Day 30 – Advanced Study Techniques

Finally, the last day is here! Congratulations! By spending a little bit of time each day doing passages and working on these strategies, you’ve been slowly investing in your CARS score in a way that cramming just doesn’t allow you to do. The material you’ve covered over the last 30 days is enough to get you to the score you want on the CARS if you’re willing to put in the time. With that said, there are a few advanced study techniques that I’ve come across for those wanting to achieve an ultra-high (read Harvard, Stanford, etc.) CARS score on test day.

Today, we’re going to look at two advanced techniques I recommend to my students that are designed to train your brain how to think like a test writer, breakdown passages the way they do and see the ways the AAMC writes its questions. Don’t worry about these technique if your timing isn’t down, or if you are short on time in your study schedule. Most people aren’t going to need them to get the score they want, but if you’re shooting for the 95th percentile or higher on the CARS, you’ll want to give them a try. Don’t forget about your six passages today!

Exercise 1# – Hunting for Clues:

One of the craziest things about the MCAT CARS section is that the passages don’t seem to matter as much as one would think. One of my favorite things to do is to have my classes rip a passage out of their books and then just try and answer the questions correctly based on the clues given in the question stems alone. Surprisingly, most students score only slightly lower than they usually do despite not having read the passage. Sometimes, you have to get a little inventive and not every thought you have is going to be correct nor justified, but nonetheless, more often than not, question stems and your conjecture about them will offer you clues that are useful in answering the question if you’re paying attention. The following exercise is meant to show you how much information you can squeeze out of the question stems by simply paying close attention and by practicing “Hunting for Clues.” Let’s practice a little bit with an exercise.

Take a look at each of these question stems from one of our passages. Get a piece of scrap paper and with each question stem write out what information if any you can garner in order to answer the questions. I’ll include what I got out of the question stems at the end of the post.

1) According to the passage, the “Greek Experience” has what value to the modern world?

2) The author of the passage states that “Hence death is no longer ‘loss’in the usual sense. It no more refers to the things we lost but to our ‘loss.’” The author is most likely referring to:

3) The passage indicates that its author would NOT agree with which of the following statements?

4) If the author of this passage believed that history was cyclical and was likely to repeat itself, this belief would be most DISCREPANT with which aspect of the passage?

5) Which of the following activities would the author be most likely to describe as WASTE?

Getting Better at Hunting:

Hunting for clues in question stems is one of the hardest CARS skills to develop. This is a very advanced skill, and you shouldn’t even begin to think about it if your timing isn’t rock solid (rock solid means you easily get through reading the passage and answering the questions without feeling rushed). With that said, developing this skill will really up your percentage correct. So how can you practice? Give the Question Sprint a try.

The Question Sprint has four steps:

1) Get some crappy verbal reasoning passages. I think this is the perfect way to use Kaplan’s verbal reasoning passages and practice tests. They are pretty bad and you really shouldn’t waste your time practicing with them…EXCEPT for using them on the Question Sprint. You can pick up Kaplan’s MCAT Verbal Reasoning Strategy and Practice for around $10 and it includes something like five or six practice tests. For any of you taking a Kaplan course, I strongly recommend you ignore everything they tell you about the CARS and look elsewhere for your practice and strategy. You can use their material for the Question Sprint, but I wouldn’t recommend using it for anything else. Another possible resource is Berkeley Review’s Verbal Reasoning Passages. Their passages are significantly better than Kaplan’s, but still not up to the standards of Exam Krackers, The Princeton Review, or…Testing Solutions : ) (Please ignore shameless self-promotion)

2) Set your clock for 20 Minutes and Start!

3) Don’t read the passages! Read the question stems and answer choices and based solely on the information provided in the two, try to answer as many questions correctly as you can. You have to take this seriously. You will receive no benefit if you don’t try your hardest to get the questions right. You’ve got to look for clues and construct an image of what the passage is about. Look at the answer choices and see what pathologies you are able to identify and eliminate those answer choices.

4) After 20 minutes, go back and mark your questions right or wrong. Don’t bother reading the explanations. Notice that if you had to have the passage to answer a question correctly in every case, you should only get 25% correct, the same percentage as randomly guessing. But most test takers get anywhere from 40% up to 60% correct. This obviously shows that there is a lot of information packed into the question stems and answer choices that you can use to your advantage. Keep track of your percentages correct as a motivation to try and improve over time.

I recommend you do the Question Sprint every other day or two, but do not do it if your timing is not solid and do not do it if it is going to cut into other MCAT studying. This is an advanced practice technique and is not necessary to do well on the CARS.

Answers to Hunting for Clues:

Ok, so we’re going to go through each question stem from up above and see what clues there are that can help us get to the correct answer.

1) According to the passage, the “Greek Experience” has what value to the modern world?

So we know that we’re going to be comparing something having to do with “Greek Experience” and the modern world. Via this contrast, we can assume that “Greek Experience” is not referencing modern Greece and that “Greek Experience” is not identical to the modern world, as if they were the same thing, one could not contribute something to the other. The way the question is worded implies that there is a connection between the two and that this connection might not necessarily be intuitive and may even be surprising. Based on this question stem alone, you know that the passage is arguing that “Greek Experience” has something to contribute to the modern world. Because of the use of the term “value” it is reasonable to infer that this contribution is something positive (as nearly all contributions are), so be on the lookout for a connection that is positive and potentially surprising or unexpected.

2) The author of the passage states that “Hence death is no longer ‘loss’ in the usual sense. It no more refers to the things we lost but to our ‘loss.’” The author is most likely referring to:

Based on this question stem, we know that the passage deals with death and loss. From the previous question stem, we learned that we were comparing ancient Greece and the modern world in some way, so this question stem would seem to imply a difference in an understanding of loss or death in ancient Greece that has since changed. It would seem that this question will hang on an answer choice that shows death or loss in ancient Greece in one light and contrast that with how death or loss is considered now. The word “Hence” is a great temporal keyword setting up a now vs. then dichotomy, and how what has come before supports what we are about to learn. Knowing your keywords will make these sorts of clues jump out.

3) The passage indicates that its author would NOT agree with which of the following statements?

This is too general of a question stem. There aren’t any clues here.

4) If the author of this passage believed that history was cyclical and was likely to repeat itself, this belief would be most DISCREPANT with which aspect of the passage?

This question stem tells us a few things. The first is that based on the passage, it is not clear that the author of the passage believes that history is cyclical, and is actually likely to believe the opposite. If it were clear, there would be no need to include the word “If.” Second, there is something in the passage that conflicts with the idea of cyclical nature of history or said another way, the return of the past to the present. In thinking back to question stem 2, it could be that the Greeks believed that in loss or death the thing which was lost may come back in the future whereas the modern view is that once it is lost, it is lost forever. Or maybe the relationship is reversed, which is to say it was the Greeks who believed that something lost was forever lost. Look for the contrast and what significance the notion of a cyclical approach to history would have. Which position, that of the Greeks or of the modern world would most align?

5) Which of the following activities would the author be most likely to describe as WASTE?

There aren’t too many clues here except to say that in order for you to be able to answer this question correctly, the author must take a clear position on a particular issue or set of issues that can then be applied to a new situation. Thus, the passage is likely to be an argumentative one. Beyond that, you’ll have to look at the answer choices.

As you see, you can’t expect to score a 129+ without reading the passages, but it is surprising how much information you can get from the question stems if you’re paying attention. If you’re interested to see how well your clue finding matched up to the passage these questions were drawn from, I’ve attached the passage in full at the end of this post.

Hunt for clues in the question stem and answer choices! As you review your practice passages, take a moment and write down anything you’re able to come up with based on the question stem and answer choices alone. What information does it give you or imply? Spend way more time and energy on this step than you think you should. You’ll be surprised how good you get at this over time and how much it will pay off!

Thinking Like a Test Writer:

One of the best things I ever did for developing my CARS skills was to write passages and questions. I stumbled onto this idea when I was studying for my own MCAT and was experimenting with ways to hone my verbal/CARS skills. I decided one day to take a passage from one of the verbal books I was using and to write five of my own questions, answer choices, and explanations for why the correct answer was right and the wrong answers were wrong. I know this seems like a lot of work, and it is, but doing this only a couple of times a week produced great results. I was able to anticipate possible questions as I read through the passages and began to think like a test writer. It was another one of those “Matrix moments” I referenced earlier in this series. In fact, after I finished my MCAT, it was this exercise in part that gave me the idea to start Testing Solutions, as I had gotten so good at writing questions and breaking down passages.

Here’s what you do:

Step 1: Find a passage

Step 2: Use our list of question types and examples (included in this post)

Step 3: Select 3 to 5 question stems and use those examples as a basis for writing your own questions, answer choices, and answer explanations

***Tip – One way to make this even more useful is to find a study buddy. Each of you writes 3 to 5 questions for the passage and then swap your question sets, do them, and then discuss the questions, answer choices, and explanations afterward.

It’s amazing how quickly you’ll begin to think like a test writer if you do this exercise. It takes about an hour or so if you do it right, but if you do this 4 or 5 times, you’ll start to develop a sense of how the test writers think. I’ve included examples of the different question types below.

Question Types and Examples:

Implication:

The author implies that George Washington is NOT:

The author says “As the boat began to sink, the cowards began to run towards the life rafts,” but also “many gentlemen proceeded to help the women and children into the rafts while remaining on the doomed ship.” These beliefs imply:

The passage implies that the difference between World War I and World War II was primarily one of:

Implicit in the statement “Philosophers are often derided by the masses but nonetheless are necessary for the proper functioning of society” is the idea that:

Regarding the concept of food insecurity, the author implies:

What does the author imply regarding the relationship between those who own capital and those who do not?

Inference:

Based on the author’s treatment of the US’s counter-terrorism strategies, it is reasonable to infer which of the following?

It is reasonable to conclude that the author believes what about George Washington Jr?

Which of the following inferences is most justified based on the author’s arguments concerning the enfranchisement of women in the early 20th century?

Campbell’s argument that Star Wars is an example of a mythological journey allows for which of the following inferences?

A reasonable supposition from the passage concerning the primary problem that plagues most philosophers is that:

Apparently, both sides participating in the debate assume that:

According to one of the positions presented, government is an “affair of invention and contrivance” and is supremely concerned with questions “of means and end.” If both of these premises are true, which conclusion is most reasonable?

Integration of New Information:

Suppose that a modern classics scholar stated that although Aristophanes’ primary goal was to make people laugh, he did have a latent political agenda and thoroughly believed that everyone ought to engage in political action. If this scholar’s statement were found to be true, what would be the effect on the author’s central thesis?

A manuscript of Dante was discovered that showed that he did not believe in a literal hell. How would this new information affect the author’s claims?

Which of the following findings would most weaken the author’s argument?

Suppose that De Francesco prided himself on the clarity and accessibility of his poetry. Which of the following claims made by the author would most be called into question?

According to one authority on constitutional government, “the individual is the primary and foundational unit of a constitutional government.” This authority would probably:

Suppose that a survey of successful modern leaders finds that some study history while others do not. The author would most likely respond to this challenge by saying:

In recent years, foreign intervention has led to the establishment of democracies in a range of nations across the world. The argument presented for government being understood as a product of natural history suggests that this would:

Passage Detail:

The author states that Picasso believed that:

According to the passage, the American Revolutionary War was fought in order to:

The passage suggests which of the following concerning the impact of educational reforms enacted by Reagan?

The author believes all of the following EXCEPT:

Based on the discussion in paragraph three, Rodin’s approach to sculpture was widely regarded as:

Which of the following claims does the author NOT make in the passage?

Which of the following assertions most closely resembles the author’s beliefs concerning the role of the Federal Reserve in the modern US economy?

Main Idea:

The main idea of this passage is:

The author’s central argument is:

The central thesis of this passage is that:

The author most likely wrote this passage in order to:

Which of the following best characterizes the main idea of the passage?

What is the author’s central concern?

The author can best be viewed a proponent of:

The intended audience of this passage is most likely:

Meaning of a Term:

As used in the passage, “aphrodisiac” refers to:

Which of the following phrases is most synonymous with the way in which the author uses the term “hairy” in his claim that “August 24th was a day full of hairy situations.”
The author’s use of the term “glad-handed” most likely means:

In paragraph four, what is the author’s most likely intended meaning in writing that Queen Elizabeth is crusty?

Author Technique:

The author includes the fact that the Pentagon was unable to account for “what it received in return for paying out $2.3 trillion to various suppliers” in order to:

The author probably mentions that “space exploration was not only a triumph of lone individuals but also of bureaucracies, institutions, and a political system” in order to:

The author users the term “sense” in the passage in order to:

The author provides the information that “Bhutan decided to use ‘Gross National Happiness’ as their explicit policy goal rather than Gross National Product (GNP)” in order to:

What is the author’s apparent purpose in mentioning astronomy?

When the author says that “Russian nesting dolls are much cooler than was originally thought,” she is emphasizing the fact that:

And that’s it! 30 Days of CARS. You’ve done it! Now all that is left for you to do is practice, practice, practice! If you’ve set yourself up for the 90 day schedule, you’re 60 days out from test day. You’ve been slowly building your capacity to do more and more passages at the correct pacing, and now you’ve got all the strategies you need to do well on test day. Thanks for reading through this guide and best of luck on all your MCAT testing! If you have any questions or just want to say hello, leave a post on this guide’s forum here at SDN!

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

“Enter every activity without giving mental recognition to the possibility of defeat.
Concentrate on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses…
on your powers, instead of your problems.”
– Paul J. Meyer

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