Day 23 – CARS Answer Pathologies: Part II

Today, we continue our survey of CARS answer pathologies. Our goal is to understand what makes a wrong answer wrong and accordingly, a right answer right. If you can learn to think like a test writer and learn the ways they come up with theirincorrect answers choices; you’ll be much better prepared to see their tricks on test day.

Yesterday, we looked at the “Too(s)” which are answer choices that take information in the passage and make it “Too Narrow,” “Too Broad,” or “Too Extreme” to be the correct answer choice. Today, we’re going to continue along similar lines by taking a look at a few other ways passage information can be hijacked and used to trick you. Also, yesterday, you should have upped your daily passage count to four passages. By now your timing should be on track, and you should begin to start spending more time reviewing your practice passages. In a few days, we’ll cover how to get the most out of reviewing your passages.

The “Um…No” Category:

Our first two answer types for today, I call the “Um…No’s” because they’re kind of like when someone does something obviously wrong and think they’re getting away with it by being slick, and you are very tempted to look them in the eye and just say, “Um…No. That’s not going to work.”

Out of Context – The out of context answer type is  because if you’ve read the passage carefully, you will recognize the information provided. It sounds familiar; it might even use some of the author’s own words. It might even have the “feel” of a correct answer choice. The problem is that the answer choice takes information from one part of the passage out of its appropriate context and shoves it into a new situation that it doesn’t apply to. Some of the easiest examples of this can be seen when a question asks about something the author brings up in paragraph four, but the answer choice deals with an idea from paragraph one. While it isn’t always the case that this is going to be a wrong answer, generally speaking, ideas separated by that much text on the CARS are not directly connected, and it’s likely that the information is being taken out of context. Be on the lookout and make sure that your answer choice actually answers the question you’re being asked and still applies to the particular context of the question.

Irrelevant – The Irrelevant answer type is related to the out of context type in that they are usually connected to the passage in clear ways. The language might be the same as the passage, and the answer choice may well be an accurate description of something the author says in the passage. But the answer is wrong. Why? Because the information is completely irrelevant to the question at hand. This is a good opportunity to remember that just because an answer choice on the CARS is true, does not make it correct.
Whereas the out of context type takes information out of its appropriate context and applies it to a new situation, the irrelevant answer type simply has no proper connection or relevancy at all to the question you’re being asked. The information in the answer choice may well be true, and it may be located near the pertinent information relating to the question, but the answer choice in and of itself has no relevancy and does not in any way answer the question. These answer types are very common on hard questions because they leave confused students feeling even more confused. After a few minutes of struggling with a question, many students breakdown and select the answer choice containing information that looks and sounds familiar, even if they can’t figure out how it relates to the question. Don’t be fooled!

The “Over the head” Category:

These trickster answer types are based on a fundamental breakdown of what’s going on in the passage. It’s like the hand motion when you swoop over your head and say, “that’s just over his head.” These answer choices rely heavily on minor breakdowns of understanding. If you see the most common ways the MCAT tries to trick you; you’ll be better prepared when reading and answering questions to see these types coming.

Opposite – The opposite answer choice is one of the easiest to spot on the CARS if you understood the passage and what the author’s point in writing the passage was. The opposite answer choice simply takes an argument or belief of the author and states its opposite. Thus, if the author believed states’ rights were detrimental to the Union, the opposite answer choice would argue that the author believed that state’s rights were useful and/or beneficial. Now with clear arguments and beliefs such as the one I just referenced, it’s hard to believe that anyone could ever be fooled by such a thing, but with highly nuanced arguments, it can be easy to insert a simple negation or reversal into the answer choice to turn everything around and yet still have the same look and feel as what the author says in the passage. Make sure the answer choice is actually saying what you think it is saying and that it actually lines up with what the author believes.

Contradiction – The contradiction answer choice is another easy trickster to spot on the CARS if you’ve done your job when it comes to reading the passage. This answer choice will simply contradict a key point or idea of the author. Its trickiness lies in its resemblance to something the author says, and if you’re not clear on what the author believes, it can be easy to find a well-worded counter-point convincing without even realizing it. Try to simplify the answer choice and the author’s argument or point and ask yourself, do these two things line up or do they contradict each other?

Misunderstanding – The misunderstanding answer choice does exactly what you’d expect it to do, it relies heavily on common misunderstandings or misreadings of the passage. The AAMC has tested these passages with hundreds of students, so they know the ways in which particularly difficult arguments or ideas are regularly misunderstood. If a misunderstanding shows up enough on their research, they may turn it into a wrong answer choice. These are some of the hardest answers to eliminate if you don’t understand what you’ve just read in the passage because they seem to be correct or at the very least seem not to be incorrect. Your best bet with trying to improve with misunderstanding types is to strengthen your passage reading abilities to make sure you’re correctly breaking down the author’s arguments and correctly understanding what she’s getting at in her “Main Idea.” Working on these two points alone will pay huge dividends come test day. If you’re having trouble with these types, go back to Day 11 and review the steps of “Painting your Way to the Main Idea.”

Ok, that’s it for today. You’re almost there and then you’ll have all the tools for getting that 129+ on the CARS you need to go to the school you want! Remember, from here on out do four passages a day! Do you have a question? Ask it on our 30 Day Guide Feedback Forum on SDN.

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

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to self-confidence is preparation.”
– Arthur Ashe

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