Day 24 – CARS Answer Pathologies: Part III

Welcome to the final day of CARS Answer Pathologies. Hopefully, you’ve started to see a few of these different answer pathologies popping up in your practice passages. It takes time to get the hang of seeing them consistently, so don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes some time. As with most things, progress is often gradual. Today, we finish up our study of CARS answer pathologies and then tomorrow, we’ll move on to how to review your practice tests/passages. Keep up the hard work!

The “Almost…but Not Quite” Category:

The “Almost…but Not Quite” category is one of the MCAT’s favorite ways to make an answer choice wrong. The reason these are so irresistible is that they are almost the right answer! They’ve got just about everything they need to answer the question correctly, and yet, they’re not quite right. If you’re running low on energy or confused by the question or passage, these types of answer choices are going to look very attractive. Be careful, as you’ll usually have an uneasy feeling deep in your gut about them because you sense something is off (because something is off), but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Evaluate the entire answer. Is it all right? Is all the necessary information there?

Incomplete – This is the MCAT’s second most common trickster answer choice. They give you 70% of the correct answer. It’s so close to getting the job done, but it just doesn’t quite get there. These answers are very difficult as you have to truly know what the correct answer is to recognize that these types of answer choices are wrong. This is why making a prediction before looking at the answer choices can be so effective. To answer these questions correctly, you have to have a good idea of what you’ll be looking for. If an answer choice doesn’t cover all of the material it needs to in order to answer the question correctly, if you’ve made a prediction, you’ll see it. If you don’t have a prediction, you might gloss over what’s missing and select the wrong answer. Another way to see an incomplete answer choice is to recognize that it shares a lot in common with another answer choice. The MCAT will write out what the correct answer is, remove some of the critical information, and then serve it up to you as a correct answer choice. WARNING: The incomplete answer choice might actually be a longer answer choice than the correct one. We’re not talking about word count here; we’re talking about the necessary information to correctly answer the question. Don’t be tricked by long answer choices.

Half-Right – The half-right answer type is particularly difficult because it is right, except it’s not. These answer choices get everything right, and then they throw in a piece of information that is wrong or unsupported. There are a few different ways the MCAT can do this. They’ll give you a correct answer with some information, thesis, or argument that is supported by the passage, but then they’ll also give you something that isn’t, thus you’ll have a “Half-Right/Not Supported” answer choice. Or they’ll give you a “Half-Right/Misunderstanding” or a “Half-Right/ Contradicted” answer choice. You’re probably starting to get the idea. They can make the part that makes the answer choice wrong any one of the other answer pathologies types we’ve talked about so far. The key to remember is that on the CARS, the saying “Half-wrong all wrong” is your motto. If something in the answer choice is wrong, then the entire answer choice is wrong. Every word in an answer choice must be correct, or the answer choice is incorrect. The MCAT loves to do this to test takers. They write out a very good answer to the question and then add on some information that contradicts the passage, misunderstands the author, or is just outright not supported by the passage. Lazy or imprecise test takers will focus on what’s right about an answer choice and ignore what’s wrong. This is what they’re expecting you to do. Don’t do it!

The “Where’d that Come From?” Category:

Probably the most common trickster answer category would be the “Where’d that Come From?” answer type. This category introduces information that seems to come from nowhere, or at least not from the passage with the hopes of intimidating you. The MCAT knows how much is riding on this test for you. They know how stressed out you are (because everyone is!), and because of this, they try to play on those feelings of insecurity and anxiety. The key to the MCAT CARS in general, and in particular to this answer type is CONFIDENCE. Trust yourself. Trust your training. Trust that you know what you’re doing. Confidence is critical on the CARS. Make sure you have it.

Not Supported – This is the single most common trickster type on the CARS. The answer choice sounds good. It will seem to answer the question, but there’s one little problem, the answer choice isn’t supported by the passage. There’s no mention of it in the passage and it isn’t a point the author makes. It sounds so good, but it isn’t supported. The worst type in this category is an answer choice that the author would seem likely to support, but if you just don’t know, if you can’t be certain, if it isn’t a justified implication of the passage, you can’t choose that answer choice. You just can’t. Ask yourself on these types of answer choices, is this supported by the passage, or is this just an answer that sounds good?

Tell Mr. Not-Supported: “No Rose for you!”


Another version of the Not Supported answer choice is the “Where the hell did that come from?” type. This is where the CARS gives you an answer choice that seems to be from out of nowhere.

Where did that come from? Why are they even talking about this? Did I miss something? Oh crap, I missed something. I suck. I’m awful. I’ve got to reread the entire passage. I’m not getting into medical school because I have no idea why they’re bringing up Renaissance art when the passage is about mid-western agricultural practices at the turn of the century…NOOOO!

You see how this thought spiral goes. This is exactly the response the MCAT wants you to have. Don’t do it. You’ve read the passage thoroughly. You’ve been practicing for months. Have confidence. If something seems off, if the answer choice seems to be coming from out of left field, mark it wrong. If the answer choice doesn’t seem to pertain to the passage, eliminate it like you’re eliminating someone off the bachelor or bachelorette. No rose for this answer choice. Being confident on the CARS is key!

Outside Knowledge The MCAT knows that you’re probably a very smart person. Compared to the general population, you’re likely well-read and have a general level of awareness about a variety of issues and subject matter. Thus, they’re safe in assuming that you’ve probably read or thought about many of the topics you’ll see on test day in the past. So what can they do to turn that against you? Give you an answer choice that uses your background against by tempting you to use outside knowledge you might have about the passage. I remember taking a practice AAMC MCAT and reading a passage that I had just read in a book for a class not, three months before. I knew exactly where the passage was in the book and had done very well on the paper I wrote reviewing that particular topic. I bombed the passage! It was one of my worst. Why? 1) I didn’t read the passage carefully because I assumed I knew everything. 2) I answered the questions based on what I knew about the book and the topic in general, not what the passage said. Remember that on the CARS, the MCAT assumes that you have no knowledge whatsoever about the topic, so every single question is based on the passage or something that can be inferred from the passage. There were actually questions I answered incorrectly because the MCAT expected me to answer based on the passage and not on what I knew the author’s actual opinion to be in general. Thus, in this case, the correct answer was actually false, considering I knew who the author was and his actual position. The moral of the story is: Don’t use outside knowledge on the CARS…EVER!

Ok, that’s it for today. Make sure to do your four passages today. As you may be gearing up to transition to taking full-lengths pretty soon, tomorrow, we’re going to go over the correct way to take a CARS test. Keep up your hard work. It’s going to pay off. It’s already paying off; you just have to keep coming back and doing the work.

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

“Success is a state of mind. If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success.”
– Dr. Joyce Brothers

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