Day 1 – The Plan/ Getting Your Materials
Depending on your goals, doing well on the MCAT CARS section isn’t as difficult as many pre-meds fear. As you know, the passages you may see on test day could range from variations on Athenian democracy to literary criticism of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. This terrifies most pre-meds as their experience with the humanities and the social sciences have often been limited at best. The truth about the MCAT CARS section, though, is that familiarity with the humanities and social sciences has nothing to do with the score you’ll ultimately get. I’ve seen the dorkiest science nerds (the “push sagging glasses up their nose with middle finger and compress albuterol inhaler” types) do incredibly well on the CARSand the “hand-rolled cigarette smoking, beret wearing French major” types do terrible. A background in the humanities may help you, but it is not necessary to do very well on the CARS. There are a number of “keys” that we will go over in this guide. We’ll begin with the most basic and fundamental of building blocks.
The number one key to doing well on the MCAT CARS section is timing.
So this is where we’ll be focusing our attention first. Once you get comfortable with the correct pace for taking the MCAT CARS section, we’ll move on to more sexy strategies for doing well.But if your timing is off, nothing else will matter. Nine out of ten students who I’ve worked with that struggle on the CARS section, struggle because their timing is terrible. They want to do well so very bad that they spend far too much time early on in the test and then have to rush for the last third. It is nearly impossible to do well on the CARS section if you are rushing through the last third of the test. Timing is our first step to success.
You have never taken a test like the MCAT CARS section before. It is nothing like a philosophy midterm or a sociology blue book test. It is likely one the most artificial critical reading assessments in the world. It has nine passages of disparate topics with fifty-three total questions that you must complete in ninety minutes. No one is good at such an odd task at the beginning because no one has to do this in their regular life. You might be thinking: “No!!! I’m doomed!!”But it is rather the opposite. The CARS section is such an artificial skill, requiring such a unique set of skills that it is actually relatively easy to prepare for if you give yourself enough time and go about it in the right way. The MCAT CARS section does not cause students trouble because it is difficult. It causes students trouble because it is unfamiliar. The best way to get over this is to do a ton (and I mean a ton) of timed practice passages. So, if you are sixty to ninety days out from your test date, here’s what I recommend you do:
1) Buy one or two of the old MCAT Verbal Reasoning Workbooks out there. I’d recommend Exam Krackers 101 Passages in MCAT Verbal Reasoning and/or The Princeton Review’s Hyperlearning Verbal Workbook. I have no affiliation with either of these companies; I’m only recommending them because I’ve done every passage and question in each of these books and believe that they do a reasonable job at mimicking the MCAT. They aren’t perfect and have their flaws, but they are good. You won’t want to waste your very best passages during these early stages, so burn through some older materials you can pick up for cheap. (Make sure you skip any natural science passages as those won’t be on the new MCAT.)
2) For the next week, do one passage a day. Just one, but make sure you take it under timed conditions. Don’t worry about reviewing the passage for now. Feel free to skim the answer explanations and spend some time looking at the questions you get wrong, but don’t invest a lot of time for now. For the next week, we’ll be focusing on timing and nothing else.
Each CARS Passage will have either 5, 6 or 7 questions attached. Give yourself the following amount of time for the respective number of questions per passage. Note that this exercise is meant to develop within you the correct CARS pacing. Come test day, you won’t be worrying about how many questions a particular passage has, but just like a high-performance athlete, sometimes you have to train before you can perform. On Day 25, we’ll discuss how to actually take a full-length test. You won’t be wasting time figuring out how much time to spend on a passage on test day. Just for now, you’re building your capacity to feel when it’s time to move on from one question to the next. If you simply give yourself 10 minutes per passage, you’re intuition on 5 question passages will be to spend too much time, while on the 7 question passages, your intuition will be to rush through. Use the following timing strategies below for now.
For a passage with 5 questions | 9 Minutes
For a passage with 6 questions | 10.5 Minutes
For a passage with 7 questions | 12 Minutes
We’ll work on honing our pacing as this guide progresses, but this is a good place to begin. Do your passage for today, and come back tomorrow for more. The key to doing well on the MCAT CARS section is to do a little bit each day. I promise the snowball effect will give you the results you want if you work hard and leave nothing on the table.
You can do this. See you tomorrow!
Today’s Assignment: Do One CARS Passage Under Timed Conditions
“Winners never quit and quitters never win.”
– Vince Lombardi