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 the most trouble. Jack from is here to help you crush your CARS and score higher!

[Link: Save $100 on the Jack Westin CARS course!]

Check out our new podcast, Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A. The episodes have actually been recorded on Facebook Live, which I do when I’m home in the studio at 3 o’clock Eastern. Join me on Facebook Live.

I’ll answer your questions and hang out there usually for 20-30 minutes. And few of those minutes are set side for the actual recording of the podcast. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Ask Dr. Gray Premed Q&A.

[01:25] The AMSA PremedFest Experience

Last weekend, I was at AMSA PremedFest in Tampa, Florida. I gave a talk at the event on the medical school interview to an audience of about 120 students. It was a room full of people with tons of great questions. After my talk, I stayed for another 45 minutes to hang out more and answer more questions. I also gave 60 books and had a great dinner meetup with fifteen people. I wish to thank those who met me there. We had people coming from California and Indiana.

I would love to meet you at the next conference I’m going to the MAPSS Conference of California State University in San Bernardino on January 27, 2018. Hope to meet you there! If not, here’s a list of other conferences that I will be attending:

AMSA PremedFest UC Davis Conference in October 2018

AMSA Convention in Washington, D.C. in March 2018

[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. It’s the new version of verbal reasoning, which used to kill people on the MCAT. CARS still kills people on the MCAT, especially if you are an ESL student.

Today, he’s going to share with us his thoughts about 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 or the MCAT or just advice in general. He wants to be looked upon as the older brother or the mentor that you may not have had.

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

[08:08] What Is CARS? Why Is It Important?

CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills) is basically another way of saying, read the passage and answer questions based on the passage. It’s only one of the four sections on the current MCAT.

You have 90 minutes to complete a total of nine passages with about 53 questions.

Jack lays out a couple of reasons why this particular test matters. First, it’s a test to see how committed you are to medicine. If you’re simply interested, this entire test will eat you alive, as Jack puts it. 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.

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

Another reason CARS is important is that it’s based on thinking on your feet. And as physicians must do, they 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. So that’s another component of the exam.

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

Jack says 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, basically a senior in high school, you can start studying for CARS.

Jack recommends students to look into this sooner rather than later, as it doesn’t hurt to start reading everyday. It doesn’t hurt to getting accustomed to reading text. Just reading everyday 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. Or even simply reading on things you may not be interested in can help you.

[11:56] Understanding the Author

Jack says it’s an innate thing that you require through practice. You may not know what is going on as you’re reading those journals, but over time, you’re going to get a sense of the author.

When you want to actually start practicing, Jack mentions a few things to look for. First, what is the author trying to tell me? Every single passage or article you’ve ever read in your life, there is a message. And you need to find that message. Understand why the author wrote it. Find out what they’re trying to convince you.

The CARS section is designed to test whether you understand the arguments of the author. As a physician, your job is to understand your patients. You may not understand them all. Some may not know English or maybe they know English better than you. So it’s your duty as a physician to understand your patient. And that’s what they’re trying to get you to with this section. Can you understand the author?

[13:34] Prepping for CARS = Prepping for the Rest of the Test

Comparing both tests, Jack considers the SAT to be a lot easier since it focuses more on vocabulary and not as much as ideas and thinking ability. Still, there is a component to that. For him MCAT is the harder version of the SAT in terms of reading. The passages are denser. The questions are a lot more difficult. But it’s not based on vocabulary.

If you’re worried that English is your second or third language and that you don’t read a lot or your parents didn’t force you to read or don’t like reading, you don’t need to. Jack stresses it’s about being 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, especially for CARS since the whole test is reading-based.

Jack adds that even though CARS is all-reading, the other sections involve reading too. You’re going to be reading passages for the other sections. 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.

So what Jack tells his students is you don’t need to know these words. You don’t need to know 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 students from various countries that barely speak English and they 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. Jacks adds that if you can read someone’s Facebook new feeds or comments or just basic English, you won’t have an issue with reading. It’s more of a confidence issue.

To start building that confidence, Jack recommends daily practicing. Because when you’re doing this everyday, you won’t be thinking that you wished you practiced more. It’s like taking an exam. If you practice and tried your best, then you’re not going to sit there during the exam and ask yourself why you didn’t try harder. So try everyday. Work on reading. Work on understanding what the paragraph is saying.

[17:44] What to Read and Why Students Blank Out on the CARS Section

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. So it’s about being accustomed to reading boring stuff. Also, pick up things you may not necessarily read often and try to understand it.

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 or how you’re going to feel 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, we had the verbal reasoning instead of CARS. And there were only three sections instead of four. I got 10 in the sciences (old scoring system) and a 7 in verbal reasoning. My excuse to myself is that because I’m a slow reader.

Interestingly, Jack points out that being a slow reader is actually a good thing. You want to be a slow reader. He clarifies that reading slow is not a bad thing. Half the battle is understanding what the author is saying.

If you’re reading too fast because you’re worried about the timer, 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. Jack adds that half the battle is training the students to think the right way about this test and changing bad habits.

Moreover, when you read a sentence, read it like you normally would. 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. So no slower nor faster can dramatically improve your score.

For instance, when you don’t understand a sentence you’re reading, re-reading it is a mistake. Jack explains doing this would be wasting your time. You’re doing what they want you to do. When it comes to answering the questions, there’s only five to seven questions per passage. So you don’t need to understand each sentence, but only 25% of a passage to get everything right. 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 129.

[24:26] Breaking Down the Anatomy

First, Jack wants you to understand what you think the MCAT or 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. This said, Jack recommends to be normal when reading it. Just approach it how you normally would. Don’t do any tricks – first paragraph and last paragraph. Don’t read the questions first. Jack sees these as mistakes because that’s not what the test wants you to do.

If you literally read the directions, they say read the passage and answer the questions. So just read the passage. Understand the author. Then use that information to answer the questions.

[25:44] The Most Common Mistakes

Jack says the most common mistake students do when prepping for CARS is using the wrong material to practice. Non-AAMC material is decent practice if you’re two years ahead. He further says that 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 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, you’re, in effect, cramming. No one does well when they cram for this test. So you need to start looking at the AAMC material.

[28:03] Getting Started with Your Prep Journey

First, Jack advises students to 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 everyday for 30 minutes which can dramatically improve your confidence and your score.

Another tip Jack has shared is to time yourself when you’re reading. Then you’d have an idea to read it in that time. But don’t rush yourself. Don’t try to finish in that time. The reason for timing yourself is simply to get used to that timer. Time yourself so that you don’t get nervous when test day comes around.

Have a warrior mentality. Jack admits you have to do so many practice passages and timed passages so that over time, your brain gets accustomed to it. You don’t necessarily need to write that data down. But the act itself is actually changing your habit and the way you’re adapting to this test.

A good thing to do after each paragraph is to write what the paragraph is about. What is the author trying to convey in this paragraph? In the very general way, write it in a way you explain it to your best friend or family. Make it very informal. Write down two to four words that describe that paragraph. Figure out the main idea. Jack says this is a great strategy you can use both during prep and on prep day.

[33:03] The Power of Visualization

Jack mentions one thing most students don’t do, is they 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 when you see an elephant? Now what do you see when Jack says the elephant is flying? What’s that picture in your head? So what you should see is an elephant with wings flying in the air. What you shouldn’t see is an airplane.

You’re essentially morphing your visualization based on the next word. Not only is this helpful for the 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.

Moreover, I know somebody who’s a wizard in memorizing long digits. And he says that people that can memorize a deck of cards or long digits visualize every piece of data. That said, 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. You see the plot. You understand what’s going on. You visualize it. And when you see the movie, normally, students don’t like the movie as much as the book if they’ve read the book first. That’s because the director’s vision is different than what they 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. 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 in your Step 1 or board exams. In any case, this can help you with any test you’re taking in your life. You’re essentially learning how to look at things in a very objective manner.

Jack’s course is a very self-paced oriented course. He recommends that students take it around five to six months in advance 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. So signing up sooner will allow you to gain the skills you need to tackle the entire test.

Other services Jack offers are CARS practice exams. That said, he still doesn’t think anything comes close to the AAMC. 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 so much experience with students. So he thinks he really understands what they’re trying to get at. So he believes his questions are very similar, if not identical, to the logic they use. In the coming weeks, it’s free for students to use.

Jack also offers CARS Passage of the Day emails where you get an email featuring a CARS passage of the day that looks like what you’re going to see on your test. Subscribe to that free email list if you want to practice reading passages everyday. One a day for two years is going to be insanely helpful.

[40:05] Jack’s Final Words of Wisdom

The CARS sections is not the be all and end all. If you don’t well in this section, 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 as 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, he still believes everyone can do well on CARS. Whether or not you sign up for the course, speak up if you’re having problems. Get the help you need. Don’t avoid your weaknesses. Don’t go into the test unprepared. But if you can devote yourself for three months and try your best, you’re going to be okay. As long as put in the effort, did the practice exams, and you tried your best to understand your weaknesses, you’re probably going to do well.

Lastly, please share this podcast with your friends. Do them a favor of subscribing, so they get this episode every week on their phone.

Links: (use this link to save $100 on the Jack Westin course!)

AAMC Practice Materials


Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A

MSHQ Facebook Live

AMSA PremedFest in Tampa, Florida

MAPSS Conference of California State University in San Bernardino

AMSA PremedFest UC Davis Conference

AMSA Convention in Washington, D.C.

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