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How To Increase Your CARS Score on the MCAT Fast

Is the CARS section of the MCAT turning out to be one of your biggest challenges during MCAT prep?

Are you finding it difficult to know how to begin tackling the CARS section?

Do you feel like you’re getting different advice from different people on how to do well on this section – and you don’t know which path to take?

Do you want to increase your CARS score as soon as possible?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, this article was written for you.

The tips and techniques in this article have the potential to literally increase your CARS score over night.

So fear not! We’re not going to let one frustrating section ruin your chances of crushing the MCAT this year.

Don’t listen to people who tell you to just continue doing more passages and reviewing your mistakes. If you’re doing that but your scores aren’t improving, there’s something wrong with your process.

Fix your process first, THEN keep doing more passages and reviewing.

This section can definitely be a confusing one and we’re here to give you proven, actionable advice on how you can increase your CARS score quickly and easily.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to use everything here. Try it all and use only what works for you.

Ready? Let’s begin…

1. Use The “Core Concept” Strategy To Increase Your CARS Score

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The core concept is the main idea underlying what the passage is about. It’s what the author is trying to say to you. It’s the author’s opinion, clearly defined.

Almost every CARS question will hover around the core concept of the passage. Therefore, you must invest a little time in reflecting what it is.

In fact, we encourage the act of writing down the core concept in one or two sentences.

Here’s the most strategic way you can go about figuring out the core concept:

  • Make a quick list of possible core concepts consisting of the fewest words possible for each concept
  • Narrow down what you think are the top most important concepts
  • Figure out how those top concepts are related to each other (in most cases, this connection is obvious and easy to recognize)
  • Write down in one, two, or three sentences how those top concepts are connected, relate them to the passage, relate them to the author, and realize that by doing this, you will have successfully written down and figured out the core concept
  • Eventually you want to choose the answer that matches the main point (the Core Concept) and has NO contradicting details in it (more on identifying contradictory details, further in this article)

You may also want to approach passage reading as if the author is a liar who just wants to convince you of his or her ideas. It’s your job to prove him/her wrong.

In this way, you’re more likely to be critical of the arguments made by the author, which is valuable when you’re answering the questions.

The more you do this during practice, the easier it will get.

The goal is that you shouldn’t have to be doing any writing when you’re doing the actual exam. If you do that’s okay but try to be so comfortable with this process that you can do it all in your head. Use these steps as guidelines.

2. How To Stay in the Passage: Key to Maintaining Your Focus & Saving Time on the CARS Section

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You will have 90 minutes  on the CARS section to answer 53 questions. Usually, there are 9 passages with 5-7 questions/passage. The smartest approach is to allocate 9 minutes/passage and leave 9 minutes as leeway/fudge factor.

Now that you know your time constraint per passage, it is crucial that you maintain your attention span.

Some people have a hard time staying focused and staying “in the passage” when reading the passage.

Staying focused is extremely important because you don’t want to waste time re-reading the passage when it’s time to answer the questions.

You want to comprehend it completely the first time you read.

So one technique to figure out the main idea (core concept) of the passage while at the same time staying focused, is to write down a quick note after each paragraph.

The note should be stating what the paragraph was about. Then, at the end of the passage, jot down a sentence or two that contains the main idea of the passage.

Again, the goal is to be able to do this in your head by the time you’re doing your last few practice exams.

You can also use the highlight tool to help you “stay in the passage” and stay focused.

Also, once you’re done answering the questions, take 20 to 30 seconds to close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Try to not think of anything at all. This will help clear the previous passage from your mind.

This is important because you want your mind to be like a blank state when starting each passage. The worst is when you confuse a previous passage’s messaging with the current one.

Take time to clear it away from your mind.

3. Know How Question Writers Try To Trick You With Trap Answers

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The following insight has helped countless students with the CARS section and we’re certain it will help you too. This is gold. Pay attention!

In the CARS section, you’ll normally see 2 answers that are completely wrong (eliminate those) and 2 answers that will look good. One of them is a trap. One of them is correct.

The Trap Answer

The trap answer will sound great until you spot a small detail that will be ‘questionable’. This small detail won’t be obviously wrong but you’ll wonder about it. You’ll think that detail isn’t quite right but since the rest of the answer sounds so amazing, you’ll feel compelled to go with it. DON’T GO WITH IT!

It can get difficult to not choose this tempting answer, especially when the MCAT is timed and you want to move on. Which is why you must practice focusing, understanding, recognizing key words, and being present during this section. Most importantly, with practice you’ll develop confidence and a lot of our mistakes are a result of not being confident in what we read.

The Correct Answer

The correct answer will usually sound good but it won’t sound as great the other answer, so you’ll wonder if you should pick it or not.

This answer will be the correct one, but it’s correctness won’t be as obvious. That was done on purpose, for you to start second guessing yourself. 

Remember:

When you see any incorrect detail, eliminate the answer immediately.

Wrong detail = Wrong answer.

However, just because you see a right detail doesn’t mean the answer is right.

Right details does not necessarily equal right answer.

The secret to doing well on the MCAT is being able to think critically. That’s what this section is testing. We’ve written an entire article on how this is the key to score in the 90th percentile. I suggest you definitely read it when you have a chance.

4. Techniques To Learn To Read Like A Skeptic To Increase Your CARS Score

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Everyone’s reading and writing ability can be improved. I don’t care how good you think you are. The MCAT dominates everyone.

Don’t worry though – especially if you feel your English isn’t as good as it should be.

If you have enough time before the MCAT, use some spare time and do the following:

  • Read a lot of opinion essays
  • Read The New Yorker Magazine
  • Read The Wall Street Journal
  • Read news magazines that don’t report news as much as they analyze the news
  • Read opinion based articles
  • Start early with CARS preparation
  • While reading, try and form counter-arguments in your mind. Understand the arguments being made and discussions going on.

Bonus Points: Out of Wall Street Journal and New York Times, and any other magazine or scholarly article we just mentioned, pick the one you find least interesting. If you can read through that magazine with some interest, you’re on your way to CARS success.

At the same time, you’re also training your eyes to be able to absorb a lot of text at once, while at the same time, you’re understanding what the author is saying a lot faster.

Remember, it’s not about how well you understand what you read, it’s about how well you can think critically about what you read. Remember to read as a skeptic.

You need to be able to apply what you read in the passage to a situation that was created for you.


5. Enjoy The CARS Section: Be Smart Enough To Take On A Different Mindset

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A lot of pre-meds live in fear of CARS because they don’t think it’s possible to increase their scores. Not only that, this section is actually known as the ‘most dreaded’ section.

A lot of people are dealing with the struggle that CARS passages aren’t very interesting.

What’s our advice? Deal with it!

In this moment, we want you to accept that CARS might just be a very boring section.

How does that make you feel right now? How is this going to make you feel when you’re writing the actual exam? Are you going to be grumbling through this section? Are you going to be annoyed?

Being in a negative mindset will never help you. It will only hurt you, whether you realize it or not.

It causes a huge lack in efficiency. The negative impact is different for different people. For some, they don’t read as fast when in a negative state. For others, they don’t comprehend the information as well when they’re in a negative mind frame.

Even if you’re 100% confident that the idea of you not finding the content interesting, won’t have any effect on your performance whatsoever, why would you take that chance? The first key is to be in control of your emotions.

Anyone who approaches this section with the most excitement, positive attitude, and self-created interest, will find it easier to succeed on not only this entire section, but also on the exam.

You need to change how you view the passage information. Look at it as something interesting. Find Art interesting if that’s not your background. Be excited to learn something new about whatever the topic is.

In fact, tell yourself that for the next few minutes, that topic is your new major and that’s all you want to do for the rest of your life. Having this perspective will not only make the process less of a chore, but your mind will stay optimally active, and that whole section will go by much more smoothly.

Sure, you can probably do well on CARS without going through this mind re-adjustment, but why not make it easier on yourself?

If you don’t try and develop a positive outlook towards these passages, you’ll only trigger frustration and overwhelming stress. A lot of our students, when feeling overwhelmed and feeling frustrated, often had ‘brain farts’. You must avoid these because they only lead to slow decrease of your CARS score.

I hope these tips helped you. Studying for the MCAT can be very stressful and we completely get it. We want to do our best to help make this journey as smooth as possible for you. We believe in ‘hacking the system’ to get the highest score possible in the easiest way possible.

These tips were just a small sample of our top techniques we have to help you maximize your MCAT score. If you want our best CARS strategies, shortcuts, and hacks, click here to download the MCAT Mastery Prep Strategy Guide.

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