2020 MCAT CARS Practice Passage, Questions + Expert Answer

Updated: July 14, 2020

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 or formerly known as the Verbal Reasoning [VR]) section will have come across a difficult passage. These are the passages where after reading it 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.

Whilst some others may advise you to skip these passages so you can focus your time and energy on the other ones, for anyone hoping to score 129+ on their CARS section, skipping an entire passage is hardly an option (to score above 129 with 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!). Check out our what is a good MCAT score blog post to see why you don't want to skip this section.

In this blog we're going to cover:

1. How To Approach Passages
2. An Example MCAT CARS Practice Passage
3. Sample MCAT CARS Practice Passage Questions
4. Answers

How then might you approach these passages?

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, but we're going to do a difficult MCAT CARS practice passage along with follow up MMI questions and answers today. 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/understanding 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 global 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! Review our blog to find out when to start studying for MCAT. Then, take a look at our ultimate guide to preparing for the MCAT, as well as our  “Ace the Critical Analysis and Reasoning section of the MCAT” blog post for some excellent reading material. Go through some of these difficult and often unfamiliar reading materials and practice summarizing individual paragraphs and sections. It is helpful to get feedback on your summaries for these passages that our Expert Consultants at BeMo would be happy to provide you with. If you're wondering when you should write the MCAT, check out our MCAT test dates blog.

Give it a try! Below is a difficult MCAT CARS practice passage with question types that are typical for the MCAT CARS section. 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!

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Example MCAT CARS Practice Passage

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 Passage Questions

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

Click here to see the answers.

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About the Author:

Dr. Lauren Prufer is an admissions expert at BeMo. Dr. Prufer is also a medical resident at McMaster University. Her medical degree is from the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. During her time in medical school, she developed a passion for sharing her knowledge with others through medical writing, research and peer mentoring.

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