Today’s blog will reveal the strategies from a 99th percentile scorer that will help you identify CARS question types, teach you how to actively read the passages, and outline a step-by-step strategy for choosing the correct answers. Finally, you will get to read a sample CARS passage, questions, and expert answers. These are the same strategies we teach our own students in our much sought-after unlimited MCAT prep program. Sit back and take lots of notes. Let's dive in!
Disclaimer: MCAT is a registered trademark of AAMC. BeMo and AAMC do not endorse or affiliate with one another.
>>Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here.<<
Listen to the blog!
Why is CARS Important?
The MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section tests your ability to reason and make sense of complex written passages. As a future physician, you must be able to comprehend large volumes of difficult clinical information and develop effective treatment plans while explaining the reasoning behind your decisions to others. The CARS section of the MCAT helps medical schools evaluate your potential to do this successfully.
As you probably already know, your MCAT performance influences interview invitations and medical school acceptance rates. You must have an effective approach to reading, understanding, and analyzing MCAT CARS passages to score high on this section of the MCAT and further your chances of acceptance to your school of choice. Many medical schools have specific requirements for applicants' MCAT scores, and some medical schools even have minimum requirements for your CARS score! For example, the Schulich School of Medicine in Canada has a CARS score requirement in the 90th percentile. When you consider that the average student scores in the 62nd percentile on the CARS section, according to the AAMC, this is quite a big difference. Plenty of medical schools in the US and medical schools in Canada also require a minimum score of 125 in each section of the MCAT, not just a high overall score. So, scoring very well in the other 3 sections of the MCAT and leaving out the more difficult CARS section is not a good strategy to optimize your chances of acceptance.
Having an MCAT CARS strategy can certainly alleviate a lot of stress in preparation for this challenging exam. Whether you work on this strategy on your own or with the help of an MCAT tutor, you must perfect your CARS performance in order to score well on the entire test.
To ace the CARS section requires a balance of the right CARS strategy and proper test prep.
Want some MCAT CARS practice? Watch this video:
CARS Structure and Question Types
Before we dive into our CARS strategy, we'll look at the content of this section of the MCAT and what you need to know. The CARS section is scored on a curve, just like the rest of the MCAT, and you will receive a score between 118–132 for this section. Since your MCAT score will be evaluated differently by each program, a “good” score will vary from school to school, but a score of 128 will put you in the 90th percentile.
CARS consists of a total of 53 questions split between 9 passages with 5 to 7 questions per passage. You will have 90 minutes to complete this section, which means that you will have about 10 minutes per passage. Half of the passages will cover humanities subjects like literature, philosophy, ethics, art, history, while the other half will cover social sciences, including psychology, sociology, economics, and politics. Remember to visit the AAMC website for any MCAT updates and changes to the format.
The first step to acing your CARS is understanding the three question types that will be included in this section. You need to learn how to identify the question types to answer them correctly, so make sure you include this as part of your MCAT test prep strategy.
#1 Foundations of Comprehension
This type of CARS question will assess your understanding of the passage. Before you can even attempt the other two question types, you must be able to tackle comprehension questions first because you can’t analyze the passage without understanding it. Foundations of Comprehension questions will provide the basis for considering the concepts or facts you read in the passage in a new light, so that you can tackle the other two question types.
These most fundamental questions in CARS will ask you about the basic components of the passages you read. You may be asked to give a general overview of the passage or to focus on a specific portion of the passage. You may have to identify the author’s main thesis, the main idea of a paragraph, or portion of the passage where the author digresses from the central theme. To do this, you will need to understand different parts of the passage and their collective meaning, for instance:
- What is the thesis statement of the passage?
- What examples support the main thesis?
- What statements go against the thesis?
Look for signal words such as “for example,” “therefore,” “consequently,” “in fact,” and so on, to identify sentences and passages that could be used as evidence to support the main thesis.
You may also be asked to select definitions of specific words or phrases based on the context in which you find them, that is, by digging deeper into the text to identify the meaning of a word that the author does not state directly but implies through usage.
You will need to note subtle and nuanced rhetorical decisions an author makes to promote or go against arguments found in the passage. For example, is the author being dismissive or biased in the text? Are they using humor or sarcasm to mask a more serious topic? You may also be asked to address paradoxes, highlighted words or phrases, or an unexpected change in ideas. For example, if the author outlines an opponent’s point of view, you may need to identify this and understand the purpose of its presence in the text. You will also need to be attuned to the author's tone and language, as these important rhetorical devices may give away the purpose of the passage (e.g., instruction, persuasion, entertainment).
Foundations of Comprehension Question Examples
#2 Reasoning Within the Text
This type of CARS question will require that you integrate components of the text to increase your comprehension of the passage and evaluate the author's use of an argument or claim to support their intention. Essentially, you are looking to assess the:
- Logic and plausibility of the text
- Soundness of the arguments
- Reasonableness of the author's conclusions
- Appropriateness of the evidence
- Credibility of the author and the sources they cite
This may sound like a tall order, but most of us perform these tasks on a daily basis – we often analyze information (e.g., the news, an advertisement) that is presented to us to decide whether it is legitimate. Here, you need to assess how well the author uses evidence to support their thesis, that is, are the arguments sound, are they biased, do they create a strong line of evidence?
Remember not to bring in any outside knowledge when you answer questions of this category. Even if you are aware of the topic or have read extensively on the issue the author is discussing, you will need to evaluate evidence that is only found within the text. Base your answers on the content of the passage, rather than your prior knowledge of the matter.
Reasoning Within the Text Question Examples
Watch this video for an MCAT CARS walkthrough!
#3 Reasoning Beyond the Text
This type of CARS question will ask you to apply or extrapolate concepts from the passage to new contexts or evaluate the impact of new information on ideas in the passage. Reasoning beyond the text may require that you apply the information in the passage to a new situation or use it to solve a problem outside the context of the passage. The correct answer is the option that is the most likely outcome based only on the information provided in the passage and question – so, once again, forget bringing in any outside knowledge. Though the questions are asking you to reason outside of the text, you must still operate within the knowledge parameters set out by the passage and the questions you are given.
You might also be asked to assess what you learned from the passage with a “what if” question, which would involve a reinterpretation and re-evaluation of the passage with the additional fact or idea introduced by the question. You must ask yourself, can the new information coexist with the content of the passage, could it negate an aspect of the author’s thesis? You might also be asked to think of possible logical relationships between the passage content and the facts and assertions included in the answer options.
Reasoning Beyond the Text Question Examples
It's important to note that no background knowledge is needed to answer CARS questions, as all the information you will need is contained within the passages. In fact, you should avoid bringing in or referencing outside information, as external knowledge may influence your answer choices and cause you to choose incorrectly. Of course, you also can’t prepare for CARS by memorizing passages or correct answers.
So, you must be wondering how to study for MCAT CARS? The secret to acing CARS is good reading. Essentially, you need to learn how to review MCAT CARS passages properly. Read on for tips and strategies on how to study for and ace this challenging MCAT section.
MCAT CARS: A Step-By-Step Answer Strategy
When you are ready to tackle the CARS questions on the day of your exam, start by carefully reading each question and the potential answers provided. Use the skills you gained from studying for the CARS to critically read the passages and identify the correct answers to the questions. If you are having trouble identifying the correct answer, follow these steps:
Want to know how to boost your MCAT CARS score?
Strategies to Ace Your MCAT CARS Section
Believe it or not, it is possible to study for the CARS section with the right strategies. The best CARS strategy involves improving two crucial skills: reading comprehension and critical reasoning. Strengthening these two skills is the key to acing CARS so you can understand a new and unfamiliar text, break it down analytically and critically, and then choose the correct answer to the associated questions based on your analysis. Of course, you'll have only 10 minutes to do this per CARS passage, so speed is a factor.
Next, we've highlighted 4 MCAT CARS strategies you can use in your CARS prep to help you get ready for the real test.
Check out this video to learn our expert CARS strategies and tips!
MCAT CARS Strategy #1: Active Reading
Having strong reading strategy will help you tackle even the most difficult CARS passages. How you read the text will greatly determine your progress in reading and understanding of CARS passages. So, the number one strategy for acing your MCAT CARS section is active reading. Active reading requires engaging with the material to not just understand what is being said but how it relates to the questions, what the main thesis of the text is, and what key points the author is making. This is an especially important CARS strategy for slow readers, as it allows them to engage with the test and focus on the content, rather than MCAT timing.
Instead of simply skimming the passages, it might be a good idea to read them out loud as you practice. As you read, stop after each paragraph, and identify its main point. You may want to highlight any keywords or sentences within the paragraph that you find important to the overall message of the paragraph. These can often serve as important supporting evidence, so make sure you know what the words and concepts mean; take the time to look them up if you need to. After reading each paragraph, summarize its main point in your own words and make sure you understand what it is contributing to the passage at large.
After you finish reading the passage, before you read the questions, use your own words to identify the main point or the central thesis of the passage. Think of the following questions to help you pinpoint the thesis:
- What is the topic of this passage?
- Does the author feel good or bad about this topic?
- Using a specific paragraph within the passage, summarize what the author is doing. Are they giving an example to support or refute their main point? Are they comparing and contrasting concepts? Are they stating their opinion?
Make this routine a part of your MCAT prep. You will notice how these simple questions help you understand the content and the structure of the passage. With their help, you will be able to dissect the passage, identify its main points, and pick out important supporting evidence within the text. Remember, instead of focusing on names, dates, or any other such details, focus on the main arguments the author is making. The identifiers included in the passage will be incidental and will not influence the main argument.
MCAT CARS Strategy #2: Practice Reading Challenging Texts
Let’s be honest – the people who do well on CARS are those who read a lot, which is why improving your MCAT reading comprehension should be your primary goal. Yes, some people start preparing for CARS only 4 to 6 months before they take the test, but the truth is, comprehension and analysis are skills that are acquired by prolonged and extensive reading of complex and challenging materials. So, ideally, students who are looking to do well on their CARS should start reading extensively 2 or 3 years before they take the test.
If you do not have the luxury of time, I suggest you habituate yourself to reading challenging material as much as possible, as soon as possible. Set aside at least 30 minutes of your day to read classics of literature, literary articles, journals, and other scholarly materials. It is normal to feel overwhelmed when you first start reading these materials; at times, you might not even understand all the words used or concepts discussed. However, keeping up with your reading will improve your comprehension and reasoning skills as you expand your vocabulary and broaden your perspective. Make sure you apply the same system of identifying the main arguments and theses to your practice reading. If you are reading an article, reflect on what the author’s point of view is and identify the main theme of the article.
Be aware, it’s not enough to practice for CARS using CARS sample passages and questions. You must do outside reading in addition to practice passages to succeed on your CARS. Here’s a list of sources you can check out for your CARS practice:
MCAT CARS Strategy #3: Work on Speed
During the initial stages of your CARS preparation, you should not focus on MCAT timing. You should focus on answering the questions correctly before you move on to working on your speed. Most students struggle to identify the correct answers in the initial stages of CARS prep. This is completely normal. When you start studying for CARS, your primary goal should be to identify the question types and slowly work on answering the questions correctly.
Remember, CARS prep takes months of hard work, so your progress will depend on whether you practice with additional CARS passages and read complex materials outlined for you above. Only start working on your speed once you are consistently answering the questions correctly. When you begin timing yourself, start by giving yourself more time, then gradually working down to 10 minutes or less. To reiterate: do not sacrifice answering questions correctly for speed. First and foremost, you must get comfortable with tackling the questions and identifying the right answer.
MCAT CARS Strategy #4: Get Professional MCAT CARS Study Help
The ultimate strategy for your MCAT CARS studying is to use professional help, such as an MCAT CARS prep course or an MCAT tutor. CARS tutors and prep courses can be the key to success for students who are anxious about writing the CARS section or aren’t sure where to start when it comes to studying. For students whose weakness is reading comprehension, are slow readers, or who struggle with passage-based test questions, looking into a CARS prep course can be a huge help.
Not sure if you need an MCAT CARS prep course or tutor? Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I a slow reader or do I struggle with tests involving reading comprehension?
- Do I have a learning disability that affects my reading comprehension or speed?
- Am I stressed out about writing the CARS section of the MCAT?
- Did I score below average on the CARS section of any practice exams?
- Do the medical schools I’m applying to have a minimum required CARS score or put emphasis on the CARS section?
- Is English not my first language?
If your answer to any of these questions was yes, an MCAT CARS prep course or CARS tutor might be a great idea for you. A CARS prep course or tutor can provide you with dedicated, personalized help to both prepare for this part of the test and teach you the strategies to score well. The strategies we outlined above can be implemented into your self-study routine, but if you feel you’d benefit from extra help, a CARS prep course can give you a deep dive into all the strategies we’ve mentioned and more.
Looking for the right MCAT CARS prep course? Here's what to do:
Sample Passage, Questions, and Expert Answers
Now let's try applying the MCAT CARS strategy outlined above to the sample CARS passage below! Go ahead!
Both employers and workers are challenged by technological innovations, international trade, deregulation, and changes in the nature and structure of work. Their responses to these challenges indicate their choice of three roads to the new economy. The low road follows the historic path of mass production, emphasizing downsizing, outsourcing, and low-skill employees as ways to cut labor costs. Eventually, this approach, if the norm, must limit a nation's economic competitiveness, living standard, and income equity.
The high road acknowledges the growing value of investment in highly skilled employees who can react quickly to changing technologies and markets. It presupposes shared power and long-term goals. Only dominant firms can afford to commit resources to training and keeping employees by providing full benefits with high wages. Such firms tend to be protected from domestic or international competitors by technological advantages, large-scale production, or government regulations. Currently, high-road firms account for perhaps 20 percent of employees in the United States.
About 40 percent of U.S. workers receive no formal training beyond a high-school education. They must submit to the contingencies of low-road employment, remaining at the periphery of the new economy. The remaining 40 percent of the workforce slog along the muddy middle road, getting some advanced education or job-related training but unlikely to enter the dynamic high-road labor market and attract employers who would train them thoroughly to join their core workers.
The high road is not an easy course for employers to take. Today's global customers and suppliers are linked by a web of standards that affect not only prices but extend to the quality and variety of products, company organization, customer service and its timeliness, and constant innovations. Employers who meet these complex requirements use computer-based methods, which raise the level of skill needed by non-supervisory personnel. For example, instead of checking the quality of the final product, high-road firms integrate quality standards in their automated production process, encouraging workers at all stages of their operation to demonstrate expertise and responsibility.
High-performance work systems are most successful when training and work reforms are bundled. Similarly, workers find that their general education, occupational preparation, and access to training on the job are complementary in their effect on earnings. Workers who receive formal company training command higher wages than do similar workers who attend only vocational school or receive informal on-the-job instruction. Workers who use computers on the job also earn more than do those of the same education level who do not use computers at work. Moreover, the earning difference increases with the level of technological competence.
For the United States to compete in an eventual global economy based on skilled workers and quality products, additional employer investment in training is needed now. Policies at all levels should encourage the coordination of employer-provided training and broader schooling. Such policies will realize the highest returns in terms of personal income, adaptation to an increasingly volatile labor market, and efficiency in the transmission of changing skill requirements from workplaces to schools. Although for a particular job, employer-based training or vocational preparation can substitute for generalized schooling, specific training degrades rapidly, and narrow skills seldom transfer well to new job requirements.
But although high-wage, high-skill jobs create a demand for education and training, training does not create high-wage jobs. Ultimately, a strategy of investment in human capital succeeds or flounders according to the availability of high-wage, high-skill jobs. If investment in workers outpaces the number of good jobs, many very competent workers will face an employment market of many very undemanding jobs.
1. The author is apparently concerned that adherence to a policy referred to as "the low road" will reduce the competitiveness of:
A. Firms involved in international trade.
B. The United States in particular.
C. Technology-based economies.
D. The less-developed nations.
2. Which of the following findings is most clearly contrary to the reported influence of the use of computers in the workplace?
A. Office workers can follow computer-generated schedules with less training than they need to devise their own schedules.
B. Executives who correspond with customers by letter generate more business than those who rely on email alone.
C. Workers using nonautomated production processes are more efficient than workers on automated assembly lines.
D. Mechanics who use computerized diagnostic methods earn less than mechanics who use traditional methods.
3. The author can best be viewed as an advocate of:
A. The repeal of regulations that protect dominant firms.
B. An increase in spending on the training of employees.
C. An emphasis on high school vocational education.
D. The use of computers in industrial production.
4. Which of the following situations is most likely to constitute a muddy road, as the author uses the term?
A. Being trained in a skill that qualifies one for only a particular job.
B. Switching to unfamiliar procedures because of technological changes.
C. Returning to college to upgrade one's professional qualifications.
D. Being chronically unemployed due to an inadequate education.
5. Which of the following practices is most apt to promote the outcome attributed to increased worker involvement in the production process?
A. The workers' use of a computer bulletin board to share tips on quality control.
B. Close monitoring of the productivity of workers by their immediate supervisors.
C. The democratic participation of workers in the hiring of potential co-workers.
D. A profit-sharing program that rewards workers for company successes.
6. An employer reasons: "If I train my workers, competitors who save money by not providing training will be able to attract my trained workers with higher salaries than I can pay." What possible solution for this employer would most accord with the author's high road?
A. Support regulatory policies that penalize firms for failing to train workers.
B. Train workers who agree to repay the tuition if they leave within a set time.
C. Concentrate on recruiting workers who have been trained by other firms.
D. Cut costs elsewhere to match the higher wages paid by competitors.
7. The author asserts that to compete later, employers should invest in training now and also that training does not create high-wage jobs. Together, these assertions imply that:
A. Investment in training keeps costs low by providing a large pool of skilled workers.
B. In highly paid work, on-the-job training compensates for educational deficiencies.
C. Training is not effective unless it is supplemented by a comprehensive education.
D. Some highly trained workers may not benefit financially from their training.
Sample Answers and Expert Analysis
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?
There are two reasons. 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. Identifying the main point of each paragraph will help you answer Reasoning Within and Beyond the Text questions, as this helps you identify what evidence or arguments the author uses to support their main point.
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. During the practice tests, what should I aim to score for each passage?
You should aim for a score in the 90th percentile, which is approximately a 128 (based on most recent data released by AAMC). To do this, you should be getting 90% of questions correct (per passage, and on the whole section). However, this is only a guide, as the MCAT is scored on a curve relative to how other students do and the MCAT can vary in difficulty from one test date to another. This is why doing AAMC MCAT diagnostic test is key, as it provides a score in the 118-132 range per section.
9. What if I am just not getting better at CARS?
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 (referring to sources outlined above). 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! If you would like to learn more about how hard the MCAT is, make sure to read out blog.
10. When should I take the MCAT?
Whenever you are ready! More specifically, you want to score in the 90th percentile and do so consistently during your practice tests, which means the timeline can vary among individuals. AAMC’s website breaks down percentile scores on the whole test and each section. Note that they do not release how many questions you got correct, as the MCAT is scored by scaling how a student does relative to other students and factoring the relative difficulty of the test questions compared to other tests given during and before that test period.
11. What other resources can I use to prepare for the MCAT exam?
To get ready for the exam, you should start by taking the MCAT diagnostic test. It will reveal the areas of knowledge and disciplines you need to improve. Depending on your weaknesses, check out our MCAT biology questions guide, MCAT chemistry questions guide, MCAT psychology guide, and MCAT physics equations you must know for your exam.
Like our blog? Write for us! >>
Have a question? Ask our admissions experts below and we'll answer your questions!