I would not consider myself a good reader. In fact, the reading section of the ACT was my lowest score section. When I started practicing for CARS on the MCAT, I would always run out of time. EVERY TIME. Ultimately, I had to throw some previously recommended strategies out the window and focus on becoming a better reader, or more realistically, becoming a better reader within the context of AAMC logic. In this week’s study tip, I will explain the three game-changers for improving your CARS score. For more CARS strategy, I highly recommend our FREE CARS Strategy Session with Andrew.
Maximizing Timing for CARS
Like I said, running out of time was a huge problem when I was getting started on CARS. This originally was because I initially pre-read the questions before the passage. I would read them, then go back to the passage pressed for time and read faster than I was comfortable with because I was behind, then go BACK to the questions (by this time I had already forgotten them), and then because I read the passage too quickly I would need to go BACK to the passage to find the answer again! This was horrible for me in every way.
Then I heard from a friend that I should try to read a passage in 3-4 many minutes. They said to spend more time on the questions to really understand them (some even suggested practicing writing their own questions) to be confident in their choices. This is, I believe, the fundamental reason why most people do poorly on CARS. We are taught to spend time combing the questions and answers, going back to the passage to double-check our answers and identify the specific question type/flavor/subcategory etc. Trust me, my friends. This will only add to hatred of CARS if you try to psychoanalyze the questions.
Take. Your. Time. Read carefully. If you’re a slow reader, read at your normal pace. If you are a fast reader, you may even need to slow down. For my final FLE’s I would think to myself “woah I am spending too much time reading this passage” but then have a private chuckle as I blew through the questions. Try this. It may take a dozen passages to retrain your brain, but I hope it changes your life. The reason being is because everyone you “iT’s aLL aBoUt ThE mAIn IdEA” but it’s really not. Reading slowly helps you digest their subtle arguments. You may miss questions right now because the AAMC throws in subtle differences in answer choices. Reading fast will leave you frustrated at the question because it seems like both of your final potential answers are correct!! But if I am reading slow? You will have a good laugh with me when you don’t even need to read the options twice. Again this isn’t foolproof, but message me in two weeks when your scores start climbing.
The Two Types of Tricky Passages
After fixing my timing issue, I still had issues with certain passages. For me, there were two types of tricky passages. #1 – the passage argument is so dense and complex and uses language from 14th-century Finnish thesauruses or #2 – where it is so BORING and you are half asleep reading about the dust on a painting of some Russian architecture in 1672.
Let’s start with the second type of problematic passage. If you are bored to tears… take a 5-second break and let your eyes have a rest. Look at the wall in front of you. Don’t even focus your eyes. Clear your head. These 5-second pauses were huge for me. I would do them every time I ended a passage. Not only would it give me a microbreak, but it allowed me to let go of all that pointless info that I just learned about Portuguese literature under Napoleon. It didn’t carry over and I would stop worrying about it.
For the first type of problematic passage (the dense and complex), the strategy is to calm your expectations. If you find yourself thinking “what does this word/sentence mean?” just relax. Every premed who has ever read this sentence/paragraph is probably thinking the same thing. But here’s the secret. That’s THE POINT. You aren’t supposed to know what it means. Just get any piece of info that any normal person could get from it and move on. Only worry about a hard word if the question specifically asks you for it. If they ask you, that guarantees that a normal person would be able to make a reasonable inference from context to the correct definition. DON’T TRY TO BUILD YOUR VOCAB (unless English is not your first language). THAT’S A WASTE OF TIME. Everyone else will get hung up by these insane sentences, and AAMC actually wants you to get stuck too. Move on. I can almost promise you that you won’t be tested on understanding that insanely complex sentence on the actual test.
For CARS questions. Before you get there, have a rough idea of what is going on. You don’t need to write anything down (I never did for CARS), but have a one-sentence summary floating around. If the passage was too complicated to be summarized in one sentence, that’s fine. It doesn’t work for every passage. You also want to have a good idea of the author. You don’t need to picture in your head what they look like, but that type of thinking goes a long way. Are they overly judgmental? Are they a hippy who loves the expression of emotions through bodily dance? Would they vote as a libertarian or a progressive? As we all know, CARS answers are frustrating in terms of how vague the right answer can be. So you don’t need to form a perfect image of them. Allow some room for ambiguity.
When I first started and would get destroyed by CARS, I would lose confidence in myself and need to go back to the passage for every question to make sure I was right. This was hard. It also sucks time away and only adds to your stress. By the end of my studying, I would only go back to the passage for one question each passage. Again, it would mostly be because I was nervous and didn’t trust myself because I would rarely need to change my answer. The most important part is understanding the author. The AAMC rarely asks you about what was in the passage, they often ask what the author would think if A, B, or C happened. Often times you will need to embody the author’s views that are totally contradictory to your own. Maybe they love eugenics. Maybe they supported colonialism. Maybe they’re more progressive in their cultural views and you’re more conservative. What they would think about a given topic is the right answer, what you’d think about it will be the wrong answer.
Again, if you read slow and focus on the author, 90% of questions will be so clear to you. You’ll have a good laugh with us because CARS actually is manageable. CARS is still very challenging, but at least it’s not impossible. You should be thinking about the answers like… “no, A is the opposite of what he said, B is irrelevant, C is kinda weird but not necessarily wrong, D is the opposite of what the author said. Must be C.” Feel free to comment with more suggestions. There are lots of CARS strategies that we would love to teach you. If you need personalized help, feel free to reach out for a FREE consultation or sign up for tutoring today!
Theo Bennett is a medical student at UCLA and a Premium Elite Tutor who scored a perfect 528 on the MCAT. He was accepted to 6 top 10 medical schools including both programs at Harvard Medical School. He’s helped almost 100 students improve their MCAT scores so far, especially in the CARS section.
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