Day 1 – Learning to Read the CARS Way

For most premeds, the CARS is the most challenging section on the MCAT. This section alone keeps thousands of students out of med school each year. Without the right help, it can be incredibly difficult to know how to prepare correctly. But don’t worry! We’re here to give you the right help so that you get the CARS score you need to go to the med school you want.

Over the next 8-days, we will teach you the most essential CARS skills you need to know to do well on the CARS, all packaged in daily, bite-sized, 7 minute or less emails. This 8-Day CARS Jump Start will get your preparations started on the right foot!

In an ideal world, you’d complete this mini-course a few months before you start your dedicated MCAT study, 4 months or more from test day. It was designed to be a foundation for you to build upon during your more intense preparations later on. With that said, however, any student at any time in the testing cycle will benefit a great deal from these lessons.

Although this course is automated, any replies you send to these emails go directly to my (Nick Zehner’s) inbox, and I’ll be sure to get back to you about any questions you have. I’m here to help you get the score you want! Okay enough blah blah. Let’s get started!

The Three Basic Ingredients of Every CARS Passage:

Like the ingredients of a perfect steak (steak, salt, and pepper!), each CARS passage has three and only three ingredients. Every single sentence in every single CARS passage contains at least one of three fundamental elements: claims, support, or details. Being able to easily and instinctively identify each of these three elements will dramatically change the way you read CARS passages and will cause your comprehension to soar, along with your CARS score.

Today, we will be looking at the first two elements, claims and support, but we will take a closer look at details in tomorrow’s lesson. While this first lesson might feel somewhat rudimentary, understanding these elements completely is the foundation of your quickest path to an ultra-high score on the CARS. Let’s take a closer look at claims and support!

Claims:

Claims on the CARS are simply beliefs the author, or someone the author is talking about, believes and wants you to believe too. They are assertions that claim to tell us something about the way the world is. When you’ve just read a claim, you can always ask yourself: “Is there a debate as to whether this is true or false?” If you can’t debate whether a particular statement is true or false, then it isn’t a claim. Take a look at a couple of claims below:

The United States’ economy is much stronger than France’s.

Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball player of all time.

Notice that each of these sentences is making a claim about the world. These claims might be true. They might be false. The claims are debatable, because we can easily imagine people disagreeing about whether they are true or false. The most important thing for you to recognize at this stage is that the easiest way to identify a claim is by asking the question “Is there a debate about whether this is true or false?” because it will allow us to rule out elements that are not claims. There are many things that are not claims.

Don’t go in the garage right now!

– This is a command not a claim. It wouldn’t make any sense to ask if this command is true or false. It’s simply one person telling another person not to do something. Commands cannot be claims.

How many cakes do we need for the party?

– This is a question not a claim. It wouldn’t make any sense to ask if a question is true or false. Questions cannot be claims.

Ouch! I just hit my thumb with that hammer! That hurt!

– This is an exclamation not a claim. It wouldn’t make any sense to ask if an exclamation is true or false. It’s just a statement.

John Adams was the second President of the United States.

– This is a verifiable fact. While technically, in a philosophical sense, this is a claim about the way the world is, on the CARS, verifiable facts should be taken on their face as being true. The CARS will not lie to you and will not try to deceive you by misstating verifiable facts. Facts, at least on the CARS, are not to be treated as claims. Ask yourself, “Is this a fact I could google and get a definitive answer?” If the answer is yes, then it isn’t a claim. On the CARS, something has to be debatably true or false for it to be a claim.

John Adams was the best President the United States has ever had.

– Got you! This is a trick question. This IS a claim. Can we ask whether it is true or false that John Adams was the best President the United States has ever had? Yes! Absolutely we can ask that! If we googled this question, would there be a definitive answer? No! There would be a variety of opinions and beliefs about who the best President of the United States is. There would be an argument about this. Compare this claim about John Adams being the best president and the statement of fact about John Adams in the previous example to see how facts and claims differ on the CARS.

..::..

Returning to our initial examples of claims (the US’ Economy and Babe Ruth’s legacy), we don’t know quite yet whether these claims are true or false. Stating a claim without any support does little to convince anyone of anything, in fact it’s really nothing more than someone yelling and waving their hands. The great American poet Carl Sandburg once said, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell!” A claim without any backing is just someone pounding on the table and yelling like hell. If the author of a passage is going to do a good job of convincing us of something, he needs to support his claims with evidence. This leads us to our second ingredient.

Support:

Just like pillars holding up a roof, support is the reasoning or evidence that “holds up” (and backs up) the author’s claims in the passage. Without support, a claim is of very limited value. Once the author provides support for his claims, however, then we have an argument that we can evaluate. We can begin to decide whether the author is convincing (making a clear claim with strong support) or not (making a convoluted claim or weak support). Check out a couple of examples of support below. They support the first two claims mentioned above:

  1. The United States’ GDP last year was $18.5 trillion while France’s GDP was $3 trillion.
  2. Babe Ruth has the best batting average of any player ever, 0.690. He also hit the longest home run ever, 575 feet.

After reading the above, you might notice that all support is not created equally. Some types of support are better than others. Your ability to connect support to corresponding claims, and then evaluate the quality of that support, will be critical to doing well on the CARS. Let’s take a look at our examples and see if we can evaluate the support. (Note that the claims have been bolded while the support is italicized.)

 

The United States’ economy is much stronger than France’s. The United States’ GDP last year was $18.5 trillion while France’s GDP was $3 trillion. 

Notice that the claim is strongly supported by the evidence the author gives in the second sentence about GDP. While in a sense, the support is a “claim” itself, the value of the support essentially comes down to the accuracy of the facts being stated. If it is accurate, it’s strong support. Assuming the stated “facts” are correct, admittedly a bad idea in real life, is a perfectly fine assumption on the CARS. As we said above, verifiable facts do not count as claims on the CARS. This is the same for support. We could google the United States’ and France’s GDPs last year. Thus, this is a verifiable fact.

While we can clearly see that the claim about the United States’ economy being stronger than France’s is true based on the support given regarding GDP, it’s also possible for us to imagine someone who might argue against using GDP as the best measure of the strength of an economy. We might disagree with that person, but this is clearly a debatable point. As a result, this is an argument. Now, let’s take a look at Babe Ruth.

 

Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball player of all time. Babe Ruth has the best batting average of any player ever, 0.690. He also hit the longest home run ever, 575 feet.

This example of a claim and support is good, but you might not feel that the argument is as convincing as our first example. The claim about Babe Ruth is a large one, and you might find yourself asking, “does having the best batting average of any player ever and hitting the longest home run ever necessarily mean you’re the GREATEST baseball player of all time?” Some people might say that those criteria are the best and most suitable indicators of greatness in baseball, while other people might disagree. If we compare these two examples, it’s obvious that the second argument is weaker and more debatable than the first. Over time and with practice, you’ll develop the ability to quickly discern the quality of arguments on the CARS.

Daily Drill #1:

For each of the following drills, decide whether it is a claim or not.

  1. Don’t forget to do your homework!
  2. The diameter of the sun is 109 times the diameter of the earth.
  3. How long will the trip home take?
  4. Philosophy majors are more creative than science majors.
  5. Most children can walk by the time they are 12 months old.
  6. It’s better to have loved and loss than to never have loved at all.
  7. What is it going to take for you to understand?
  8. Progressive politicians always disagree with conservative politicians.
  9. People who speak in terms of “I” language versus “You” language have better relationships.
  10. We’ll go to the store after work.


Daily Drill #2:

Determine which sentences contain one or more claims.

Tom: Let’s go to the bar and have a beer!
Kevin: I don’t like that idea.
Tom: Why?
Kevin: It’s only 2 pm. It’s too early to have a beer.
Tom: It’s okay to have a beer any time after lunch.
Kevin: I haven’t eaten lunch yet, so I can’t go.
Tom: You’re too straight-laced, you know that Kevin.
Kevin: You drink too much, Tom.

 

Answers – Daily Drill #1:

  1. Don’t forget to do your homework!
    • Not a claim This is a command. Commands cannot be true or false.
  2. The diameter of the sun is 109 times the diameter of the earth.
    • Not a claim While this is technically a claim, on the CARS, it is a verifiable fact that is not debatable. You could google this question and find out for sure. The CARS does not dispute verifiable facts. Thus, this is not a claim.
  3. How long will the trip home take?
    • Not a claim This is a question. Questions cannot be true or false.
  4. Philosophy majors are more creative than science majors.
    • Claim This is clearly a debatable, true or false proposition about the way the world is. It’s obviously something people might debate.
  1. Most children can walk by the time they are 12 months old.
    • Not a claim This is not a claim as the age when children can usually walk by is a verifiable fact we could easily look up online. Claims, on the CARS, have to be debatable as to whether or not they are true.
  2. It’s better to have loved and loss than to never have loved at all.
    • Claim While this might be a difficult claim to prove, it is possible to ask if it is true or false as to whether it is better to have loved and loss than to never have loved at all.
  3. What is it going to take for you to understand?
    • Not a claim This is a question. Questions cannot be true or false.
  4. Progressive politicians always disagree with conservative politicians.
    • Claim This is a claim as it is possible for us to debate about whether or not it is true.
  5. People who speak in terms of “I” language versus “You” language have better relationships.
    • ClaimThis is a claim as we can imagine people agreeing and disagreeing with this claim. It’s not obvious or general human knowledge whether or not this point is true.
  6. We’ll go to the store after work.
    • Not a claim This is a declarative statement. Like commands, declarative statements cannot in and of themselves be true or false.


Answers – Daily Drill #2:

Tom: Let’s go to the bar and have a beer! – Not a claim
Kevin: I don’t like that idea. – Not a claim
Tom: Why? – Not a claim
Kevin: It’s only 2pm. It’s too early to have a beer. – Claim
Tom: It’s okay to have a beer any time after lunch. – Claim
Kevin: I haven’t eaten lunch yet, so I can’t go. – Not a claim
Tom: You’re too straight-laced, you know that Kevin. – Claim
Kevin: You drink too much, Tom. – Claim

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