re not going to understand the author. You’re not going to pay attention. You’re disrespecting the author.

It’s like having a patient come into your room and you’re looking at the clock. You’re not paying attention to them. You’re not giving them the time they deserve. So you need to slow down and actually understand the author. Understand what’s going on.

When you read a sentence on the MCAT, read it at a normal pace. If you read it at that pace and you don’t get it, that’s not your fault. That’s the MCAT trying to scare you. They’re trying to intimidate you, so just move on until you understand. Reading slower or faster will not dramatically improve your score.

Don’t Re-Read Sentences

When you don’t understand a sentence you’re reading, re-reading it is a mistake. That’s wasting your time. You’re doing what they want you to do. When it comes to answering the questions, there are only five to seven questions per passage. So you don’t need to understand every sentence in the passage.

There are only five to seven questions per MCAT CARS passage. So you don't need to understand every sentence in the passage.Click To Tweet

The key is to know what to look for, how to look for it, and how to use that information to answer the questions. Being a scaled test, all you really need to get into medical school is a 129 in CARS.

[Related episode: What the Average MCAT Score Means to You.]

[24:26] Breaking Down the Anatomy of an MCAT CARS Passage

First, understand what the AAMC wants you to do. Why would they put the passage on the left side if they want you to read the questions first? Just approach it how you normally would. Don’t do any tricks like reading the first and last paragraphs first or reading the questions first. These are mistakes because that’s not what the test wants you to do.

The directions say to read the passage and answer the questions. So read the passage. Understand the author. Then use that information to answer the questions.

[25:44] The Most Common MCAT CARS Mistakes

The most common mistake students make when prepping for CARS is using the wrong material to practice. Non-AAMC material is decent practice if you’re two years ahead. But nothing comes close to reading and answering the questions the AAMC provides. They have a bank of questions you can buy on their website.

Another big problem is that students love to save material for the end. That’s your lecture material, the stuff you need to use to learn. If you’re saving that stuff till the last week or two, then you’re, in effect, cramming. No one does well when they cram for the MCAT. So you need to start looking at the AAMC material sooner.

No one does well when they cram for the MCAT.Click To Tweet

[28:03] Getting Started with Your CARS MCAT Prep

First, read often. Read boring stuff. Buy the AAMC materials and start looking at those passages. Start reviewing them. There’s a pattern that the AAMC follows. They’re a very logical, unique pattern only developed by the AAMC. So start to find those patterns early on, even a year in advance. It’s something you can do every day for 30 minutes, which can dramatically improve your confidence and your score.

Time yourself during your MCAT CARS practice just to get accustomed to the timer, so it doesn't freak you out on test day.Click To Tweet

Another tip is to time yourself when you’re reading. Then you’d have an idea of how long you can spend on each passage. But don’t rush yourself. Don’t even try to finish in that time. The reason for timing yourself is simply to get used to the timer. Time yourself so you don’t get nervous when test day comes around.

Have a Warrior Mentality

You have to do so many practice passages and timed passages that over time, your brain just gets accustomed to it. The act of reading the passages itself actually changes your habits and the way you’re approaching the test.

You have to do so many practice passages and timed passages that over time, your brain just gets accustomed to it.Click To Tweet

A good thing to do after each paragraph is to jot down a note: What is the author trying to convey in this paragraph? Just write it like you’re explaining it to your best friend. Make it very informal. Write down two to four words to describe that paragraph, just the main idea. This is a great strategy you can use both during prep and on prep day.

Don't write down the details. The MCAT doesn't test the details. They test for the big ideas, big picture.Click To Tweet

[33:03] The Power of Visualization

Most students don’t visualize what they read. When you read a sentence or word, what comes to mind? Does it register? If he said the word “elephant,” what’s the first thing you imagine? Now, what do you see when I say the elephant is flying? What’s that picture in your head? What you should see is an elephant with wings flying in the air. You shouldn’t see an airplane.

You’re essentially morphing your visualization based on the next word. Not only is this helpful for CARS but also for the sciences because you’re given a lot of experimental passages. You need to visualize pathways. And getting used to thinking that way is essential and critical to your success.

Not only is visualization helpful for CARS but also for the sciences on the MCAT because you're given a lot of experimental passages. You need to visualize pathways.Click To Tweet

People who can memorize decks of cards use visualization to help them hold information in their memory. Visualization is huge for keeping things in memory a little bit longer.

Jack likens this to reading a book wherein you’re turning the page because you’re so immersed in it. You see the character and the plot. You understand what’s going on, and you visualize it. And then when you watch the movie based on that book, usually you don’t like the movie as much if you read the book first. This is because the director’s vision is different than what you pictured.

[36:15] What to Expect from

The course is designed to not only help you in CARS but also to help you understand the MCAT. It helps you understand the logic of the test and what you need to do in order to do well. The course helps you understand your job as a student and what the MCAT expects from you.

Jack's course not only helps you with CARS but also helps you understand the MCAT as a whole.Click To Tweet

Through this course, you get to understand questions you’re not accustomed to. As a result, you become smarter, less biased, more logical, and an objective thinker. This can even help you on Step 1 later. It can help you with any test you’re taking in your life because you’re essentially learning how to look at things in a very objective manner.

Jack’s course is self-paced. He recommends that students take it around five to six months before they even start studying for the MCAT. Give yourself more time so that you’re not pressured or stressed. The last thing you want to do is rush your MCAT prep. So signing up sooner will allow you to gain the skills you need to tackle the entire test. Check it out here.

Practice Tests and Daily Passages from Jack Westin

Jack also offers CARS practice exams. That said, he still doesn’t think anything comes close to the AAMC practice materials. So again, use the AAMC practice exam as your primary resource. But having been in this business for ten years, he has been teaching a long time and has a lot of experience with students. So he thinks he really understands what they’re trying to get at. So he believes his questions have a very similar, if not identical, logic to the AAMC’s.

Jack also offers CARS Passage of the Day emails where you get an email featuring a CARS passage of the day. Subscribe to that free email list if you want to practice reading passages every day. Practicing with one passage a day for two years is going to be insanely helpful.

[40:05] Jack’s Final Words of Wisdom

The CARS section is not the be all and end all. If you don’t well in CARS, it doesn’t mean you can’t get into medical school. So if you feel you really can’t do well on CARS, shoot Jack an email and he can show you the way to get into medical school. There are other ways to get in other than having a high CARS score.

With that being said, Jack still believes everyone can do well on CARS. Get the help you need. Don’t avoid your weaknesses. Don’t go into the test unprepared. If you can devote yourself for three months and try your best, you’re going to be okay. As long as you put in the effort, do the practice exams, and try your best to understand your weaknesses, you’re probably going to do well.

No one is fully prepared for the MCAT. Everyone is stressed out about it.Click To Tweet

Links and Other Resources