It's important to begin your MCAT CARS practice by reviewing difficult sample passages. Anyone who has some experience with the MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section will have come across a difficult passage. But the best is reviewing challenging passages and learning from your mistakes. After reading some passages, you think to yourself “What did I just read? What was that about? Huh?” These are the passages where you catch yourself reading the same lines over and over without really gaining extra comprehension.
While some may advise you to skip these passages so you can focus your time and energy on the easier ones, for anyone hoping to score 129+ on their CARS section, skipping an entire passage is hardly an option. To score above 129 while skipping an entire passage, you have to only get 2-3 other questions wrong in the entire section, meaning you must have at least 6-7 perfect passages! You must incorporate MCAT CARS practice into your to get a . In this blog, we will go over challenging MCAT CARS practice passages and provide expert analysis and tips for how to ace your MCAT CARS section!
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MCAT CARS practice is one of the most taxing aspects of your MCAT prep. As the name suggests, the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section focuses on your analysis and reasoning skills. This section is not about testing your academic knowledge, but rather than about seeing how well you can break down complex information and apply it to arrive at an answer. With your MCAT score being such a critical factor in determining , you need to ensure you spend sufficient time practicing with MCAT CARS passages before giving the exam.
Below, we've provided the answers and analysis for a few difficult MCAT CARS practice passages with question types that are typical for the MCAT CARS section.
Heralded as the father of existentialism, Kierkegaard’s debut work of influence Either/Or presents the categorical existence of two spheres, the aesthetic and the ethical. The hedonistic, distractible stage of aesthetic living is governed by circumstances of moment, where one fleeting event – such as the smile of a pretty girl – leads to the next and so too does the motif for the aesthetic’s fantasy. The ethical sphere is entered when the nature and judgments of one’s choices are considered. Individual agency, whilst present before, truly manifests in bearing the responsibility of one’s good or bad choices.
For Kierkegaard, the ethical sphere was intimately connected with the religious sphere explored in his subsequent works. Whilst the ethical has a commitment with morality, the religious is a covenant with God. It is based on faith; Christianity is seen as truth, although Kierkegaard admits it to be paradoxical and oppositional to logic. It is through conscious choice that movement from the ethical sphere to the religious occurs – with a leap of faith. Despite a seeming progression implied in Kierkegaard’s works, the spheres are not independent entities exclusive of each other. One who lives primarily in the religious sphere, for example, will still have aspects of her being enjoying fleeting moments of beauty and have morality govern her choices.
Kierkegaard’s leap of faith is denounced by his successor, Sartre, who rejects the notion of divine orchestration, tarring such leaps as bad faith. Moreover, Sartre vehemently argues for the oppressive nature of social constructs and collectivist forces that usher the individual into rejecting his or her innate freedom for that of the greater good. It is this narrowing and limiting of choice that Sartre defined as bad faith. In a manner, any and all external influences that cause one to live in an inauthentic fashion – such as the social scripts followed on a first date, in a restaurant – are judged to be guilty and worthy of re-examination.
The core of Sartre’s philosophies hinge upon the oft quoted adage, “existence proceeds essence.” It is man who first and foremost is before he defines the parameters of that existence through conscious and deliberate choice. It is therefore of no consequence the station, nature, and parameters surrounding one’s birth when considering the nature of one’s being. Essence is defined through choice. But how can one make such a choice when the options are seemingly limitless and each has unbeknownst consequences? Indeed, it is so daunting an experience that Sartre dubbed this Existential Angst.
In an elegant application of existential philosophy, a former concentration camp prisoner, Frankl, posits that regardless of how harsh, cruel, and inhumane the external environment may be, one’s inner state and reaction is defined by agency. He defines this internal state and motivation as one’s attitude in relation to outside circumstance. Of paramount importance for Frankl is finding and making meaning of the circumstances in one’s life. The application of his philosophy in action is what gives Frankl’s narrative its power. Where Kierkegaard and Sartre’s philosophies were also deeply personal and practical, they were nonetheless born out of academia. Frankl’s insightful analysis and presentation of the prisoner’s internal state was a lived experience, lending it to be more accessible for the layperson.
Prefer to watch a video instead? Get a pen and paper and follow along as you work through the questions and answers:
Sample MCAT CARS Practice Questions for Passage #1
1. What is Existential Angst (paragraph 4)?
a. The feelings one has when confronted with choice
b. The state of desperation when contemplating that existence proceeds essence
c. The task of making seemingly limitless choices
d. The anxiety and regret associated with having made a choice
2. The author would most agree with which of the following statements:
a. Existentialism is a philosophy about agency and choice, best introduced through reading passages such as this one
b. Frankl’s philosophy is better than Kierkegaard and Sartre’s
c. Kierkegaard and Sartre’s philosophies were impractical when compared to Frankl’s philosophy
d. Applying the principles of existentialism to everyday life is better than just talking about it
3. Which of the following best describes the main goal of the passage?
a. To compare the different philosophies of Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Frankl
b. To show a progression of existential philosophy
c. To demonstrate how existentialism has changed with time
d. To offer an introduction to existential philosophy
4. According to the passage’s depiction of Kierkegaard, which of the following policies would he most support?
a. That students should have the choice to attend either a secular or religious school
b. That Existentialism should be taught in schools
c. That World Religions should be taught in schools
d. That public funding should be provided for religious school boards
5. Which of the following statements is least supported by the passage?
a. Sartre believed men and women were equals
b. Sartre supported laws to prevent discrimination
c. Sartre believed that a poor man could become rich if he worked hard enough
d. Sartre was denounced by the church
Answers for Passage #1
Did you find the above passage difficult? Stay calm and see below for some tips on how to deal with it.
Americans were raised with a sentimental attachment to rural living and with a series of notions about rural people and rural life that I have chosen to designate as the agrarian myth. The agrarian myth represents a kind of homage that Americans have paid to the fancied innocence of their origins.
Like any complex of ideas, the agrarian myth cannot be defined in a phrase, but its component themes form a clear pattern. Its hero was the yeoman farmer, its central conception the notion that he is the ideal man and the ideal citizen. Unstinted praise of the special virtues of the farmer and the special values of rural life was coupled with the assertion that agriculture, as a calling uniquely productive and uniquely important to society, had a special right to the concern and protection of government. The yeoman, who owned a small farm and worked it with the aid of his family, was the incarnation of the simple, honest, independent, healthy, happy human being. Because he lived in close communion with beneficent nature, his life was believed to have a wholesomeness and integrity impossible for the depraved populations of cities.
In origin the agrarian myth was not a popular but a literary idea, a preoccupation of the upper classes, of those who enjoyed a classical education, read pastoral poetry, experimented with breeding stock, and owned plantations or country estates. It was clearly formulated and almost universally accepted in America during the last half of the eighteenth century.
By the early nineteenth century it had become a mass creed, a part of the country’s political folklore and its nationalist ideology. The roots of this change may be found as far back as the American Revolution, which, appearing to many Americans as the victory of a band of embattled farmers over an empire, seemed to confirm the moral and civic superiority of the yeoman, made the farmer a symbol of the new nation, and wove the agrarian myth into its patriotic sentiments and republican idealism.
To what extent was the agrarian myth actually false? When it took form in America during the eighteenth century, its stereotypes did indeed correspond to many of the realities of American agricultural life. There were commercial elements in colonial agriculture almost from the earliest days, but there were also large numbers of the kind of independent yeomen idealized in the myth.
Between 1815 and 1860, the character of American agriculture was transformed. The independent yeoman, outside of exceptional or isolated areas, almost disappeared before the relentless advance of commercial agriculture. The cash crop converted the yeoman into a small entrepreneur, and the development of horse-drawn machinery made obsolete the simple old agrarian symbol of the plow. Farmers ceased to be free of what the early agrarian writers had called the “corruptions” of trade. They were, to be sure, still “independent,” in the sense that they owned their own land. They were a hardworking lot in the old tradition. But no longer did they grow or manufacture what they needed: They concentrated on the cash crop and began to buy more and more of their supplies from the country store.
The triumph of commercial agriculture not only rendered obsolete the objective conditions that had given to the agrarian myth so much of its original force, but also showed that the ideal implicit in the myth was contesting the ground with another, even stronger ideal—the notion of opportunity, of career, of the self-made man. The same forces in American life that had given to the equalitarian theme in the agrarian romance its most compelling appeal had also unleashed in the nation an entrepreneurial zeal probably without precedent in history, a rage for business, for profits, for opportunity, for advancement.
Sample MCAT CARS Practice Questions for Passage #2
1. The central argument of the passage is that the agrarian myth:
A. has no factual basis in the realities of American agricultural life.
B. is a sentimental representation of the role that agriculture played in American life.
C. accurately reflects the nature of American agriculture, both in the past and today.
D. understates the negative aspects of life on the farm in America.
2. The passage suggests that the agrarian myth originated:
A. in literature.
B. on country estates in Europe.
C. on small farms owned and worked by yeoman farmers.
D. among the urban elite who romanticized the virtues of the simple life of the farmer.
3. Based on the passage, the agrarian myth assumes that:
I. yeoman farmers are wholesome and honest.
II. yeoman farmers are morally superior to most citizens.
III. agriculture deserves special treatment from the government.
A. I only
B. I and II only
C. II and III only
D. I, II, and III
4. Based on the passage, the agrarian myth became part of a mass creed because:
A. the country’s nationalist ideology stood in need of the kind of patriotic sentiments that the agrarian myth could provide.
B. farmers were credited with having played a major role in the American victory in the Revolutionary War.
C. most of the American population lived on family farms during the late eighteenth century.
D. the yeoman farmer, as an ideal, corresponded to many of the realities of American life in the late eighteenth century.
5. According to the passage, the agrarian myth implied that yeoman farmers were:
A. honest entrepreneurs.
B. classically educated.
C. sentimentally patriotic.
D. happy and industrious.
6. Which of the following assertions, if true, would most weaken the main point of the passage?
A. The contribution made by American farmers to victory in the Revolutionary War has been greatly exaggerated.
B. The agrarian myth was what might be called “a noble lie”: it was false but generally beneficial.
C. The agrarian myth played a part in the thinking of only a handful of Americans during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
D. American farmers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had very little in common with the idealized yeoman farmer of the agrarian myth.
Answers to Passage #2
Do you want to know some expert tips to help you answer the above passage? Check out some strategies to help you ace your MCAT CARS section.
No matter how noble the effort, the burden of proof always lies with the reformer. Many empirically sound proposals to increase the effectiveness of elementary schools in the United States have been dismissed with the response, “If it is so necessary, why has the need not been recognized before?” To counter this response, a reformer should make clear that a problem has been identified.
If the condition addressed has not been completely and clearly established as a problem, those concerned should ensure that it is accurately measured. The appropriate instrument for measuring educational effectiveness is a test noted for its reliability and validity. If the researchers believe that no existing test is adequate, they should develop their own test. Since the burden of proof for their methods is then focused on their instrument, sincere reformers will be very serious about establishing its credentials.
When a proposed intervention is not justified in the most minimal fashion, the public has to wonder why not. It is thus reasonable to be suspicious of the promoters of the Generalized School Readiness Program. What is their motivation? Are they agents of an unfriendly power bent on “dumbing down” U.S. education? Are educational entrepreneurs trying cynically to profit from the general dissatisfaction with the nation’s schools?
Such speculations may appear to border on the absurd; however, stranger motivations have been discovered. It is more useful, however, to assume that the promoters, wishing to keep their business financially solvent, have opted not to address school-based problems from the viewpoint of children, or parents, or even teachers. They are merely following the usual practice at the professional level of education of treating learning as an abstraction that has little to do with the learner. This outlook is one that Jean Piaget, John Dewey, and A. L. Gesell-theoreticians with empirical evidence about children’s intellectual development-all worked to counter.
Piaget and Gesell, although from different schools of thought, also had direct experience with children in an educational setting, and both contributed profoundly useful principles to the field of education. Yet the conclusions of both about the need to consider developmental level are opposed by advocates of Generalized School Readiness.
One must wonder about the experience these self-proclaimed experts have had with children. Their description of a child learning to draw, for example, assumes a struggle from stage to stage. Most modern observers of children think that if a task is developmentally appropriate and has personal meaning for a child, it is approached as a pleasing challenge, not a struggle.
In the literature promoting their approach, the advocates of generalized readiness are clearly directing their appeal to school administrators. Parents who do not understand their “readiness” concept are dismissed as “uncaring.” Teachers who question it are described as “uninitiated,” in the sense that someday they will accept it. Yet this literature expresses no doubt that the administrators will cooperate with them in ensuring that their viewpoint prevails. An administrator wise enough to adopt the readiness program is promised higher percentages on standardized tests and more content teachers.
With comparative data on the results of alternative approaches as ambiguous as they are in the U.S., the odds favor acceptance by a school system of a poorly researched but slickly presented program. Readiness, although a confused approach, is easily implemented because its promoters are positioned to move immediately. Developmentally appropriate instruction, which parents are likely to judge the more reasonable approach, appears to be hard to sell to decision makers concerned with uniformity. In the long run, however, it is the forgotten parents and the children themselves who will pay for the short-sighted ambition of this policy.
Sample MCAT CARS Practice Questions for Passage #3
1. The author apparently considers a theory of education that “has little to do with the learner”: A. practical but unethical.
B. ethical but not generally accepted.
C. generally accepted but ineffective.
D. effective but impractical.
2. The author argues that the reason for the approach taken by promoters of the Generalized School Readiness Program is their wish:
A. to control the education of U.S. consumers.
B. to defraud the schools of a great deal of money.
C. to promote the success of a corporate sponsor.
D. to win the support of school administrators.
3. The most reasonable inference from passage statements is that administrators are relatively reluctant to institute developmentally appropriate instruction because:
A. it is favored by parents and therefore represents the views of those with little understanding of learning.
B. it is based on untested theories and therefore requires extensive research to demonstrate its effectiveness.
C. it is individualized and therefore involves an inconvenient process of changing traditional methods.
D. it is promoted in slick presentations and therefore justifies skepticism about its cost effectiveness.
4. One can infer from the passage that teaching in the Generalized School Readiness Program is to developmentally appropriate teaching as:
A. breaking farmland with a hand plow is to preparing the fields by riding on a mechanized cultivator.
B. sending a yearly form letter to one’s acquaintances is to sending personal notes to one’s friends.
C. casting a line into a lake with a fishing rod is to fishing with a net behind a boat.
D. preparing a variety of dishes in a restaurant is to cooking a family meal at home.
5. The performance of high school students on an examination noted for its reliability and validity is used to predict their success in college. The author’s views on such tests suggests that its scores could also be used to evaluate:
A. the usefulness of high school curricula.
B. the honesty of the grading in high schools.
C. the appropriateness of the testing principles.
D. the probable income of the students in later life
Answers for Passage #3
See below for some additional tips on how to get a good overall MCAT score.
At BeMo, we have developed an approach to these difficult passages – both for how to approach them on the test and how to study for them. Firstly, should you encounter a difficult passage on the test, don’t panic! Read the passage like you would a badly written novel or newspaper article – in other words, don’t worry about understanding specific words or phrases, instead read for the general gist/thesis of the passage. Take the passage one paragraph at a time, pausing for a moment after each paragraph and ask yourself what that paragraph was about. Then, try to link each of the paragraphs together at the end into a general understanding of the entire passage.
If a paragraph gives you some difficulty when you first approach it, don’t worry! Write down some keywords from the passage and move on. Having a general context for the rest of the passage will often help you understand its separate paragraphs better.
To study for these kinds of passages, the best thing to do is to prepare by trying out MCAT CARS practice passages, such as the ones we've provided above. These difficult and often unfamiliar reading materials and practice samples will help you practice summarizing individual paragraphs and sections. It is helpful to get feedback on your summaries from a , who can identify what you need to work on and how to improve. Some people even choose to join an to get professional coaching. You should consider your personal requirements and timeline to see if you want to take on expert help. If you're wondering when you should write the MCAT, check out our blog.
Generally, you should spend no more than 10-12 minutes on each individual passage in the CARS section. That being said, it is entirely reasonable to spend more time on difficult passages (as you will most likely spend less time on easier passages).
You’ll get the most of this exercise if you do it as you would the real MCAT. Find a quiet but not silent place (e.g. coffee shop, common room in a library) to do this passage. Don’t look at the answers until you have answered all the questions and are ready to submit (i.e. they are your final answers). Remember, if you make a “silly mistake” in practice, chances are you will make them on the real MCAT as well!
Though these passages may seem daunting at first, over time, you'll find it easier and easier to answer MCAT CARS questions. With sufficient practice, your critical analysis, reasoning, and information synthesis skills will develop and you'll take lesser time to understand each passage and parse your answers. So don't be discouraged if you find this section tough at first, and just start practicing!
1. How many CARS question types can I expect in the exam?
There are only three CARS question formats: Foundations of Comprehension, Reasoning Within the Text, and Reasoning Beyond the Text.
2. Why is it important to know the question types?
Firstly, it is possible that only one question type is challenging for you. Knowing the question type you struggle with will help you focus on improving certain skills associated with that question type. For example, if you find Foundations of Comprehension questions challenging, practice reading complex texts and identifying the main theses of paragraphs, passages, and essays. Secondly, you need to know the different question types because they build on each other and relate to each other. You must be able to comprehend before you can reason within the text (analysis). You must be able to do both comprehension and analysis before you attempt reasoning beyond the text (synthesis).
3. How should I practice for MCAT CARS?
Your number one practice strategy should involve reading as much complex and challenging material as possible. Practicing with MCAT CARS passages is a good first step, but it will not significantly improve your reading, comprehension, and analysis skills. Try to read at least one challenging article or essay per day. Aim to read at least one book per week. As you read, ask yourself what arguments the authors are making, what language techniques they use to relate their position, analyze if their arguments are strong, etc. To improve, try reading classics of literature and philosophy, as well as academic and scholarly journals.
4. When should I start studying for MCAT?
The answer to the question of and specifically, the CARS section, is very simple - as early as possible. Ideally, by the time you start preparing for your exam, you are an avid reader. If not, you must give yourself ample amount of time to get comfortable with choosing the right MCAT CARS answers. I would suggest allotting no less than 6 months to read and analyze challenging texts, as well as MCAT CARS practice passages.
5. What are some of the important skills I should aim to develop?
Being able to identify the thesis or main argument of a passage is a skill you must develop to succeed in CARS. 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.
6. What if I see no improvement in my CARS practices?
After initial stages of MCAT CARS prep, many students become discouraged and ask themselves "" The CARS is perhaps the most challenging section of the MCAT. While you can try memorizing and , the CARS section tests skills and knowledge that is not based in recollection. You cannot memorize CARS passages – it would be futile. 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 practice with sample passages. You must read and analyze everything you read – newspaper articles, journal articles, novels, the news, advertisements, etc. Only constant practice will help you improve.
7. How much time should I take to complete a passage?
Ideally 10 minutes per each passage, but this can vary depending on the difficulty of the passage and the questions. Remember, you must first work on the quality of your comprehension, analysis, and synthesis. Work on speed only after you feel comfortable answering questions and show significant improvement in the quality of your answers.
8. During the practice tests, what should I aim to score for each passage?
When you take the , 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 a guide only as the MCAT is scored on a curve relative to how other students do (and the AAMC does not release their scoring protocol) and the MCAT can vary in difficulty from one test date to another. This is why doing AAMC practice tests is key, as they provide a score in the 118-132 range per section.
9. When should I take the MCAT?
Don't stress too much about exactly . The important thing is, you should only take the exam when you are ready! More specifically, you want to take the MCAT only after you score consistently well during your practice tests, around 90%.
10. I really do not want to write the MCAT! Is there any way to avoid it?
11. Will my MCAT CARS score greatly affect my chances of getting into medical school?
Most medical schools put a lot of weight into your CARS score. Some schools only consider your CARS score during application review, like the in Canada. Admissions committees want to see your ability to analyze information and solve problems, which are some of the key skills physicians should have.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo
BeMo Academic Consulting
Source: AAMC Sample Question Guide