There are many myths about the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section, one of which is that your score depends on luck. If you happen to get “good” passages, all is well, but if you don’t, you are in trouble. Thankfully, this is entirely untrue. It’s practice not luck that will help you conquer the MCAT CARS section. To do well on this section you will need to fundamentally change how you read the passages and go about answering the questions.

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Check out our online MCAT CARS prep courses or keep reading to discover an effective MCAT CARS strategy that will help you improve your CARS score.

  • Step 1: Tackle passages out of order

    MCAT verbal reasoning passages are not necessarily, or even usually, presented in order of difficulty. Don’t waste time on the hardest passages, only to skip or rush through the easy ones. Instead, decide if a passage is a

    • Do Now (an easier passage)
    • Do Later (a harder passage)
    • Killer (one that you will randomly guess on or do last)

    Skim a few sentences of the passage and see if you can easily paraphrase it. If you can, it’s most likely an easier passage to understand.

  • Step 2: Read the questions first

    Knowing what topics show up in the questions will help you work the passage more quickly and effectively. Before working the passage, read through the question stems from first to last (not the answer choices), identifying and highlighting any words or phrases that indicate important passage content.

  • Step 3: Read with a highlighter and scratch paper

    As you read through the passage, use the highlighting function (sparingly) to annotate the most important references in the text. This would include things like:

    • question topics
    • topic sentences
    • shifts in direction or continuations
    • the author’s tone
    • different points of view
    • conclusions

    Use your scratch paper, especially on difficult passages, to jot down the main point of each chunk of information. Think about how these chunks relate to each other. Track the logical structure of the author’s argument.

  • Step 4: What’s the bottom line?

    After you have read the entire passage, sum up the bottom line: the main idea and tone of the entire passage. For particularly difficult passages, write this down on your scratch paper to make sure that you have a reasonably clear idea of the point and purpose of the passage as a whole.

  • Step 5: Translate, paraphrase, and eliminate

    Translate the question task into your own words. What is the question asking you to do with or to the passage? Go back to the passage to find, read, and paraphrase the relevant information. Then, with the question firmly in mind, think about what the correct answer will need to do.

    As you go through the choices, use process of elimination. Look for reasons to strike out incorrect choices, and select the “least wrong” of the four. Remember, if you hit a particularly difficult question, skip over it for the moment and complete the other easier questions first.

  • Step 6: Check the review screen

    At or before the 5-minute mark (ideally, before you begin your last passage), double-check to make sure that you haven’t left any incomplete questions. Do NOT rethink questions you have already completed. Your goal in this step is simply to make sure that you have selected an answer for each question.

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