Essential Tips for Conquering the MCAT CARS

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What is MCAT CARS?

Many future medical students have difficulty with the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) portion of the MCAT. This is because it requires a different set of skills than the rest of the test. The MCAT CARS consists of short passages followed by questions. It is designed to measure your reading comprehension and ability to draw conclusions from written material.

 

Begin Preparing Early

Although none of the MCAT sections are conducive to cramming, it is especially important to allot adequate time for MCAT CARS review. This is because CARS requires you to learn and develop new skills rather than accumulating knowledge. In order to perform well on this section, you must train yourself to critically analyze things in a manner you likely have not done before. Therefore, you will need to schedule adequate time to prepare. At a minimum, you will need six weeks of dedicated study time.

 

Develop Your Reading Skills

Although you have been able to read for decades, the MCAT CARS requires you to develop specific reading skills. Test takers must be able to read quickly, accurately, and understand complex writing. A good way to develop these skills is to read articles from a literary magazine, like The New Yorker or The Atlantic, each day. Set aside an hour of reading time each day. MCAT CARS articles tend to be rather dry. Therefore you should choose a magazine with topics that are not of particular interest to you. This will help you develop your focus and reading comprehension on dull and complex subjects.

Timing

The AAMC allows test takers 90 minutes to complete the MCAT CARS section. The test requires the completion of 9 articles with an accompanying 5-7 questions. Therefore, test takers have 10 minutes to fully complete each article. You should plan to allow yourself 6 minutes to read the passage. Then, use the remaining time to answer the questions.  Most CARS passages are approximately 600 words. Therefore, you will need to develop a reading speed of at least 100 words per minute. This is actually quite slow; the average person reads at about twice this speed. However, the difficulty of the passages and test anxiety can slow you down.

Improving Reading Speed

Although you likely read well above 100 words per minute, it is a good idea to increase your reading speed. First, it will ensure that you are able to make it through the entire section on exam day. In addition, if you are a quick reader, it will allow you additional time to think about the questions. You will also have time to go back and re-read parts of the article that you are unsure about. Here are some tips for improving your reading speed:

  • Have your eyes checked– many times, slow reading is due to uncorrected vision problems.
  • Do not ‘read aloud’ in your head– many people pronounce words internally as they read them. Avoid this habit- it will slow you down.
  • Increase your visual field– most people only focus on a few words as they read. Try to look at more words as you read. Your speed will improve.
  • Do not regress– many people go back and re-read words or sentences as they read. If you have developed this habit, work to correct it.

 

Answer Questions Accurately

Many future medical students have difficulty answering MCAT CARS questions. As with most things, the solution to this problem is practice. Purchase a subscription to a CARS question bank or obtain a practice book. It is often helpful to quickly read through the questions before you begin reading the passage. This tactic allows you to focus on what is important as you read. Initially, during your MCAT preparation, you should plan on completing 1-2 MCAT CARS practice passages each day (in addition to your magazine reading). In the beginning, do not worry about time. Focus entirely on answering the questions correctly. Approximately 3 weeks before your exam, you should begin working at pace. Give yourself 10 minutes to complete each vignette.

 

Set a Study Schedule

In order to perform well on the MCAT CARS section, you will need to manage your time effectively. This is a study schedule that will prepare you to perform well on CARS.

Week 1 (6 (or more) weeks before exam)

  • read 1 hour each day from the literary magazine of your choice
  • research CARS practice books and online subscriptions

Week 2

  • read 1 hour daily
  • complete one passage and questions of CARS practice daily (un-timed)

Week 3

  • read 1 hour each day
  • complete one passage and questions of CARS practice daily (keep track of your time)

Week 4

  • read 1 hour each day
  • complete two passages and questions of CARS practice daily (allot 10 minutes per passage)
  • take a mock full-length MCAT CARS (9 passages) on one day this week (90 minute time limit)

Week 5

  • read 1 hour each day
  • complete two passages and questions of CARS practice daily (allot 10 minutes per passage)
  • take a mock full-length MCAT CARS (9 passages) on two days this week (90 minute time limit)

Week 6

  • read 1 hour each day
  • complete two passages and questions of CARS practice daily (allot 10 minutes per passage)
  • take a mock full-length MCAT CARS (9 passages) on three days this week (90 minute time limit)

 

The MCAT CARS does not have to be difficult. If you follow this plan, you should be in good shape to ace your test.

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2018-03-04T16:27:18+00:00