We know for a lot of premeds, CARS is one of the biggest hurdles in getting a BALANCED, competitive score.
It’s frustrating to have one section holding you back from seeing the score improvement you need to hit your target score goal.
We completely get it and that’s why we decided to put some extra focus on CARS by recently releasing more articles and resources showing you exactly how 130+ scorers increased their CARS score and ended up dominating this section.
Plus, a lot of CARS strategies are also transferrable to other sections of the MCAT as well…
Which is why many top scorers have found that once they get a handle on CARS, everything else becomes easier.
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With that said, in this (detailed) article we're going to cover:
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As they’re going through CARS passages, top CARS scorers have developed the ability to differentiate between what’s important and what isn’t.
So what’s important?
In general, top scorers are looking for the main ideas and arguments. At the same time, they’re not really paying attention to the details, examples, etc.
The best way to track the most important elements is by analyzing each paragraph individually and identifying the key point as you read.
So for each paragraph you want to zoom it down to that one main point, which is the author’s argument in that paragraph.
A lot of premeds wonder if it’s even possible to find just one main point for each paragraph. It definitely is. Once in a while you’ll find a paragraph with a few points, but usually for most paragraphs, it’s just ONE.
Once top scorers have identified the main point, they’re able to filter out what’s not important.
KEY POINT: All that is valuable when you're reading is the main point. Everything else is secondary! When you keep this in mind at all times, you’ll still be reading everything carefully, but now you'll have a new lens on. Now, like most 130+ scorers, you'll be effectively prioritizing what’s important and what isn’t.
Moving on, we want to share two effective strategies 130+ scorers use to identify the key points in paragraphs.
1 - The "Paragraph Reviews" Strategy
2 - The "Highlight & Identify" Strategy
Top scorers begin with the Paragraph Review Strategy.
Top scorers have developed the ability to correctly write a quick 'paragraph review' of the main point in each paragraph.
The key with this strategy is to boil down the paragraph’s information into one key idea. In the majority of cases, this will be an opinion. An argument. It will NOT just be a fact.
Most premeds have heard of a strategy similar to this, but most premeds aren't applying it properly. There are 4 common mistakes that a lot of premeds make that negatively impact their score and progress, and we'll quickly cover those here.
One of the biggest mistakes a lot of premeds make with this strategy is that they write down a fact and not the main idea. They write down names, dates, or some kind of terms, when they should really be writing down the author’s stance, their purpose, their viewpoint as they’re speaking about the facts.
Sometimes you’ll find a paragraph that is just complete facts or details or ‘fluff’. You’ll know when you see these.
The second mistake a lot of premeds make with writing paragraph reviews is that they don’t keep their review short and sweet. Limited to just a few words. Being concise is vital here to save time, and for the sake of your own clarity. Remember, if you’re writing over 5 words, you’ve written too much.
Keep in mind these reviews don’t need to be perfect or look good. These reviews don’t need to make sense to anyone else – only to YOU. Don’t spend too much time on them. It’s not smart to do so. Just put something down and move on. You can remove filler words and create abbreviations too. Whatever works best for you.
This isn’t easy but it’s good practice. It’ll force you to be concise and hone in on the main idea. Eventually you’ll get used to it.
The third mistake a lot of premeds make is highlighting while coming up with paragraph reviews. It’s not the most beneficial thing to do. It usually is a distraction. This isn’t a concrete rule, and you’ll know yourself best, but generally top scorers recommend against it.
The fourth mistake is a result of students panicking when they first start doing paragraph reviews and notice that they’re getting way too slow in their overall test-taking speed. Their timing gets affected and naturally, they abandon the strategy or half-ass it.
When this happens, keep in mind that this is completely normal. Don’t worry about it. The key is to keep at it, keep practicing, and soon enough your timing will improve. You’ll become quicker at it because you’ll have figured out how to make the reviews more natural for you through consistent optimization. It’ll all pay off in the end because your ability to pinpoint the right answer will have dramatically improved.
With that said, there are some cases where timing doesn’t improve for some premeds when they begin using the paragraph review strategy...
In that case, there is a slightly faster strategy to accomplish the same goal, but with speed also comes lack of effectiveness. That strategy is to highlight the main idea instead of writing it, which we'll talk about in a bit.
But ideally, do somewhere between 10 – 20 passages with the paragraph review strategy and see how you feel about your timing. If you’re getting faster, keep at it. Most top scorers prefer the paragraph review strategy over highlighting, which means there must be something to it.
Another huge reason why top scorers recommend starting with actually writing paragraph reviews instead of highlighting is that with paragraph reviews, you’re training yourself effectively to identify the main argument and idea of each paragraph.
This way, once you’re trained in this art, you have the choice of switching to highlighting and not being worse off because you decided to switch.
'KEY'P IN MIND: If you don’t have much time left before your test date (a month or less), and you know yourself to have trouble with timing, we recommend starting with the highlighting strategy. At this point, timing is very important and takes precedence.
First thing to remember is that highlighting is optional. It’s not a must. But if you do choose to do it, here’s how 130+ scorers suggest you do it…
First, you want to highlight one key point from each paragraph. It’s not that different than when you’re identifying the main point/argument to write in your paragraph reviews.
Again, 130+ scorers are aware that they’re highlighting for the key idea of the paragraph, and not for any random details like dates, arbitrary terms, names, etc.
At the same time, you’re not usually highlighting just a word in a paragraph. In most cases, that's not going to serve you. What’s useful is if whatever you’re highlighting can be returned to for reference to the key point.
Highlight that which can act as a standalone in giving you the gist of the main idea of the paragraph. The same point that you use to create your paragraph review.
It could be half a sentence, a full sentence, or sometimes you’ll need to highlight a few pieces from here and there, which (when combined) give you a clear idea of the main argument of the paragraph.
Also, top scorers emphasize highlighting AFTER you read the paragraph and not as you’re reading. This allows you to think about what the paragraph said BEFORE deciding what you think is the most beneficial portion to highlight.
This also prevents you from making the common mistake most premeds make which is to highlight things that they thought were interesting while they were reading, until they actually got to the important points.
Lastly, if your test date allows it, start with doing paragraph reviews before highlighting. We recommend you don’t mix the two strategies. Instead, find the one that works best for you and stick to that.
'KEY'P IN MIND: Highlighting can take some time to get comfortable with. So if you’ve been doing paragraph reviews for quite some time and decide to make the switch to highlighting, don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the same level of efficiency. You need to give it a little bit of time and a few passages to adapt.
What do you do once you've reached the end of the passage? What do you do once you have strategically analyzed each paragraph to find the key point, by either using the Paragraph Review or Highlight & Identify Strategy?
Well when a top scorer reaches the end of the passage, he or she now uses all the main ideas they’ve identified from each paragraph to figure out what the overall argument of the ENTIRE passage was.
Your goal at the end is to find the ‘chief’ argument of the passage.
You have to figure out what the common connection is. Is there a consistent manner of thinking that is being conveyed throughout all the paragraphs? Is there a central idea that sticks out the most?
The chief idea or argument doesn’t necessarily have to show itself in every paragraph. Some paragraphs might have been just detail and fluff.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself confused where it’ll seem like the author is making several different points throughout the whole passage. In those scenarios, top scorers ask themselves which one or two stand out as being the most emphasized, or the most important.
After you pass the 50% to 60% marks in the passage, that’s when top scorers are most aware because that’s where the chief argument usually starts revealing itself. This isn’t a hard rule. There are instances when it’ll show up much earlier (even in the first paragraph).
Generally, it is said that it’s good practice to write down the chief idea after, but top scorers also say you don’t necessarily need to. There are mixed suggestions on this point. It’s up to you really...
Maybe you like having it there staring you in the face while you’re reading through the questions. If you do choose to write it down however, be sure to keep it to just one sentence.
UNLOCKING YOUR 129+ CARS SCORE: The techniques in this article are just scratching the surface of what we have for you to improve your CARS score. They should be great to get you started in approaching CARS passages the way top scorers do to increase your CARS score. However, you can literally fast-track and guarantee your score improvement to the 129+ level if you have the complete toolkit of ALL the most effective 130+ scorer CARS strategies.
Either you haven't really started studying for the MCAT and/or CARS...
OR you've been studying but are failing to see score increases that you're hoping to see...
If you haven't started studying for CARS yet, your new focus should be to completely MASTER CARS. Why? Two reasons. First, if you can master CARS, the other sections become much easier because you'll be thinking with the right frame of mind. Second, with nearly every premed struggling on this section, CARS is your opportunity to differentiate yourself.
If you're failing to score increases that you're hoping to see on CARS, if your CARS score is stagnant and has been for a while, even after consistent practice, you 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 130+ scorer strategies we have for you to identify how you can improve and/or what you can fix. Usually the smallest improvement and change can get you the immediate point increases you need to get your score to the competitive level.
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 give you that score increase you’re looking for. Within a few practice passages you'll find the missing ingredient(s).
So how can you get access to a toolkit of correct 130+ scorer CARS strategies? We've put them together for you in two different downloadable resources.
The first is the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide. This guide covers top scorer MCAT study and testing strategies proven to get premeds substantial score increases. There's an entire section in there that's dedicated to CARS. If CARS is your only focus, then you can go straight to that section. Although, we recommend going through the entire guide. If you're truly determined, it has the ability to take your overall MCAT score to the 510+ level. If you're looking for a quick score increase, you can get that too.
Next is a the CARS Mastery Report: Additional CARS Strategies from Strictly 130+ Scorers. Like the report title says, these are 'additional' CARS strategies not included the Top Scorer MCAT Strategy Guide.
With both these resources, you'll have a proven roadmap to accomplish your overall MCAT score goal that will guarantee your med-school application gets considered. Med-schools are known for immediately rejecting applications that don't hit their certain MCAT score threshold. In 2017-2018, the average MCAT admission score was 510. The year before it was 508. It's getting more competitive and we want to do everything we can to help you achieve your doctor dream...
But we can only show you the proven path to your dreams... You have to make the decision to walk it.
Lastly, don't forget to reach out to us with your score improvement story! We love hearing about how these proven strategies helped students take their scores to new milestones.
You got this,
The MCAT Mastery Team
Your MCAT Success Mentors
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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