Is the CARS section of the MCAT turning out to be one of your biggest challenges during MCAT prep?
Do you finish reading a passage and have no idea how to move forward with identifying the right answer?
Are you struggling with timing, comprehension, and identifying the most important points in CARS passages?
Lastly, are you hoping to increase your CARS score as soon as possible?
If so, this CARS strategy article was written for you 🙂
There's a lot of different advice out there on how to improve your CARS score. The problem is that none of their information is backed by proof - proof a high CARS score (130+).
We advise you to avoid those 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.
Once you do have your processes down however, with techniques and strategies that work for you and you're comfortable with, then the #1 advice any 130+ CARS scorer will give you is to PRACTICE.
Nothing beats practice. Especially on CARS. You can apply all the high quality strategies in this article, but if you don't practice, your chances of CARS and overall MCAT success, will diminish.
So make a silent promise to us and more importantly to yourself right now, that once you establish the right top scorer strategies and process for yourself, you're going to practice as much as possible until the date of your exam.
With that being said, this section can definitely be a confusing one and we're here to give you those proven, actionable, 130+ CARS scorer advice and strategies on how you can increase your CARS score quickly and easily.
Remember, your key to succeeding on CARS and on the MCAT is to learn from those who have already succeeded and achieved the goals you want to achieve. Using their proven strategies is the smartest course of action you can take for getting a high CARS and overall MCAT score.
We want to highlight that the information in this article is reliable and has worked for many. We know because we conduct ongoing research and hold paid interviews with 515+ scorers on the MCAT.
At MCAT Mastery, our main focus is to be the intermediary between you and top MCAT scorers, providing you with their shortcuts, hacks, techniques, frameworks, and much more.
With that said, in this article, we'll be covering 6 MCAT CARS strategies used and recommended by strictly 130+ CARS Scorers (so you know they work!)
And finally, 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...
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, top scorers encourage the act of writing down the core concept in one or two sentences.
Here’s one of the most strategic ways top CARS scorers go about figuring 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.
Top CARS Scorers recommend that the main 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.
We also highly recommend that you check out this in-depth article which goes into much further detail about how 130+ scorers identify the main idea.
You will have 90 minutes on the CARS section to answer 53 questions. Usually, there are 9 passages with 5-7 questions/passage.
One top scorer recommendation is to allocate 9 minutes/passage and leave 9 minutes as leeway/fudge factor.
Once you have 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.
Top CARS Scorers know that 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 great technique most top scorers recommend 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.
For a full demonstration of how a 130+ CARS scorer would go through a real AAMC CARS passage using this strategy, read this post and follow along. Reading about CARS strategies is one thing, seeing it in action is what will open your eyes and your mind to thinking like a top scorer.
A lot of top scorers also used the highlight tool to help them "stay in the passage" and stay focused. Try it and see if it works for you.
Also, once you're done answering the questions, top scorers recommend to take a few seconds 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.
Top scorers know 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.
The following top CARS scorer's insight has helped countless students with the CARS section and we're certain it will help you too.
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 keywords, 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.
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 next strategy goes further into getting around the "tricks and traps" of question writers.
You’ve probably experienced something like the following, to the point that it’s just frustrating and demoralizing...
Whenever you choose an answer that you’re absolutely sure is right, it turns out to be wrong. Or whenever you dismiss an answer that you’re absolutely sure is wrong, it turns out to be right.
So what’s going on here?
It all comes down to the fact that the MCAT was created to take advantage of natural human tendencies. When you’re choosing the right or wrong answer, thinking that it’s all your conscious choosing, it’s actually the question writer tricking you into choosing it.
Question writers often write questions in a way where the correct answer isn’t obvious.
Remember, they’re usually trying to deceive you because this is the only way they know how to truly test your ‘critical thinking’. Those who are able to think critically, are not afraid to choose an answer that’s counterintuitive.
“Counterintuitive” – that’s a key word to remember.
130+ CARS scorers know that more often that not, the right answer isn’t always the easiest one to choose. For example, most of the time, the right answer will purposely have been written to just ‘sound’ off or wrong, and this trips up almost all test-takers…
And this puts us in a tough spot…
How in the world do you consistently and accurately identify the correct answer when it was made to look like the WRONG answer?!
Well the answer comes from analyzing how 130+ scorers do it (which we did), and stealing their question-answering strategies 🙂
Here’s one strategy to get around this issue…
First recognize that when you’re making an assumption about an answer choice that gets you thinking ‘it sounds right’ or ‘it sounds wrong’, your assumption is usually coming from a place of ‘outside knowledge’…
And in these questions, your outside knowledge should STAY OUTSIDE. When it comes to CARS, only focus on what’s given to you in the passage.
Sometimes the wrong answer will ‘sound correct’ and sometimes the correct answer will ‘sound wrong’.
The average (low-scoring) MCAT test-taker selects an answer that is “true” over answers that actually relate to the passage. Or they dismiss answers that sound “wrong” even though it actually relates to the passage.
130+ scorers have trained themselves to not care about what’s true, factual, or false. They care about what links to the passage and that’s it.
We just gave you an example for the CARS section – but really, the entire MCAT was created to test your critical thinking ability.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of tricks and sneaky tactics like these, which question writers use to sabotage your ability to identify the right answer.
There are two steps you must take to beat them at their own game…
Step 1 - Know what all of these sneaky tricks are so you can be aware when they show up.
Not being aware of them is the biggest mistake any MCAT writer can make because these were designed to use your human nature against you, so even the smartest students easily get deceived.
Step 2 - Know the techniques to get around them.
Being aware of the root cause of a symptom is just the first step before you actually treat it.
Once you’re aware of these sneaky tricks, there’s still no point knowing you’re being tricked towards choosing the wrong answer, if you don’t know what to do about it.
The tiny fraction of MCAT writers who score 510+ achieve both steps over months of doing practice questions. Through practice, they start recognizing the patterns of how they keep getting fooled.
But we’re not advising you do that much practice. We think that’s a waste of time. Especially when you could achieve both those steps in a DAY instead of MONTHS of practice…
Once you go through all the top scorer strategies we have for you, you’ll automatically become aware of all the tricks and traps that could be thrown at you (Step 1) and you’ll immediately know how to get around each of them (Step 2).
Just like a patient doesn’t need to go through 10+ years of schooling to know what medication to take to heal herself, you don’t need to go through months of practice to learn the strategies to increase your MCAT score...
Just take the advice of those who have already put in the work (i.e. the doctors, the 510+ scorers).
If all you did was find out about all the ways question writers throw you off and avoided falling for their traps, you’d see an immediate score increase. Imagine finding out 10 times as many insights like that, which can give you instant score boosts...
The best part is that you can get all of those insights right here in the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide.
Isn’t that amazing news? No extra studying or memorizing to increase your MCAT score – just simple, proven, strategy.
Everyone's reading and writing ability can be improved. We 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, many top scorers recommend to use some spare time and do the following:
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 simultaneously understanding what the author is saying a lot faster.
Top scorers know that t’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.
Have you joined the Free 10-Day 510+ Scorer MCAT Strategy Email Course yet? We'll send you a different 510+ scorer MCAT prep strategy everyday for 10 days! Enrollment is free for a limited time.
DAY 1 - The #1 Biggest MCAT Study Mistake 510+ Scorers Always Avoid
DAY 2 - How To Adopt The 510+ Scorer's MCAT Success Mindset
DAY 3 - How 130+ CARS Scorers Get "Right Answer Hints" on CARS Passages
DAY 4 - How 510+ Scorers Review MCAT Practice Exams
DAY 5 - 510+ Scorer MCAT Practice Strategies & Advice
DAY 6 - 510+ Scorer Science Passage Hacks and MORE
DAY 7 - The 130+ CARS Scorer Perspective On How To Master CARS
DAY 8 - How Top Scorers Retake the MCAT
DAY 9 - 510+ Scorer MCAT Productivity & Time Management Secrets
DAY 10 - 130+ CARS Scorer Question-Reading Strategy
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?
Top scorers know that 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.
Top scorers know that it is important 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 premeds, when feeling overwhelmed and feeling frustrated, often have ‘brain fog’. Top scorers know to avoid these because they only lead to slow decrease of your CARS score.
Speaking of mindset for CARS, we have a way where a 130+ scorer can literally walk you through entire AAMC CARS passages and show you their thought processes on how they efficiently go about: finding the main idea, analyzing passages, analyzing questions, and analyzing answer choices and consistently picking the right option.
We call these "130+ Scorer CARS Passage Dissections". We guarantee that if you spend time going through even one of these dissections, you'll come out with your CARS perspective evolved. This is an extremely powerful way for you to truly take on the top scorer perspective and install it into your own mind.
You can go through an example of a full CARS passage dissection of a real AAMC passage from one of the question packs, in this article. Check it out, take your time and go through it, and you'll see exactly what why we and so many other students are speaking so highly of them.
Lastly, we just want to say that we know 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....
And the #1 way to do that is to use strategies that others have used to score over the 90th percentile on the MCAT. Those are MCAT study techniques that you KNOW work.
The few strategies in this article are just scratching the surface when it comes to all the MOST effective top scorer strategies we have for you in the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide. You can download this PDF guide and within a day, know exactly what you need to do to maximize your MCAT and CARS score the same way top scorers before you have done.
If your CARS score is stagnant and has been for a while, or if your score isn't increasing fast enough, even after consistent practice, you likely need to make a change to your current approach. There’s something you’re missing in your approach that you need to add and/or there’s something you’re doing to hurt your progression which you need to stop doing.
You can use the strategies we have for you to identify how you can improve and/or what you can fix. Usually the smallest improvement and changes can give you the score increases you need to hit your target score.
With a toolkit of correct strategies to improve your score, you just have to go through them one-by-one, applying them, and seeing which ones gives you that score increase you’re looking for. In this way, you're guaranteed to find the missing ingredient.
In this top scorer MCAT strategy 'toolkit' we have for you, we have an entire CARS section filled with strategies used and recommended by those who have dominated the CARS section and are now in the med-school of their dreams.
So if you want all of our best CARS strategies, shortcuts, and hacks that we don't release anywhere else, you can download or learn more about the guide by clicking the link below.
Also, feel free to check out the table of contents to see exactly what you get in the CARS section...
UPDATE: CARS MASTERY REPORT RELEASED!
We recently released the 130+ Scorer CARS Strategy Report! In this downloadable PDF report, we included CARS strategies strictly from 130+ scorers. It includes additional strategies that aren't in the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide. We made it for those who need extra help with CARS. Check it out here.
Every year MCAT Mastery helps thousands of premeds in achieving their target MCAT score goal so they can get into the med-school of their dreams. The dedicated team at MCAT Mastery accomplishes this by conducting ongoing research and paid interviews with 90+ percentile MCAT scorers, to bring you the most credible, most proven MCAT prep strategies on the planet.
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