Day 20 – CARS Question Formats: Negation Questions

So we are just about done with our exhaustive survey of question types and formats on the CARS. Today, we start a two day mini-series on the different ways the CARS can ask the various question types. There are three basic formats: the standard question, the negation question, and the Roman numeral question. Up to this point, all our discussions concerning question types have been with standard format questions. But you will also see the two other types on test day.

Today, we’ll focus on negation format and tomorrow we’ll take a look at the Roman numeral format. While on the surface, including the word “NOT” in the question stem should not add that much to the difficulty of the question, the number of negation questions missed by MCATers is astounding. These are often the sorts of questions you beat yourself up for when reviewing your practice test. Negation questions are the playground for stupid mistakes waiting to happen. We’re going to learn how to save yourself that headache and save those easy points!

The Negation Question Format:

The negation format is not a particular type of question but is instead a way of asking a question. Thus, you could have a main idea or passage detail question asked in a Roman numeral format, a negationformat, or in a standard, straightforward format as you’ve seen throughout the question type series up to this point. The trickiest of the three for the majority of students is the negation format.

The question stem of a negation formatted question will ask you to select which answer choice negates this or that thing in the passage, argument, or particular idea of the author. Usually, on the CARS, you’re looking for the positive response to a question, whereas on negation questions, you’re taking the position of the “glass half empty” type. This is a difficult switch for many test takers to make, especially when 49 or 50 of the questions you’ll complete on the CARS will be positive in nature. When a negation question comes up, spend a little extra time to get comfortable with the change in perspective. It’ll save you an incorrect answer.

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

1) The passage suggests that O’Ryan and Anderson would most likely endorse the following military policies EXCEPT:

A) The invasion of a neighboring nation due to an unavoidable shortage of water in one’s own
country.
B) The military seizure of land known to contain large oil fields.
C) A national budget that increases military spending that is on par and would exceed the military
budgets of all neighboring countries.
D) The blockade of a neighboring country’s rubber exports due to a severe decline in their own
country’s primary financial export, rubber.

2) Suppose that many comparative literary scholars believed that their discipline has broadened itself too much and should narrow its identity. This new information would most CHALLENGE the author’s claim that:

A) Comparative literary studies should broaden its understanding of what it considers under its
domain.
B) Comparative literary studies’ cross-disciplinary approach is not the modus operandi of most
intellectual work.
C) The field of comparative literary studies does not do anything, but instead is a tool to be used.
D) Comparative literary studies are a subset of little programs whose wisdom has already been
integrated by most academic departments.

3) Which of the following discoveries would be most TROUBLESOME regarding the author’s description of the development of linguistics?

A) Early grammarians were known to compare notes with grammarians of other languages.
B) Most philologists never compared languages outside of those of antiquity.
C) Linguistics encompasses both intra-language analysis and inter-language analysis.
D) An essential component of modern linguistics is understanding correct and incorrect usage within
a language.

Let’s start with the first question. This is the hardest version of the negation question because it starts you moving in one direction and then at the last moment fakes you out and asks you the exact opposite. Notice how up until the very last word you think you’ll be looking for the answer that the author would most likely endorse. Now few students will miss the word EXCEPT. They’ll read it, but then in the hustle of running through the answer choices, going back to the passage, and thinking about which medical school they’d like to get into, they’ll forget the word EXCEPT. Then they’ll see an answer choice that looks great, and is absolutely something the author would endorse and…wham! They miss the question because they forgot the word EXCEPT. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reviewing practice tests with students, and they go “Oh NOOOO! I can’t believe I missed that one; I just misread the question stem. I knew the answer!” Those are sad moments indeed because they would have gotten the question right if they had slowed down and paid a little more attention. I have two strategies that you can use to immediately safeguard yourself against such silly mistakes.

1) Whenever you see an all capitalized word in a question stem, write the word on your scratch paper, in capital letters, and then draw a box around it. I can’t tell you how many times on my own practice tests this saved me from selecting the wrong answer. By taking time to write the word down, you engrave the correct version of the question into your brain, and it also gives you a back-up check at the end of the question, as you’ll remember, “Oh yeah, this is a negationquestion. Did I read it right?”

2) Rephrase the negation part of the question to make it simpler. For some negation questions, it makes a world of difference (as is the case for question 1). For others, it doesn’t have as much of an effect, but can still be helpful (questions 2 and 3). Let’s try this with each of our example questions.

a. For question 1, instead of “would most likely endorse the following military policies EXCEPT: rephrase it as “would most likely REJECT which of the following:” This is so much simpler, as you clearly know you’re looking for the one the author would reject, not all the ones she would endorse EXCEPT.

b. For question 2, try “Which answer choice is most weakened?”

c. For question 3, try “Which discovery would hurt the author’s arguments the most?”

Be sure to keep an eye out for capitalized words in the question stems. It’s always a good idea to pause for a moment when you see such a word in order to make sure you truly understand what the question is asking you. Many of the questions students miss on the CARS is not because they don’t have the capacity to answer the questions correctly, but because they don’t actually understand what the questions are asking.

Ok, that’s it for today. Tomorrow, we finish up all this talking of question types and formats, and then we turn our attention to what makes wrong answer choices wrong. Don’t forget to do your three passages today!

Today’s Assignment: Do Three CARS Passages Consecutively, Under Timed Conditions

“Action is the foundational key to all success.”
– Pablo Picasso

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