We were surprised to find out how underrated and often ignored CARS strategy (and CARS overall) is by premeds studying for the MCAT.
130+ CARS scorers on the other hand, take this section very seriously (sometimes even more than other sections).
The problem is most premeds view it as having a familiar format of passages and questions, and assume it's going to be easy.
As you've probably seen during practice exams, it's not. In fact, AAMC themselves tell you how complex this section is on their website...
"Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills passages are relatively short, typically between 500 and 600 words, but they are complex, often thought-provoking pieces of writing with sophisticated vocabulary and at times, intricate writing styles." - AAMC
Our focus at MCAT Mastery is to help you dominate the MCAT using the only method that has been proven to work over and over again…
Using strategy. Proven top MCAT scorer strategies.
In this case, in order to help you dominate CARS, we're going to focus on proven strategies from 130+ CARS scorers.
In previous CARS strategy articles, we’ve mentioned the importance of being able to pick up on the main idea or the “core concept” of every passage.
The main idea is the author’s reason for writing the passage. It’s the central argument, idea, or opinion that drove the author to write the passage.
130+ CARS scorers know that CARS is about arguments. Each paragraph is about opinions and your job is to find it.
In this article, we’re going to cover several strategies top CARS scorers use to find the main idea easily, quickly, and accurately.
So let's begin...
These top scorer CARS strategies are enveloped in two key paradigms…
The first is reading with purpose.
MCAT CARS Strategy Part 1: How 130+ CARS Scorer Read with Purpose To Easily Find The Main Idea
Reading with purpose means having a strong desire for understanding what you read. Which means giving it your complete concentration and focus.
Top CARS scorers know when this is done properly, you’ll automatically start asking questions about words or phrases that you read - which is extremely important to dominate CARS.
You’ll constantly ask yourself things like “did that make sense?” before moving on. When you read in this way, your desire to understand every sentence will outweigh your desire to get through the passage as quickly as possible.
130+ scorers understand that reading with purpose also means to not be too concerned about reading speed initially. Instead they understand that reading slowly is to their advantage.
Here’s where top scorers advise that reading slowly comes most strongly into play…
(We recommend you remember these rules. Make note of them somewhere if you can :))
When you first start off a passage, you generally want to read very slowly. The slowest you should ever be reading is for the first paragraph, first sentence of the passage.
Then, for the first sentence of all other paragraphs, you should read slower than the rest of the paragraph. The first sentence of every paragraph should be read very slowly. It sets the tone and often the main idea which is crucial for you to pick up.
By reading like this, and at a strategic, comfortable speed (with purpose), you will detect and understand the main idea much, much more easily...
And the main idea is what will usually lead you to the right answer.
You'll notice that 90% of students doing CARS passages around you, will be/are too nervous or scared to read slowly.
They'll read fast to be 'efficient' but miss crucial points for which they'll have to come back and reread. Efficiency is then lost.
Or they won't come back to reread at all and with their lack of understanding, they'll easily be swayed by the creator of the question into choosing the answer that sounded correct but wasn't.
If you still doubt this strategy or are feeling nervous about trying a comfortable/slow reading speed, consider that reading takes place in areas of the brain because of proximal stimuli entering your eye at an extremely fast rate...
Comprehension on the other hand, takes place after in the frontal lobe at a much slower rate. Which means that reading speed doesn’t matter, if you’re not understanding the material.
Also, if you feel like you understand even while you read fast, don’t dismiss this strategy. Give it a shot. Test it. See if your rate of right answer increases. If it does, it's a clear sign that you need to train your comprehension speed first, before increasing your reading speed.
You'll likely find that you prefer to read slower because you'll realize if you don’t understand as well as you think you do, that’s the difference between quickly, easily, and accurately finding the main idea and not finding it at all, which is the difference between getting the right answer and the wrong answer, which is the difference between a competitive and mediocre CARS score!
If you’re reading every passage with purpose, with a focus on understanding, then your reading speed in conjunction with your comprehension speed, should increase with practice.
Remember, comprehension speed is much more important than reading speed.
What will likely happen when you read with this new strategy is that you'll begin to see CARS passages in a new light - you'll be one of the people who just 'get CARS'. It's all because you took the time to dissect passages using the right techniques slowly but surely.
And once you're a natural, once you just 'get CARS', you'll automatically begin picking up your reading speed, which is fine at that point because you now have the ability to see 'through' it all.
Of course, we want you to finish the section on time. So reading at a decent rate is important. But that will come with practice and as you train your ability to understand quicker.
Before you write the actual MCAT, get to the point where your reading speed isn’t holding you back in any way (such as by not letting you finish the section).
Once you’re getting the right answer constantly, you can work on speeding up your reading. Although that will increase with practice as well so you should be fine. However, you can also use speed reading techniques mentioned in this post.
Keep in mind to try and never reread. You must train yourself to never read a sentence again. This is another reason why you must train yourself to fully understand a sentence the first time you read it.
Eventually, like most top CARS scorers, if you’re actually reading carefully with purpose and concentration and you come across something you don’t understand, you can just move on.
It’s likely not important and was planted there to trip you up. Remember, don't reread!
We hope you don't mind when we repeat stuff... We just want to drill key practices into your head so that while you're studying or reading a passage during a practice test (or the real one!), you hear your made-up voice for us reminding of you of these little important practices 🙂
Once you’ve identified the main idea of the paragraph or the passage as a whole and written them down (as discussed how to do in previous articles)…
Then, as you’re reading with purpose, mentally note whether each sentence is:
[A] Nothing New [B] New Argument + Topic or [C] New Addition.
Nothing New – This is just a continuation of an idea you’ve already identified. Or it could be extra information that’s unnecessarily placed there.
New Argument + Topic – A whole new argument and topic is presented.
New Addition – A new argument about a topic that you’ve already identified.
Categorizing each sentence into one of these areas requires concentration and once again, reading with purpose. If you come across [B] or [C], you’ll have to summarize them both. [A] doesn’t require summarizing.
Being able to summarize properly is an extremely important skill 130+ scorers have trained themselves on for the CARS section.
Summarizing strategically and properly is something that needs to be done when reading the questions, as well as the passages.
For detailed step-by-step guidance on how to summarize CARS passages and questions effectively and find the main argument + main point of every passage with near-perfect accuracy, you’ll need to refer to the 130+ CARS Scorer Mastery Report. Inside that report, we’re able to give you much clearer guidance than trying to ‘summarize’ it all here.
Next, the second paradigm containing 130+ CARS Scorer strategies to quickly and accurately detect the main idea is reading with sentiment.
Here we’ll discuss how 130+ CARS scorers are able to recognize the authors shift in tone on his or her opinion on their topic. Being able to pick up on this tone-shift will give you leverage in allowing you to pinpoint the main idea quickly and accurately.
MCAT CARS Strategy Part 2: How 130+ CARS Scorers Read with Sentiment to Quickly Pinpoint the Author’s Arguments
Reading with sentiment is how top scorers force themselves to really ‘get into’ the passage and what they’re reading.
It’s about exercising your emotional intelligence and getting more involved with the passage and what the author is saying.
Top MCAT scorers recommend this strategy for studying for the MCAT and even when you’re writing practice tests (and the actual test), because it has incredible benefits.
For example, one benefit of reading while being in that state of feeling ‘involved’ and passionate about what you’re reading, is that it allows you to remember more.
When reading CARS passages, you don’t want to go back and reread paragraphs when answering questions. That's a waste of precious time. You want to remember everything relevant the first time you read it.
A great CARS strategy used by many 130+ scorers is to visualize everything you read. This helps you get into it the passage unlike anything else.
Treat the passage like a movie where every word is creating a new scene. Remember to visualize while you’re reading, not after you’re done the sentence.
Additionally, the real reason why it’s especially important for CARS that you do this, is that when you read with passion, you can understand the author’s passion for what he or she is writing about. Understanding the author’s passion is very important in identifying the main idea.
The author is likely an expert in this field and experts are passionate about their subject areas. When you try to feel out where they’re coming from, when you try to interpret and share their emotion and intent, you’ll be able to ‘hear’ them speaking the way someone speaks to you with enthusiasm.
Unlike most MCAT writers who are hearing a monotone voice when reading, you’ll read from a place of an evolved top CARS scorer perspective. You’ll notice the difference between when the passion the author has for the passage is positive, negative, or neutral. This will help you in identifying what the author is expecting you to understand.
By the way, when you’ve truly tried to read with sentiment and purpose and you’re unsure of the author’s tone, go with the neutral conclusion.
The best part is by reading like this, you’ll recognize ‘shifts’ in tones.
A shift in tone is a huge indicator of the main idea. And a shift in tone is usually best characterized when the author uses contrasting words like: however, but, yet, etc.
It’s like when someone who really dislikes the MCAT exam but starts off saying, “The MCAT is valuable and I can see why med-schools use it as a filtering mechanism when it comes to accepting a limited about of students, but…”
Before getting to the ‘but’, anyone would likely have concluded that this person actually has a favorable opinion of the MCAT.
When you notice a contrast word, top CARS scorers know that’s an indicator that there’s a NEW idea on the table. At that point, whatever came before the ‘but’ is no longer important. It’s what comes after that needs your attention.
Another important key point to be aware of regarding contrast words is that if you find that there is a string of contrast words, it’s the last contrast word that is the most important.
What 130+ CARS scorers understand is that contrast words indicate support of the argument. When an argument is supported in such a way, that’s a huge indicator to take advantage of.
Remember, the main idea is an idea that has been supported in more than one paragraph.
Being aware and knowing about these ‘support’ indicators is a powerful top scorer CARS strategy that most people have no clue about. There are several of these indicators.
130+ CARS scorers rely on the ability to recognize when an idea is supported and when it isn’t to accurately detect the main idea.
Examples of more support indicators are:
This helps tremendously when you’re done reading a paragraph, and you have to write down the argument at the end of the paragraph.
Keep in mind to never write down an argument that isn’t supported.
If you identify the first sentence as an argument and the second sentence is something that doesn’t support that argument, don’t write down that argument. You should keep it in mind, but for now, it’s not important.
Using this strategy, you’ll increase your likelihood of only writing down the correct argument and not the one that’s disguised as one.
Be aware of support indicators because they will help you identify the correct one. If understood and used properly, this is an incredibly valuable top scorer CARS strategy you can start applying right away to see an improvement in your CARS score.
Another top scorer CARS strategy comes from knowing that each paragraph might have a different argument, so the trick is to keep track of all previous arguments as well. It requires more intent and focus, but it’s worth it.
We’re aware that throughout this post we’re firing multiple tips and tricks at you almost all at once and it can be a lot to keep track of. We’re just trying to provide as much value as we can because we know how frustrating and how confusing CARS can be and we want to ensure you maximize your CARS score.
Again, if you want clarity on anything discussed here, or step-by-step action plans, or more high-level CARS strategies, you need to download two important resources...
1 - The Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide
2 - The 130+ CARS Strategy Mastery Report
All the top scorer MCAT/CARS techniques and strategies we have for you, including some of the best and most valuable ones that you won’t find anywhere else, are included in these downloadable PDFs.
Spending the short time reading through those resources will give you clarity, confidence, and a concrete understanding of exactly what you need to do to not only destroy CARS, but also achieve a competitive, well-balanced MCAT score.
For a lot of premeds, the CARS section is the biggest hurdle on the MCAT. It’s frustrating to have one section holding you back from improving.
It’s stressful and can cause a lot of worry when you’ve been studying for months to not be able to hit your target score. That’s a scary situation to be in and we completely get it.
The smartest solution you can apply at that point is to change your approach using strategy that’s been proven to work. It’s as simple as that.
Apply the top scorer proven MCAT and CARS strategies we have for you, and you will see significant improvements in your scores, we can guarantee it.
Using these strategies, a lot of premeds finally get over that same score they’ve been hovering around for so long.
As a warning, you’ll have wished you applied these strategies and took this proven approach earlier... but you’ll also be grateful you started leveraging them sooner than later.
Again, we know we’re covering everything here on a very “birds-eye” top-level perspective and it might be overwhelming to take it all in.
If you feel that is so, give this article another read, check out our other CARS articles, and if you really would like to fast-track improvement in your CARS and MCAT score, with step-by-step guidance on exactly how top scorers mastered this beast of an exam, then we highly recommend you download the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide and 130+ Scorer CARS Mastery Report.
If you read this whole way, we’re certain that you have the focus and determination to do whatever you need to do to destroy the MCAT this year.
We’re certain the MCAT, let alone one section on it, isn't going to stop you from achieving your med-school and doctor dreams…
You got this,
The MCAT Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors