How I Improved my CARS Score by 8 Points on the MCAT

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.

CARS Questions

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!

Warm regards,

Theo Bennett


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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How we Matched up the Khan Academy Passages with the eCourse Lessons

Each lesson of the eCourse contains links to 1 to 5 Khan Academy science passages for the purpose of providing you with non-AAMC material to practice your science passage reading skills on. By completing all the linked passages within every lesson, you will have finished all the freely available Khan Academy science passages.

To match up the Khan Academy Science Passages with the eCourse lessons, we carefully examined the passage and question content of each one. Then we decided which lesson of the eCourse best correlated with that content. You may notice that some passages don’t match up perfectly with the current lesson. If they don’t match up with the current lesson, they should match up with one of the previous lessons in the module. We did this carefully so that you could practice your science passage reading skills on passages that contain the content you’ve already learned.

Why we don’t recommend non-AAMC CARS practice questions

We recommend practicing CARS by reading non-AAMC CARS passages but not doing the associated practice problems. The reason we don’t recommend doing the practice problems is because the MCAT is written by the AAMC. They have a very unique style in which they write CARS practice questions that third-party companies (try as they might) are unable to replicate. When students spend time on non-AAMC CARS practice problems, they get familiar with the wrong style of questioning, leading them to overthink and incorrectly respond to the questions written by the AAMC. Thus, it is in your best interest to solely practice on AAMC CARS practice questions.

That said, we highly recommend practicing your reading skills on non-AAMC CARS passages. In our Ultimate CARS Strategy Course, we provide you with 1,000 free CARS passages and 100+ homework assignments, giving you ample material to practice on. Reading countless passages while practicing the proper reading habits and strategies will prepare you well to conquer the CARS section as it was written by the AAMC.

Which books do the lessons match up with?

The books we use in each lesson are linked below. We plan to stick with these older editions of the books since very little has changed and the older editions are much more affordable:

First Edition of the Kaplan 7-book Series
First Edition of the Princeton 7-book Series

Do the chapters match up perfectly?

The Kaplan Books, Princeton Books, and Khan Academy Videos were all produced by different authors. For this reason, there are some chapters in the Kaplan Book or Princeton Book that are not even found in the Khan Academy Videos and vice versa. For instance, the Kaplan and Princeton Books have chapters that cover certain experimental procedures that the Khan Academy Videos do not cover.

Our goal in matching up the books with the videos was to correlate the content as best as possible while also covering ALL the content from every resource. For this reason, when nothing in the Kaplan Books matched up with one of the video playlists, instead of leaving the reading assignment for Kaplan blank, we inserted material that did not fit in anywhere else (i.e. one of those chapters on an experimental procedure that was not covered by Khan Academy). So, when the assignment doesn’t appear to match up right, please know that this was intentional.

*If you follow the reading assignments outlined, you will finish the entire Kaplan 7-book series and/or Princeton 7-book series by the time you finish all 10 content modules.

Do the sections match up perfectly?

If the sections assigned in our eCourse do not match up with the sections contained in your content review book, you may have a different edition. The sections should still match up the large majority of the time, but in the rare instance that they don’t, I’d recommend simply reading sections that do match up and saving the ones that do not for a future lesson.

MCAT Launchpad Required!

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