Let me reveal my MCAT CARS strategy that helped me get into 6 medical schools! These are the same strategies I teach my own students in BeMo's much sought-after unlimited MCAT prep program. Let's dive in!


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My MCAT CARS Strategy: Start by Understanding the MCAT CARS Format 3 MCAT CARS Prep Strategies That Helped Me Score in the 99th Percentile My MCAT CARS Test-Taking Strategy FAQs

My MCAT CARS Strategy: Start by Understanding the MCAT CARS Format

My MCAT CARS strategy began with a thorough review of the CARS section format and question types. I spent about two days familiarizing myself with the types of passages, question stems, and answer choices I would encounter. This initial phase was crucial, as it helped me understand the test's structure and the skills it was assessing.

I started by carefully reading the AAMC's official MCAT guide, which provided a detailed overview of the CARS section. I paid close attention to the description of the passage types, the different question formats, and the scoring system. This gave me a solid foundation to build upon.

Next, I delved into various MCAT prep resources, such as practice tests and strategy guides, to further understand the nuances of the CARS section. I made sure to read through sample passages and questions, taking note of the common themes, writing styles, and the types of critical thinking skills required to answer them correctly.

By familiarizing myself with the format and question types, I was able to start formulating a study plan that would address my specific weaknesses and play to my strengths.

It is absolutely essential to be able to identify the CARS question type you are faced with, so let's get right down to it:

My top tip before moving on to any other CARS prep steps I took is this: you will not answer questions successfully if you cannot identify the question type, so make sure you understand what each type of question requires of you. It took me a while to really grasp each CARS question category, but once I did I knew what I needed to do to identify the right answer. Remember, you should grasp the Foundations of Comprehension questions first, as it would be difficult to reason within or beyond the text if you do not have a good understanding of the text in front of you. 

3 MCAT CARS Prep Strategies That Helped Me Score in the 99th Percentile

Now that you know how to start your MCAT CARS prep, let me reveal the 4 strategies that really took my CARS prep to next level. Without these, I would not have been able to tackle this section with ease and get the MCAT score that got me accepted to 6 med schools.

MCAT CARS Strategy #1: Active Reading

After laying the groundwork, I turned my attention to building my reading comprehension abilities. As a non-native English speaker, I knew that my reading speed and ability to grasp the main ideas of complex passages would be a significant challenge.

I started by reading a variety of advanced-level texts that mimicked the complexity and style of materials encountered on the MCAT. Some particularly valuable resources I found were:

Exposing myself to this diverse range of material with sophisticated vocabulary and complex ideas was instrumental in preparing me for the nuanced passages I would encounter on test day. I typically dedicated 20 to 30 minutes a day to this practice, which allowed me to build my reading speed and ability to quickly grasp the main ideas.

One of the key strategies I employed was to actively engage with the passages as I read them. I would read out loud, identify the main point of each paragraph, and summarize the central thesis in my own words. This helped me understand the content on a deeper level rather than just skimming the surface.

To address my weaknesses, such as difficulty with unfamiliar vocabulary or trouble maintaining focus for long passages, I implemented targeted strategies. For vocabulary, I created flashcards using Anki with words I encountered frequently in my practice materials and reviewed them regularly. I also made it a point to look up and understand the meaning of any unfamiliar words I came across while reading.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned during this process was the importance of consistent practice. The more CARS passages I worked through, the better I got at quickly identifying the main ideas, tone, and unstated concepts. It was a gradual process, but I could see my reading comprehension skills steadily improving over time.

Want to know how to boost your MCAT CARS score?

MCAT CARS Strategy #2: Practice Analyzing Challenging Texts

Developing strong critical thinking skills was another crucial aspect of my CARS preparation. The CARS section is not about memorizing content and more about analyzing arguments, identifying assumptions, and drawing logical conclusions.

I began by practicing analyzing and evaluating arguments in the passages I read. I would read a passage, identify the author's claim, and then evaluate the supporting evidence and the author's use of logic. This exercise helped me develop my ability to recognize flawed arguments and identify the strengths and weaknesses of an argument.

One of the strategies that worked particularly well for me was the "FANBOYS" method. This method involves identifying the Focus of the passage, Analyzing the Author's purpose, Noting the main idea and supporting details, Being aware of the author's tone and bias, Observing the relationships between ideas, and Yielding to the passage's structure and organization. This approach helped me stay organized and ensured that I considered all aspects of the passage when answering questions.

I also practiced identifying assumptions and drawing inferences from the passages. CARS questions often test your ability to read between the lines and understand the unstated implications of the text. By actively looking for these hidden elements, I was able to develop a more nuanced understanding of the passages and provide more insightful answers. This method was particularly useful when having to make a decision between two seemingly correct but slightly different answer choices. Being able to catch the underlying assumptions or inferences in the passage helped me definitively identify which answer was truly supported by the evidence versus which may have been based on an incorrect or unsupported inference.

For example, on questions asking about the main point or a detail's purpose, really drilling down into the unstated logic and implications behind the author's words allowed me to select the most precise answer choice. Whereas answer choices that didn't quite align with the true assumptions or inferences stood out as being not fully supported by the passage. So while all the answer choices may have sounded plausible at first glance, focusing on identifying assumptions and inferences gave me that extra level of discernment to confidently select the best response.

Additionally, I worked on evaluating the reasoning and evidence presented in the passages. I would critically analyze the arguments, looking for logical fallacies, biases, and gaps in the logic. This helped me form my own well-reasoned opinions and avoid falling into the trap of selecting answer choices that seemed plausible but were ultimately flawed.

Throughout this process, I made a conscious effort to consider multiple perspectives. CARS questions often present complex issues with no clear-cut answers, so I trained myself to avoid jumping to conclusions and instead weigh the various viewpoints presented in the passage.

MCAT CARS Strategy #3: Work on Speed

As a relatively slow reader, I knew that time management would be a significant challenge, so I dedicated a lot of my practice time to perfecting my approach.

To improve my reading speed, I practiced timed reading exercises, gradually increasing the pace and complexity of the passages. I learned effective skimming and scanning techniques to quickly identify the main ideas and key details without getting bogged down in minor points. Additionally, I focused on breaking the habit of silently pronouncing words in my head, which had initially helped my English learning but proved to be a hindrance during time-sensitive tests like the MCAT. Even though subvocalization aided my comprehension of the text, it significantly impeded my reading speed under time constraints.

One of the most effective strategies I employed was the "SQ3R" method. This method involves Surveying the passage to get an overview of the main idea, Questioning what I need to know, Reading the passage carefully, Reciting the main idea and supporting details, and Reviewing the passage to reinforce my understanding. This method helped me stay focused and ensured that I understood the passage before attempting to answer the questions.

Initially, having to skim, read closely, and potentially re-read sections did make the SQ3R process quite time-consuming. However, with regular practice on timed CARS passages, I became much more efficient at implementing the steps quickly. The surveying and questioning phases allowed me to strategically identify which sections required the most attention during the careful reading.

While this method seemed counterintuitive, that upfront investment in comprehension paid off by reducing the need for time-consuming re-reading later on. Ultimately, the deep comprehension facilitated by SQ3R combined with consistent practice maximized my time management capabilities. I also practiced identifying the question type, eliminating incorrect answer choices, and using the process of elimination to narrow down my options. This systematic approach allowed me to approach each question with a clear strategy, rather than relying on guesswork or intuition.

Throughout my CARS preparation, I made a conscious effort to avoid common "wrong-answer pathologies" that the AAMC often includes as distractors. I learned to recognize and avoid logical fallacies, extreme statements, and other traps that can lead to incorrect answers.

My MCAT CARS Test-Taking Strategy

Once you are at the test, the above strategies will be too late to apply, obviously. So I used the following MCAT CARS test-taking strategy when I had trouble identifying the correct answer to a CARS question:

Use these on your practice tests and on test day when you are not sure about the correct answer.

Now are you ready to put this MCAT CARS strategy to the test? Watch this video to do an MCAT CARS practice and see how you do!

Practice with these MCAT CARS passages!


FAQS

1. Why is CARS so important?

The CARS section tests critical thinking and problem-solving skills. No background knowledge of the content is required. Therefore, it is one of the ways medical schools assess a student's ability to analyze information and solve problems, which are some of the key skills physicians should have.

2. What should I be using to practice passages and sections?

AAMC’s material is most reflective of the difficulty level of the exam. It is available on the AAMC’s website.

3. When should I start studying for MCAT?

You will need to give yourself ample amount of time to prepare for your MCAT. Your CARS section alone will take a lot of preparation, so I would suggest giving yourself no less than 6 months to study. Check out our comprehensive MCAT study schedule to get some ideas on how to organize your time. If you would like to learn how the exam is organized and what topics it covers, you should check out our "How Long is the MCAT?" blog.

4. What kind of questions can I expect in the CARS section?

In this section, all questions will fall into one of these categories: Foundations of Comprehension, Reasoning Within the Text, and Reasoning Beyond the Text.

5. Why is it important to identify the question types?

One, you may have trouble with only a certain question type, and you should be able to identify which one it is and work on that skill in a targeted way during practice. Two, the question types build on each other. You must be able to comprehend before doing reasoning within the text (analysis). You must be able to do both comprehension and analysis before you attempt reasoning beyond the text (synthesis).

6. Why do I need to identify the central thesis of the passage or the main point of each paragraph?

Identifying the central thesis is often the whole point of Foundations of Comprehension questions. If you can articulate the main point of a passage in your own words, it will be easy for you to answer this question type.

7. How much time should I take to complete a passage?

The average length of time you should take is 10 minutes per passage, but this can vary depending on the difficulty of the passage and the questions.

8. What if I am just not getting better at CARS?

I totally understand your frustration but do not despair. The CARS section is made to be difficult and challenging on purpose. You need to keep practicing with sample passages and external reading consistently. Most students need at least 3 or 4 months (ideally 6 months) of preparation. It’s important to understand that you cannot just do passages, you must do challenging reading consistently. Also, it’s more important to see small gains over time (even getting 1 or 2 more questions correct for the whole CARS section can increase your score on each practice test) and you should not expect to see huge increases right away. Going from 124 to 125 is still a big improvement!

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

Disclaimer: MCAT is a registered trademark of AAMC. BeMo and AAMC do not endorse or affiliate with one another.

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